Chapter 24: Answers

No words can ever describe the pain a warrior feels with the blood of her clan on her hands.

—Demyokiso Achīgo

What appeared to be an unreachable distance at the Wind’s Teeth ended up only being a short run for Desòchu and Shimusògo. He came up on a field of broken rocks and sharp gravel. His bare feet skimmed over the surface and he didn’t feel even a cut against the thick calluses that had formed over the years.

The vultures were circled around some corpse on the ground. Even from a distance, he could pick out flies swarming over the body and a bony hand with only a few shreds of flesh still clinging to it.

He frowned and slowed down.

Between one step and another, Shimusògo disappeared and he came to a crashing stop.

“Shit!” he screamed as he pitched forward, slamming his shoulder into the hard rocks as the edges tore at his skin and the aches of his day returned in a rush.

Stinging, he scrambled to his feet.

One of the vultures turned to look at him. It had a broken wing and eyes that were pools of darkness. He shivered at the sight, it looked like the bird was something more than just a mere animal. It had to be another clan spirit, but one that he hadn’t heard of before.

The vulture spirit turned back and tugged at the bony arm. With a snap, it pulled clear and a strip of red and yellow clothe dropped from the rotted mass.

Desòchu did a second take when he reorganized the Shimusògo clan colors. He stumbled forward, a frown etched on his face as he watched the birds as warily as the body.

The vulture spirit hopped back slightly and left space between the large avians.

Desòchu hesitated.

The spirit clamped down on its beak. The bones in the arm snapped and fell to the side. Then with a flutter of massive black wings, the spirit hopped back again.

Desòchu inched forward. His eyes slowly moved from the vulture to the body.

The corpse had been picked over for days. A gleaming skull crawled with flies and blood stained the rocks around it. However, he recognized the shreds of the outfit that still clung to the jutting ribs and hips. It was his father’s clothes.

A sick feeling swam over him.

Desòchu gulped and looked down, his hands balling into fists as he searched for some confirmation. It was underneath the corpse, the blanket that used to cover the cave entrance with their names on it. He had passed it many times in the years and someone had taken it away when his father disappeared. Now, it was stained with gore and shredded.

A blast of wind peppered him from behind. He heard the crunch of gravel as a plume of dust and sand rolled over him. He didn’t need to look behind him to know that it was one of the Shimusògo warriors.

Desòchu ground his teeth together. “Was it you?”

“Yes,” said Somiryòki in a low voice. “Someone had to do it.”

“Why?” His voice was low.

“Why do you think?”

Energy rippled around Desòchu’s hand. He looked up to see the vulture spirit watching him. Slowly, he drew his attention to his hand where golden flames were forming around his palm. He let it stretch into a straight line and the fires grew brighter.

Somiryòki sighed. “I wouldn’t that, Boy.”

“Why not?”

“Because you won’t like what happens next.” The warrior spoke with an easy confidence.

Desòchu turned around slowly. He focused his gaze on the frowning warrior a hundred feet away. “I bet I could surprise you.”

Somiryòki ran his hand through his short black hair. Then he dropped his hand to his fighting bolas at his hip. “No,” he finally said. “You’re young and stupid. You think you know the answers but you have so much more—”

Desòchu couldn’t take it anymore. He lifted his burning hand and charged with a below.

The warrior raised an eyebrow. Then the sand exploded as he rocketed to the side, racing in a wide circle.

Desòchu hadn’t even gotten more than a yard.

Somiryòki stopped to his left. There was still a chain between them.

Raising his hand, he felt the energy gather. With a scream of rage, he brought it down with all his might.

The ground exploded in a line of fire that tore through rocks and stone. Bursts of golden flames raced toward Somiryòki, scoring and melting the stone.

Somiryòki swore as he ducked to the side. When he stood up, he was smoking but had a grin on his face. “You’re picking up Adoraséi’s powers quickly.”

Desòchus straightened and looked at the vulture spirit.

“Mercenary clan from up north. Adoraséi wander the deserts looking for fights to rob both sides. You might like them, they embrace anger and turn their back on their family.”

Desòchu spun back at Somiryòki. “I did not turn my back on my family! You did.”

“What about Rutejìmo?”

He shook his head. “He took my family!”

“He’s a baby.”

“I lost my mother to him!”

Somiryòki shook his head. “He’s a baby,” he repeated. “What happen to your mother was a tragedy and if you would just listen to your heart, you would–”

With a bellow of range, Desòchu slashed down again. Before the first line of burning fire reached the warrior, he did it again and again, sending waves of energy ripping through the stone. Molten rock flew in all directions.

Somiryòki tried to dodge, his body spinning but Desòchu had spread his attacks enough that the third one connected. The impact shuddered the air as the warrior was thrown back.

When he stood up, his smile was grim. “It’s rude to interrupt, Boy.”

“Drown in sands, Old Man!”

Somiryòki snatched his fighting bola from his waist. Golden flames raced along his body as his power built.

Desòchu slashed at the ground, punching it hard to send another wave of force.

Somiryòki spun on his feet and a column of flame exploded from his form. The bola turned brilliant for only the shortest moment before it launched at him as a spinning disc of flame.

“Shit!” yelled Desòchu as he jerked back.

There was a crack of air.

Desòchu spun around as Somiryòki stopped behind him.

The burning bola rocketed toward the warrior. To Desòchu surprise, Somiryòki started to spin again. A column flame burst around him in time for the warrior to reach out and grab the flaming ring. Then the flames grew hotter for a moment.

When Somiryòki threw the bola again, it screamed with white hot flames. The very air rippled with power but it was moving too fast.

The heavy weight slammed into Desòchu’s chest. Searing heat ripped at his face and chest as he was thrown to the side.

Air blasted to the side.

Desòchu managed to flip over and land on his feet as Somiryòki caught the bola and spun it again. The disc launched in white brilliance. It moved too fast to see but Desòchu felt the impact as it smashed into his chest again.

Ribs snapped as he flew backwards into the flock of birds. His father’s corpse exploded in all directions.

With the rocks ripping at Desòchu’s face, it took him precious seconds to get his feet underneath him and dig down. He snarled and launched himself toward the bola as it flew toward him again. With his burning hand, he brought it down through the air.

A circular wave of flame and force launched out. It struck the bola.

The heavy weights spun away in flames.

Then Somiryòki was in front of him. With brutal speed, he brought his fist up into an uppercut.

Desòchu jerked to the side and slashed down. His fingertips caught the warrior’s arm, slicing open flesh.

Somiryòki spun around and punched Desòchu hard. His fist smashed into Desòchu’s jaw and stars exploded across his vision.

The force spun Desòchu around. He tried to plant his feet, but a second punch in the same direction ripped him off his balance. A third one spun him even faster.

Somiryòki final punch came from the opposite direction as the spin. All the force of the warrior impacted with the rapid turning. Desòchu’s bones crunched from the impact and he felt sharp pain rip through his organs.

Desòchu collapsed.

Air blasted as Somiryòki raced away. He stopped a chain away and turned around.

Desòchu struggled to his feet. Blood flooded his mouth and he was dizzy. He needed to go faster to defeat the warrior, he needed the same speed. He stepped forward and reached for the power of Shimusògo.

The flames in his hand faded awya.

He lurched and stopped, looking down in surprise.

“Only one spirit, Boy. This is your choice, Shimusògo or Adoraséi.” Somiryòki sounded tired and angry at the same time. The air around his body wavered from the heat rolling from his skin.

Desòchu panted. He glared at the warrior as he struggled with the choice: power or speed. Gulping, he said, “Why would I pick a clan that killed my father?”

Somiryòki shook his head. “Your father was poison.”

“Point? So what, he drank too much.”

“We’re a small clan on the edges of society. Everyone pulls their weight, everyone runs the miles that need to be run. If one does, what do we do?”

“You didn’t have to kill him!” Desòchu focused on the energies of his hand and his palm ignited into flames again.

“Then what?”

Stunned, Desòchu couldn’t answer.

“Was he a good father to you?”

“He’s—”

“You spent your days away from the cave.”

“Because he was…” Desòchu hesitated. “… he was drinking.”

Somiryòki took a step closer, the heat searing the ground at his feet. “He couldn’t accept your mother’s death and he was poisoning us all with that anger. Do you know what happens if you name the desert?”

The memory of his heart straining to beat rose up. Desòchu nodded.

The flames around his hand faded.

“What do you think happens when a man rages against her in the middle of our home. Do you think the desert is just going to pluck him out and leave the rest untouched?”

Mifúno had destroyed the supplies. He could easily see the cruel touch of the desert dissolving the entire valley into black ash. He ground his teeth as he shook his head. Tears burned his eyes as he struggled with a sudden surge of guilt.

“That is the way of the desert. The sun is our source of power but we all go to the mother sooner or later. But when she is called, everyone must listen. Only a few can hear her voice and you and I are not one of them.”

Desòchu wiped at the tears. “Then why did my mother have to die?”

Somiryòki sighed. “Why did my best friend get an arrow in the throat? Why did Tejíko’s husband drown in that well? Why did that girl die? It happens. It’s terrible and it rips out your heart. As a warrior, you are going to lose a lot more than just your mother. You are going to spend the rest of your life, Shimusògo or Adoraséi, fighting with all your might until you die.”

The older man shook his head and looked away to the desert. “We don’t die in our beds. We don’t pass away pleasantly in the night. Warriors die by blood and bone. That’s why we protect our clan, so they don’t have to end their lives at the end of some sword or spear. We give our lives to protect them from the monsters, the people, and the horror.”

Desòchu felt a little hope rise. “W-Warrior? You think I’m one?”

Somiryòki gave him a grim smile. “I’m sorry, but you are going to be a warrior no matter what you do. You have the power and focus. I have no doubt that if you were to choose Shimusògo, you would be my equal…” A sudden, grim smile painted the man’s face. “… some day.”

As much as Desòchu wanted to disagree, he knew Somiryòki was right. He looked to the remains of his father. Adoraséi stood next to bones, eyes watching him warily.

He could still feel the rush of power that came when he used the vulture spirit’s powers. It was intoxicating. But with it came the taste of blood in his mouth and the stench of rotten meat.

Somiryòki sat down next to him.

Desòchu jumped and looked over. “Aren’t you worried I’m going to hit you?”

“No, I think I got the point across. It’s up to you now. Shimusògo or Adoraséi?”

Desòchu turned back to the vulture spirit and then back to the warrior. “How can I go back? I almost killed my brother? How… can I face them? How could they ever forgive me?”

Somiryòki patted him on his back. “We just do. That’s part of the Shimusogo Way. You be a good warrior, honest and strong and true.”

“And Jìmo?”

“You have to decide. The curse of a warrior is that you can’t have a family because you have a clan. Your entire life must be dedicated to Shimusògo. You can’t have favorites. You can’t have enemies. Everyone without question is in your charge now. If you can’t do that, I’d accept Great Adoraséi instead.”

They sat in silence as Desòchu thought about his choices. He forced himself to think about what he had done to his brother by mimicking his father.

“Why did anyone help me when I needed it?”

Somiryòki sighed. “Becaue Yutsupazéso’s a goat.”

Desòchu snorted and smirked.

“Also because you needed to be pushed. Without pain, the spirits and your clan can’t really see who you are. They only the mask you wear your entire life.”

Somiryòki gestured to the melted stone around them. “This can’t happen until you are at your breaking point.”

“The same thing happened to you?”

There was a haunted look in Somiryòki’s eyes for a moment. “Yes.”

To the side, Adoraséi let out a screech and launched into the air.

Desòchu looked up at the vulture as it sailed around him a few times before flying off.

“You decided.” It wasn’t a question.

Desòchu nodded. “I don’t like the idea of drinking blood. I’d rather run.”

“Shimusògo run.” It was the clan’s motto. It finally made sense, everything felt better when he was running.

He got to his feet. “Shimusògo run.”

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