A Doyen in the Hand

(Sorry this post is so late, and very long. More about this in the notes at the end.)

They say you never forget your first love. For Dmitri, he’d first seen his when he was eight and had gone to Court for the very first time. For one reason or another his minder had decided to bring him through the Terra Front, rather than by portal. Honestly, he couldn’t remember the reason and it really wasn’t important. Because the very first time he set foot through the shallowing and found himself in the pillared concourse, the six sides of the building each an arcade looking over the vista of another world, the high ceiling peaking in half twilight above his head and glimmering not with stars but the faint light of magic and order and all other thoughts had left his head.

With the Throneworlds extending on one side of every Front and five other worlds of the empire on each of the remaining sides it felt like you could literally set out from the center of one Front and go anywhere the human mind could conceive of in a matter of a moment’s walk. Even after months among the wealth and riches of the Court he’d still found his mind drifting back to that first moment stepping into the Fourth Front. Now he was in a different place but feeling the same thing.

Here was a scene big enough that even a man at the beginning of adulthood reverted to childhood wonder whenever he saw it.

There were plenty of reasons to stay there, in the center of what seemed like unbridled possibilities, whenever he had to return to the Throneworlds. Mons didn’t need his input to do his share of the work and the immense power of his title made people uncomfortable. And there was no way to spend more than five minutes on the Throneworlds without someone wondering where you were. Officials had to answer such questions truthfully, which inevitably led to questions and all kinds of attention and… well, it was better to stay there. The Terra Fronts weren’t used for much anymore, with the convenience and economy of portals having removed much of their commercial and military utility. Really, their only practical use was  their original purpose.

And Terra Eternal hadn’t invaded anywhere in nearly a century.

So they served as a sort of private means of transport from world to world for high level officials, of which Dmitir was one of the very highest. It was one of the few privileges he had that he truly enjoyed. At least, most of the time.

“Doyen Dmitri Dostoyevsky. May all your paths run smooth and peacefully.”

Suppressing a grimace, Dmitri turned to face the man who administered this particular Front. “Palatinus Alvin y-Santos. I greet you on behalf of myself and my brothers, and my father and his brothers.”

The two men bowed slightly to each other, hands spread at waist height with palms facing each other, as was proper in court circles. The only similar thing between the two was their insincere smiles. Skinny, save for a surprisingly plump gut, bald and constantly a little sweaty looking, Alvin y-Santos had always struck Dmitri as something of a grotesque. But maybe that was just because Alvin also had the vaguely predatory air he’d always hated about people at court – like a scavenger waiting to snag an easy meal once something died.

Dmitri absently smoothed his own hair back and out of his eyes, as if to be on the lookout for trouble, as he said, “To what do I owe the honor of this visit, y-Santos?”

“Why, I’ve just come to bid you welcome here, as you are always, my doyen,” Alvin answered, his smile stretching further across his face.

“Thank you,” Dmitri said, dry as dirt. “Your courtesy is always the highlight of my visit.”

Alvin made a show of glancing around. “I see that the Blade of ben-Gideon is not with you today. Is it time for a new Blade already?”

“I’m sure we’ll have at least one or two more assignments together before his year is up,” Dmitri said. Honestly, he wasn’t looking forward to having a new team of three assigned to him but it was one of the few parts of his job that he had no control over. “Indeed?” Alvin asked, oblivious to the other man’s thoughts. “I had heard that his replacements had already been selected.”

That brought all of Dmitri’s attention to the matter at hand. “And how is that? No one outside of those offered the position should know the members of a Doyen’s Blade.”

“And undoubtedly it is so,” Alvin said with a smile less forced and less pleasant than normal. Dmitri didn’t miss the implication. Someone Alvin knew had been offered the job.

“Then it is well,” Dmitri answered, even though it wasn’t. Someone had been talking when they shouldn’t have. “No doubt you will find some productive use for the good fortune you have found.”

“I was wondering if might ask you for a favor…” And there it was.

Alvin y-Santos was an infamous politicker and every time Dmitri had met him he’d asked for some small thing or another. As a rule Dmitri hadn’t agreed to any of it, thinking that it was better not to give any ground to the scheming man, but he had come to dread the requests. Doyen only served for ten years and after all the power and authority was gone, one thing that was supposed to keep them from running rampant was the reality of having to deal with some of the powerful people you’d angered in your position over the years.

Of course, this meant people like Alvin were always trying to curry favors from the local doyen in exchange for help and shelter down the road. Which brought them right back to the matter at hand. “No favors, y-Santos. You should know me well enough by this point.”

“It is nothing of importance,” Alvin was quick to say. “I just hoped you could convey my greetings to the new administrator of the Eighth Front. She has only come to it in the last week or two and, being a busy man, I haven’t had time to go myself.”

Dmitri stared at the other man for a long, uncomprehending moment, then said, “Y-Santos, you run the Seventh Front. It’s a five minute walk from the Eighth.”

“Regardless,” Alvin began, “I haven’t had the time-”

“Unfortunately we’re not going to the Eighth Front any time soon,” Mons said, coming down the concourse from the Throneworlds side of the Front. He was moving quickly, doubtless aware that Dmitri wanted Alvin far away as fast as possible, but his normally authoritative three-fold voice was muffled by the mask he wore. Most Souls of One wore them to hide their identical faces, something Dmitri found more unsettling than the sight of three – or even five or six – identical people moving in perfect synchronization, but Dmitri had encouraged Mons to stop wearing it over the last year, with some success. Now it was back and he wasn’t sure why.

“In point of fact,” Mons continued, his voice dropping to more normal conversation levels as he got closer to them, “we’re going to the Second Front next, and we may be there for some time. You’d best deliver your greetings yourself.”

“The Second Front?” Dmitri and Alvin asked, for once in sync on something.

“Indeed.” Even with his face hidden Dmitri could tell Mons was smiling. “We’re going off the beaten path for a while. A suitably grand task for our last outing together, don’t you think?”


“Doyen Arianna Kahlenbeck?”

Terra Eternal’s only current female doyen paused in the middle of her latest case summary, surprised to find there was someone in the vacant office she’d borrowed. As was her want she hadn’t really told anyone she was commandeering it, just sort of set up camp there for the duration of her stay on world, so anyone finding it in the first place was a sizable achievement. And this fellow, well, his just getting into the building must have taken a lot of effort.

He wasn’t wearing the steel blue of the architects, nor the bronze of the cartographers or the white of the channelers. In fact, he wore a weathered brown coat, pleated pants of a lighter shade of the same color and a white garment that looked almost like a robe in place of a shirt. He had long, sandy hair and thin, sensitive looking hands that were reaching into his coat to pull out a small brown envelope. He looked nothing if not out of place.

“I’m Doyen Kahlenbeck,” Arianna said, setting her pen aside and leaning back in her chair. If this fellow wanted to eschew ceremony she’d go along with him, at least to a certain extent. “Who are you?”

“You’re handling the Venger Bar-Luzon case, correct?” The man asked, ignoring her question.

Arianna decided to continue the trend and parried that question with yet another. “Who?”

The man froze for a second, envelope not quite free from in his jacket, a comically quizzical look frozen on his face. “You’re not looking for Venger Bar-Luzon?”

Arianna leaned forward. “I wasn’t before. Should I be?”

“Just to be sure…” He glanced around the room once. “This is Terra Rasa, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Arianna said slowly, waiting for some sign that all this was going somewhere.

But the man just shoved his envelope back into his coat and fished around for a second before pulling out a long scroll that he partially unrolled and looked over, muttering, “I’m not sure this scenario was covered…”

Patience now exhausted, Arianna got to her feet and braced her hands on the borrowed desk. “Look here, you, I don’t know what your game is but you’re wasting my time and I don’t appreciate it.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, his attention still on the scroll he was reading over. “I was told you handle most problems that creep up here on Terra Rasa but I guess they handed this one off to one of the other doyen. Not sure which one, though. At least there’s only four others to deal with.”

The cavalier way of ignoring her was so out of place she couldn’t really do much besides blink in surprise. Which was exactly how long it took the man to vanish from the room.

Arianna looked around the room once, a weird and very uncomfortable feeling working its way down the back of her spine. She went to the door and yanked it open, startling the members of her Blade as they kept watch in the hallway. She glanced at Lambert, the regulus, and said, “Did you see anyone come in here recently?”

“No, my doyen,” he answered immediately. “Did you need someone specific?”

“Nevermind.” She thought it over for a minute. “Do you know the name Venger Bar-Luzen?”

“No, my doyen. Does it have anything to do with the trade dispute we’re working on?”

She thought it over for a moment. “I really don’t know. But I’d love it if you found out.”

Lambert nodded immediately. “Of course, my doyen.”


“Terra Rasa is the perfect place for Bar-Luzon to hide if you ask me,” Dmitri said, absently cutting his meat into manageable chunks while keeping an eye out on the dining hall around them. He didn’t like staying in a public house but there hadn’t been room for four people in the local channeler barracks and he didn’t want to divide his forces on this job.

“I really don’t follow your logic on this one, my doyen,” Mons said, talking with only one voice so the other two could eat.

For a brief second Dmitri envied his friend. The local food was unusual but tasty and Mons had gone all out, getting three different meals to experience. But that wasn’t why they were there. “It’s a good hiding spot because it’s the first Terra we found with not native population. Everyone here is an immigrant, so while there’s something like a local culture it’s not a very strong one yet and outsiders won’t stand out as much. By the same token, it’s been settled long enough for there to be a few large cities to blend into. He could be anywhere.”

“Do you want me to send to the local architects and see if the local patrols have heard anything?” Mons asked. “Try and recruit some honest to goodness lawmen?”

“I’m not sure.” Dmitri stared down at the chunks of tangy meat and green vegetables on his plate, trying to work out how he should approach the problem. “Leading a manhunt isn’t what they prepare you for, you know. We’re supposed to hammer out jurisdictional conflicts or settle internal disputes, not find rogue agents.”

Mons just grunted and continued to eat. For a while that was all either men did.

Finally, Dmitri said, “Did you know him?”

“Venger Bar-Luzon?” The question was such a transparent play for time that Dmitri ignored it and just waited for Mons to answer. Which he did, eventually. “Even if we weren’t from different generations there’s a lot of differences in how you train Souls of One dependent on how many you have. Groups of three, five and six all go through different programs.”

“And a group of twelve probably requires a custom built curriculum.”

Mons laughed, almost spraying soup all over the table. “A Hex of One is bad enough. But doubling that to a Parliament? Surely you’re joking.”

“We grew up together,” Dmitri said softly, poking at his food and surprised to find he had little appetite. “Mons, I’ll tell you a secret. I know you Souls of One aren’t really one person, no matter how much you project that idea or even believe it yourselves. I can tell you apart.”

He jabbed at the Mons all the way to his left. “Like you. Whenever just one of you talks, you’re the one who does it. You can switch up your gear as much as you like, you can even fool people who have known you casually for a long time. But I see through you. You’re more like closely knit brothers who have been taught to coordinate telepathically than a single person.”

Mons fidgeted for a second before asking, “Is this all going somewhere?”

“I was just wondering if maybe we got this job because of you. Could you do what he did?”

Mons just stared off in three different directions for a moment, none of his pairs of eyes really focused on anything. Finally he said, “I don’t think any one of us could run off and abandon the others, no. In fact, I met a Hand of One once. It only had four in it.”

Dmitri suppressed a snort. “A Hand is five people, Mons. By definition.”

“But a Soul of One is a person who has been born the same on multiple worlds,” Mons pointed out, his attention back in the present. “If one of them dies you cannot simply send out for a replacement. No such person exists.”

Dmitri paused mid chew, the implications of that beginning to dawn on him. “What happened to that Hand, Mons?”

“It ceased to exist. When one of them died they ceased to be a whole person, Dmitri. It happened a lot in the early days, when Souls of One were a new thing that no one really understood. These days it happens less, in part because they warn us of the danger and try to prepare us to work around it.” Mon shook his head. “But to just cut out four fifths of your mind and walk away from it? I can’t imagine a sane person who would do that.”

Dmitri drummed his fingers on the table top for a minute, figuring that out. “So you think we’re looking for a madman?”

“I think it’s certainly a possibility.”

“Well. At least it’s a place to start.” After that the rest of the meal passed in silence. But it wasn’t the comfortable sort.


The viewing crystal gave only a fair idea of what a person looked like, on par with a poor quality photocapture but without even a third dimension to give it depth. Still, Arianna could tell enough of the expression of the man on the other end to know he was telling the truth. That wasn’t a good thing, though.

“You’re telling me you have no idea where the Hand of Venger Bar-Luzon is?”

“No, my doyen,” the man said, an undercurrent of panic in his voice suggesting he knew how bad this situation was. “Uh… one of him went missing a month and a half ago. We haven’t been able to locate him anywhere on Terra Indissolute. We’ve started looking for him elsewhere but… there have been difficulties. We even filed a request with the Office of the Doyen two weeks back. The rest of the Hand went into seclusion until he returned. When you first contacted us we summoned him but… he wasn’t there.”

“You filed a request with the office?” That interested her. Maybe she was talking to the wrong people. “Thank you for your time, Palatinus.”

“Of course, my-” She tapped the top of the crystal and it went dark and silent before he could finish. Tracking down who Bar-Luzon was had been the work of three days and Arianna had a feeling she didn’t have a lot of time left for niceties. Too many people had no idea what was going on, herself included. It made her nervous…


The file clerks Dmitri had met generally fell into one of two categories: Those eager to impress you and move on to a better job or those who loved their files and thought of others pawing through them as some kind of sacrilege. The local law architect clerk fell into the later category. Clerk – Dmitri thought of it as his name and didn’t think the man would mind – had insisted on an entire orientation tour, a not-so-brief overview of the filing system and a lecture on the importance of not misplacing valuable files.

After all that Clerk had finally accepted his request to search the records personally only when Dmitri hinted that he was willing and able to demote the other man all the way down to dustman if things didn’t hurry along. Hopefully Mons was fairing better finding a patrol squad who could put them in contact with the local snitches and rumor mongers.

“These are the vagrancy files and associated records,” Clerk said, stopping by a rather large scroll rack. “Most recent files on the top, older files towards the bottom. You can read them at that table over there.”

“Thank you,” Dmitri said, dismissing him with a gesture. “You’ve been most helpful.”

Oblivious to the sarcasm in Dmitri’s voice, Clerk nodded and headed back towards his desk at the front of the room. Dmitri started pawing through the files. Anything older than a couple of weeks wasn’t of interest to him so most of what he needed was on the top shelf. He collected a handful of the older ones and headed to the table.

Vagrancy reports were not exciting reading but it was important and he managed to plow through five or six of them in the next hour. He was deep into his seventh file, a much more interesting tale of a homeless man who seemed to know the back alleys much better than the local patrols and never quite got caught when they went to grab him, when a voice asked him, “Doyen Dostoyevsky? On the Bar-Luzon case?”

“That’s me,” Dmitri said, attention still mostly on the scroll he was reading.

“Fourth time’s the charm,” the voice said. A hand placed a brown envelope on the table next to him.

“Thank you.” He looked up to see who had brought the message but there was no one there.


“…And that’s why we chose to give the matter to Doyen Dostoyevsky.”

Arianna rubbed her hands together absently, studying the older man in the viewing crystal for any clue what he thought of all this. As usual, his expression gave away nothing. “Well that does sound like a mess, Director Rand. But looking at the description and photocaptures you’ve provided Bar-Luzon isn’t the man who visited me last week. Do you have any idea who he was?”

“No.” Director Rand was the man who picked and chose what problems warranted the attention of the Doyen and which would simply have to languish in bureaucratic limbo until someone found a good solution to them. As a former doyen himself, Rand understood the stakes and frustrations of the job, and he did his best to keep the doyen abreast of situations that might be relevant to their jobs. The years of hard work showed on his face, never more so than when he was frustrated like he was just then. “I do know that at least one other doyen has run into someone matching that description. Doyen Tan reported meeting a similar man asking the same question two days ago. I think it’s time I tried talking to the others.”

“Lovely. Best of luck with that.” Doyen had a lot of autonomy in their jobs. They weren’t required to check in with their central office until they finished an assignment. That made keeping track of them hard and Arianna didn’t envy Rand the task of trying to find the other two. Of course, Dostoyevsky was apparently somewhere on Terra Rasa. But that was still a whole world to search. “I’ll tell you what, Director Rand, why don’t I see if I can help you find Doyen Dostoyevsky while you try and track down the other two?”

“I would appreciate that, Doyen Kahlenbeck.”


The address was a small building, well appointed, located on the far eastern side of Petrograd, near the river. It looked more like a former bakery than a hideout. What was certain was that Dmitri would probably not have found it even had he searched the architect files for months. The only way he could have begun to suspect Venger Bar-Luzon was there was the note he had gotten. That in itself was suspicious.

Mons was setting up a cordon outside the building with a hand’s worth of the local architects, all that they’d been able to gather on short notice, while Dmitri headed in to confirm whether this was, in fact, the hiding place of a runaway Soul of One or just some bizarre joke.

In complete defiance of his expectations Dmitri had his answer almost as soon as he stepped through the door.

Venger Bar-Luzon was sitting at a table in the middle of the large room that took up much of the ground floor. A counter, probably for merchandise back when the building was still a shop, ran along the left wall and a bunch of other tables and chairs were stacked on the right. Venger stood up at the table and offered a formal bow. “I greet you, my doyen. I am Venger Bar-Luzon. May all your paths run smooth and peacefully.”

As his greeting implied, Venger wore the bronze robes of a cartographer, a specialist in Locke’s methods of travelling across worlds and the horizon. That was a problem in itself. Travelling worlds required huge amounts of magic and cartographer robes were mostly just cleverly disguised wells of magic reserves. With the right matrices to channel it through even an untrained combatant could be dangerous. Dmitri decided to play it safe until he had a better idea what Venger’s game was. So he fell back on formality. “I am Dmitri Dostoyevsky, Doyen of Terra Eternal. I greet you on behalf of myself and my brothers and my father and his brothers.”

Venger’s eyes widened ever so slightly. “I wasn’t aware that the Throneworlds had appointed a seventh son of a seventh son as doyen.”

Dmitri laughed in response, a short, sharp bark of pure surprise. “Of all the times for that greeting to be recognized it would be now. Only one in a hundred people even know what that means. I’m impressed, Bar-Luzon.”

“And I’m in trouble.” Venger slammed his hand down on the table, a spell matrix that Dmitri hadn’t been able to see from his angle suddenly lit up at the same time Venger yelled, “Abort! Siphon to dexter!”

The next ninety seconds went by in a blur. Dmitri snapped to his left, which was Venger’s right, just in time to see three heads popping up over the lip of the counter. Three pairs of hands were already setting a syphon, a powerful magic draining matrix, with the opening of the V shape pointed towards him. It was more than enough to drain the average magic supply of a person down to nothing in a minute but then, Dmitri was no average person so that wasn’t what bothered him. He didn’t have time to work out what was bothering him because he was too busy lunging towards the table, hands scything counter to Venger’s matrix, activating the most logical countermatrix he was carrying. That was his biggest mistake, in hindsight.

Just because Venger wore the robes of a cartographer didn’t mean he didn’t know anything about combat. Dmitri had just walked into a trap and it sprang out from under the tables and chairs along the right hand wall in the form of six young girls who caught him in a flexible glassweb matrix, a spell that bent like spiderweb when you pressed against it and, if you weren’t careful, would tear you to ribbons with its scything slivers of magic.

Dmitri managed to pull back from the glassweb before it cut him. His own spell, a simple bulwark matrix intended to slam Venger into the wall behind him and halt his mischief, wouldn’t do much of anything against a glassweb, except maybe get cut to pieces. So he changed tactics and, not even bothering to recapture the magic he’d put into building his bulwark already, set his own syphon.

How effective a spell matrix is was depended on a lot of factors. How well magic meshed with the material the matrix was made out of, how much energy was pumped into it and whether or not the magic energy would burn out the materials the matrix was built out of. There was more to it than that, but those were the essentials.

Most spell matrices were built out of metal, since it was easy to mold into the necessary shapes and readily available. But the human body was a kind of spell matrix itself, containing many of the basic shapes and patterns that magic clung to. Most people were a less effective matrix for magic than metal.

But then, most people were not the seventh son of a seventh son.

Most people could not rip apart a glassweb matrix just by forming a syphon with one hand, much less syphon down the transparent wall of energy a bulwark consisted of, even if it was half formed. Dmitri managed all that and had the presence of mind to pull out his core tap with his free hand, cranking it all the way open and releasing the full force of its magic on the room. The glowing rectangle and triangles glyph that represented the Eternal Throne snapped into existence above it and raw magic flooded the room, snapping against the magic sails in Dmitri’s and Venger’s clothes, energizing a half a dozen spell matrices that had been hidden around the room and probably blowing out ever other spell matrix in the neighborhood that wasn’t combat rated.

Three things happened at once. First, Dmitri realized what had bothered him a moment before. Both the ambush from behind the counter and the one from in the tables had been executed by children. And not just any children, but children with identical features moving with a familiar kind of eerie synchronization. They were moving as two different Souls of One, not nine separate people.

Second, with a strobe of light and a gut-wrenching twist the full Hand of Venger Bar-Luzon teleported into the room. Already they were preparing an escape spell. It was a canny move, since doyen relied on the Throneworlds for transport – one of the few checks on their power was a prohibition against carrying teleportation or horizon crossing matrices.

Third, one of the six girls bit him on the wrist and he dropped his core tap. Then another kicked it across the room towards Venger. Unfortunately for her it a loose board in the floor and skittered towards the tables along the wall rather than to Venger himself.

For a second Dmitri stood paralyzed. Venger’s matrix already encompassed most of the room, with four of the six girls and the three boys already caught in its turns. But the girl who had bitten him was scrambling after the core tap and Dmitri couldn’t run the risk that she’d grab it and the whole group would still get away. Rather than break Venger’s teleportation matrix he dropped a bulwark in front of the girl and dove past her, coming up with the core tap just as the teleportation matrix finished and the whole group vanished.


Arianna looked up at the younger man. She’d never been very good with ages but she was guessing Doyen Dostoyevsky couldn’t be more than twenty – and she seriously doubted he was that. It showed in a lot of ways but the biggest was how much trouble he was having hiding his dejection. He’d let Bar-Luzon get away and caused some serious damage to the neighborhood in the process. Now, to top it off, he was apologizing to the doyen who’s territory he was intruding on. She could tell how much each and every one of those facts ate at him.

It would have been cute if the situation wasn’t so serious.

“I’m starting to think that this was a trap of some sort,” Dmitri was saying. “I think he meant to lure you to that empty shop with his note then steal your core tap.”

“That would fit with his pattern in the last few weeks,” Arianna admitted. “He’s kidnapped at least two Souls of One in training, from what you saw, but when the folks on Indissolute went looking for him they found at least six trainee Souls missing. Three blades, a hand and two hexes.”

Dmitri whistled. “That’s a lot of potential, right there. Even if its not fully trained. Add in a core tap as a power source and you could cause some real damage. We should try and-”

“No.” That came from both Lambert and Dmitri’s Blade of One.

“This is no longer the kind of thing that falls under the Doyen’s purview,” Lambert continued. “Theft of strategic resources and everything else that goes with it is squarely the responsibility of the channelers and the Throne of Vesuvius. We’ll file a report with them and let them handle it.”

Dmitri gave Arianna a sympathetic look. “New blade?”

“We’ve been together a month,” she confirmed.

“I sympathize. Mons is swapping out after this job.” He glanced at his blade. “But first, I really think following Bar-Luzon is a part of my mandate. Just because I didn’t catch him here on Terra Rasa doesn’t mean I shouldn’t follow him.”

“But following him gives him another chance to steal your core tap,” the blade replied. “And this time he’ll be prepared to deal with someone of your abilities. No. We’re done here. Regulus Lambert is correct. Leave this to the Vesuvians. It’s time to report back to the Director.”

Arianna smiled inwardly. All doyen had to be a little bit idealistic to do what they did. But as time wore on it was easy to loose the enthusiasm one started off with. Hopefully Dmitri wouldn’t loose his. “You’ve got a good blade right now, Doyen Dostoyevsky. Listen to him, even if it’s for the last time.”

Dmitri sighed and nodded. “I suppose I should.”

“Do you know who your replacement is?” She asked.

“I don’t.”

“I do,” Mons said, then hurried through the rest before he could be cut off. “At least who the blade’s regulus is, since you’re not getting a Blade of One again. You should know too, so you can start thinking of how to deal with him. His name is Oscar y-Santos.”

Once again with comical straightforwardness Dmitri’s expression morphed from annoyance at Mons, to shock, to resigned acceptance. “Of course it is. That’s just the perfect end to the perfect day, isn’t it?”

Fiction Index

(Okay, so this post is really late. A few weeks ago I was on vacation and ever since I’ve gotten back I’ve been helping out as a replacement in a theater production with some friends. Between going to rehearsals and frantically memorizing my lines, most all of my free time has been shot and I haven’t been able to write much. I’m lagging behind where I want to be and I don’t want to rush things.

I delayed this post because this story marks a turning point in the development of Dmitri’s character, as well as the things that are going on in this fiction setting as a whole and I wanted to do it right. I think I mostly succeeded in that. Next week we go back to Project Sumter for another short story. After that I had originally planned to plunge straight into Thunder Clap, the third and final book in the story arc I’ve been working on.

The thing is, I’ve not done some of the outlining I wanted to do and I’m planning a vacation with family the weekend of August 11th. So the new plan is to take a week between “Moroccan Heat”, next week’s short story and Thunder Clap, so that I can try and get my feet under me again. It’s my hope that all other content on the blog will go forward as planned, so the 11th will be the only blank spot in the calendar. Life is a mess and plans, they will be achanging. Thanks for your understanding.


The Doyen and The Dragon

“You know, Mons, you would think that, as a society that has discovered a way to fling the thousands of tonnes of gold and silver in a Terra Front from one fold of the world to another-“

“To say nothing of all the copper, steel and rockmelt.”

“To say nothing of them. In short, a society that can move buildings from world to world should be able to make a man a pair of boots he can use to climb a mountain without chafing his feet raw.”

Mons paused for a moment as they trudged up the side of the mountain in question. “You are still young, my doyen. They might no longer fit. Do you wish to stop for a rest?”

“What I want is a reevaluation of our priorities,” the doyen said, waving Mons on ahead of him. “We have magic enough to travel from one face of Terra to another, but we cannot solve the simple problem of cramped shoes.”

Mons resumed his hike and affected a lofty tone. “Perhaps you should apply yourself to that problem next. I’m sure the agenda of Terra Eternal shall suffer not a whit as it is put aside so that Doyen Dmitri Dostoevsky might pause and invent the Magic Boot – the universally acknowledged foundation of any civilized society.”

“Ha! That attitude is why I’m the doyen and not you,” Dmitri responded, allowing himself a slight limp now that Mons’ attention was once again focused forward.

“I remind you that many people don’t consider being a doyen a privilege.” Mons suddenly whipped around in time to catch his younger charge in mid limp. “A case in point: You frequently find yourself hiking all over unknown worlds in boots that no longer fit. We should pause for a bit.”

Mons didn’t wait for an acknowledgment, he just moved to the side of the narrow path they had been following and took a seat on a smallish boulder. Rather than squeeze in with him, Dmitri took a seat on a log that looked to be wedged in place by a pair of smaller rocks, pulled off his calf high boots and admitted, “That does feel much better.”

“Perhaps after this assignment you should look into the problem of keeping yourself supplied with the appropriate footgear,” Mons said, trying but not quite succeeding at hiding a smirk.

“Logistics is not my strong point,” Dmitri said with a shrug. “The fact that I have to draw out any teleport or sky folding matrix myself, rather than carry a pre-etched charm, is a real discouragement from learning anything in that school of magic.”

“A doyen shall not move himself from world to world,” Mons murmured, “nor take more with him than he may carry. I have to confess, even after watching you in action for over a year, I don’t understand the prohibition.”

“Can’t say as I do, either, but it’s one of the few things Locke and Goltermann agreed on, so I guess we can assume it makes sense.” He sighed and leaned back, resting his back against a larger stone behind the log. As he did, his elbow bumped into something and he turned to pick it up.

“Find something, my doyen?”

Dmitri turned the length of wood over in his hands. “Looks like part of the handle off a pickaxe.”

He passed it over to Mons, who gave the stick a glance and nodded. “We must be getting close to the mine.”

“You’re probably right. It looks like the magic is…” Dmitri pushed his sleeve up to let the bracelet on his wrist dangle freely. The copper disks there swung back and forth as if in a strong wind. He let the long sleeve slide back down and cover the bracelet again. “About half sail. The briefing said we can’t expect much more than that under this sky.”

“We should try to get there before the sun sets and the magic weakens,” Mons pointed out.

Dmitri pulled his boots back on. “Just as well. Short rests are fine, but once we’re done here we’ll actually get some relaxation in. Let’s go see what makes this mine so interesting to a herd of dragons, shall we?”


Kor’aj Thrinnaeveous snapped his head around when his seeg stepped into the tent of meeting unannounced. The talk had gone so well that Thrinnaeveous had hoped to finish the day without crisis, but he should have known better. His own kor’aj had warned him that life was one continuing crisis, and the one who did not hear the crisis of the moment was simply not listening hard enough.

Still, the interruption was frustrating. Thrinnaeveous set the small silver trinket he’d been examining down and gave Seeg Rallaj his full attention. The seeg’s posture and nervous sway spoke of discomfort, and not, he suspected, because he had interrupted his kor’aj. Thrinnaeveous pulled himself up to his full height. “I listen.”

Rallaj dipped his head once in acknowledgment. “A group of humans is climbing the mountain. Their methods speak of caution, but not open hostility.”

“How many?”

“Four in all. And…” The seeg’s tail swept across the ground nervously. “Some of them are quite strange.”

To Thrinnaeveous, such a careless choice of words was strange. The differences between humans and the tribes were many and obvious. Why speak of them at all? “Strange how?”

Rallaj dipped his head once again, this time in apology. “Perhaps it is best if you saw for yourself, Kor’aj.”

With a quick bob of his head and sweep of his tail, Thrinnaeveous asked his guest to excuse him. On his way out of the tent he paused to gently bump his seeg with his shoulder, sending the younger one out first in a mild reproof. Then he stepped out into the cold mountain air and followed his seeg down the side of the peak.


It turned out that they were even closer to the mine than Mons had originally suspected.

Not more than five minutes after they resumed the trek up the mountainside they were stopped short by a sound vaguely like a hunting horn, only much deeper and richer, that seemed to roll down the mountain like an avalanche. In fact, for a brief moment that’s exactly what Dmitri though was happening. The note sounded as they approached a narrow pass through a much steeper wall of rock, and as soon as it rang out the air was full of the sounds of breaking stone.

Except no rock came rolling down the mountainside. Instead, the narrow pass disappeared as the rock on either side seemed to bend inward and seal off the path entirely. As soon as that was accomplished the note faded from the air and, once the echoes had died away, the mountain seemed quiet again.

Dmitri stared at the solid rock wall for a moment, slowly relaxing his guarded stance as it became clear there wasn’t any immediate danger. “Mons.”

“My doyen?”

“I think the natives are getting restless.”

He quickly ducked the swipe Mons took at the back of his head and moved to a safer distance. “Is this really the time for that?”

Rather than rise to the bait, Mons was focusing his attention on the top of the newly formed stone wall. And why not? There was definitely something worth seeing there.

The first dragon recorded in the history of Terra Eternal was chanced upon by Veronica Locke, who took very detailed notes on how not to be eaten by one and included them in her Bestiary of Two Worlds, the revised and expanded version of which was still required reading in many institutions of higher learning. Since then, many different things had been discovered on other worlds which were at least somewhat similar, and generally classified as a dragon (although scholarly debate on that grouping continued.)

Although dragons tended to be much more different than one another than, say, dogs or horses or even humans, they all shared a few basic characteristics. They tended to be built like reptiles, although some had feathers instead of scales, they had voracious appetites and they were big.

Really, really big.

So big, early versions of Locke’s Bestiary actually devoted a page to sketches that showed a dragon with various other animals to press home just how big they were. (Later versions used the Great Clock Tower on the Throneworlds instead of animals.) When Dmitri had been told the locals were complaining of a herd of dragons he had laughed. Whether they were intelligent or stupid, it was common knowledge that dragons were too big and hungry to be able to move in groups. A herd of dragons would strip continents of food in a matter of days.

Of course, what Dmitri had forgotten in that moment, but remembered once he got out on the mountainside, was the first rule every person who crossed the horizon into a new world learned: Never laugh at the natives.

There was a trio of creatures crouching on the top of the stone wall and staring down at the two of them. The best word for them was long. Long, snakelike necks, long, powerful arms, long, sleek torsos and a long, restless tail. Almost hidden behind the rest of their bodies were short but well muscled legs. When two of them rose off their haunches and moved along the ledge of rock, spreading out in either direction, Dmitri realized they walked as much with their arms as with their legs, almost like a gorilla. From the tip of their tails to the end of their nose, Dmitri guess they couldn’t be more than ten to twelve feet long.

Dmitri tapped his chin absently and said, “Mons. I think we’ve found that herd of dragons.”


The spare scrub grasses slid past Thrinnaeveous in a constant susurrus, the whispers of late autumn. If not for Rallaj’s nervousness the entire mountain would seem to be at peace. Still, a seeg did not come to his station for nothing, and Rallaj’s caution was a powerful warning and Thrinnaeveous reminded himself that he would be wise to heed it.

The tribe was already gathering at the low wall, it’s strongest voices watching over the side of the stone barrier and quietly harmonizing with the songs of the earth. Thrinnaeveous paused to rear back and dip his head to them in acknowledgement. Humans had been coming to the mountain for the last two seasons of the moon, ever since his people had arrived, this batch could very well wait long enough for him to acknowledge his kin.

With propriety observed, Thrinnaeveous loped out to the edge of the ridge to look down and see what had so excited his seeg. At first glance they were nothing more than four humans, as Rallaj had said. The size and face of one spoke of youth, not yet come into its full strength or wisdom. But young or no, he stood with a stillness and watchfulness that Thrinnaeveous knew humans often considered a mark of a listening ear and thoughtful words. He carried no weapon and wore a long cloak or coat. In fact, the garment was so long it nearly touched the tops of his boots and the sleeves covered his hands, as if saying that the man who wore the coat had no need to use his own hands.

As for the other three… Thrinaeveous looked from one to another, then back across the three again. They were dressed much like the younger man, except their sleeves were not as long. Beyond that, he saw few differences. Even their appearance… He looked once more, this time stretching his knowledge of humanity to its limits. It was hard to be entirely sure. “Their faces are identical?”

“It seemed so to me,” Rallaj answered immediately. “And every other who has seen them. I do not know what it says of them.”

Thrinnaeveous narrowed his eyes and drew a deep lungful of air, tasting the skies nervously and stretching his senses to the utmost. But no new revelation came to him. Defeated, he let the breath out in a rush. “Neither do I.”

“I listen.” Rallaj slid a half pace back and waited to follow his kor’aj’s lead.

Unfortunately, Thrinnaeveous wasn’t quite sure where they were going to go. The other humans who had come up the mountain had come under arms or making angry demands. These were simply waiting.

Then again, they were so few, and lightly armed. Two of the three identical humans carried weapons, one a spear the other a pair of odd looking swords, but it wouldn’t be enough to fight a small chorus, to say nothing of a full tribe. Hardly the approach of thinking creatures who had come looking for a fight. He pulled his head back over the ridge and looked up at Rallaj. “We shall go and hear them.”


“Why do you think they’re humming?” Mons asked softly.

Dmitri wasn’t sure he would call it humming, but the deep, bone rattling sound that the dragons had been making for the last two or three minutes certainly had something in common with that kind of music. With over a dozen dragons in sight, all apparently making noise together, it was hard not to wind up thinking about it. “I think it’s a kind of magic. Except, instead of placing a sail to catch magic and syphon it storage, the sounds make a pattern that can hold the magic ready at hand.”

Mons did a double take. “You mean like power words?”

“Except I’m willing to bet they have more than a half a dozen of them. And they probably don’t have to work for years to get the pronunciation just right.” He waved a hand at the line of dragons who were singing, pacing and keeping watch all without apparent strain on their faculties. “Look at that, Mons. These dragons must have a natural affinity for sound and-“

He was cut off when two dragons suddenly dropped down the ridge in a single graceful and seemingly effortless leap. It was easily a twenty foot drop, if not more, but neither creature seemed the least put off by it as they flowed towards the two humans like some strange dun and green liquid. That alone wouldn’t have prompted Dmitri to stop, but Mons had quickly pushed him back a few steps and taken up a position between the dragons and the doyen. Dmitri suppressed a huff and watched what the dragons would do next.

What they chose to do was come to a stop about ten feet away and pull themselves up on their hind legs. With them so close at hand Dmitri was forced to increase his estimate of their size by another foot or two. Or perhaps these were just unusually large specimens. Both dragons dipped their heads down on their long, sinuous necks until they dropped lower than their shoulders, then snapped them back up again, almost like a snake preparing to strike.

Except instead of lunging forward the dragon with scales of a darker green started to talk. At first Dmitri didn’t realize that was what was happening. It wasn’t until the dragon made it’s second attempt that he recognized that the dragon was speaking a human language. The first time around the dragon had chosen a language from some phoneme he wasn’t familiar enough with to identify on hearing it. But the second time he could identify obvious shades of the twelfth phoneme, Mons’ native tongue. The third attempt was a recognizable greeting in the fourth phoneme. The dragon was apparently determined to run through languages until it found something they both spoke.

Highly unusual but not necessarily a bad thing. Dmitri waited until the dragon paused for a response, then said, “Do you speak the language of the Throneworlds?”

The creature stopped for a moment and canted its head to one side. “Little.”

Dmitri stifled a sigh and switched to his native language. “Then how about Cyrillic?”

“That is a more comfortable language for us to speak in,” the dragon said. “I am Thrinnaeveous, the Kor’aj of this tribe. I will listen to your words and speak on our behalf.”

Dmitri easily recognized a ritual greeting when he heard one. Since it seemed the polite thing to do, he did his best to match the dragon’s earlier nod with a bow and said, “I am Dmitri Dostoevsky, a Doyen of Terra Eternal. I greet you on behalf of myself and my brothers, and my father and his brothers.”


Thrinnaeveous tried to pick apart the human’s greeting. He knew that humans naturally respected family, although they did not go so far as to band together into tribes as dragons did. But he wasn’t sure what this human’s father or brothers had to do with the situation at hand, if anything. By the same token, any fool could see that the earth would last forever, but what a doyen was or what it had to do with that was not something he could fathom.

Worse, it was the younger human who was speaking. Not only would a younger dragon never think of speaking before his elders, at least in matters such as these, until that moment Thrinnaeveous had assumed that the same was true for humans. Now, he was not so sure. And Dmitri had made no move to explain his strange trio of companions as of yet.

“I welcome you to this dragon’s mount,” Thrinnaeveous said, shifting his feet slightly to display his desire to get to the point. “And ask what brings you to it.”

“Simply this: It is not your mountain.” The doyen gestured to encompass the path they stood on and everything above it. “This territory belongs to the city of Lienz, in the nation of Ligare, who’s king and nobles have sworn loyalty to the Throne. You are trespassing here, and preventing the people from working the mines and enriching the kingdom.”

Thrinnaeveous shifted back a step, surprised. “No humans lived here when we arrived.”

“Of course not,” the young human replied. “They work here, but live at the foot of the mountain.”

“How can you claim land you do not live on?” Thrinnaeveous demanded.

“Whether you acknowledge our claim or not, the fact is we have made it.” He gestured back down the mountain. “I admit the Ligarans were not exactly diplomatic when they initially approached you. Perhaps if they had explained the situation before you became settled here there would have been less of a conflict.”

Thrinnaeveous dropped his hands to the ground and rested on all fours, prompting the doyen’s two armed companions to bring their weapons up, showing a surprising degree of synchronization. Rallaj slid forward and bared his teeth but Thrinnaeveous waved him back. “Dmitri Dostoevsky. My people have traveled long and hard. We have come to this mountain, who’s stone does not sing the song of our home, and now you wish us to continue on our way?” Behind them, the voices of the tribe rose in unison, their objection adding force to his words. “Where are we to find rest and a welcoming voice from the earth if not here?”

For a moment the doyen was silent, although whether he was considering what Thrinnaeveous had said or simply marveling at the chorus of dragons was not clear. “Kor’aj Thrinaeveous. I cannot say where you will find a home, or if it will be soon or far in the future. But this cannot be your home. I have a duty to the people of Lienz, to restore their livelihood to them before they are forced to leave their homes. You will not allow them to return to their mines?”

“You know as well as I that such work weakens the mountain and makes it unsafe.” The chorus shifted key and matched his derisive tone. “To allow you to undermine the mountain is to allow you to undermine our homes.”

“Then I’m sorry.” For the first time the doyen took notice of his companions, gesturing for them to lower their own weapons and line up to his left. Once they had done so, Dmitri turned his attention back to Thrinnaeveous and said, “This is Solomon ben-Gideon.”

Thrinnaeveous waited for a moment, expecting to hear the names of the rest. When the young human said nothing more he swept his neck to include all three. “Which?”

“Yes.” The three men answered as one. Thrinnaeveous jerked away as if confronted by a wolf, but the three ignored his reaction. “I am Solomon ben-Gideon. A soul of One. Thrice I have been born under different skies but now I walk the worlds as one.”

“I am impressed with what your people are capable of,” Dmitri said, once again encompassing the mountaintop with one hand, the sleeve that covered it flapping in the breeze. “But I assure you that the souls of One are capable of much more. Mons has prepared a demonstration for you, I believe.”

The doyen drew a small pendant from inside his coat and did something with it. A second later the sound of the earth and the air changed, as if a a storm had flown up the side of the mountain and was now about to break. Though Thrinnaeveous felt no wind, the cloth of their coats seemed to fill and drift as if the earth itself was exhaling beneath them. The three identical men, no, perhaps it was better to say the man who was in three places, swept an intricate pattern through the air before them, deftly avoiding one another and completing the movements in less than two full heartbeats.

The one with a spear touched it’s point to the ground and the side of the mountain shook. A great crack formed across the path, separating the humans and the dragons, and from the depths of it Thrinnaeveous could hear the sound of liquid earth roaring. As the tremors faded away the doyen called across the chasm. “Know that a threefold soul is not the greatest of the souls of One, nor are they the most dangerous weapons in our arsenal. In two weeks time, Terra Eternal will come and seal this gap. If we still find you beyond it, we will cast you from these mountains by force. Until then, Kor’aj Thrinnaeveous.”

The young human tucked away his pendant and the air fell still again. Then both he and his companion turned and walked back down the path they had come by.

Rallaj and Thrinnaeveous watched them go, then Rallaj went to the crevasse and peered into it. “This is beyond even our stone songs, Kor’aj.”

“Well said, Rallaj.” Thrinnaeveous went to stand by his seeg, joining him in his grim contemplation for a moment. Then he gently dripped his head down to be level with Rallaj’s and nudged him away from the gap. “Come. We have much to do, it seems.”

The guest from the tent of meeting was waiting for them at the top of the ridge. Like the other two, he was human, but he carried no weapons, but rather a heavy sack of trade goods. He had already packed it away, perhaps having sensed that there would be little market for what he brought now. “Quite a difficult choice your people face now, Thrinnaeveous.”

“And we must make it on our own,” he replied. “We will take no more of your time. Perhaps the people of Lienz will be more interested in your wares.”

The man set aside his heavy sack, carefully holding his long hair to one side so as to ensure it would not get tangled in the strap. Then he straightened up and fished around in the pockets of his coat until he produced a scroll. “You may be right, old dragon. But before I go, let me ask you one last thing. Have you ever heard of the Jovian League?”


“You know, if they stick around they might cause more problems for whoever’s sent to evict them.” Mons looked up from the matrix he was carefully monitoring. “It’s not like the Throneworlds are likely to dispatch a group that includes a soul of One to deal with them.” He nodded his heads towards the pendant at the center of the spellwork. “To say nothing of a full blown Coretap.”

“Maybe not,” Dmitri said with a shrug. “But overestimating the opposition is just as crippling as underestimating them. In the mean time, our side will have a decent idea what to expect. I mean, a race that can create power words out of music? Can you imagine the panic that would cause if it caught you by surprise?”

“What really gets me is the way the back up was harmonizing with the lead dragon.” Mons’ heads shook in sequence, one of the weirdest gestures in his admittedly weird repertoire. “They either work on it from birth or do it intuitively. I’m not sure which possibility scares me more. They may not be able to match me for precision, but there’s far more raw power there than I’d ever like to see up close.”

Dmitri sighed and got up from the log where he’d been happily resting his feet just before their confrontation with the dragons and started pacing the path. He was fairly sure the tribe wouldn’t follow them down the mountain, but if this was going to take much longer they’d need to move further along. He wasn’t sure if the dragons were native to this face of Terra or not, but if they were there was no point revealing how they traveled from one point on the horizon to the next. “Are you still not ready, Mons?”

“Properly calibrating to the beacons can take time,” he said. “But I prefer to take that then to wildly jump to an unexplored Terra. Why, are you in a hurry?”

Dmitri shrugged. “It just wasn’t a very difficult problem. I’m ready to move on.”

“And let the other shoe drop in someone else’s lap?” Mons asked teasingly.

“If your worries become a problem, I deal with it then.” Dmitri shrugged. “In the mean time, there’s fifty two worlds that offer fealty to the Throne, and only five doyen to smooth out the problems that come with all that implies. There’s still plenty for us to do.”

“Always so serious,” Mons said. But it was gentle and good natured, not teasing or sarcastic. “Well, then I suppose we should move on.”

The spell he had been holding collapsed in on itself, and the horizon line bent until it seemed it would swallow them. Then, as soon as it had happened it all snapped back into place. And with that, they were gone.

Fiction Index