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The Ghost Sister

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The Ghost Sister

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Author: Liz Williams
Publisher: Bantam UK, 2001

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
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The fate of a planet lies with an outcast woman and a mysterious visitor....

In this richly imagined and thought-provoking novel, Liz Williams tells the story of a world engineered to preserve the precarious balance between animal and human. To this world comes an emissary from a distant planet who will walk the razor-thin line between consciousness and instinct, freedom and conformity, life and death.

On Monde D'Isle a rugged people live in union with their world. They migrate with the tides of the moon, sense the meridians of the planet, and slip into a Dreamtime that grants them access to -- and escape from -- the darker urges of their animal nature.

Mevennen ai Mordha is out of tune with her people's "bloodmind." She is protected by her devoted brother Eleres, who refuses to listen to those who say that Mevennen is not fit to live. Still, Mevennen fears that even her brother will give in to his instincts during the time of the hunt, when the Mondhaith seek out the weakest as their prey.

Taking her on an expedition in hope of a cure, Eleres has brought Mevennen deep into the wilderness. There they are visited by a strange woman who they are certain is a ghost, but who is really a Gaian anthropologist charged with bringing utopia to their world. She promises to heal Mevennen -- but it is a promise that comes with a terrible price....


Prophecies and Falling Stars

1. Eleres

I stepped into Mevennen's room to find my sister lying on the couch, her face drawn and lined with pain. The membrane flickered across her eyes in the pretense of sleep when she saw me, and she concealed something quickly beneath the folds of her dress. Her hand curled around it as she hid it away, but I could still see what it was: a handkerchief, spotted with blood.

"Mevennen?" I said, trying to hide my dismay. "I've brought you some tea. The white kind, your favorite."

She gave me a look that was half gratitude and half shame, then whispered, "Thank you," and turned her head away. I came to sit by her side. Her long hair, silvery like my own and with the same darker tips, fell untidily over her shoulders, and her skin seemed bleached by the dim light. We northerners are a pale people, our skin cloud-gray rather than the indigo of the south, but Mevennen was white as ashes now. I brushed her hair back from her forehead, and although I didn't want to shame her further, I gently prized the handkerchief from her hand. She had bitten through her lip, as sometimes happened in the throes of the seizures that she suffered, and the blood was welling up again; I could smell it. I reached out and wiped it with the handkerchief.

"What is it, Mevennen? What's wrong?"

"You know what's wrong, Eleres. The same thing that's always wrong."

I took her hand, but she tried to pull it away.

"Look," I murmured. "You shouldn't be ashamed of being ill."

She didn't answer for a moment, and when she finally spoke, I could barely hear her.

She said, "It's not just my... my weakness. It's the fits. They're getting worse."

"Worse? But you haven't been outside, have you?" I knew that Luta, the satahrach, had told her to stay in the House. But even though the outdoors was so hard for her, Mevennen hated being cooped up and I could sympathize if she'd felt the need to slip out for some fresh air.

"No... I stayed indoors -- Luta would have been furious if I'd gone out. But I've still been having the fits, for nearly a week now. I think the storms bring them, on the tide. I can hear the sea rushing up the inlet against the wind, and then the lamp seems to spin and everything just ... goes away from me. This spring is the worst it's ever been. I've never had fits like this before..." Her voice trailed away and she sipped her tea. Her face was damp with sweat. "Eleres..." Her voice was a frightened whisper. "Everyone keeps telling me that maybe I'll get better, but I've been back from the wild nearly fifteen years now. How long is this going to go on?" And then I felt her hand clutch mine, in panic. "How long do you think I'm going to live?"

"Oh, Mevennen," I said. I put my arm around her shoulders and pulled her close to me. "Mevennen, I know it's hard. But you'll live to be as old as the satahrach herself, I'm sure of it." The words were barely out of my mouth before I realized what a cruel thing it had been to say.

She looked up into my face and her eyes were bleak. She said, "It would be better if one of you had killed me, that first day, when I came home. That was what the family was going to do, wasn't it, until you and Luta stopped them? Don't think I don't know." Her hand slackened in my own and she closed her eyes. She murmured "And you and Luta shouldn't have to look after me all the time. No one else bothers, after all. Why should you?"

She looked so vulnerable, but to my utter dismay I sensed something beneath my love and pity; something old and insistent and dark, that called for death... My vision blackened and I looked abruptly down into the nightmare of the bloodmind. I took a deep, shaky breath. The room felt suddenly stifling. Rising, I went quickly to the window and flung it open, to gaze out through the falling mist across the waters of the inlet to the islands.

The evening sky had lightened to a pale and watery green. A gap in the towering rainclouds revealed the red sun's light and touched the edge of the cumulus with an icy whiteness. The sea heaved, swollen with rain and oily in the last of the spring. Across the Straits, the wooded island peaks rose, dim and obscured by the trailing streamers of rain. I closed my eyes for a moment and immediately I became aware of the world beyond: the great weight of water that lay before me, my consciousness sinking into it for a moment so that I could feel the currents that swirled below, and the pull of the moon-drawn tides. I directed my awareness away from the sea, seeking the familiar sense of the rocky land that lay behind the Clan House: the iron taste of the little spring that ran out from the base of the cliffs, and the wells and runnels of water beneath the earth.

Water sensitive that I am, the sense of the metals that seamed the rocks was less strong, but I could still feel them, and beyond, the great ley of energy that banded beneath the northern lands. It filled my senses for a moment: sharp and tingling, as though I'd laid a hand on one of the great sea rays that stun with a single touch. Then I sensed another awareness, as some predator crossed the ley. Its thirst for prey made me shiver and I opened my eyes abruptly, letting my awareness of the world sink back into the normal background consciousness. I did not want to feed the bloodmind further. What could it be like, I wondered, for Mevennen to lack such basic senses, to suffer such terrible disorientation whenever she went outside that she couldn't feel even the freshest spring beneath the earth? It must be dreadful, to be so cut off from the world...

Copyright © 2001 by Liz Williams


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