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8

F I V E D A N C E S W I T H D E A T H

9

C H A P T E R O N E

Doubles coming out of a liver . . . ethereal winds helping me soar above the mountains. But those people would be wrong. I wasn’t a lunatic, and Plume wasn’t insane either. We were learning essential new abilities to gain an edge. Our nation was besieged, surrounded by the growing might of the Mexica, the Moonwalk People, those who had named themselves after the moon’s ref lection in their cursed lake. We were restricted to a territory a man could cross in just a few days. We no longer had cotton to make our clothes soft or salt to f lavor our food. Even vanilla and cacao had to be smuggled over the mountains at great risk and expense.

Although I now had Talon in one of my prison cages, he had never spoken of Dew’s whereabouts. I could only assume that after I had captured him all his slaves had been sold off, as was the custom of the land. Too late, I had realized that by imprisoning him I had done a disservice to my daughter, who could now be in any of the towns speckled around the hills and forests of One World.

The search for my daughter was a personal matter, and I had to be careful to avoid accusations in abusing the powers of my military office. Secretly, I had asked several loyal spies to look out for signs of her, but what could they do to find a nameless young slave in a land where girls just like her were bought and sold in their dozens every market day? Struggling to navigate the complexities of my situation, I didn’t see my desperate interest in sorcery as lunacy. On the contrary, the sorcery made me feel I could straighten my private life with my own means.

Had I been a lunatic when I lost Dew to the slavers? Yes, in the arrogance of my young days I had made mistakes. I allowed my family to stay in Plume’s unprotected village out in the forest, while I led my army into one of the countless battles with the Moonwalk People. But back then, the world was weak, and I was strong. Back then, I used to win all my fights. A necklace of dried enemy ears that I wore into battle had become so long back then that I had to split it in two, then split it into two once again. When Dew was born, I was the mightiest man alive, the angriest, tallest, best warrior. Once, a man was foolish enough to cross my path as I was returning home, scarred

speaking nations. She came from the savage tribe of Otomís who dwelled in the forests around our Tlaxcalteca villages. Were she a cultivated woman, I’d have persisted with my needs, but with her it was best to let go.

“Fine,” I said, reclining on my mat.

On any other day, I’d lie motionless, holding my breath and struggling to become my double, waiting for the drums of underworld to separate me from my body with their powerful vibrations, and for a gust of wind from the Void to pull my double out, freeing it up to explore the world. I’d be imagining things so that I could cheat my rational side, pretending to soar above the Blue Coat Mountain on the wings of an eagle or hover above f lowers as a hummingbird, or, at least, crawl across the ceiling as a bug.

I’d have to do all that if I were alone. This time, however, there was a kick to my side, and my double came out with a snap. I wasn’t ready for such a fast exit, and, for a moment, lost my ability to orient myself. The walls, f loor, and war trophies all merged into a foggy whirlpool. A steady hand grabbed my double’s ankle, which still maintained my human form. It wasn’t hostile; it was Plume’s hand, or, rather, it was the hand of her own double. Ever efficient, she created only the hand, which now f loated just above the f loor holding me. I shook it off.

The sorcerers from the forest, my wife among them, insisted that the transition from one’s body into a double was beyond the mind’s control and that it happened in response to a focused, consuming desire. They maintained that a person didn’t do anything. The double emerged on its own when it was ready, and it was the sorcerer’s choice either to stay in his own f lesh and bones or to switch perceptions into the murky light coming out of his liver. Or out of his forehead, if he were more of a thinking type. Those whose doubles came out of their foreheads were the lucky ones, for they didn’t have to fight the liver’s erratic, raw vitality that caused one to be consumed with basic instincts. But those were the learned, experienced sorcerers who knew what they were doing. This was clearly not so in my case. Some might think me a lunatic, doing what I was doing.

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