A promise given from the heart can overcome death.
— Fenrik de Kasin da Golver, Three Errant Kids
Rutejìmo wasn't surprised when he woke up. He was surprised that as he regained consciousness, he was still sobbing. Tears soaked his cheeks and dripped to the ground, mixing in with the rivers of blood that soaked the rocks. He blinked at the effort to crawl to his knees and looked around.
In the pale light of dawn, he saw nothing but death. Warriors had been slaughtered, their limbs sticking up at obscene angles, and thick rivers of gore ran along the waves formed by the rocks. He saw bones piercing rocks and the smeared remains of the warriors who fought through the night.
The two pots that held the smoke that summoned him had been shattered but a few wisps of yellow smoke still bubbled out from one broken bottom.
He planted his hand down for balance but encountered hard flesh instead. Gasping, he lifted up and turned to see that he was sleeping on Chimípu's lap.
She looked up at him, her eyes rimmed in darkness and her face smeared with blood. Golden flames, only the faintest wisp, ran along her body. She had long cuts scoring across her breasts and hips. Her shirt, once a brilliant red, had been smeared black and hung on her body in tatters. Her skin was coated in crimson, thick bubbles rolling down her chest.
“No,” gasped Chimípu, “It's okay.”
“I… I didn't mean for this.”
“I know, little brother.” Her voice was a rasp. He saw that she had been cut across the throat and collar. Blood poured from the cut, running in rivers.
She should have been dead. He had seen a thousand people die with less serious injuries but, somehow, she was still breathing.
She smiled as a tear formed in her eye. “I promised… my little brother would wake up.”
“No!” Rutejìmo crawled forward, heedless of the rocks that dug into his knees. He grabbed her shoulders. “No, you are the warrior! You are supposed to save us. You were the one who was going to make it!”
She slumped forward, her chin striking his shoulder.
He froze, terrified she had just died. When he felt her mouth moving, he shook his head as the tears rolled down his cheeks. “No, Mípu, no. You can't die! No, not for me!”
“Mípu!?” Rutejìmo pushed her back to look into her fading eyes.
“Don't stay for me.”
“B-But,” he sobbed, “you are my friend. My best friend. My big sister.”
“I'm… also a warrior. Tachìra will take… me.”
She lifted her hand. It was dripping blood, and she was missing a finger. She pressed it against his chest and pushed weakly. “Shimusògo… run.”
Rutejìmo shook his head violently. “No, I can't. I can't leave you. I left Desòchu when I should have—”
A dépa flashed past him. She gasped. “Shimusògo—”
She drew her hand back.
“—run!” Her punch was surprisingly strong but it was nothing compared to the blast of wind that slammed into him.
Rutejìmo was thrown back and off the ground. He landed only a few feet away, tumbling over his shoulders and onto his face. Fresh blood splattered against the back of his head. He gasped and pushed himself up. “Mípu!?”
Chimípu pressed a hand against the ground, groaning as she started to stand up. “Shimusògo… run,” she gasped.
Rutejìmo staggered to his feet. “No… no, I'll run. I promise. I'll run, Mípu.”
She slumped back. Her shoulders shook as she panted for breath. “You better, J-Jìmo. I know about Sòchu… and Nèku… and Ríshi. You will make it. If you… run.”
Shaking, Rutejìmo looked around for his pack, but only found pieces of it. His tazágu had been bent in half. Molten metal had pooled where the hilt used to be. It looked like Chimípu had used it to skewer someone's skull.
Rutejìmo glanced back at her. She was watching him, her intense eyes peering through her blood-soaked hair. He knew she would force him to run if he didn't leave soon.
His foot thumped against Chimípu's messenger case. He trembled and picked it up. A few rods away, he spotted his own battered bone one. He quickly jammed her portion into his own, not caring if he tore the pages. Seconds later, he sealed his and set hers down.
Looking at her, fresh tears rolled down his cheeks. “I… I'm sorry.”
She coughed, and a fresh dribble of blood ran from the corner of her mouth. “I'm not. Not… for a single moment. I love you… little… brother…”
The light of the sun gathered around her and the flames that traced her body grew brighter until the flames were as white as his cloth. It wavered in the air as the heat beat against his face.
Rutejìmo gasped as he watched the ends of her reddish hair crinkle and darken before it caught on fire. Her clothes burned away almost instantly, the brief yellow and blue only a flash in the whitest flame Rutejìmo had ever seen.
“Shimusògo… run.” Her voice was hoarse and wavering, her body burning from the inside as the sun claimed his warrior for himself.
Rutejìmo could only stare as the flames consumed her, burning cleanly and rapidly. In a matter of seconds, there was only a skeleton and even that burned away before he could blink again. The rocks beneath her had melted in puddles of white liquid that quickly faded to red.
There were legends of Tachìra taking a warrior for some great deed, but it had not happened since before his grandmother's time. He shook as he felt the flames of the sun licking at his skin. The great spirit had honored Chimípu as one of the greatest warriors of the desert, but Rutejìmo only felt the grief of losing his sister, his warrior, his friend.
Rutejìmo backed away as he hoisted the messenger case over his shoulder. He didn't have a weapon or any other supplies. He didn't know how he would survive the night, but he didn't have a choice.
Shimusògo raced past him, and he turned to follow the spirit. There were no more words he could say or thoughts he could dwell on. He did the only thing he could do at that moment.