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14

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

15

C H A P T E R O N E

“Look, listen, feel their strength. And let’s return to finding Dew.” I stopped her with my hand. As soon as I had formed the hand, it began melting under my glance, taking dark and grotesque shapes. That was one of the double’s reactions to which I was yet un-accustomed. Plume never seemed to have that problem. Her body and limbs seemed firm, as if molded from frozen pieces of light. Waves of sparkles, like bluish constellations, sometimes rippled through that light from head to toe.

“I want to know more,” I said. “I want to enter his head.” “Listen, Wasp. Such temptations will drag you down into the under—”

“I disagree. Will you help me?” “Help you how?”

“Remove that low-life, to start with, so that I can pass.” Plume f lickered. “I don’t see any low-life, Wasp. And if you do. . . .”

The leader’s mental voice became more excited meanwhile. It sent out more and more fantasies of sex, violent possession, and even guilty memories of another woman. That voice lured me on, demanded that I understand the man who commanded those boats and see him from inside his skin.

“I’ve decided,” I said, feeling energy coursing through me. “Wait here, wife.”

I willed the double of my sword to appear in my hand and, ignoring my fear and disgust, plunged it through the low-life’s body, whose skin burst with a bang. The energy it had consumed splashed in all directions. A horde of new gray forms rushed in to slurp it up. I fought some but gave up, for there was no end to them. Their screams, curses, and bites brought my fear back, and, for a moment, I retreated.

“Poor Wasp,” Plume said. “Doesn’t all this endless running in place, this pointless fight with shadows, tell you something?” I ignored her. I surged up, made myself available to the winds, and for a while f loated in the powerful streams of air. Everyone in One World was part of one universal soul, I thought. Both I and

voice, I caught a stream of thinner but steadier thoughts. That stream was nearly devoid of emotion.

I recognized that detachment. We Tlaxcalteca mostly fought to defend our nation at our borders, but back in my youth I led an expedition against our neighbors Hideaway Springs. We won the first fight, but, instead of surrendering, the enemy retreated fighting, and we followed them all the way into their town where they finally conceded defeat. There, inebriated on victory, among the fires of burning temples, I stormed through the houses, punishing the enemy for the deaths, horror and pain that they had inf licted on my people. I never raped. I killed outright. For many nights after that attack, I was haunted by the women I had killed; and by one in particular, middle-aged but still attractive. She lay in a pool of her blood, aloof and resigned in her dying, and I walked right up to her and cut her throat so she died faster.

“She hates him,” I concluded.

“She’s well beyond hate,” Plume said. “She endures him, hardly paying him any heed.”

“What a menace you’ve discovered. An army full of fear, men who’ve raped their women beyond care.”

Plume studied me in silence, and I had to suppress a sudden desire to apologize. But I wasn’t the one to say sorry to a woman. That unusual boat below us and its strange occupants puzzled me. Our One World knew people of every kind, from the primitives native to its land to the infinitely more civilized Moonwalk People and my own Tlaxcalteca nation, who had vanquished the natives not so long ago. Like the peoples before us, we had come from across the northern wastelands. Now, however, I was looking at proof that somewhere in the eastern seas were other nations with their minds set on expansion.

Old tales told of paradise islands far in the East, though Mayan traders sneered at the savages they’d discovered there. But, in that moment, I knew that both the ancient myths and Mayans were wrong. “I must know what that man wants. And why he came.” “I brought you to appreciate the danger,” Plume cautioned.

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