The sun and moon war endlessly in their courtship over the great desert. Their children and their children’s children are their pawns in the endless war.
— Rechyokoni Asamōno
Mikáryo slumped back with a contented sigh. The sweat that clung to her skin caught her hair, plastering the curls against her face and nose. She ignored it and enjoyed the fading glow of her orgasm instead.
Her lover, Ridáchi, crawled up her body, her nipples tracing along Mikáryo’s tattoos, before she settled into place with her cheek on Mikáryo’s breast. She had long black hair with a little curl to it. The strands clung to the sweat on both of their bodies.
Ridáchi looked up at Mikáryo and smiled brightly. “I love it when you come home, you know that? I miss… just listening to your heart beat.”
Mikáryo reached down and ran her hands along her lover’s shoulder. Ridáchi’s dark skin matched Mikáryo’s tattoos, black horses that raced over almost her entire body except for bare spots of brown skin shaped like a horse’s head centered on both her abdomen and back.
Ridáchi reached out and ran her fingertips along Mikáryo’s tattoos, tracing the various horses until she got to one of the older ones. She outlined the horse’s mane. “I love your horses. Is this one Mìna?”
“To the right two, there he is. That’s my beauty.” Tomìna, the second horse she had bonded to. His death came when a bridge collapsed underneath them during a battle. Mikáryo hunted down the people responsible for eroding the stone before she got a tattoo in her horse’s memory.
She lifted her head to cup Mikáryo’s breast and press her thumb on a small horse near her nipple. “Fòbi? I remember that foal. You were in tears when he got sick.” The smile on her lips faded slightly. “I remember his flames and the little girl calling out his name.”
The memory brought a smile for Mikáryo. “My father kept trying to tell me to stop calling out his name but I wouldn’t listen.”
“At least until you escaped and found me.” Ridáchi lifted her head to push back her hair, just a few strands of white marking the black. She kissed Mikáryo’s nipple before moving her cheek down on the empty spot of her lover’s belly. “Most people are afraid to name the dead. You wear them on your body.”
She stroked her fingers along the horses. “Every one of these is named, a memory of a horse that the Pabinkúe lost. So beautiful. It reminds me of my Book of Ash.”
Her fingertips slid to one of the small spots that was unmarked. The brown skin had a few scars from healing, scratches from a fight that Mikáryo couldn’t remember anymore. “This one is still for Great Pabinkue Datobàpo?”
Ridáchi slid her fingers up to another empty spot, this one near joint of her left wrist. “Who is this for? Your ride after Bàpo?”
Ridáchi started to chuckle but then a shudder coursed through her body. It similar to the same shiver that raced along everyone’s body when the moon rose above the horizon, the brief moment when magic became suddenly possible again.
“Someone just died.”
Mikáryo closed her eyes for a moment.
Ridáchi crawled to her knees, her breasts swaying with her movements. “I’m sorry, the desert is a cruel mistress and demands me.”
“I know. We all have our duties, right?”
Ridáchi leaned over to kiss Mikáryo’s nipple again. “I like these.”
Then she sat up and blindly reached behind her. Somehow, a pile of plain white clothes had been stacked near the entrance of the tent. Mikáryo never heard anyone approaching; neither did her horse.
“Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you. I met one of the most curious of kojinōmi last month. A new one, maybe only a few years since he had the call.”
Mikáryo shrugged. “That happens every month or so anyways, right? There is always a need for someone to tend to the dead.”
“Yes, but this man came from a sun clan, a speedster.”
Mikáryo’s heart skipped a beat. Her lungs refused to inhale for a moment and her throat tightened.
Ridáchi continued, “It was one of the nastier battles I’ve seen: blood and shit everywhere, bodies ripped apart, even children dead. Some hot-headed clan took offense and invaded a village for slaughter. The other responded, allies were brought in. Warriors died, innocent died. Three kojinōmi were called, he was the last.”
She pulled on her clothes while she talked, her voice growing quieter with every piece of white she pulled on. Then she came up to the last piece, a plain rope belt. “Usually when a bright kojinōmi shows up, they piss on our corpses while respecting their own. I don’t shit on theirs but… I don’t really take an effort. So a bright and I were pulling apart bodies for our pyres when this man comes rushing it really fast, faster than anyone could run, and starts to help.”
A tear rolled down Mikáryo’s cheek. She was talking about Rutejìmo, it had to be him.
“He’s a sun from the bright flames so I figured there would be pissing. None of us really fight when being a kojinōmi, but you’d be amazed how much of an ass we can be while silent. But, to my surprise, he didn’t walk past me but started to help. He didn’t care who it was, only that it got to the right pyre. He even knew the prayers of Chobìre when he helped me. I saw his lips, he knew the words.”
She chuckled to herself, her shoulders shaking. “I have never seen one who truly gave himself to the desert. He just hauled bodies to the right places. Said the right things. Moon and sun, night and day.”
Ridáchi ran her fingers along the rope. A breeze rippled through the opening of the tent, tugging on the edges of her plain clothing. She shook her head as if to clear it. Then she began to pull the belt on. As she did, she lifted herself up and turned to Mikáryo.
“So I started to learn the sun prayers and…” Ridáchi’s eyes widened. “Are you crying?”
Mikáryo nodded fiercely as she sobbed with joy. She didn’t care if the tears were mixing in with the sweat or soaking her chest.
Ridáchi froze, her mouth open. “You know this kojinōmi?”
“I-I do. He is the Great Shimusogo Rutejìmo, I’m sure of it.”
Her lover’s mouth opened more. “I have never heard you call anyone great in—”
The wind rattled the tent hard. The force almost picked up the corner.
Ridáchi jumped and looked out with a guilty look. She finished putting her belt on but stopped at the last cinch. Mikáryo knew that as soon as the last piece went on, she would stop talking until the dead were sent on their way. “I have to go. After this, please?”
Mikáryo couldn’t speak without sobbing. She managed to make it until Ridáchi left before she broke down in tears.