The Stars Asunder:

A Novel of the Mageworlds

by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald

[The Stars Asunder: A novel of the Mageworlds]

"A curious, disturbing notion, that violence, pain and death produces life-force and luck."

—Kirkus

"With each successive novel, the Mageworlds universe gives us a depth of character and plot that simply weren't in the Space Operas of yesteryear. "

—SFRevu

"...an exciting and colourful adventure story, set in a universe where high technologies such as spaceships and robots interact seamlessly with what appear to be magical powers."

SF Site

"This is an intricate tale, rich in characters and maneuverings."

—Analog

Discuss the Mageworlds with the authors.
The Stars Asunder


Prologue

In the years when the worlds first bore life, the galaxy was all one. The eiran—the silver cords of life and luck—wound unbroken throughout all the aspects of human existence. They bound life to life, and world to world, and past to future, and the pattern was all of one weaving.

But the people of the many worlds grew lazy, and failed to tend the eiran as they should have done, and as had been their task from the beginning. The eiran turned wild, and grew and changed until the pattern was no longer of one weaving but of many, and the cords in the many patterns pulled and twisted in all directions.

"Look," said some of the people, the clear-sighted ones. "The one pattern has been destroyed through our careless inattention, and who can say what the consequences of that may be."

The others never listened. They no longer saw the one pattern even in the many weavings, but each of them saw a single and separate pattern, and tended only the eiran that lay within it.

"See now," the clear-sighted ones told them. "The threads in the one pattern grow tight and tangled, and the strain on the weaving is greater than it can hold. If the pattern is not mended now it will pass away from us."

But still the others would not listen.

And the day came when the threads of the pattern snapped, and the eiran flew wide across the face of the universe like floss on the wind, and the two halves of the galaxy were ripped apart and flung away one from the other, and the people were blinded to the sight of the silver cords that had perished from their lack of tending.

Of those who had been clear-sighted, only a few remained. All of the rest were lost, and their worlds with them.



Chapter One: Year 1116, Eraasian Reckoning

Eraasi: Hanilat Starport
Demaizen Old Hall

Ribbon-of-Starlight, foremost guardship in the sus-Peledaen fleet, waited on the landing field at Hanilat like a dark, angular bird. She was the largest family ship that could actually touch the soil of Eraasi. The merchant ships she escorted were bigger—huge constructs, hold-swollen with cargo—but they never left orbit. The shuttles that would bring up the flats and bales and crates of tradeware clustered like nestlings on the burnt ground next to the Ribbon's protective bulk.

Arekhon Khreseio sus-Khalgath sus-Peledaen, riding out to the guardship in the back compartment of an open land-hauler, gave the shuttles nothing more than a cursory glance. Ribbon-of-Starlight—his home for the remainder of his fleet apprenticeship—claimed the greater part of his attention. She was a new ship, no more than a couple of voyages old, but already known for a lucky one. 'Rekhe squinted at her, trying for the catch and angle of sunlight that would let him see the eiran wrapping and weaving around her.

A moment . . . there . . . yes. To the right eyes, Ribbon-of-Starlight was rich with luck, hung about with it in lacework so thick it looked like silvery gauze.

Arekhon himself was a slight, dark haired youth. He'd worked with the fleet Circle in Hanilat since he was first able to count his age in two digits, but now that he was, by everyone's reckoning, old enough to make a full commitment to the Mages, his duty to the family came first. His brother Natelth was the head of the sus-Peledaen family's senior line, and Natelth wanted 'Rekhe to go through his apprenticeship in the fleet . . . so an apprentice, perforce, 'Rekhe would have to be, and the Circles could wait until later.

"Here you are."

'Rekhe blinked, and the luck-lines went away, leaving the Ribbon looming stark black as before, only much nearer. A door was open high on one curving side, and a narrow metal ladder led up to it.

"Thank you," he said politely to the driver of the land-hauler, collected his duffle, and climbed out of the back compartment onto the ground. The hauler sped off on its next errand. 'Rekhe shouldered his duffel and started climbing.

A young man in a blue work coverall was waiting for him when he reached the top of the ladder. The crimson piping and insignia on the man's coverall told 'Rekhe that he was a clerk-tertiary, not long out of his own training days.

"Arekhon sus-Khalgath?" the clerk said.

"Reporting for instruction, sir." Everyone outranked an apprentice—even when the apprentice came from the family's senior line—and 'Rekhe took pains to keep his voice respectful. Natelth had made it plain that he would not have his younger brother disgracing the family by causing trouble and discontent.

"Come with me." The clerk-tertiary led the way into the coiling, three-dimensional labyrinth of the Ribbon's interior, and 'Rekhe followed.

He tried to memorize the route as they went, but in spite of his efforts he knew that he would have to spend time with the ship's map-models later. The ground-based portion of his 'prentice-training had given him an understanding of the basic principles of ship construction, but each ship had its own set of variations on the common design.

The clerk-tertiary halted before an airtight door like all the others they had passed by, or through, on the way inward.

"'Prentice berthing," he said. "Stow your gear and report to the junior wardroom in an hour."

With that, he departed, leaving 'Rekhe to confront the door alone. Fortunately, it was merely closed, rather than dogged down tight. 'Rekhe pulled it open and stepped over the sill.

The compartment held four bunks, stacked two deep on either side of the door. Corresponding lockers filled the rest of the available space along the bulkheads. The bunks were rigged with the cushions and webbing to double as acceleration couches.

A girl sat cross-legged on one of the lower bunks, reading a flatbook and making notes on the margin-pad with a stylus. She wore prentice livery like 'Rekhe's own—more dark blue trimmed with crimson—and her short brown hair curled around her bent head in a loose mop. She looked up as 'Rekhe stepped into the compartment.

"It's first-come, first-served on the bunks," she said. "You might as well take the bottom one on the other side before somebody else does."

"I like the top bunks," said 'Rekhe. "Nobody steps on your face every night and morning."

The girl shrugged. "No accounting for taste. I'm Elaeli Inadi, by the way."

"Arekhon sus-Khalgath," he said, sketching a bow.

And the eiran that had hung like cobwebs around Ribbon-of-Starlight's dark metal hull began to weave themselves into a newer pattern.

***

On the day that Ribbon-of-Starlight left Eraasi for a trading voyage to Ildaon and beyond, Serazao Zulemem was at work in the outer office of the Harradi Group, a firm of legalists specializing in the financial affairs of Eraasi's middle and upper nobility. The sus-Demaizen estate was about to pass into the hands of its final inheritor, and Serazao had drawn the work of sorting and filing all the hardcopy that the case had generated during two decades of legal contests.

Serazao's parents, Alescu and Evya, had come to Hanilat from Eraasi's antipodal subcontinent because well-trained legalists—and they were both well-trained—could prosper in the employ of the merchants and star-lords who made the city their base of operations. Her father soon achieved membership in the Harradi Group; her mother, more combative by nature, kept her own office as a court-litigant.

Serazao herself was a quiet, industrious child. From the time she was old enough to make plans for her future and have others take them seriously, she intended to become a legalist like her parents. To that end, as soon as she reached the age of employment, she worked part time—full time during the school intervals—at her father's firm.

The litigation concerning the Demaizen estate had come near to outlasting the family lines that contended for it. Serazao knew from her parents' dinner table conversation that only the death from old age of one of the parties involved had brought the matter to a conclusion. Now the remaining heir was required to present himself at Harradi's offices to take possession . . . in this case, of a portfolio full of deeds and account-books.

Nobody had bothered to mention that the last of the sus-Demaizen line was also a Mage; or if they had, they'd done it so long ago that Serazao had not been there to hear. From the length of time that the estate had been in the hands of the legalists, she assumed that its ultimate heir would be another one like the deceased claimant, whom she'd had the misfortune once to meet: elderly, avaricious, ill-tempered, and infirm, with more money already in his possession that any one man could reasonably think to spend.

Garrod syn-Aigal was not what she'd expected at all.

Her first impression, when he came into the outer office, was that he was the heir's driver, or perhaps his bodyguard: a big man, broad in the shoulders and firmly muscled, but with none of the clumsiness that so often came with strength. He wore plain street clothes, of good quality but far from new, with a long weather-coat thrown over them. It was the middle of Hanilat's rainy season—she remembered the date ever afterward, very clearly—and both the coat and the loose-brimmed hat he wore with it shed water in puddles on the office floor.

He paused inside the door, still dripping, and looked about with a searching expression that lightened when he saw her at work behind the office-bar.

"Good morning, Syr—"

"Zulemem," she said, and then, in reply to his unspoken question, "There's a coat-rack in the corner behind you."

He smiled, which made his heavy dark eyebrows bristle even more fiercely than they did already. She didn't like men with thick eyebrows,—she preferred an elegant antipodal arch, like her father had, or her cousins—but the newcomer's good-humor made them, and the roughness of the features around them, surprisingly attractive.

"Ah. So there is. Thank you, Syr Zulemem."

"Serazao," she said, as he pulled off the coat and the hat and hung them up on the polished brass hooks of the coat-rack. With the coat out of the way, she caught her first glimpse of short wooden staff that the man wore clipped to his belt. Seeing it, she frowned.

He was quick; he caught the change in her expression almost before the muscles of her face made their fractional changes to echo the shift within her mind.

"Is there something wrong?"

"No," she said hastily, "nothing wrong. I didn't realize that syn-Aigal had a Mage-Circle on his side, is all."

"He doesn't, not really." He smiled again. "Or I don't, at least—and I was Garrod syn-Aigal the last time I looked."

She felt the blood rising in her face. If any of the office partners found out that she had, at least by implication, insulted their client . . . . "I'm sorry; I was impertinent."

"You told the truth as you saw it, Syr Zulemem. No impertinence there."

"Maybe not for you," she said. "But I want to work here someday, when my schooling's finished."

His eyebrows went up again. "You don't look like a legalist to me."

"Oh?" Irritation flared; she frowned at him, never minding what the office partners might have to say. He hadn't looked like a man who would pay heavy-handed compliments of that sort, and it was depressing to find out otherwise. "What do I look like, then?"

Once again, he surprised her. "A Mage."

"You're joking."

"About that, never."

"I couldn't—"

"There should be a Circle working near your school," he said. "Ask your instructors; one of them will know. And when you've trained in Hanilat long enough, come to Demaizen Old Hall and ask for me. I'll be building a Circle there."

***

The wet weather that had been merely annoying in Hanilat was chilly and unseasonable in the Wide Hills district several days later. On the road going up past Demaizen Town, the rain slanted down cold and hard in the driving beams of a heavy six-wheel groundcar. The vehicle bumped along over the muddy track, then turned the corner in a cut braced by stone shoring and began growling up the final slope.

"There it is," Garrod said. He pointed to the massive stone pile that loomed among its outbuildings at the crest of a long hill. "Demaizen Old Hall."

The driver grunted, unimpressed. "I see it."

The main gate stood open in a twist of rusted iron. The groundcar passed slowly through, and kept on until the road ended in front of the heavy bronze doors of the central building. The beams from the groundcar's driving lamps picked up the Hall's blank windows, its moss and lichen spattered walls. Everything here was untended and overgrown, even the road itself; weeds poked up knee-high through what had once been the gravel surface of a circular driveway.

The driver switched the engine to neutral, and the sound dropped to a low throb. "Here you are."

"Thanks, Yuva," Garrod said. He pushed open the passenger-side door. The wind took it, smashing it fully open against the front engine cowling. The rain stung like needles and plastered Garrod's hair flat in an instant. He jumped out of the groundcar, his staff swinging from his belt, and ran the ten feet to the doors.

The arched opening gave at least some protection from the wind, but the doors were locked. Garrod frowned. The keys had not been part of the inheritance.

He unclipped his staff. A moment's preparation, a reaching-out and a pulling-in, and the staff began to give off a steady, blue-white light. He touched the door and bent his energies toward persuading it to open, but to no avail—the locks were rusted fast, their mechanisms destroyed by more than a generation without maintenance.

Garrod sprinted back to where Yuvaen waited in the groundcar. "Back her up to the doors," he shouted above the howling wind.

"Got it."

The groundcar lurched forward, then swung back and to the left. Its wheels ground and bumped up the shallow steps until the rear towing bar nearly touched the bronze doors.

Garrod opened the cargo compartment and pulled out the tow chain. He threaded it through the handles of the doors, linked it with a clevis bolt to the rings on the towing bar, and stepped aside.

"Yuva! Ahead slow!"

The groundcar sent out a puff of chemical vapor from its upper tubes, and growled forward. Hinges and bolts gave way behind it in a howl of tearing metal, and the bronze doors buckled under the strain.

"Hold up!" Garrod shouted.

The groundcar stopped. Yuvaen shut off the engine and emerged from the driver's side.

"Give us a light," Garrod said. "Let's see how it looks."

"Right." Yuvaen had brought an electric lantern with him from the groundcar. He turned it on and lifted it to shine a yellow light at the doors of the hall—the right-hand one pulled entirely away from the frame, the one on the left tilted crazily and hanging by a single hinge. He cast a gloomy eye over the damage. "It'll cost you a pretty to have those fixed."

"I've got all the money I need," Garrod said. "What I don't have is time. Come on."

The two men entered the Hall. White-sheeted furniture stood ghostlike in the foyer. Dust lay thick, and gnawing creatures had worked on much of the interior woodwork. Garrod pointed through an arch to where a staircase went curling upward.

"There," he said, and started up toward the long gallery on the second floor. Yuvaen followed.

At the entrance to the gallery, both men paused on the threshold. Their rain-soaked clothing clung to their bodies like wet leaves, and the glow from Yuvaen's lantern cast a swaying circle of yellow light on the space within, where the sus-Demaizen kept their tablets of remembrance.

Plaques and memorials covered the walls—ancient slabs of grey slate scratched with names in a language no longer spoken by anyone living, and newer tablets of painted wood and cast metal. On the altars beneath them, long-guttered candles spilled out their wax across carven wood.

Garrod strode into the center of the room, where a small altar stood in front of a freestanding memorial on tripod legs. The candle holders were empty—whoever had last tended the memorial had scraped them clean when the rite was done—and a spray of white flowers, long since dried, lay on the altar between them.

"This is an end and a breaking," Garrod said. With that he picked up the memorial and flung it out through one of the high, west-looking windows in the center of the long wall. The window glass gave way in a jagged, shivering peal, and the memorial went crashing down onto the gravel drive outside.

"Wait!" Yuvaen cried over the noise. "Hasn't there been enough broken already?"

Garrod put his hands against the wooden altar and shoved it toward the broken window. "No," he said. "Not enough by half. Before I am done, I will break our very universe."

The altar smashed against the low sill and tumbled over it to the ground below. Rain poured in through the gap in the window, driven slantwise by the rising wind.

"Your ancestors will curse you," Yuvaen said.

"My ancestors mean nothing to me," Garrod said, "and I mean nothing to them." He pulled another of the tablets from the wall, and the dried wood splintered in his hands. He threw the tablet out onto the gravel with the other wreckage. "I am the last of my line, and what follows after will follow the older days."

"I don't understand."

"The sundering of the galaxy is not just a parable, or an allegory suitable for children and scholars," Garrod said. He was pulling tablet after tablet away from the plastered walls, working now with a fierce, unstoppable intensity. "It is nothing less than the truth. And I intend to bring together that which was split apart."

Yuvaen shook his head. "You're right not to fear your ancestors. It's the gods themselves that you should fear."

Garrod fished in his pocket and pulled out an incendiary, of the kind used by workers in the metal construction trades. He pulled the igniter and tossed the incendiary down onto the tangle of broken wood on the gravel drive. A brilliant white light blossomed up, mixed shortly after with red as the wood caught fire. The western windows glowed with the color.

Garrod heaved another wooden tablet out of the broken window and into the flames. "I don't have time to fear the gods, Yuva—you'll have to do it for me. Come, help me clean out this space, for here will be our workroom."

"May the gods forgive me, then," Yuvaen said. "Because I'm with you."

The two men embraced, then fell to stripping the walls of their memorials, and clearing the floor of its altars.



Chapter Two: Year 1116 E. R.

Eraasi: Western Fishing Grounds
syn-Grevi estate, Northern Territories
Ildaon: Ildaon Starport

The deep-water fleets from Amisket, Demnag, and Ridkil Point had been having a bad summer. Like most of the coastal settlements in the Veredden Archipelago, the three towns depended for a livelihood on their commercial fisheries, and a poor haul meant a lean year to come. In autumn, the fish migrated to spawning grounds near the equator—too great a distance for the Veredden ships to follow, even if biological changes during the spawn didn't turn the fish sour and spongy—and winter in the northern latitudes was too stormy for surface craft to ply the waters at all. Winter was for spending the long nights snug in harbor, making repairs and hoping that the money from last summer's catch would last until spring.

As First of the Amisket Circle, Narin Iyal took the season's lack of good fishing harder than most, and most were taking it hard. It was her Circle's place to provide fish-luck and weather-luck, and to tell the captains of the fleet where the silver was running. But all she could tell the captains now was that the fish had abandoned their usual grounds, and she had no idea where they might be.

The nets of the deep-sea trawler Dance-and-be-Joyful trailed astern, and the lines still had the slack of an empty haul. The crew lounged in the shadow of the deckhouse, playing cards. The engines throbbed ahead slow.

Narin stood on the main deck, staring over the rail at a horizon made dim by haze, and at the rolling blue waters beneath the empty sky. She was a short dark woman with a square, snub-nosed face and calloused, capable hands. The sun, just past its zenith, burned down upon her neck and shoulders. Other than the wind of the ship's passage, no breeze ruffled her hair.

Narin looked up at the distant line where sea met sky. A set of masts there, black lines against the paler sky, told where First-Light-of-Morning ran, hull down, tracing a parallel course. They'd had no better luck than the Dance, she was sure.

"You asked for me?"

The familiar baritone rumble belonged to Big Tam, Second of the Amisket Circle. Tam was a dark-skinned, wide-shouldered man, and in his many-times-laundered work shirt and loose trousers he looked more like the son and grandson of deep-sea fishers—which he also was—than like a ranking Mage. He'd been with the Circle for almost as long as Narin had, and had been her Second since the beginning.

Narin looked back out at the water. The sunlight sparked painfully bright on the blue swells. "Yes," she said. "If we don't want children going hungry in Amisket by year's end, it's time we did something about our luck."

"I agree."

"Good. Call the others to the meditation room. We will have a working."

The meditation room on Dance-and-be-Joyful was a cramped space set forward belowdecks. It was far narrower and more confining than such a room should have been, even for a small Circle like Narin's, and its atmosphere was a malodorous slurry of machine oil, fish, and rank sweat. But space for the Circle was carved out of the Dance's cargo hold, and every cubic inch taken away from storage cost the ship's master money when the fish were running.

Narin made her way below, stopping by her cabin to change into her robes and pick up a small-scale chart of the fishing grounds. As First of the Circle, she had her own quarters. The rest of the Amisket Mages shared crew's berthing, though they stood no watches and hauled no lines.

She took the paper chart forward to the meditation room. In spite of the summer heat above decks, the air inside the room was cold, chilled by the heavy-duty cargo refrigeration system in the adjacent compartment, and condensation beaded and ran down the bulkheads in a steady, relentless trickle. A single incandescent light illuminated the white circle painted on the deck.

Laros, the older of the Circle's two unranked Mages, was already there, dressed in formal robes, with his staff clipped to his belt. In a moment, Tam and young Kasaly arrived as well. Narin swung the door to behind them and dogged it shut.

"The time has come," she said, "for a working. To make our own luck, and force the gathering of the fish."

"Past time," Kasaly said. Kas was red-haired and pretty, and a great favorite with the sailors. Her luck-making was among the best, however, and Narin suspected that she had it in her to be First herself someday, provided that she learned enough patience and discipline first.

"Are we all agreed, then?" Narin asked—a formality, mostly, since it was a poor First who couldn't gauge the temper of her own Circle. It was her right, as First, to direct their combined intention, but she wasn't foolish enough to push them where they were determined not to go.

As she'd expected, nobody raised an objection.

"Good." She walked to her usual place in the arc of the white-painted circle closest to the Dance's bow, and knelt on the welded metal deckplates. On that cue, the rest of the Mages took their customary positions: Tam opposite her, Kas to her right, Laros to her left.

"As we are gathered," she said, "so we are one."

She turned away from her physical surroundings and looked inward, searching the three-dimensional world of the sea for the streaky feeling of the fish's lives. She could sense the others searching as well—Tam strong and steady, Laros knife-blade sharp, and Kas like a bright flame of luck in the deep water. Now she had to draw them together like one of the purse seines that the trawlers used, combining all their energies to bring both the fish and luck in taking them into one physical spot.

"Seek them, hold them, bring and bind them," she said. "We are one." The circle pulsed in the depths like a ring of silver, marking the darting presence of the fish. "Find the place. Join them and lock them to a place."

"We need to be stronger," Tam said. His voice seemed to come from far away, outside of the sea-deeps where the minds of the Circle made their search. "To find the place so that the boats can find it."

"I'll give to the working," Narin said. "Who will match me?"

"I will," Tam replied.

He stood, bringing his staff up before him. Narin did the same, and felt the power of the universe surging around her, ready to be taken like the fish she sought. She drew the power into herself and let it flow out again redoubled, making her staff shine with a deep green fire. Blue fire answered from the other side of the tiny space. The same current that flowed through Narin like one of the rolling seas beneath the ship, flowed now through her Second as well.

The two staves met with a crack. Narin saw the luck fly out from them like rainbows, and felt a surge of joy. This would be a good working, a strong working—the congruence of the inner and the outer worlds would guarantee its success.

Again Tam attacked, and again she countered and then counter-attacked. They pressed together, striving to create and make manifest the luck of the fleet through the essential contradiction of the universe opposing itself. Sweat rolled down their necks in spite of the physical chill of the space, and their breathing grew hoarse and ragged.

Then, as quickly as the energy had risen, it flared in a last bright dazzle and fell away. Narin stepped back.

"It's done," she said. "I have them."

She reached into her shirt pocket underneath her robe and pulled out a pencil stub and the chart of the fishing grounds. She drew a neat dot on the chart, circled it, and wrote a time beside it. Then she drew more circled dots, and wrote more times. The dots and times, when she had finished, represented where the fish had been, were, and would be. The pattern showed an eastward drift at slow speed.

"So that's why we couldn't find anything," Tam said, watching over her shoulder as she worked. A fisherman and a fishers' Mage for many years, he knew that the location lay well outside the fleet's usual grounds, farther to the west of the island homeports than anyone had expected.

Narin re-folded the chart and tucked it back into her shirt pocket.

"Rest," she said to the other Mages. "I'll take this to the captain. He'll want to inform the fleet."

***

The sus-Peledaen convoy guarded by Ribbon-of-Starlight made its first trading stop at Ildaon. The chief exports of Ildaon were mineral pigments, raw textiles, and exotic furs; in return, the Ildaonese bought second-cut red uffa to blend with the harsher native leaf, and luxury-model flyers of Eraasian design. Captain syn-Avran allowed members of the guardship's crew to go on liberty in the port city, as long as they kept out of trouble. Arekhon sus-Khalgath and Elaeli Inadi were in the next-to-last group to go.

They wore their best apprentice livery for the occasion —inconvenient, if someone on Ildaon had it in for traders, but useful if a port official or a fellow crewmember needed to spot them quickly in a crowd. They also wore sus-Peledaen ship-cloaks of dark blue lined with crimson. Ildaon's starport was situated on a high northern plateau, and the season was local winter.

A traders' hostel at the edge of the landing field provided lodging for star-travelers, as well as for operators of Ildaonese ground and air transport. Arekhon, Elaeli, and the others in their group stopped there first. A bored-looking desk clerk assigned them rooms and changed their family scrip for local currency.

The rooms were small and bare: a bed, access to sanitary facilities, and a door that locked. 'Rekhe was accustomed to better; even aboard Ribbon-of-Starlight, the quarters were crowded but far more up-to-date than these. He didn't protest, however, since he suspected that most of the people with rooms at the hostel would not be using them. There were, or so he had heard, drinking establishments and houses of notorious behavior on Ildaon, and the crewmembers in this liberty section had until the next local mid-day to amuse themselves however they chose—provided, of course, that they did nothing that might interfere with trade or damage the reputation of the sus-Peledaen.

"Get in trouble with the local authorities," the prentice-master had said, "and there's no guarantee that the family will pull you out. There's not one of you that's worth losing the good will of a whole planet for."

The information board at the traders' hostel gave directions to public transportation. After waiting for several minutes without any luck at the pickup stand, Arekhon and Elaeli turned up the high, lined collars of their cloaks and headed into town on foot. Prentice-master Lanar had insisted that the ship's apprentices do all their exploration and revelry in pairs—in the hope, he said, of thus adding up to one person's complement of good sense. As the two most junior, Arekhon and Elaeli had fallen naturally together.

"Where shall we go first?" 'Rekhe asked. He was shivering a little in spite of the ship-cloak; the weather never got this cold in Hanilat. The sky was a deep and merciless blue, and a dry wind blew without ceasing around steep-roofed buildings of fired brick and grey stone. "Sightseeing?"

"I don't think there's any sights around here to see," Elaeli said. The wind caught at her loose curls and whipped them into a wild tangle. "All the scenic beauty is probably off over the horizon somewhere, and we can't get there and back in a day."

"What, then?"

"Well—there's always shopping."

'Rekhe looked about dubiously at the square, plain buildings of the starport—a small town, really, compared to the sprawling conurbation that was Hanilat. "What have they got here that we couldn't find a better one of back home?"

"I don't know . . . local stuff, I suppose. Souvenirs, knick-knacks—"

"Gloves," said 'Rekhe. The dignity of fleet livery would not allow for hands in the pockets, but surely gloves—of a proper color and good material—would not disgrace the ship or incur the prentice-master's disapproval.

"Right," said Elaeli. "Gloves it is."

***

The messenger from Hanilat reached syn-Grevi Lodge at twilight, in the long pale gloaming of Eraasi's high northern latitudes, just before the hour of lunar observance. Theledau syn-Grevi was on the stairs leading up to the moon-room when he heard the front door's two-note chime. He paused, one step short of the second-floor landing, and waited.

The Lodge's doorkeeper-aiketh—a cylinder of burnished metal half the height of a living man, wrapped around a carefully built and instructed quasi-organic mind—floated up the stairs to meet him. The counterforce unit in its base hummed gently as it rose. Behind the smoky grey plastic housing of its sensorium, a blue light flickered briefly.

"My lord syn-Grevi," it said. The synthesized voice was genderless but pleasing to hear. Like all of the aiketen at syn-Grevi Lodge, its instruction-set had it speaking northern dialect, rather than Hanilat-Eraasian. "Iulan Vai has come with news."

"Vai!" said Thel. He glanced automatically at the antique clock on the landing above him, an old-style devotional timepiece whose complex analog interior allowed its multiple dials to show the phases and movements of the moon as well as the current hour. There would be time to speak with Vai and still keep the moonwatch—excellent. "Where is she now?"

"She waits in the reception-room, my lord."

"Good. Instruct the kitchen to bring some light refreshment."

"I hear, my lord," said the aiketh, and floated off.

Thel hurried back down the stairs to the reception room where Iulan Vai waited. She was a compact, deceptively quiet woman, dressed as usual in a tailored black overtunic and black leggings. When he'd first met Vai, Thel had attributed her taste in clothing to a streak of austerity in her temperament, but over the passage of time he'd decided that she dressed in black mainly because it allowed her to hide better in dark corners.

Iulan Vai was the syn-Grevi family's eyes and ears in Hanilat. Thel's father, before he died, had paid for her training and seen to her placement in that position. Theledau had his own theories about the reason why. Vai was a decade or so younger than Thel, but like him—and like, also, the elder syn-Grevi in his prime—she had fair skin, and hair of a reddish-brown so dark that in most lights it appeared as a rusty black. Thel had offered her formal adoption into the syn-Grevi a number of times since their first meeting, as part of the customary advancement for someone who had served the family more than well, but Vai had always refused the honor.

When he came into the room, she rose from the chair where she waited, and knelt.

"My lord sus-Radal," she said.

Thel opened his mouth to correct her, and then thought better of the idea. Iulan Vai dealt with only the latest, most accurate information. If she addressed Theledau syn-Grevi as the head not of a minor north-country line but of the entire sus-Radal fleet-family . . . then the unthinkable had happened, and it was true.

"Don't do that," said Thel. "We're not in somebody's mansion in Hanilat."

Vai rose gracefully to her feet and resumed her chair. "No, my lord. But you'll get there."

"How did it happen?" he asked. "We were never all that close to the primary line."

"Close enough for old Jofre to pass over the whole bundle of senior lines and pick you to succeed him."

"He was mad," said Thel, with conviction.

"Mad as a mortgaunt," Vai agreed. "Disinheriting people was a hobby of his. Every time he felt his stomach twist or his bones ache he'd call in the legalists and start scratching out names. Only this time, he died before he could change his mind back again. The sus-Radal are yours, my lord."

A kitchen-aiketh floated in bearing a tray of spiced wafers and two glasses of sweetroot cider. Thel waited until Vai had made her choice, then took the remaining glass. The cider was cool and tart, with a natural sweetness and a hint of fizz. Thel had never heard of it being made or sold anywhere outside the far north country. In the old time, it wouldn't have kept in the subtropical temperatures of Hanilat; these days, he supposed there just wasn't a demand for it.

"You're right," he said after a while. "I'm going to have to leave syn-Grevi Lodge and go to Hanilat. The fleet won't accept me otherwise."

"The city's not so bad. You'll get used to it."

"Maybe," he said. He picked up one of the spiced wafers and bit into it, turning the full circle into a crescent with a couple of bites. "Vai . . . I want you to come work for me in Hanilat."

She gave a faint laugh. "I thought I already did."

"You worked for the syn-Grevi," he told her. "I want you to leave the syn-Grevi behind you and work for the head of the sus-Radal."


"The coauthors of the Mageworlds series explore the mysterious worlds inhabited by spacefaring wizards in a story that combines swashbuckling space opera with epic fantasy."

—Library Journal

The first novel of the Mageworlds themselves—the tale of the origins of the "Professor."

"Doyle and Macdonald deliver exactly what I want in an adventure story—more. More plot, more background, more characterization, more good dialog...and more humor."

—Elizabeth Moon

The star systems of the Mages are linked by magic. Only when trained Mages have found a Way to a new planet can the great colonizing and trading starships follow. But beyond the furthest worlds is the great gap, beyond which, hint the legends, lie vast, rich human worlds long lost to the Mages' trade.

"No one—no one—writes big, chewy space opera like the husband-and-wife team of Doyle and Macdonald!"

—Jane Yolen

Now the most powerful Mage-circle ever is determined to walk to those worlds, to reunite humanity's sundered branches and make a fortune in the process. But blood will be spilled, and dynasties thrown down, before the worlds of mankind are again united. For the first time in living memory, the Mages will go to war—with themselves.

"Combining magic, space opera, and time travel, the plot offers some surprises ... Easily read apart from the preceding volumes, this novel offers added foreboding for the series reader."

—Publishers Weekly

The Stars Asunder is science fiction in the vein of Star Wars: epic, adventurous, rooted in myth and touched with mysticism.

"I haven't had such a good read in this subgenre since I was cutting my teeth on Heinlein and Poul Anderson and the like!"

—Katherine Kurtz

DEBRA DOYLE and JAMES D. MACDONALD live in Colebrook, New Hampshire.

Goodreads reviews for The Stars Asunder

The Price of the Stars Starpilot's Grave By Honor Betray'd The Gathering Flame The Long Hunt The Stars Asunder A Working of Stars

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Thursday January 24 2013
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