Sand and Ash 19: Exhaustion

The banyosiōu are dead to everyone, unseen and unheard. — Forgotten Ghosts (Act 1)

Over an hour later, Rutejìmo staggered into the light of the camp surrounding the oasis. His breath came in ragged gasps, ripping from his throat in a wheeze. Behind him, his footsteps formed a ragged line through the smooth sand, leaving behind a wake of disturbed sand and, he suspected, the occasional splatter of blood.

An armed man strode forward to meet him in the center of a pool of light created by four torches. The dark-skinned man wore a close-fitting shirt that strained over his muscular chest. “I am Tijìko and I speak for Tifukòmi.”

From underneath boxes and around a wagon, a pack of six dogs came out. They didn’t bark or growl, but Rutejìmo could hear them panting and the scuff of sand underneath their paws. They circled around him, a faint breeze rippling their short, wiry hair and bringing the scent of fur and blood to Rutejìmo. He gulped and waited until they sat down around him.

Rutejìmo took a deep breath, automatically saying the familiar words. “I am Rutejìmo and I speak for…” His clan name froze in his throat. He no longer had the right to use it.

He glanced down at his plain shirt, missing the orange and reds he normally wore. His chest ached. He saw the dark bruises on his skin and felt the scratches underneath the fabric. Everything hurt but, somehow, losing his clan stung the deepest.

“… I speak for no one.” He didn’t really know the proper greeting for a banyosiōu. He sighed and looked up helplessly.

The warrior’s face twisted into a scowl. Around Rutejìmo, the dogs began to growl in a low, rumbling done. “Then go. We don’t have a place for your kind.”

Rutejìmo glanced over his shoulder at the blackness around him. Without sunlight, he couldn’t see a foot in front of him much less enough to find a place to camp. “But it’s night, and I can’t see.”

Wrapping his hand around the hilt of his sword, the guard pulled a few inches of the weapon from his sheath. “Go, before I tear you apart and feed you to the vultures.”

The dogs stood up, growling as one.

Rutejìmo clutched himself, careful to avoid going near his weapon. Sweat prickled his skin. He looked out into the darkness and then back to the oasis where an audience stood up to salute a bard who had just finished a story. He cleared his throat. “Could you tell me if Great Shimusogo Mapábyo is here?”

“Go!”

One of the dogs charged at Rutejìmo, teeth bared and snarled.

Rutejìmo let out a yelp and backed away, stumbling toward another dog that nipped at his thigh. The sharp pain of teeth cut across his skin and he backpedaled away from both dogs.

The pack circled in front of him, growling loudly and moving with disturbing synchronization. He cringed when they completely surrounded him.

“Go!” yelled the warrior.

An armed woman joined him with more dogs following her.

The warrior yelled again, “Go until you can’t see the light! If I see you again, the pack will tear you apart!”

Rutejìmo continued to work his way back until he no longer stood in the pool of light. A trickle of blood ran down his thigh and he hissed in pain. Bending over, he started to press one hand against it to test the injury when the dogs surged forward.

Crying out, he turned on his heels and staggered into the darkness.

As he ran, he heard the man tell the woman. “And tomorrow, there will be one less fool.”

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