The Battle Dancer is out! It's a quick read—only 14,000 words or so. The first scene is below. Enjoy!
As recently as six months ago, the sight of Dzune’s terraced ingenuity would have taken Tay’s breath away.
Each level of the city was set a little farther back than the one beneath it, hollowed out of the desert valley like spoonfuls scooped from thick stew. The buildings were constructed from rich red brick, and everything was connected by a carefully maintained system of ladders. It was as striking as it was efficient.
But now the view just made Tay roll her milky eyes.
Her house tired her these days too; she didn’t go there except to sleep. When she was awake, she spent most of her time at street level, slouched against one wall or another and gazing at Mount Tsikomo and the Shrine of the Middle—the mountains she didn’t climb anymore.
Her remaining clients still managed to find her, though. Today, she’d suffered through reading fates for two particularly oblivious supplicants. Lusio, the first, had been concerned about his crops. The middle-aged man reeked of earth, and his footsteps were overly loud. Tay had seen that he’d wanted her to tap twice to indicate that no, his crops would not be blighted. So she’d tapped once for yes.
She’d only half-recognized the second client, a young woman who smelled like a mother—Tay had caught the scent of breast milk before the girl said anything about having a child. The woman had asked if her little boy would get over his cough. Tay had immediately tapped twice for no.
She never used to be this flippant with her fates, so callous with the use of her flash insights, the rapid images of what would—or might be—in a few breaths’ time.
But what good were they when they couldn’t predict something as mundane as someone falling off a ladder?
If she was lucky, no one else would bother her today. The pinto beans Lusio had left as payment would be more than enough food to get her through tomorrow; her appetite wasn’t what it used to be. Maybe she should move to a less accessible location: sitting near the town’s entrance wasn’t exactly out of the way. If she wanted to be left alone, she’d be better off finding an alley. Or even going back to her house—
A new prediction cut across her thoughts:
“What is this place?” the smoky-haired stranger will ask slowly, sounding more than a little awestruck.
Tay gasped and looked up. Her foresight wasn’t playing games with her: it was really him. The young man from her vision—the vision, the only one of consequence she’d ever had—was walking toward her, his mouth opening to voice the question she’d just previewed in her head.
“What is this place?” the stranger asked for real, in perfect Nahavo. His gray bangs partially obscured his eyes, but she could see that the left one was marred by a black-and-white tattoo—it looked like the swirling ink was swallowing his eyebrow.
She hadn’t been able to see that in her vision.
“Dzune,” she said softly as she reached for her rainstick.
Even through her grief, she’d worn leggings and kept her hair short—too short to tie in a tsiiyéél bun—in preparation for this moment. But now that it was finally here, she was overwhelmed by shyness.
“Dzune,” the stranger echoed. “That means ‘pivots of time,’ yes?”
Tay nodded. He was younger than she’d thought he’d be, probably only eighteen. She hadn’t expected to be older than him—certainly not by two years.
“It’s impressive,” he said after a short pause, his tattooed gaze lingering on her as much as the town.
She’d anticipated the attention, but it still made her cheeks tingle. It didn’t help that the stranger was lean and handsome, or that he wore a breechcloth … and nothing else. Hoping her blush wasn’t obvious, she shrugged and turned back to Mount Tsikomo.
“Tell me,” the stranger said as he considered the mountain’s peak, “is there a shrine nearby? With … paths that run down from it ‘like fingers from a hand’? I was hoping to see it.”
Tay licked her lips in preparation for an attempt at clear speech. “You mean the Shrine of the Middle. Yes, it’s here.” Another failure: every s still sounded like a scorpion’s sting had swollen her tongue.
Fortunately, the stranger didn’t acknowledge her lisp. “Where?”
She opened her mouth to respond but closed it with a grimace, pointing to the Shine instead.
“Spirits and lakes,” the stranger murmured before gesturing to the taller mountain. “And that’s Mount Tsikomo?”
Tay nodded, smiling for what felt like the first time in weeks—maybe months. The salt trails on the stranger’s skin suggested he’d already done some hard hiking today. “A lot of visitors mix them up.”
“I suppose I should have asked someone before I started climbing,” he said ruefully, frowning at Mount Tsikomo.
She winced in sympathy.
“Would you mind showing me the way? To the Shrine?”
Tay hid her surprise—her flash foresight wasn’t giving her much to go on right now—and nodded again.
“Thank you … I’m Naysin.”
She looked away and silently practiced forming his name before speaking it aloud. But she still butchered it.
“What’s your name?” he asked quickly, clearly trying to gloss over her embarrassment.
At least he was nice.
“Tay,” Naysin repeated with a smile of his own. “Thank you again.” He offered her his hand.
She took it and pulled herself away from the wall. “Follow me.”
* * *
An hour later, as they climbed to the Shrine, Tay found herself thinking back to how she’d first come to hike one of Dzune’s holy mountains. And within a few steps, the two-year-old memory coalesced into a vivid recollection that was as strong as anything she’d experienced in a foretelling …
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