Before Safi and Iseult battled a Bloodwitch...
Before Merik returned from the dead…
Ryber Fortiza was a Sightwitch Sister at a secluded convent, waiting to be called by her goddess into the depths of the mountain. There she would receive the gift of foretelling. But when that call never comes, Ryber finds herself the only Sister without the Sight.
Years pass and Ryber’s misfit pain becomes a dull ache, until one day, Sisters who already possess the Sight are summoned into the mountain, never to return. Soon enough, Ryber is the only Sister left. Now, it is up to her to save her Sisters, though she does not have the Sightand though she does not know what might await her inside the mountain.
On her journey underground, she encounters a young captain named Kullen Ikray, who has no memory of who he is or how he got there. Together, the two journey ever deeper in search of answers, their road filled with horrors, and what they find at the end of that road will alter the fate of the Witchlands forever.
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The Sleeping Giant
Said to always guide north, the Sleeping Giant is a cluster of three stars, visible even with the moon at its fullest.
Several theories exist for the origin of the constellation's name, many of which are rooted in different fables meant to keep children well-behaved. However, I posit that the name predates all of those fables as well as the cultures that created them.
Tanzi was summoned today.
It happened like it always does: we were at morning prayer in the observatory, hunched in our seats with eyes closed. I was sitting with the other Serving Sisters, a swathe of brown through the hall of silver Sightwitches. We might be all nationalities, all origins, all ages, but Serving Sisters always sat on one end. Full-fledged Sightwitch Sisters always sat on the other.
Clouds had gathered overnight. A flimsy light filtered through the stained glass in the observatory's ceiling, casting the amphitheater rows in shadows.
We had just begun the Memory Vow. Head Sister Hilga stood beside the scrying pool at the room's heart, her hands clasped at her belly and her eyes closed. Our voices bounced on the marble walls, eighty-seven throats sounding like a thousand.
PRAYERS OF THE SIGHTWITCH SISTER
The Memory Vow
In the name of Sirmaya,
The Vow of Clear Eyes
In the name of Sirmaya,
The Vow of a Future Dreamed
In the name of Sirmaya,
As the final words in the Memory Vow — "Once seen, never forgotten. Once heard, never lost" — crossed our lips, a telltale flap of wings echoed out.
My heart dropped to my toes, as it always does when I hear that sound.
Please be for me, I begged, staring at the stained-glass dome overhead — at the constellation of bright stars. Please be coming for me, Sleeper. I follow all the Rules, I've learned all my lessons, and I have served you without complaint for thirteen years. Please, Sirmaya, Summon me.
I wanted to vomit. I wanted to shout. Surely, surely my day had finally come.
Then the spirit swift appeared, swirling out of the scrying pool. A black mist that coalesced into a sharp-tailed, graceful-winged figure, its feathers speckled with starlight. It circled once, with eyes that glowed golden, and a wintery, crisp smell wafted over me.
That smell meant a Summoning.
Pick me, I prayed, the tips of my fingers numb from clutching so tightly at my tunic. Pick me, pick me —
The spirit swift twirled past the telescope ledge before winging down to the Serving Sisters, fourteen of us in brown. I swayed. My heart surged into my throat.
Two hops. It was almost to me, if aiming slightly more toward Tanzi. But there was still a chance it might change course. Still a chance it might twist back to me ...
It didn't. It skipped over to Tanzi's toes because, of course, the swift could not be here for me.
They are never here for me.
Seventeen years old, and my eyes are still their natural brown. Thirteen years at the Convent, and I'm still consigned to drab cotton.
Somehow, though, I managed to keep my throat from screaming, No! I wanted to shriek — Sirmaya knows I wanted to shriek and that my eyes burned with tears. It wasn't Tanzi's fault, though, that the Goddess had picked her first.
And it wasn't Tanzi's fault that our loving Goddess never seemed to want me at all.
If I was going to blame anyone, I should blame Sister Rose and Sister Gwen, Sister Hancine and Sister Lindou. All those years growing up, they had filled my head with stories, telling me that I would be a powerful Sightwitch one day. That I would be the next Head Sister with a Sight to rival even Hilga's. No, they had never seen such visions, but they were sure of it all the same.
Why did I still cling to those old tales when they were so clearly not true? If the Sleeper had truly wanted to give me the strongest Sight, then surely She would have done so by now.
So I didn't cry and I didn't scream. Instead, I forced a smile to my lips and gave Tanzi a hug. She looked so worried, I couldn't not offer my Threadsister something. Her thick eyebrows had drawn into a single black line. Her russet skin was pinched with worry and guilt, an expression I never wanted to see on her face. If smiling would ease it, then smiling I could do.
"One of our ranks has been Summoned," Sister Hilga intoned. The words she always said, words that were never spoken for me. "Praise be to Sirmaya."
"Praise be to Sirmaya," the Sisters murmured back. Except for me. Tanzi still hugged me so tight, so fierce.
"You're not supposed to hug me," I whispered. Hilga was already walking toward us, the Summoning bell pulled from her belt.
"Forget the rules for one second," Tanzi hissed back. "And water my violets while I'm gone. Unless, of course, you get Summoned too."
"Yes." I held my smile as stiff as the stars in the stained glass. "Unless I get Summoned too."
Empty words made of dust. We both knew it would never happen. Summonings are rare enough; two Sisters Summoned at once is practically unheard of. And with each day that passes, the less I think I will ever get called inside the mountain to earn the gift of Sight.
Then that was it. That was all Tanzi and I got for a good-bye before my Threadsister was tugged onward and the rest of us were assembling into rows. At the end was me, all alone, for our number does not break evenly.
Hilga rang the bell once, and its bright tinkle filled the observa-tory. Filled my ears, then hooked deep into my heart and yanked down.
I hated the sound of that bell even more than the deeper bell that followed. The one in the belfry above the Crypts' Chapel.
At the main bell's single toll, we walked.
Little Trina, who is at least two hands shorter than I, glanced back at me. Pity clouded her blue eyes. Or maybe it wasn't pity but rather a fear that she'd one day end up like me: seventeen and still pall-eyed. Seventeen and still dressed in brown.
Seventeen and still un-Summoned by our sleeping Goddess, Sirmaya.
I pretended not to see Trina staring, and when we began the Chant of Sending, I hummed the hollow tones louder than I had ever hummed before. I wanted Tanzi to hear me, all the way at the front of the line, as we wound out of the observatory and up the trail into the evergreens.
Two of the Serving Sisters had cleared this path last week, but already white rubble clotted the pine-needle path. It sheds from the mountain each time she shakes herself.
I will have to clean it again tomorrow — just you wait. Hilga will come to me in the morning with that chore. Except this time, there will be no Tanzi to help.
When at last we reached the chapel pressed against the mountain's white face, the chant came to an end. Always the same rhythm, always the same timing.
We all stopped there, at the entrance into the Crypts, the Convent's vast underground library. The chant was over, but its memory still hung in the air around us as we fanned into half circles around the arched entrance.
The spirit swift that had Summoned Tanzi swooped over us now, briefly multiplying into three aetherial birds. Then six. Then shrinking back into one before sailing through the open door.
When it had disappeared from sight, Hilga nodded at Tanzi. "From this day on, Tanzi Lamanaya will be no more. She will leave us as a Serving Sister and return with the Gift of Clear Eyes."
"Praise be to the Sleeper," we all murmured — even me, though it made my stomach hurt to say it.
Tanzi smiled then. A brilliant, giddy one with no sign of her earlier fret.
And who could blame her? Even she, who waxed day in and day out about wanting to leave the Convent — even she wanted the Sight as badly as the rest of us.
And now she would get it. She'd been Summoned by the Sleeper, the most important moment in the life of a Sightwitch Sister. The only moment, really, that matters.
I tried to mimic her grin. Tried to show Tanzi that I was happy for her — because I was. A person can grieve for herself yet still revel in someone else's good fortune.
Our eyes barely had time to connect before Hilga gripped Tanzi's shoulder and turned her away.
They walked, Tanzi and Hilga, step by measured step into the chapel. Into the mountain. Soon enough, they were lost to the shadows.
The next time I would see Tanzi, her eyes would no longer match mine.
The other Sisters turned away then and marched back to the observatory in their perfect lines.
I lingered behind, my gaze trapped on the words etched into the marble above the chapel entrance.
TWO OR MORE AT ALL TIMES,FOR A LONE SISTER IS LOST.
We call it the Order of Two, and no matter your heritage, the letters shift and melt into whatever language you find easiest to read.
For me, that is Cartorran. My aunt took me from Illrya before I was old enough to learn its written language.
I could not help but wonder, every time I saw these letters, What do those words look like for someone who cannot read?
I shook my head. A useless question, and one that left me running to catch back up to the group.
The rest of my day unfolded in silence.
Tanzi's half of the bed is cold now, as I write this. Only without her here do I realize how adapted to her presence I am. Her sideways snorts when she thinks something's funny. The constant cracking of her knuckles while she talks. Or even how she breathes heavy in her sleep, not quite a snore, but a sound I'm so accustomed to.
I don't want to sleep. I don't want to wake up alone. And I don't want to wake up wondering, yet again, why, why, why I am still without the Sight.
Today, I received a knife with an amber on the hilt. My mentor, Sister Hilga, told me it is the "key to the past" and that I must not lose it. "Every Sister at the Convent has their own key," she said. "And they are not to be shared."
She also gave me a huge book called A Brief Guide to the Sight-witches and this diary, in which I'm supposed to record all events of the day. Then, upon waking, I must record all of my dreams.
I hope I can remember my dreams. I've never remembered them before.
Today, I learned the hierarchy of the Sightwitch Sisters. I don't think I'll forget the three kinds of Sisters, seeing as I live here now and will be seeing them every day, but I also do not want to disobey my mentor. Especially since my roommate, a girl named Ryber Fortiza, has now scolded me twice for not following the rules.
Ryber is from Illrya, and she's just like Gran-Mi always said the Illryans were: focused and serious.
"Your bed is not made right," Ryber pointed out earlier. Then just a few moments later, she said, "You will get us into trouble, Tanzi. The lanterns are snuffed at the twenty-first chimes, and lighting a candle after that would be breaking Rule 33."
Her dark eyes have been narrowed ever since and her brow sloped so low. Gran-Mi would say that she has a face for telling stories, because it is so expressive.
I miss Gran-Mi. I hope I don't cry tonight. I don't think Ryber would like that.
Oh, no, Ryber is staring expectantly at me again. I had better write what I remember from my lessons.
First, we were assigned something called the Nine Star Puzzle. "Given the nine stars," Hilga said, "connect them all with only four lines and without lifting your chalk from the slate."
The nine stars were laid out like this:
But I still haven't figured out how to connect the stars with only four lines. And I've tried a hundred different ways.
After that, we learned the three kinds of Sisters.
Ryber drew the pictures for me and added the notes. She says it's better to have pictures in our diaries, but I can't draw.
"Not yet," Ryber told me, "but you'll learn." Then she read what I'd written about her above, and she laughed. A big sound. The kind Gran-Mi would've called "catching."
"You can call me Ry," she said next. "And I'm sorry I nagged you earlier. But Rule 8 says, 'Obedience is holy.' So you see? Only by following the Rules will Sirmaya know which Sisters are good enough for her to Summon."
Serving Sisters are acolytes at the Convent. They serve the Sightwitch Sisters by helping to clean, cook, and garden.
Summoned Sisters are acolytes who have been Summoned by Sirmaya to go into the mountain. For up to two days, a Sister is underground meeting the Goddess, but I don't really know what that means.
Sightwitch Sisters have the Sight, meaning they can look at something once and remember it forever. They also can use their knives (like the knife Sister Hilga gave me) to remove memories from corpses. And, when they pray together, the Sisters can see visions in the scrying pool at the observatory.
"Oh," I said, thinking back to the massive list of Rules that Hilga had showed me earlier.
There were a lot.
Ry seemed to know what I was thinking because she laughed again and said, "Don't worry. You have time to learn it all. I've been here for five years — since I was four years old! — and I'm still learning."
Then she smiled big, and I smiled back.
"What about the Nine Star Puzzle?" I asked. "I haven't figured that out yet."
"Me either! And I've been trying to solve since I got here." She shrugged. "Sister Hilga says that it takes some Sisters their whole lives to find the answer."
I winced. "I hope it doesn't take me my whole life."
"It won't, Tanz. It won't." Ryber laughed after that, a bright sound that made me laugh too.
I like how she called me "Tanz."
"Do you have other questions?" she asked while neatly turning down her half of the bed.
I hesitated. I did have a question, but I did not want to be rude. My curiosity got the better of me in the end, though. "Why did Sister Lindou say I was lucky to share a room with you?"
"Oh." Ryber's face fell, and I knew right away I shouldn't have asked. I should have "practiced restraint" like Gran-Mi always taught me.
"They tell me I will have strong Sight one day," Ryber answered eventually. "Stronger than other Sisters. So I guess being with me is ... special."
I wanted to ask her why her Sight would be stronger and why that made her special, but this time, I was smart enough to stay quiet.
Poor Ry. I don't like how worried she looks now.
Y18 D153 — 1 day since Tanzi was Summoned
I don't remember my dreams. As usual.
And I already miss Tanzi. It's strange to wake up alone. Strange to write this without hearing her quill scratch nearby. Strange to sit in this cold space with no one asking, "Did you sleep well, Rybie-Ry?"
Oh, it is true she will be back tonight, but her eyes will no longer be the dark brown of most Kritians. They will be silver.
She will be clear-eyed. A true Sightwitch Sister.
It is worse, though, knowing she will no longer be allowed to share a room with me. She will return from the mountain at the dolmen in the Grove, where all newly gifted Sisters arrive, and then she will move two stories above me in the Convent. She will have a new roommate, a new room, a new life.
I cannot help but wonder if our Threadsister bond can survive that.
A week after Tanzi arrived at the Convent, Hilga assigned us sheep duty with Sister Gwen. But Gwen fell asleep, the sheep wandered outside the glamour, and Tanzi and I got horribly, hideously lost while searching for them. Ever since that day of rain, cold, menacing forest, and unruly sheep, we've been best friends.
Please Sirmaya, don't let that change. I cannot take fake kindness from her. The gift of Sight changes everything. It digs a chasm between friends as wide as the mountain. As deep as the scrying pool from which the spirit swifts fly.
And it happens every time. First there was Sister Margrette, then Sister Ute, then Lachmi, then Oriya. Fazimeh, Yenna, Birgit, Gaellan. They were all my friends; now I hardly speak to them.
No doubt there are even more lost friends who I'm forgetting since I do not have the gift of Clear Eyes. Once seen, often forgotten. Once heard, usually lost.
I wish I'd been the one Summoned instead of Tanzi.
I hate myself for that.
And just as I predicted, I was charged with clearing the mountain paths today. Summer has fully awakened in the forest that hugs the slope. The weak, fighting buds of spring that I saw last are now full leaves. Green, green everywhere.
On a normal day, it would have made me feel better to be outside instead of cooped up in the kitchen. And on a normal day, Tanzi and I would have played the game we always played when no one is around to hear us.
"What happens inside the mountain?" I would ask. Then she'd chime back, "What happens during the Summoning?" For hours we would make guess after guess, each more absurd than the last.
Excerpted from "Sightwitch"
Copyright © 2018 Susan Dennard.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Sleeping Giant,
Ryber Fortiza: Y18 D152,
Tanzi Lamanaya: Y10 D234,
Ryber Fortiza: Y18 D153 — 1 day since Tanzi was Summoned,
Ryber Fortiza: Y18 D154 — 2 days since Tanzi was Summoned,
Ryber Fortiza: Y18 D155 — 3 days since Tanzi was Summoned,
Tanzi Lamanaya: Y16 D89,
Y18 D156 — 4 days since Tanzi was Summoned,
Y18 D159 — 7 days,
Y18 D161 — 9 days,
Y18 D165 — 13 days,
Y18 D167 — 15 days,
Y18 D168 — 16 days,
Y18 D171 — 19 days,
Y18 D174 — 22 days since Tanzi was Summoned,
Tanzi Lamanaya: Y17 D254,
Y18 D180 — 6 days since I became the last Sightwitch Sister,
Y18 D184 — 10 days since I became the last Sightwitch Sister,
Y18 D195 — 21 days since I became the last Sightwitch Sister,
Y18 D209 — 35 days since I became the last Sightwitch Sister,
Eridysi Gochienka: Y2786 D128,
Eridysi Gochienka: Y2786 D132,
Ryber Fortiza: Y18 D212 — 38 days since I became the last Sightwitch,
Ryber Fortiza: Y18 D215 — 41 days since I became the last Sightwitch,
Eridysi Gochienka: Y2786 D134,
Tanzi Lamanaya: Y14 D27,
Ryber Fortiza: Y18 D216 — 42 days since I became the last Sightwitch,
Ryber Fortiza: Y18 D223 — 49 days since I became the last Sightwitch Sister,
Y18 D261 — 87 days since I became the last Sightwitch Sister,
The Sleeping Giant,
Also by Susan Dennard,
About the Author,
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