The Monastery of the Parallels
by Holly Heisey
Johan Mercio emphatically did not think about the invitation in the inner pocket of his evening
jacket, thick and heavy and anonymous. Instead, he adjusted the feathered plume on his hat and
sauntered his way through the crowded ballroom of the palace of Venton, wine glass in hand.
He spotted the Minister of National History in all his civil service-medaled glory. Maybe the
invitation wasn't so anonymous. The minister might have finally agreed to listen to his theories
on the impact of the Victorious War.
Johan raised his glass, but the minister gave him a flat stare and turned to resume his own
conversation. Of course the invitation wasn't from the minister.
He noted, as he wove through various groups of nobles, three figures in bright reds and
tangerines and golds, their veils draped to show only their eyes. Monks from the Monastery of
the Parallels were not forbidden from any gathering, per the laws of the Accords of the Parallels,
but they were given wide berth. Two made eye contact with him, and the invitation in his pocket
began to feel heavier. He drained his glass of wine and prayed to all of the gods that the
Monastery hadn't gotten hold of his theories and decided to meddle. He took his cue from
everyone else and pointedly ignored the monks.
While Johan was nursing the last of his third glass and trying to find a group he had not yet
approached, the crowds began to push back. The ballroom hummed as people turned toward the
Johan watched over most of the heads as a man as tall and swarthy as himself, his face all planes
and sharp edges, parted the crowds with the inevitability of a ship breaking water. Not the prince
or one of the dukes, not anyone he recognized. The man's gaze locked on Johan and stayed there.
The wine glass shook in Johan's hand. He glanced around, but yes, the man was looking at him.
His ears began to rush and his hands and face numbed with a static that leaned toward pain. He
felt with a gut-certainty that he knew this man, but he had never seen him before.
"Are you Johan Mercio?"
The man had a strange accent, slurred about the edges, and his voice was compressed as if he was
used to bellowing.
Johan surveyed the man's rigid posture, the left arm slightly bowed where he might normally
prop a helmet. Fine scars etched his chin and brow. This man had to be a general.
"Marcus Kato." Kato gave a stiff nod. "I have come to aid you in your work."
And then the invitation in Johan's pocket made sense. He had asked the minister many times for
the aid of a general. He'd known he'd never get it, but he asked anyway. Johan eyed where he'd
last seen the minister, but only saw the smirking, tittering nobles.
He took in a sharp breath of sweat and clashing perfumes.
A scandal. The minister had invited him to a scandal, his own. It was a blatant attempt to
discredit his name and cast doubt on his theories. Kato was no more a general than he was.
Johan made a curt bow. "If you are to help me in my work, be in my office tomorrow morning by
seven. We can discuss matters then."
Kato's eyes narrowed.
The numbness in Johan's hands increased, and though he told himself it was nerves, his gut
tightened with a deeper dread. Kato was too familiar. He could have been one of Johan's
brothers, or his father even, with the gray salting Kato's dark, bristly hair.
Color rustled in the crowd, the orange robe and veil of one of the monks from the Monastery of
the Parallels. His heart jumped to his throat. If the monks were here, and this Kato looked so
much like himself . . .?
He shoved that thought and everything that went with it away from him. His breathing slowed
"I will be there," Kato said. "In the morning."