'But I still don't see–' I started, with a growing hollow in my stomach.

  She turned, so abruptly I took a step backward. 'I arrested your brother tonight, Acatl.'

  Her words shattered my thoughts, yanking my mind from worries about Eleuia and the nahual to something much closer to me – and much more unpleasant. She had… arrested my brother?

  'Which one?' I asked, but I knew the answer, just as I knew why she'd asked about the nahual magic, and why she'd waited for my confirmation before telling me anything. Only one of my brothers had been born on a Jaguar day.

  'Neutemoc? You can't arrest him,' I said slowly, but Ceyaxochitl shook her head.

  'He was in this room, covered in blood. And there was magic all over him.'

  'You're wrong,' I said, because those were the only words that got past my lips. 'My brother isn't–'

  'Acatl.' Her voice was gentle but firm. 'When the priestesses arrived, he was searching the room, overturning the wicker chests and even the brazier. And I've never seen so much blood on someone, except perhaps the Revered Speaker after the Great Sacrifices. Your brother's hands were slick with it.'

  I finally dragged my voice from wherever it had fled. 'My brother isn't a killer.'

  That made no sense, I thought, trying to close the hollow deepening in my stomach. Neutemoc was a successful warrior: a member of the elite Jaguar Knights, a son of peasants elevated into the nobility after his feats in the Tepeaca war. My parents had all but worshipped him, back when they had both been alive. He could do no wrong. He had always been the precious, beloved child – whereas I, of course, was less than nothing, a humble priest who had never had the courage to seek wealth and honour on the battlefield. Of course he was a warrior. Of course he'd know how to kill.

  But surely… surely he wouldn't do such a thing?

  'I'm sure your brother can explain what he thought he was doing in her room. So far, he hasn't been helpful.' Ceyaxochitl's voice was ice again. She disapproved of Neutemoc's arrogance, but I wasn't sure why. Knowing my brother, he'd have said the wrong things to her. The Duality knew it didn't take much to anger her these days.

  I tried to think of something to say, but couldn't form any meaningful words.

  Ceyaxochitl tapped her cane against the clay of the brazier, with a hollow sound. 'You're the High Priest for the Dead, in charge of the Sacred Precinct. A case like this is your province, and mine.'

  Guardian, and priest: a Guardian to wield the magic of the Duality, and a priest that of the underworld. We'd done it before; many, many times, both here and in the smaller town of Coyoacan. But this was different. I couldn't…

  Not Neutemoc. Duality, no. We'd parted ways four years ago, and the last thing I wanted was to see him again. I had left him alone in his grand house with his success, freeing him of the burden of my presence. His acts, in any case, had made it painfully clear that he might not completely share my parents' disapproval of me; but that he would do nothing to change it, that he would not even speak up in my defence when Mother was screaming at me from her death-bed. The hollow in my stomach wouldn't close.

  I should walk away. That was the sensible option. Leave him to face the magistrates on his own, as he no doubt wished. But if I did this – if I ran away from him, at this moment – then I would be no better than him. I would prove, once and for all, that Father and Mother had been right: that I was a coward, unworthy of the battlefield.

  The Storm Lord's lightning sear him! What had he been thinking of?

  'You want us to take the investigation,' I said to Ceyaxochitl.

  She said nothing for a while. 'No,' she said. 'Not quite. I didn't call you here at night for my own amusement, despite what you might think of me.'

  'You don't know what I think of you,' I protested, which was not quite true. I was wary of whatever she offered, with good reason.

  Ceyaxochitl turned, slightly. Her face in the brazier's wavering light was a statue's: majestic, expressionless. 'I could have dealt with this on my own. After all, guilt has already been established–'

  'It hasn't,' I protested – a reflex that surprised me by its vehemence.

  'It has,' Ceyaxochitl said. She banged her cane on the floor; its deep sound punctuated each of her words. 'Listen to the end, young man. As I said: I have no need for you. Strictly speaking, nahual magic isn't your province, and it dissipates in daylight anyway. There has been no encroaching of the boundaries.'

  'No,' I finally admitted. Aside from saying the death-rites, I maintained the boundaries: the fragile balance between the underworld and the world of the Fifth Sun. I dealt with the minor gods of Mictlan: the Wind of Knives, the Owl Archer, the Faded Warrior. 'But–'

  Ceyaxochitl banged her cane a scant hand-span from my exposed foot. I flinched. 'Be silent. I summoned you to do you a favour.'

  As you did by pushing my name for promotion at the Imperial Court? I thought, but bit my lip before the words could escape me.

  Ceyaxochitl saw me, all the same, and smiled grimly. 'You might not think it's much of a favour. But the fact is, Acatl, I have no time to investigate this as it should be investigated. Either I end it swiftly by condemning your brother on scant evidence, or I leave it to you.'

  'No time?' No time for my own brother – after all I'd done for her? No time to find a priestess who might be, if not dead, in mortal danger? 'What's so important?'

  Ceyaxochitl grimaced. 'Revered Speaker Axayacatl-tzin is ill. All the healers are by his bedside day and night. As Guardian, my place is with them.'

  That the Emperor was ill wasn't news. But, still, I had to ask. 'Do you think it's–'

  'Magical?' She shook her head. 'No. But he's a man, Acatl. He may be Huitzilpochtli's agent on earth, but even a god's powers don't guard you against wounds, or fatigue.'

  'And so that takes precedence,' I said. Again, not a surprise. The Imperial Family always took precedence over us: a bitter, but necessary thought.

  'It has to,' Ceyaxochitl said. 'The fight for his succession has already started among the Council.'

  The Imperial succession wasn't my concern. Whoever was elected Revered Speaker would still want the dead to be honoured, and the balance to be maintained between the Fifth World, the underworld Mictlan, and the Heavens. Neutemoc was the one I needed to focus on. 'So what you're telling me…'

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