Raging Alone 14: The Cliffs

Desòchu sat on the cliff with his feet hanging over the edge. The hundred-foot drop didn’t bother him, but he still kept one hand firmly planted on the solid rock and the other on the sharp edge of cut stone. He still remembered when the stone-cutting clan came to shape the hills surrounding the valley into steep-edged cliffs to protect the clan. They had carved the guard spot above the valley entrance.

Even though he knew his father must be dead, it didn’t stop him from scanning the horizon for distinct sign of a clan runner: the plume of dust and sand that rose up behind the rapidly running courier.

“Are you safe up here, Sòchu?” asked Somiryòki. Desòchu glanced over his shoulder at the warrior. Somiryòki wore only a white shirt and orange trousers. The bright colors made his dark skin look like coal in the sunlight. Like Desòchu and the rest of the clan, his feet were callused from years of running across the sand, rock, and gravel.

Listlessly, Desòchu stood up and bowed deeply. “Yes, Great Shimusogo Somiryòki.”

He was careful to use a deferential tone with the clan. They were all watching him since Hikòru disappeared. No one said anything, but he noticed the warriors were always nearby when he was out of the cave.

It was the same with his grandmother, Tejíko had showed up every night when Desòchu decided to eat in the cave instead of with the others. He wasn’t surprised when he started snapping at her, as if he was taking his father’s antagonistic attitude.

That was also why he spent the morning cleaning dishes for a hundred people.

Somiryòki grunted and then gestured to the path at the rear of the guard spot. It led down to the ground and the rest of the clan valley. “Great Shimusogo Kiramíro will be up in about a half hour. Call if anyone approaches.”

Desòchu wanted to ask about his father but a look in Somiryòki’s eyes stopped him. “I will, Great Shimusogo Somiryòki.”

The older warrior gave a short bow and then stepped away. His body blurred and he disappeared, kicking up a blast of wind that howled around Desòchu and pulled him from the edge of the cliff. Sand sucked after the warrior, coursing down the stairs and out of sight. The hiss of it settling into place echoed against the walls.

Finally alone, Desòchu considered sitting back on the edge of the cliff but quickly changed his mind. He paced along the smoothly-cut stone and let his mind dwell on his father’s disappearance.

He stopped to pick up a rock. He threw it off the cliff and watched it sail a few rods before plummeting out of sight. He grabbed more and pulled back to throw it but then it nestle in his palm before he clamped his hand around it. The sharp edge dug into his palm and he concentrated on the discomfort.

“Sochu?” came a young boy’s voice.

Desòchu stiffened at the sound of his brother. He turned away from the younger boy, not willing to look at him. “Go away.”

“Sochu? Why you up?” Like young children, Rutejìmo didn’t understand how or where to place the inflections. It made his sentences muddled and difficult to understand. Just one more reason his brother needed to stay away.

Tiny feet scuffed on the sandy rock as Rutejìmo approached. “Sochu? Where Papa? Miss Papa.”

“Go away!” Desòchu shoved blindly at his brother. He missed. Turning around, he aimed more carefully and shoved him back, clipping his brother with his palm.

Rutejìmo stumbled back. He had been carrying his blanket and his stubby feet caught on it. He managed to regain his feet and shuffled closer. “Want Papa.”

Anger bubbled up. Desòchu shoved at Rutejìmo, this time catching him in the chest and shoving him back. It wasn’t different than the thousand times his father did the same thing to Rutejìmo in the family cave.

Rutejìmo thumped against the ground. He sniffed loudly and then began to cry. “I sad!”

Desòchu twisted his face in a scowl and then spun around, snarling at his brother. “Go away and drown in sands!”

Behind his brother, he could see the vast expanses of the desert rippling with heat. It seemed to cling to his brother’s outline and gave him a wavering appearance like a mirage.

An intense wave of anger exploded inside him. He stepped toward him. “If it wasn’t for you, he wouldn’t have been drinking. If it wasn’t for you, he would still be here! She would still be here!”

Somiryòki’s warning rose up, that he couldn’t talk about the dead. Desòchu ground down and crushed down his fear. It didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore.

Rutejìmo backed away, but his foot caught on his blanket. He stumbled back, tears rolling down his face. There was a dark mark on his right cheek where Desòchu had slapped him that morning.

Desòchu glared down at his brother, seeing not the tears or hearing the whimpers, but seeing his dead mother instead. All the cheer and joy was gone when his brother showed up. Everything was ruined by her pregnancy.

He growled, “Go away!”

Rutejìmo tugged his blanket from around his leg, pulling the bright orange fabric to his chest. After a second of his lower lip trembling, he looked back up at Desòchu. “Sochu? Where is—”

“Shut up! Shut up forever!” Desòchu stepped forward and shoved his brother hard.

The young boy stumbled and dropped his blanket. He tried to regain his balance. He managed to catch himself but when he stepped down on the blanket, a rock rolled and the fabric pulled out from underneath him.

Desòchu froze as he realized how close they were to the edge. He watched helplessly as Rutejìmo fell back.

“Papa!” screamed Rutejìmo as he flailed out. His tiny hands swung for Desòchu, but Desòchu couldn’t move as he watched his brother tumble back and hit the edge of the cliff. His head caught on the sharp ridge and snapped forward, thudding against his chest before bouncing back. In the briefest of moments, Desòchu could only see the whites of his brother’s eyes before Rutejìmo slid head-first off the hundred foot tall cliff.

A sudden wind blasted up the sheer cliff, bringing a sheet of sand that parted visibly around his brother’s head. The force of it lifted Rutejìmo inches off the ground, halting his plummet, but only for a second. It died down and the tiny body slipped off.

Something slammed into Desòchu’s side and threw him away from the cliff. His eyes focused on a blur of movement as Kiramíro stopped at the cliff and grabbed at the tiny foot disappearing from sight. Despite leaning into a sheet of blowing sand and the wind of her own accelerated movement, she was steady as she caught Rutejìmo and pulled him up. Her entire body burned with golden flames, the magical power of the clan visible against the darkness of the unnatural sandstorm.

When she turned around, she held Rutejìmo tight against her chest. Blood poured from between her fingers and down Rutejìmo’s neck, soaking both of their clothes in a matter of seconds.

She focused on Rutejìmo, her green eyes glowing from the reflected light of the flames that wreathed her body.

For a moment, emotions stormed inside Desòchu: fear for himself, rage that tore at him, and to his surprise, terror seeing blood splashing on the ground at her feet. He gulped and the double image of his mother and Rutejìmo bleeding ripped through his thoughts. It left him confused so he gripped at the only emotion he understood: anger. He stepped forward. “It wasn’t my fault. It was—”

“Go to your grandmother!” Kiramíro’s shrill voice echoed against the rocks.

The memory of the night when Tejíko had kicked Desòchu and Hikòru from his mother’s room came back. “I will not—!”

She opened her mouth and screamed, but it was a screech of a bird that came out instead of a human’s voice. It rose into a high-pitched call, a sound that shook the ground around her and rippled out in waves of force.

Fear echoed in his heart. He had never heard such an inhuman sound coming from someone’s throat before. It was a bird’s call, like the one his grandmother made, but the force of it was far more powerful. It frightened him as it beat against his chest and ripped at his ears.

Desòchu started to turn to run away when wind blasted him from the path leading up to the guard spot. In a moment, his eyes saw nothing but the blur of movement.

When the wind died down, his route was blocked and most of the clan elders were standing around him. They had their weapons out, naked blades and bolas in their hands.

Somiryòki stood in the front, golden flames rising from his body. The heat of the older man’s presence prickled Desòchu’s skin.

Desòchu looked up at Somiryòki and then at the others. They were all looking at Kiramíro and Rutejìmo, but he knew it would only be a matter of moments before they turned to him. Fear tore through him, crumbling as he realized that he had gone too far.

The heat from Somiryòki increased, wavering the air and making it hard to breathe. Slowly, he turned to look over at Desòchu.

Around the two, the others shifted away.

Desòchu opened his mouth to say something just as Somiryòki backhanded him. The impact left stars floating across his vision before he slammed into the wall six feet away. Striking the ground drove the air from his lungs.

Flailing, Desòchu tried to get air in his lungs. He slumped to the ground for a moment then pushed himself up. He managed to put his hands in a defensive position and prepare for a fight.

Somiryòki stormed up to him. His entire body was burning and the intensity of the heat caused the air to ripple around him. He said nothing as he smacked Desòchu’s hands aside.

Desòchu tried to bring his hands back but the warrior grabbed the front of his shirt with one hand and yanked their bodies together. Snarly, Desòchu kicked for Somiryòki’s balls but hit the rock-hard thigh instead.

He opened his mouth to try speaking, but a second backhand silenced him. He turned back as a scowl etched across his face. From the corner of his vision, he could see the rest of the clan staring at him. There were expressions of anger and annoyance but none of sympathy. Turning his attention to the warrior. “What do you want me to say, old man?”

“Why did you do it?” said Tejíko on the side. Her hair was loose from her ring, the long strands fluttering with the heat and magic gathered around them.

He glared at his grandmother. “Because you won’t talk about them. You just pretend they didn’t exist, hide their names, and live your moon-damned lives as if they were never born.”

Tejíko took a step forward. “That is not—”

“Rot in the moon light, old woman. I’m tired of—”

No other words came out as Somiryòki slapped him hard. Blood splattered across the ground as Desòchu’s head came back in time for a second strike against his other cheek.

Desòchu glared at the warrior as the taste of blood flooded his mouth. His face burned from the impacts. “Drown in sands, old man. I will not ever stop saying Chyo—”

The punch caught him right below the ribs, the impact driving the air from his lungs. He gaped, his mouth open but the air refusing to draw into his chest. With tears in his eyes, he looked around at the others in hopes of seeing any form of sympathy or understanding.

There was none.

On the far side of the crowd, Kiramíro held Rutejìmo tightly. Both of them were covered with blood but she seemed calmer as she patted the bawling baby’s head against her shoulder. She caught him looking at her and her eyes narrowed.

Yutsupazéso limped up to Kiramíro and Rutejìmo. She sighed as she looked at the wound. “He’ll survive,” she said in a wavering voice that somehow cut through the tension.

Somiryòki’s weight ground Desòchu against the the wall. “And the boy?”

The old woman looked at them and then nodded. “Start it now, don’t wait for the others.”

Desòchu looked up at Somiryòki just as the older man’s strike caught the side of his head. Instead of slapping like him before, the warrior had switched to a punch. The hard knuckles and blast of heat slammed Desòchu’s head to the side.

Somiryòki released Desòchu and the younger boy staggered to the side.

Kiramíro appeared next to him and punched him in the gut. The blow picked him off the ground as he folded over it. He almost threw up before his feet struck the ground.

Antoher punch caught his chin, snapping his head back.

Stunned and dazed, Desòchu tried to block the blows but they came from too many directions, too fast, and too strong. He threw up between the attacks as he tried to find some escape from the brutal assault.

He dropped to his knees.

The blows kept coming.

Blood dripped down his face.

He looked up to see Kiramíro standing over him, the warrior’s body burning with flame.

She balled her hand into a burning fist. The heat grew more intense, beating against his face and causing his wounds to burn.

Desòchu spat blood before he glared at her. “At least you’ll never say my name.”

He never saw her punch, only the flame that sent him into oblivion.