The run heals many injuries, but the scars remain forever.
— Shimusògo proverb
Shimusogo Rutejìmo chased after a bird he would never catch. He didn't feel the heat of the sun or the roughness of the desert road against his bare feet. He only felt the pulse of magic and the beat of his heart.
Next to him, Mapábyo ran in step with him. She raced neither faster or slower, but exactly the same speed. She chased the same bird across the desert, her eyes focused on the road with the euphoric smile all Shimusògo shared while running.
The world blurred past them as they ran, following the rise and fall of the road leading to Wamifuko City from Monafuma Cliffs. Their colors, orange and red, added to the boiling cloud of dust left in their wake and the flicker of translucent feathers that streamed around their bodies.
Neither said anything; they didn't have to. They ran hand-in-hand, and it was enough for a man who now spoke little and the woman who loved him. In his pack, he still kept the trappings of banyosiōu, the white outfits and the Book of Ash. Now everyone called him a kojinōmi except when he wore the outfit. When he wore the white fabrics, their eyes slid away and they refused to speak to him. He was the tender of the dead and a courier of Shimusògo.
He was happy.
They came to a halt at the northwest entrance of Wamifuko City, decelerating from speeds faster than human to merely running and then jogging. Their destination brought them to the gate where a familiar horse-helmed warrior waited.
“Well met. I am Gichyòbi, and I speak for Wamifūko.” Gichyòbi bowed deeply when they stopped.
Rutejìmo bowed deeply.
Next to him, Mapábyo did the same.
Rutejìmo straightened and said, “I am Rutejìmo, and I speak for Shimusògo.”
“You know the rules of our city?”
“Very much, good friend.”
“I'm going to tell you anyway,” said Gichyòbi with a wink. He continued with the rules, giving graphic detail of how anyone who used magic within the city limits would be killed. The smile on his lips belied his words, and Rutejìmo and Mapábyo joined in.
As he finished his speech, he continued, “… and I would be honored if the Great Shimusògo would join my family for dinner. I will miss our dinners together now that you'll be returning home for some time.”
Mapábyo giggled softly and rested her hand on the swell of her belly. She was due in three months, and it was time to stop running until the child was born.
In a few days, Chimípu and Desòchu would be coming up to guard them for the trip back to Shimusogo Valley. Until then, they would be discreetly guarded by Gichyòbi and the Wamifūko. It wasn't a favor, but a gift from one of the many people in Rutejìmo's life.
“We would be honored,” said Rutejìmo.
A thud shook the ground. He glanced to the north where four large mechanical scorpions stepped over the crowds gathering near the entrance. Their brass bodies gleamed in the setting sun but he could still see the red glow of the inhuman eyes. As they walked with their tails curled over their backs, liquid flames dripped from their stingers.
Rutejìmo turned to get a better look, his eyes dropping to the feet of the massive machines. It was impossible to see anything other than the flash of black manes and the haunches of the dark herd, but he could imagine that there were two Pabinkúe riding among the horses.
A small part of him wanted to dive into the crowd to search for Mikáryo, to see the warrior one more time. He knew he wouldn't ever find her again. She was lost to him, living her life as he lived his own. He accepted it with a pang of sadness and turned around.
Mapábyo leaned against him. “Was that her?”
Rutejìmo shook his head and looked away. “Was that who?”
“Your shikāfu?” Her green eyes searched his own.
“Of course,” he said with a kiss, “she's standing right in front of me.”