Warrior woman Serroi finds herself at the center of a deadly magical contest between a goddess and a dark wizard in this thrilling sequel to Moongather.
Moonscatter is the second volume of prolific American fantasist Jo Clayton’s Duel of Sorcery Trilogy, carrying readers back into the richly imagined fantasy world of Moongather,and into the heat of a warrior woman’s desperate battle to save it from annihilation by the most terrible wizard of the realm.
As a young child, Serroi was held in thrall to Ser Noris, the powerful and villainous mage who saved her from certain death only to exploit her as a tool in his unholy experiments in necromancy and demonic possession. After being cast aside, she became a chosen warrior of the meie, though nightmarish memories continue to haunt her. As for the dark sorcerer, his power and malevolence have since increased a thousandfold. Having achieved eternal life, no evil in this world can compare with his, and now Ser Noris, bored with a lack of worthy opponents, has challenged the Goddess herself, She who lives at the center of all things.
Only Serroi can truly recognize the terrible depth of the darkness that is overtaking her world. And as she sets forth on a desperate quest to locate the last remaining power capable of defeating Ser Noris’s insidious plot—the enigmatic and wildly unpredictable hermit Coyote—a young girl in a faraway village, whose fate will soon be intertwined with Serroi’s, is coming of age in a time of violence and fear.
But what chance do mere mortal heroes have when faced with malevolence so powerful and brazen that it dares to take on a goddess, and would obliterate an entire world on a whim?
An enthralling epic tale of courage, destiny, swords, and sorcery, Moonscatter stands at the center of an unsung classic high fantasy trilogy that proves Clayton once again to be the artistic and imaginative equal of revered contemporaries Andre Norton, Jane Yolen, C. J. Cherryh, and other greats in the field of speculative fiction.
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By Jo Clayton
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1983 Jo Clayton
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Tuli sat up, shoved the quilts back, annoyed at being sent to bed so early. Like I was a baby still. She ran her fingers through her tangled hair, sniffed with disgust as she glared at the primly neat covers on her oldest sister's bed. Hunh! If I was a snitch like Nilis. ... She wrinkled her nose at the empty bed. ... I'd go running off to Da 'nd tell him how she's out panting after that horrid Agli when she's s'posed to be up here with us. She eyed the covers thoughtfully, sighed, stifled an impulse to gather them up and toss them out the window. Wasn't worth the fuss Nilis would create. She drew her legs up, wrapped her arms around them and sat listening to the night sounds coming through the unglazed, unshuttered windows and watching as the rising moons painted a ghost image of the window on the polished planks of the floor.
When she thought the time was right, she crawled to the end of the bed, flounced out flat and fished about in the space beneath the webbing that supported the mattress until she found her hunting clothes, a tunic and trousers discarded by her twin. She wriggled off the mattress, whipped off her sleeping smock, threw it at her pillow, scrambled hastily into her trousers, shivering as she did so. She dragged the tunic over her head, tugged it down, resenting the changes in her body that signaled a corresponding change — a depressing change — in the things she would be allowed to do. She tied her short brown hair back off her face with a crumpled ribbon, her eyes on her second oldest sister placidly asleep in the third bed pushed up against the wall under one of the windows. Sanani's face was a blurred oval in the strengthening moonlight, eyelashes dark furry crescents against the pallor of her skin, her breathing easy, undisturbed.
Satisfied that her sister wouldn't wake and miss her, Tuli went to the window and leaned out. Nijilic TheDom was clear of the mountains, running in and out of clouds that were the remnants of the afternoon's storm. The Scatterstorms were subsiding — none too soon. It was going to be a bad wintering. Tuli folded her arms on the windowsill and looked past the moonglow tree at the dark bulk of the storebarn. Her back still ached from the hurried gleaning after the scythemen — everyone, man woman child, in the fields to get the grain in before the rain spoiled yet more of it. With all that effort the grain bins in the barn were only half full — and Sanani said Gradintar was one of the luckiest. And the fruit on the trees was thin. And the tubers, podplants, earthnuts were swarming with gatherpests or going black and soft with mold. And there wasn't enough fodder for the hauhaus and the macain and they'd have to be culled. She shivered at the thought then shoved it resolutely aside and pulled herself onto the sill so she sat with her legs dangling, her bare heels kicking against the side of the house. She drew in a long breath, joying in the pungency of the night smells drifting to her on the brisk night breeze — straw dust from the fields, the sour stench of manure from the hauhau pens where the blocky beasts waited for dawn milking, the sickly sweet perfume from the wings of the white moths clinging to the sweetbuds of the moonglow tree. Grabbing at the sides of the window, she tilted out farther and looked along the house toward the room where her two brothers slept.
Teras thrust his shaggy head out, grinned at her, his teeth shining in his sun-dark face. He pointed down, then swung out and descended rapidly to wait for her in the walled garden below.
Tuli wriggled around until she was belly-balanced on the sill, felt about for the sigil stones set in the plaster. Once she was set, she went down almost as nimbly as her brother, though the tightness of the tunic hindered her a little. At about her own height from the ground she jumped, landing with bent knees, her bare feet hitting the turf with a soft thud. She straightened and turned to face her brother, fists on her narrow hips, her head tilted to look up at him. Two years ago when they were twelve she'd been eye to eye with him. This was another change she resented. She scowled at him. "Well?"
"Shh." He pointed to the lines of light around the shutters half a stride along the wall. "Come on." He ran to the moonglow tree, jumped and caught hold of the lowest limb, shaking loose a flutter of moths and a cloud of powerfully sweet perfume.
Tuli followed him over the wall. "What's happening?" she whispered. "When you signaled me at supper...." She glanced at the dark bulk of the house rising above the garden wall. "Nilis?"
"Uh-huh." He squinted up at the flickering moons. "TheDom's rising. Plenty of light tonight." He started toward the barns, Tuli running beside him. "Nilis was sucking up to that Agli down by the riverroad a bit after the noon meal." He kicked at a pebble, watched it bound across the straw-littered earth. "She caught me watching and chased me, yelling I was a sneak and a snoop and she'd tell Da on me." He snorted. "Follow her, hunh! Maiden's toes, why'd I follow her?" He dragged his feet through straw and clumps of dry grass as they rounded one of the barns and started past a hauhau pen. Tuli slapped her fingers against the poles until several of the cranky beasts whee-hooed mournfully at her. Teras pulled her away. "You want to get caught?"
"Course not." She freed herself. "You haven't told me where we're going or why."
"Nilis and the Agli they were talking about a special tilun, something big. That was just before she saw me and yelled at me so I don't know what. She sneaked off yet?"
Tuli nodded. "Her bed's empty."
Teras grinned. "We're going to go, too."
"Huh?" She grabbed at his arm, pulling him to a stop. "Nilis will have our heads, 'specially mine."
"No. Listen. Hars and me, we were looking over the home macain to get ready for the cull. I got to talking with him about tiluns 'nd things, Nilis being on my mind, you know, and about the Followers 'nd everything and he said there's some big cracks in the shutters, they put the wood up green and the Scatterstorms warped th' zhag out of 'em. Anyone looking in from outside could see just about everything going on." He grinned again, skipped backward ahead of her, hands clasped behind his head. "I think he watched them the last time he took off to Jango's, anyway he said they get real wound up, roll on the floor, confess their sins 'nd everything." Pupils dilated until his pale irids were only thin rings, his eyes gleamed like polished jet. "Maybe Nilis will be confessing tonight." His foot snagged suddenly on a clump of grass; he tottered, giggling, then caught his balance.
"What a chinj she is." Tuli mimed the popping of a small-life bloodsucker as she ran past him laughing. She swung up the poles of the corral, rested her stomach on the top pole, balancing herself there, her hands tight about it as she watched the macain heave onto their feet and amble lazily toward her.
Teras climbed the fence and sat on the top pole, knees bent, bare heels propped on a lower one. "Remember the time when ol' spottyface was courting Nilis and we made the mudhole in the lane and covered it with sticks and grass?"
Tuli grinned. "Da whaled us good for that one. It was worth it. She was so mad she near baked that mud solid." Teetering precariously, she reached out and stroked the warty nose of the nearest macai. "I wonder what she could find to confess, she's so perfect, according to her." The macai moaned with pleasure and lifted his head so she could dig her fingers into the loose folds under his chin. "Which one's this?"
"Labby." Teras stood up, wobbling a little, arms outstretched; when he had his balance, he jumped lightly to the macai's back, startling a grunt from the beast. "There's a halter over there by the barn, get it, will you?"
Cymbank was dark except for Jango's tavern and even there the shutters were closed; only the burning torch caged above the door showed the place was still open. The streets and the square were deserted, no players or peddlers, no one camped out on the green or restless in the spotty moonlight to catch the twins in their prowl, not even stray guards from the double decset quartered in the Center for the last tenday.
Tuli rested her cheek against her brother's back, wondering mildly what she was going to see. The Followers of Soäreh the Flame had been around the mijloc awhile, a ragtag sect no one paid much attention to, though there were rumors enough about the tiluns, whispers of orgies and black magic, other whispers about their priests who called themselves Aglim though everyone knew they were only stupid little norids who couldn't light a match without sweating. Still, there did seem to be a lot more Followers and an Agli here in Cymbank and she'd heard of others in other villages along RiverCym. Not long after the Great Gather when the Domnor vanished somehow and Floarin took over as regent for her unborn child, not very long after that, orders came down from Oras and the Doamna-regent for the Taromates of the South to provide land and roof for the Followers and their Aglim, orders backed by a Decsel and his ten guards. The Taromate of RiverCym had grumbled and done the least they could, giving the Agli a long abandoned granary that was, by mischance, directly across from the Maiden Shrine. The location made the people of Cymbank very unhappy and the taroms weren't too pleased with it but no one had anything better to offer and the thing was done. That was near a year ago now and folks were used to it, ignored it mostly.
The walls of the granary, though crumbling a little on the outside, were solid enough and the roof reasonably intact. The Agli had looked it over and accepted it, though Tesc told Annic in the hearing of the twins that he didn't like the look in that viper's eyes and he prayed that he never got his teeth in any of them.
Teras turned Labby toward the back of the Maiden Shrine. "Almost there," he whispered. She could feel the muscles tighten in his back, hear the tension in his voice. He pulled the macai to a stop, tapped his sister's hands, and when she loosed her grip on him, swung down. As she slid after him, he knotted the halter rope to one of the rings on the hitching post then waited for Tuli to take the lead.
His night sight was only adequate; he didn't stumble around, but saw few things sharply once the sun went down. His realm was daylight while the night belonged to Tuli. Everything about her expanded when the moons rose; she ran faster, heard, smelled, tasted far more intensely, read the shifts of the air like print — and most of all, saw with dreamlike clarity everything about her, saw night scenes as if they were fine black-and-white etchings, detailed to the smallest leaf. No night hunter (no hovering kanka passar or prowling fayar) could track its prey more surely. She loved her night rambles nearly as much as she loved her twin, loved both with a jealous passion and refused to acknowledge that she'd be wed in a few years and shut away from both these loves, from her brother and the night. "Through the shrine?" she whispered.
"For a look first," Teras murmured. His hand brushed across his eyes, a betrayal of his anxiety, then he grinned at her, gave her a little push. "Get on with it or we'll miss everything."
Tuli nodded. She circled the small schoolroom where she and Teras had learned to read and figure, had memorized the Maiden chants, moved past the Sanctuary and the Shrine fountain, stepped into the columned court. As she passed the vine-wreathed posts with their maiden faces, moon-caught, smiling through the leaves, Tuli relaxed. There was a gentle goodness about the court that always reached deep in her and smoothed away the knots of anger and spite that gathered in her like burrs and pricked at her until she burst out with ugly words and hateful acts whose violence often frightened her. Sometimes after Nilis or one of the tie-girls had driven her to distraction she ran away to this court for help in subduing her fury when, staying, she might have half-killed the other. Night or day, the Maiden gave her back her calm, gave her the strength to live with herself and with others no matter how irritating. This night she felt the peace again, forgot why she was here until Teras tapped at her arm and urged her to hurry.
She stopped in the shadow by the shrine gate; Teras pressed against her as they both examined the bulky cylinder of the old granary. He stirred after a moment, itchy with the need for action. "See anything?" There was trouble in his voice. He had a sense she lacked. It was like a silent gong, he told her, if you can imagine such a thing, like a great dinner gong vibrating madly that you couldn't hear only feel. It didn't sound often but when it did, it meant get the hell out, if it was really loud, or sometimes just watch where you put your feet, there's danger about.
Tuli nodded. Leaning against the gatepost, she narrowed her eyes and probed the shadows across the street. At first she saw nothing more than the wide, low cylinder with its conical roof, then in the deeply recessed doorway she felt more than saw a faint movement, as if the air the watcher stirred slipped across the street and pressed against her face. The watcher moved; she saw a darkness pass across a streak of red-gold light. She scanned the building with slow care for one last time then let out the breath she was holding. "Guard in the doorway. That's all. If we go out the back here, circle round and come down the riverbank, we can climb over the court wall and get to those windows Hars told you 'bout." She frowned. "He must 've got over the wall himself without getting caught, but maybe there's a guard there now."
Teras shrugged. "Won't know till we look. Come on."
Tuli loped easily along behind the shops that lined the main street, Teras behind her; in a kind of litany she named them under her breath — cobbler, saddlemaker, turner, mercer, hardware seller, blacksmith, coper, candy maker — a litany of the familiar, the comfortable, the unchanging, only she would change, though she'd hold back that change if she could. They circled kitchen gardens and macai sheds, ducked past moonglow groves and swung round the empty corrals where macai dealers auctioned off their wares at the Rising Fair. She felt a bubbling in her blood; her face was hot and tight in spite of the chill in the air blowing against it; she was breathing fast, not from the running, her heart knocking in her throat with excitement. Before, when she was still a child, running wild at night was worth a licking if she was caught at it, now she'd started her menses the danger was far greater. I might be cast out of the family, utterly disowned, left to find my living however I could, poor, starved, beaten, maybe I'd even end up in the back rooms at Jango's. She swallowed a giggle, luxuriating in imaginings, knowing all the while that Tesc, her father, loved her far too much to do any of these dire things to her.
She led Teras back along the riverbank until she came to a clattering stand of dried-out bastocane directly behind the granary. She scanned as much as she could see of the walls of the square back court, then nudged her brother. "Gong?"
"Not a squeak." He came around her, trotted silent as a wraith across dry grass and debris to the crumbling mud brick wall. He turned and waited for her, propping his shoulders against the wall, his eyes glistening with mischief. Tuli grinned at him, kicked at the mud, jerked her thumb up. He nodded and started climbing, feeling for cracks with feet and fingers, knocking down loose fragments that pattered softly beside her. She watched his head rise over the top, saw him swing across the drop without hesitation. Following as quickly as she could, she pulled herself over the wall and let herself down beside her twin. She heard a macai honk in a shed at the back of the court, heard the wail of a kanka passar in swoop close by, the buzz of night flying bugs, but that was all, no guard, nothing to worry about.
Thin streaks of red-gold light outlined a series of double shutters that covered what once had been grain chutes but now were, presumably, windows set into the thick wall. The shutter nearest the courtwall had a long narrow triangle of wood broken off one edge. Light spilled copiously from the opening and gilded the ground beneath. Teras touched Tuli's shoulder, pointed, then moved swiftly, silently, to the broken shutter.
Belly cold with a vague foreboding far less definite than her brother's gong and somehow more disturbing, Tuli hesitated. Teras swung away from the crack and beckoned impatiently. She shook off her anxiety and crossed to him to kneel by the bottom of the crack while Teras leaned over her, his eye to the opening. Sighing, Tuli looked inside.
Excerpted from Moonscatter by Jo Clayton. Copyright © 1983 Jo Clayton. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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