The cast outs, or banyosiōu, is the highest punishment an elder of the clan can inflict. It declares the recipient dead to the clan and to society. Few survive the first week.
— Tinsil de Polis da Kandor, Sands of the Dead
Nifùni flew back from Desòchu’s punch. He landed on his back against a sheet of rocks that hid the Shimusògo from anyone in the city. With a groan, he tried to get up but then fell back. His hand slipped and left a smear of blood across the white rocks.
“You could have killed us!” bellowed Desòchu as he stormed after Nifùni. His body burned with flames that seared the rocks. He grabbed Nifùni’s shirt and yanked him from the ground. The following punch that caught Nifùni in the gut sent a shudder coursing through Rutejìmo’s body.
Nifùni flew back again, landing on a scree of gravel. He groaned and tried to get up. Blood ran down his chin and throat. More of it was splattered on the rocks.
Rutejìmo looked at the others. They were all covered in burns, blood, and dust. None of them were making any effort to stop Desòchu’s beating.
Chimípu’s lips twisted in a snarl of anger. If Desòchu wasn’t her senior, it would have been her beating Nifùni within an inch of his life for what he did.
Looking back, Rutejìmo caught Nifùni looking at him. There was a desperate pleading in the younger man’s eyes, a sorrow that scraped along Rutejìmo’s own memories. Five years ago, he had been in Nifùni’s place, praying someone would stop the beating from Desòchu. Then, Rutejìmo had ruined the Shimusògo’s reputation by spending a night with his first shikāfu, a warrior of the night clan named Mikáryo.
The memory sickened Rutejìmo, and he wanted to look away. He had suffered more than anyone else from Nifùni’s betrayal. Burns covered his arms, chest, and face. At least two of his ribs were cracked, and the tight bandage over his chest made it difficult to breathe. But, even with his injuries, he silently prayed Desòchu would stop.
His older brother stormed over and grabbed Nifùni around the throat. The light flaring around his body grew brighter as he easily hauled the flailing man from the ground. Desòchu shook him hard and then threw him back toward Chimípu and the others.
Byochína and Mapábyo stepped away without saying anything.
Nifùni sobbed as he looked up at Chimípu.
At the sight, tears gathered in Rutejìmo’s eyes.
Chimípu kicked him in the shoulder, a flash of power giving her the strength to flip him over.
The thud dislodged more rocks, and Rutejìmo bit back a sob of his own.
“P-Please?” Nifùni spat out a tooth. “I didn’t mean for any of this.”
Desòchu grabbed him with both hands and yanked him off the ground. “We can never come back to this city because of what you did! You have ruined the Shimusògo name for the entire Eastern Desert!”
Nifùni’s legs flailed back and forth as Desòchu shook him.
“More importantly, you betrayed the clan! We made a decision! We voted! And you—” Desòchu shook harder “—are bound by that!”
Nifùni’s sobs and whimpers were punctuated by the impact of his chin hitting his chest or his head being thrown back.
Desòchu released his right arm, pulled back, and punched Nifùni underneath the chin.
The younger man flew back.
A crack rumbled around them, disturbing the dust and sand.
Rutejìmo tensed before the impact.
Nifùni hit the ground a rod away with a meaty thud and a wail of agony.
Slamming his foot down, Desòchu took a deep breath. “I am Desòchu, and I speak for Shimusògo.”
Rutejìmo’s breath stopped in his throat. Years ago, Desòchu had cast him out of the clan for a year. He had been declared dead by the clans and became a banyosiōu, an outcast treated as one of the dead. In the year that followed, Rutejìmo had almost died in the desert, lost a child, watched one of his friends die.
Frantic, he looked at the others, but he only saw the same expressions as he had that day. Mapábyo was crying, but neither she nor Byochína moved. Chimípu stood behind them, anger naked on her face.
The word left of Rutejìmo’s mouth before he realized it.
Desòchu looked at him. “What?” The flames grew brighter around his body.
Gathering his courage, Rutejìmo stepped forward. “No, do not finish that sentence. You cannot.”
Mapábyo gasped. “Jìmo, no, don’t do this—”
“You can’t stop me.” His brother turned away from Nifùni. “This is my right. I speak for Shimusògo.”
“Great Shimusogo Desòchu, please.” Rutejìmo held up his hands. “We need him.”
“He could have killed us.”
“And we can deal with that later. But right now, there are only six of us, and we have no—” Rutejìmo stepped forward with his hands still out. “—allies in this part of the desert.”
“I will not accept what he did!” bellowed Desòchu.
“I cannot let you do this!” Tears ran down Rutejìmo’s cheek. He balled his hands into fists knowing that he couldn’t stop his brother.
Desòchu’s face twisted in a snarl. “I am Desòchu, and I speak for Shimusògo, not you!” His voice echoed against the stone ridges around them.
Rutejìmo opened his mouth, he didn’t have any authority against an elder. He couldn’t stop his brother. He closed his mouth for a moment, the despair rising inside him much like the wind blowing around his feet. He let out a sob of his own and ducked his head.
There was a long pause.
He stared at the ground, watching the sand rolling over his feet. A shard of glass still stuck in his sole, caught in the thick callous that years of running barefooted had provided. He didn’t feel it, but there was a smear of blood on the end.
Rutejìmo looked back up, fighting with the pressing need to stop his brother.
Desòchu’s feet crunched as he turned back to Nifùni. “I am Desòchu, and I speak for—”
Rutejìmo had to speak; he could not let Nifùni die. Whispers in the back of his head grew louder, demanding that he speak. He relented, despite everything else that told him to remain silent. “I am Rutejìmo, and I speak for Mifúno.”
A blast of wind tore through the shelter, kicking up rocks and sands. It pummeled against their bodies. The flames around Desòchu and Chimípu wavered with the air, something that Rutejìmo had never seen happen, and then snuffed out.
Chimípu gasped and looked up.
Words whispered in the back of his head, too quiet to hear clearly but he could feel the intent. He had to keep speaking, and when he did, the words formed on his lips “I will not allow you to do this, Great Shimusogo Desòchu. We need him now, but he will pay for what he did. No matter what, no matter how, the desert will take her price for his actions.”
Desòchu turned back at him, but there was no anger on his face. Just a stunned shock. “Rutejìmo? What did you—”
The force that drove him to speak poured out of him and the wind died down. In the stunned silence that followed, he listened to the hiss of sand falling and the clinks of rocks striking the ground.
He tried to take a deep breath, but he felt like he was breathing through canvas. A tightness gripped his chest, squeezing down as the world spun around him. He opened his mouth to try breathing harder, but he couldn’t force the air into his lungs fast enough.
Looking up, he stared at his brother. The flames had returned around Desòchu’s body, but they were thin and translucent.
“I-I,” he exhaled as white spots swam across his vision, “I… can’t… breathe.”
And then he was falling. He closed his eyes as the darkness swallowed him.