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10

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

11

C H A P T E R O N E

body, grimacing and twisting, gnawing at it with his teeth.

“Be gone!” I screamed, yearning for a weapon, and this time a pathetically incomplete dream copy of my sword, all bent out of shape and colorless, appeared in my hand. I swung it across the priest’s back. Before the weapon touched him, the creature disappeared into the air. “You don’t fight them,” Plume said. “You ignore them. Or wish them away.”

“But he was eating my body.”

“Your body is the last thing they need. All they do is try to frighten you. They feed on the energy of your fear.”

She adopted her usual human shape, and her familiar beauty helped me calm down. Her double was f lawless in every way, from her perfect toes to the tips of her long, f lowing hair, and even the jaguar tattoos were faithfully reproduced on her broad face. She chose to wear a simple blouse and a gray skirt, both looking so natural I wanted to touch the imaginary fabric. She studied me with her inky eyes, where only faint shades of orange indicated she wasn’t in her material form.

“You’ve got to stop smoking that mixture of yours,” she said. “Relax. Feel the drum roll, and give into the vibrations. Switch your point of view. That’s all there is to it. No need for the grass. It kills you one bit at a time.”

I spun in the air, laughing. “Why care about death after discovering your own immortality?”

“Wasp, you’re a fool. The grass fills you with delusions. Those low-lifes. . . .”

I f loated to her, enjoying the tantalizing discharges of energy where our doubles touched. “Delusions?” I asked, trying to merge with her, suddenly thirsty for the all-consuming sensation of dream love. “Delusions and death,” Plume said, pushing me away. She imploded and closed up. For a while she looked like a roll of transparent tree bark f loating just above the f loor. “Ah, I have it now. Catch,” she said, swirling in the air and releasing a bubble of condensed thought. The bubble drifted across to me.

I caught the thought. In it, I saw a beach at the southern coast, a

and bloodied, from a fight. I closed in on him, struck him down, and opened his veins so that he lay f lopping like a fish in the rising tide of his own blood. And I stood there, one foot on his frantic chest, my hands raised to the sky, shouting praises to the Lord of the Chase. Back then, the thought of my losing the firstborn had never crossed my mind. That’s the sort of lunatic I was back then, when I had lived only half of the fifty-two years the gods consider a good length for human life.

If someone thought me insane for learning the art of sorcery from my wife, who had adopted the name of Broken Plume when we lost our daughter, he’d have to think again. My mind was humbled enough to learn from a woman. No insanity prompted my learning, only a burning desire to break through the invisible borders the Moonwalk People had erected around my nation.

Getting my double ready for the task wasn’t the hardest part. My wife, as teacher, led me step by step over the months, then years that had passed since the slavers had raided her town. With more experience, she had taken me into the deepest passages of the underworld to steal energy from the shapeless creatures who dwelled there; and little by little, month after month, their dim light collected inside me, building enough mass to become my double. But switching perceptions was an altogether different thing. That I had to learn myself.

I had made some progress in that, too. It took me only a few moments to switch my point of view into my double. I looked around the room, half expecting to see the low-lifes who inhabited the Void. And one of them did materialize near my weapons, just behind our empty bodies stretched on the f loor. It was a short, chubby priest in a thick black robe. When I yelled at him, he bared yellow, rotten teeth, savoring my fear.

Plume’s hand nudged me again. “Wasp, if you see anything bad, ignore it,” she warned. “I see nothing.”

Of course she saw nothing. She couldn’t be bothered with what one meets in the Void. I pushed her away and tried to imagine a sword appear in my hand. It didn’t. The priest grinned and fell on my empty

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