In the ten years since the last book, Sand and Blood, Rutejìmo has become an adult of the clan but is still an outsider. He wears the necklace he got from Mikáryo and wields the weapon she gave Chimípu, but no one else approves of either. They were content to let him run solo along a relatively safe route where his slower speed (about 30 mph) wouldn’t force the others (who could run 40-50 mph) slow down.
Everyone knew that Rutejìmo had a crush for Mikáryo. They occasionally teased him about it but it was one of those things they tolerated. Mikáryo was a warrior of a night clan where their clan gained power from the sun. Supposedly, the two types of clans were mortal enemies, but Rutejìmo continued fantasized about the woman who berated and saved him so many years ago.
Everything changed near one of the young girl’s rite of passage. Eight years younger than Rutejìmo, Mapábyo had a crush on him for a long time. When she was curious about her own rite, she asked him questions but he wasn’t allowed to tell her. After the rite, she created a necklace of the creature she defeated it, wearing it despite the fact only Rutejìmo work an animal necklace.
The necklace enraged Rutejìmo’s brother, Desòchu. The clan warrior accused Rutejìmo of corrupting the young and slammed Rutejìmo against the wall. Other members of the clan stopped him from hurting Rutejìmo, but the anger and discomfort between the two only built.
It becomes obvious to the reader, but not Rutejìmo, that the clan tries to set up Rutejìmo and Mapábyo together. In one scene, they force him to to sit next to her. She also encourages him not to give up at the end of runs, a habit he had acquired in the last ten years. He treats her nicely but he doesn’t realized how she feels about him.
During a mission, six of the clan members are heading to Wamifuko City. One of the head guards there, Gichyòbi, talks directly to Rutejìmo instead of Desòchu, who is the obvious leader of the group. Mapábyo speaks up for him which only enrages the warrior brother more. Mapábyo’s mother, Kiríshi, gives Rutejìmo some money to buy a present for Mapábyo. He starts to, but then can’t decide between that and one for Mikáryo, who he hadn’t not seen for a decade. However, while he was struggling with his decision, a herd of black horses walked by and Rutejìmo was reminded of his crush.
He followed the horses until he encountered Tsubàyo, the man who tried to kill him. After a brief discussion, Mikáryo joins in. Rutejìmo is still enamored with her and she invites him to her tent to talk with him and Tsubàyo for a while before eventually fucking Rutejìmo after Tsubàyo leaves.
After spending two days with his love (and losing his virginity in the process), Mikáryo kicks him out of the tent because she has to go to her own job. He knows that he would be in trouble in trouble for spending time with his crush, but thought it was worth it. He didn’t realize that his clan was tearing apart the city in a panic, trading in favors trying to find him. When Rutejìmo finally returns, Desòchu blows up at him and beats him up (along with Chimípu) before kicking him out of the clan for a year. They then run away, leaving him alone.
Injured, he tries to return to Mikáryo who rejects him a second time. He heads back into the city to get drunk. Mapábyo surprises him by showing up. They fight and she uses magic within the city limits which is normally a death penalty. However, Gichyòbi only exiles them from the city for a few weeks.
As they leave the city, they have another fight. Mapábyo hits him with a fireball before running off. The fight finally gets Rutejìmo to reality that she is in love with him. And the rejection from Mikáryo points out that he may be in love with her. He chases after her, but since he no longer has a clan, he is forced out of repeated oases and almost dies in the desert. Finally, a friendly clan gives him one chance and helps him learn his new position, as a banyosiōu, the social dead. His new role in life is to haul garbage, burn the dead, and other do the other unclean things that society never did. The banyosiōu can’t talk and on one will talk to them unless it is a warrior trying to kill them.
With a new direction in life, he continues after Mapábyo. Eventually, they catch up and travel together. No one will look at him but they managed to return to Wamifuko City after a few weeks. He spends his time between her missions working underground missions. Eventually, his clan arrives to demand she returns home instead of spending her days in the city with him. They won’t talk to him directly, but he is invited.
Back at home, life isn’t easy for Rutejìmo. Everyone he knows won’t acknowledge his existence. His only respite is the whispered conversations with Mapábyo. Eventually, it gets so bad that Rutejìmo considers fleeing back to Wamifuko City while Mapábyo is on a mission, despite the fact travel to the city would be fatal without being able to use the oases. Chimípu and Pidòhu both have a party near him, telling him without addressing him that he is still loved.
Rutejìmo remains in the clan valley. Eventually, Mapábyo gets pregnant. The others, realizing that he needed some support, allow him to join them in dinner but no one will look at him or talk to him. They just set out food and look away. Desòchu gets furious that he is being treated so well and eventually attacks Rutejìmo. The others stop him, but it only highlights the anger between them.
Rutejìmo is given advice and a book, The Book of Ash, from a kojinōmi, a tender of the dead. He realizes that his “death” gave him the opportunity to become a priest of the dead. He does so, treating the dead around the valley. He is happy with his new place in life and a growing child.
Some months later, Desòchu is racing around the valley in anger and the rest of the clan is enjoying the weather, giving Rutejìmo a chance to enjoy private time with Mapábyo. However, on the way back, he sees a young child about to fall to her death. He breaks the silence and calls for help. Eventually, he has to break a mechanical dog to force his brother to stop running. After a brief fight, Desòchu races back to save the child. Mapábyo is injured in the process (losing her child) and Gemènyo, Rutejìmo’s best friend, is killed.
Forced to burn his best friend, Rutejìmo is visited by his brother who apologizes for everything. Rutejìmo is also forced to burn his own unborn child.
When the year is finally over, Rutejìmo proposes to Mapábyo.