The jewel of the desert, Kosobyo City is the grandest and most civilized of all barbaric locales.
— Kardin Gunterman, The Sands in Sixty Months
Rutejìmo's only experience with larger cities was Wamifuko City, the nearest to Shimusogo Valley. The mountain city had a smell that had burned itself into Rutejìmo's memories, a dank scent of rot and shit. He expected the same from Kosobyo City. In the weeks of running, he painted an image of their destination in the back of his mind. He could see it surrounded by tall stone walls with guards every few chains. And he had no doubt the stench would be overpowering.
Lost in thought, he almost ran past the others when they stopped at the top of the ridge. Only when Mapábyo called to him did he realize his mistake. To stop, he dug his feet into the ground, but his soles didn't break the rocky ground as normal. Instead, he skittered for a moment before pitching forward.
The ground rushed up to him, but then a blast of wind caught him. Strong hands, Chimípu's and Desòchu's, caught him before he hit.
“Pay attention, little brother,” chided Chimípu.
Gasping for breath, Rutejìmo managed to get back to his feet with only his dignity injured. He stood up and looked at the others. “Why did we…” His voice trailed off when Nifùni gestured angrily for him to turn around.
Mapábyo giggled and did the same, but with a smile instead of a scowl.
Rutejìmo's breathing grew deeper as he turned around and got his first look at Kosobyo City. It wasn't anything like he imagined. There were no walls, only rows of stone houses and paths radiating from the center of the city. His mouth opened in shock as he tried to take in the sight. It was easily leagues across, with neat lines of roads and alleys. Almost all the buildings were built from a pale, yellow rock, but colorful murals across the front were visible even from this distance. The roofs were a flurry of reds, yellows, and greens.
In the center of the city, the buildings reached higher than Rutejìmo had ever seen. The tallest looked to be over ten stories, judging from the banks of windows. It was easily double the highest building in Wamifuko City. The murals continued even up the larger buildings with the Kosòbyo colors—gold and green and white—predominately visible.
Rutejìmo gulped and looked back at the rest of his clan. He didn't know what to say, and the sensation of being overwhelmed loomed close. To his surprise, almost everyone stared at the city in the same shock.
“It's beautiful,” whispered Mapábyo.
“It's huge,” said Nifùni with a growl. He gestured down to where the buildings broke up into larger estates and farms. “There are no guards, no gates. How can they protect a place this large?”
“How,” said Mapábyo in a stunned voice, “do we find the Kosòbyo in there?”
Desòchu grunted and pointed to the tall buildings. “Follow the colors and the taller buildings. The best bet is to find some rooms for the night first. And then use the last few hours of the day to find out where to go.”
After a moment, everyone nodded with agreement. There were looks of trepidation and fear.
Rutejìmo felt the same inside his own heart. He turned further away from the city to ease the discomfort building inside him. It was too large and too neat for his tastes.
He scanned the horizon, but when he saw two wisps of smoke, he froze. One was white and the other yellow. In a perfect world, the colors would be white and gold, the colors of death, but the familiar spiral of colors told volumes. Someone was dying and they needed help.
He glanced down at his feet and held his breath. He calmed his thoughts and watched the dust that rolled between his feet. It clung to his bare feet and traced the ridges of his hardened toes.
Another breeze rolled around his thighs, adding more dust and rocks to the sun-baked rock. The wind stopped suddenly and the dust settled.
Rutejìmo stared at the familiar pattern. The desert needed him to answer. He looked back up, focusing on the rapidly dissipating smoke. With a sigh, he knelt and swung his pack from his shoulder. Sweat dripped down his face as he dug into the bag and pulled out a set of white clothes.
“Jìmo?” Chimípu said next to him.
“I'm needed.” He gestured with his chin toward the smoke.
Mapábyo gasped and spun around. He watched her scan the horizon, saw her shoulders slump when she stopped. Slowly, she turned around with a hurt look. “Do you have to?”
He stripped off his shirt to answer, the silence already draping over his thoughts. Even as he tugged the rough white fabric over his head, he felt her sadness and it echoed in his own heart.
“Pábyo?” Desòchu said as he came around. Rutejìmo knew that he wouldn't be looking at his brother. “If you need to go somewhere, we'll leave a message at the board by that well.”
Rutejìmo glanced at where Desòchu pointed. It was one of the closest fountains, and there was always a message board near them. Desòchu's directions were not for Mapábyo, but to tell Rutejìmo where to go. When Rutejìmo donned white, they couldn't see him, and he couldn't respond, but they could communicate in other ways.
Mapábyo, tears in her eyes, shook her head. She turned to face Desòchu directly. “No, I'll come with you.”
As one, the rest of his clan turned their backs on Rutejìmo. Without looking at him, the others turned and raced into the city.
He finished dressing and stood up. He reached down and picked up his pack; he had started taking a bag with him when he tended the dead while away from a city. The hilt of his weapon stuck out of one side.
The rest of the Shimusògo had already disappeared into the crowds funneling into the streets, but he could still see a few clouds of dust marking their path.
With a heavy heart, he turned away from the city and ran for the smoke.