Sand and Bone 18: Brothers
“I see you” has become an intimate way of greeting and leaving a loved one, but the origins of the phrase have been lost in history. — Kakasaba Mioshigàma
Rutejìmo ran in a cloud of dust and rocks, half-blinded and terrified some enemy would jump him even in his brother’s plume. The dust and sand scraped against his face and tickled the back of his throat. His eyes locked on the translucent dépa that guided him as much as the translucent bird that his brother chased. Shimusògo would lead Rutejìmo out of the cloud when the time was right, but the long seconds of running blindly planted grains of doubt deep in his thoughts.
Next to him, Mapábyo paced Rutejìmo easily. He could see her own dépa a few feet to the side of his, flickering in and out of his vision. While he could always see his no matter how much he struggled, the other dépas were harder to spot during moments of stress. He was thankful that the two remained together, it meant that Mapábyo would stay next to him as long as she could.
They shared unhappy glances at each other every few seconds. They were approaching the point where she would leave him, and in a matter of minutes, he would be alone.
He wished he could talk to her. Talking while running was difficult for Rutejìmo. At his highest speed, he had to concentrate on moving without tripping. Every step carried the threat of falling, or hitting something, or being attacked.
Normally, Mapábyo ran slower to pace him, but their run wasn’t for comfort or happiness. His brother knew exactly how fast Rutejìmo could run, and he kept the three running at the point Rutejìmo found it hard to breathe and concentrate.
He thought about the words he wanted to tell her. He wished he could slow down long enough to hear “I see you” one last time, or to just touch hands. But, he couldn’t. Stealing the occasional glance was the most he could do while they ran for their lives.
Desòchu’s initial sprint would take them in a wide circle around the gathered clans. His speed kicked up a miles-long plume of dust and rock to obscure the couriers when they peeled off for their own paths.
At least, that is what they hoped would happen. How could they plan around those who could jump from the shadows or run as fast as the Shimusògo? Even with their speed, the hawks would see them long before their plumes settled to the ground. He couldn’t see how any of them would survive, despite his brother’s and Chimípu’s faith they could make it.
Rutejìmo concentrated on following Desòchu. The despair grew harder to fight, sapping his strength and will. He wanted to stop, to slide to a halt and let the Kosòbyo come for him. In his mind, he could pretend he would somehow slow them down to let the others survive. His heart, however, knew he wasn’t capable of doing anything that would even give the other warriors a moment to hesitate.
Mapábyo’s dépa pulled away from Rutejìmo’s. It was time for her to leave. She ran closer, the wind of her body creating eddies of sand around their feet. Her dark skin flashed in the sun as she leaned over and yelled past the rush of air between them. “I see you!”
He bit back a sob.
She accelerated into her full speed and easily outpaced Rutejìmo. Her body blurred through Desòchu’s sand storm and Rutejìmo lost track of her dépa. A heartbeat later, she veered away in one of the sharpest turns Rutejìmo had seen and rocketed out of sight in an explosion of sand.
He watched as long as he could, but it was only seconds before he passed the point where she turned away. Pressure squeezed his heart as he fought the urge to stop. Only the dépa and his brother kept him running forward as his wife ran away.
Rutejìmo lifted his head into the wind to let the sand scour the tears from his face. He had to have faith, though despair chased after him dangerously close. He caught flashes of his brother’s glowing body and threw everything he could into following. He would never reach Desòchu, much like he would never catch his dépa, but it was better than letting fear slow him down.
A few minutes later, they approached the point where Rutejìmo would turn away. His planned path would take him in almost a straight line along a map, the most direct route, taking him over inhospitable terrain until he reached Wamifuko City. He could see it in his head, and it left him depressingly vulnerable. Entering the city would be risky if Kosòbyo’s allies were informed, but he had friends among the Wamifūko.
He gulped, preparing himself for days of traveling alone. The fear reached up to claw at his thoughts, ripping deep furrows in his shaky confidence.
His dépa abruptly disappeared.
Shocked, Rutejìmo continued for a few more rods before he realized his brother had jammed his foot into the sands and come to a rapid halt. Gasping, Rutejìmo did the same, his body shaking as he blasted a deep groove in the heated sand.
He stopped and closed his eyes as the wind scoured him from behind. It peppered his back, scratching his exposed skin with sand, before settling down around him a familiar hiss.
Desòchu walked back to him, his bare feet scrunching in the sand. It was a stark sound compared to the deafening quiet after running.
“Sòchu? What’s wrong?” Rutejìmo took a deep breath and glanced around.
Desòchu’s hair fluttered in the wind, and he wiped the sand from his face. “I have to say something.”
“Aren’t we running?” Even as Rutejìmo said it, he knew that his brother wasn’t going to run. He cringed at the words before Desòchu could say them.
His stomach twisted into a knot, and he groaned at the discomfort. “You are staying.” It wasn’t a question.
Desòchu nodded slowly and turned to look at the clans searching for them.
The various clans raced toward the tip of Chimípu’s plume and toward where Desòchu would have been if he hadn’t stopped. Rutejìmo could tell they were trying to head him off when the nearest ones turned sharply toward Desòchu and himself.
On the far side, Rutejìmo could only see Chimípu’s plume, but knew that Byochína and Nifùni had already veered off on their own routes. The massive cloud rolling behind Chimípu looked like a storm, wider and taller than anything he had seen before. Flashes of golden feathers rolled in the cloud, highlighting twisting lines of power that kept it from settling.
Rutejìmo closed his eyes for a long time, struggling with his gasping breath. When he could speak, he did without looking at his brother. “Why?”
“Because I can slow them. And if I can do enough damage, it will give us a few minutes or even a half hour.”
“Can you really stop a thousand warriors?” Rutejìmo opened his eyes and looked across the sands. He could see plumes of racers, both on horse and foot, along with the flicker of jumpers as they shrunk the distance rapidly.
Desòchu turned back, the sun glistening on his face. “If it means saving my clan, yes.”
Rutejìmo sniffed. “Chimípu knows, doesn’t she?”
“Yes.” He waved his hand toward Chimípu.
Rutejìmo looked up just as three streaks of flames burst out of the tip of Chimípu’s plume. The shots were accurate but spread out. One struck a group of horse riders who exploded in a shower of flesh and flame. Another hit two people standing on a ridge with no obvious weapons. The last struck one of the mechanical snakes that slithered toward her.
The snake shuddered and tilted to the side, smoke pouring out of the side. Before it hit the ground, though, it twisted and caught itself. Polished bronze shimmered in the sun as it rose back up and opened its mouth. Launching its head forward, a ball of green fire exploded from its maw and shot toward Chimípu, but she was already past where it slammed into the ground.
Three more bursts of light shot out before Chimípu accelerated away, disappearing with the speed of her movement.
“No,” whispered Rutejìmo. He stepped toward his brother and held out his hand. “Please, then just run with me. We need you if we are going to survive. I need you too.”
Desòchu covered the distance between them and rested his hand on Rutejìmo’s shoulder, his body hot with the energy rolling off him. “Jìmo. You are a good man and my greatest mistake.”
“You’re a warrior of the clan!” Rutejìmo shoved the hand off. “You can survive. I’m the one—”
Rutejìmo stepped back with surprise.
“There are many warriors of Shimusògo, but there is only one kojinōmi.” He sniffed and shook his head. “Damn the sands, Jìmo. There are dozens who can tell us of the Shimusogo Way. But there is only one who followed the Shimusogo Rutejìmo Way. You are—” he tapped Rutejìmo’s shoulder with two fingers “—the reason I was given these powers.”
Rutejìmo ducked his head. His body hurt, but his heart felt like Desòchu had crushed it. He knew Desòchu would die just as he knew his brother would fight with the last breath of his body to make sure they survived.
“Brother, please. Let me do this. Great Shimusogo Rutejìmo, let me protect you.”
A tear rolled off Rutejìmo’s cheek and splashed on the sands.
“This is who I am.”
Rutejìmo nodded. “Shimusògo run.” He looked up, choking on the words. “S-Shimusògo run.”
Desòchu held out a courier case, his own. “It’s empty. I never gave anything to myself. You have everything in yours. Because you will run.”
Rutejìmo stumbled forward and hugged Desòchu tightly. “May Tachìra shine on your death.”
Pulling back, Desòchu nodded. “Shimusògo run.”
He turned on his heels and exploded into movement.
Wind sucked past Rutejìmo. It kicked up the surrounding sands in a cloud that plumed after his brother. He ignored the scrapes of rocks against his skin as he watched his brother ignite into flame racing toward an army he had no chance of stopping. A translucent dépa, brighter than Rutejìmo had ever seen before, appeared over Desòchu’s form, and he accelerated.
Desòchu passed by a rock outcropping. Rutejìmo didn’t see him pick up a stone, but with a flash of light, a shot streaked ahead of the warrior to punch into the chest of the closest runner less than a quarter mile away.
The shot exploded into blood and flame as it continued into the ground kicking up a large cloud of darkness.
Firing more rocks as he ran, Desòchu charged straight for the nearest opponents. Most of his shots struck flesh and bone. The resulting clouds of crimson settled to the sand as he blasted past them, kicking up the corpses of his enemies.
Rutejìmo sobbed as he watched his brother burst through a crowd and out the other side. Bodies were ripped off the ground by his passing. Splashes of blood painted the sand, but he was long past them before it settled.
A wave of light arose from the archers a few miles away, a hundred arrows burst into flames as they sailed toward Desòchu in a bright cloud. It would have been majestic, if they weren’t aimed at Rutejìmo’s brother. Rutejìmo could do nothing but hold his breath, unsure of how his brother could survive an attack from above.
Ragged black and blue streaks cut across the sky toward the wave, not traveling in a straight line but sharp angled turns jerking their way into the arrow cloud. The energy, a startling contrast to the gold and white on the battlefield, was dark and violent. It looked like lightning until Rutejìmo peered closer and saw the streaks were also arrows that flew like nothing he had ever witnessed.
His breath quickened as he followed them to the source. Fidochìma stood at the Shimusògo’s camp, black bow out in the brightness of the morning light. His body glowed with a pale white light. He drew back and more of the pale light gathered at his fingers. When he fired, it became an arrow that split into two and then four then over a hundred. Each one angled itself across the battlefield and into the cloud of arrows, decimating it with each strike.
Above Fidochìma’s head was the barely visible disk of Chobìre, the moon, already reaching down toward the horizon. The night clan warrior had chosen to spend the last of the moon’s light fighting for a man he had never known.
Rutejìmo bowed his head as the tears ran. Two people were going to die to save him, and he could do nothing. He had to turn around, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t move from the spot as he watched his brother’s light weaving in and out of the gathered warriors.
Rutejìmo’s vision blurred, and the wind kicked up around him. It peppered his face. “R-Run, Jìmo,” he whispered, trying to shove himself away. But the words weren’t enough to force him to move. Instead, he stared at the battle and fought the bile rising in his throat. He knew how it would end, but he had to see it.
Fidochìma’s arrows continued to shoot across the battle, knocking away the other arrows and punching into the sides of the hawks. Bodies and shafts plummeted to the ground. But, each time he fired, there were fewer of the angular lines bursting from his bow. Each shot weakened as the moon dipped further toward the horizon.
Rutejìmo lifted a foot and then put it down. He couldn’t run away.
Desòchu’s sprint caught another warrior, and with a flash a body hit the ground. The golden streak of the Shimusògo warrior continued along, burning a path through the ground as he circled toward the next group of opponents.
Just as he reached his opponents, one of the mechanical snakes reared up and belched out a green fireball. It caught Desòchu and the warriors before exploding.
Rutejìmo’s heart stopped beating for a second.
Desòchu wasn’t burning gold as he flew out of the explosion. Instead, streamers of green flames clung to his body as he rolled against the ground, bouncing hard before landing. The impact left clouds of sand rising in the air.
The flames from the snake’s shot dissipated to reveal bodies of Kosòbyo’s allies on the ground. They were burning brightly, bones already visible from Rutejìmo’s distance.
Desòchu scrambled to his feet, his body once again igniting into flames. He shot forward in a cloud just as a second fireball landed in his place. He fired back twice, the two golden shots pathetically small against the giant snake. The first bounced off the shell, but the second punched into the machine’s left eye.
The ground underneath Desòchu rose into a sharp wall, and Desòchu jerked to the side to avoid it. Two arrows punched into his chest, and he stumbled again, his blood splattering the ground.
Gasping, Rutejìmo stared at the distant fight as his brother stumbled forward. He could see more warriors streaming toward Desòchu, the slower clans had reached his brother.
“Desòchu!” screamed Rutejìmo. He shook his head and stepped back. He tried to tear his eyes away, but he couldn’t. His brother was about to die.
And there was nothing he could do about it.
A translucent dépa blasted past him, going in the opposite direction. Shimusògo commanded him to run, but he couldn’t move. His vision blurred with tears.
Wind buffeted his face, and the dépa circled around, racing past him again and again.
In the battle, the warriors gathered around Desòchu, blocking him from accelerating. Weapons flashed as the fight grew brilliant from the glowing bodies and searing attacks. Rutejìmo could see bodies falling and he watched each one, terrified to see his brother hitting the ground.
The battle broke apart briefly, peeling back to reveal Desòchu. He stood in the middle of his opponents, his chest covered in blood and his body shaking. Two arrows still stuck out of his chest, piercing his bottom ribs. Cuts crossed his body and blood spurted out from his injuries. Weak flames coursed along his body, wavering as he stood defiantly.
Seeing his brother’s inevitable demise brought a sharp wave of terror coursing through Rutejìmo’s veins. It shoved him away from the battle harder than the wind or Shimusògo could ever manage. He couldn’t watch the end. He couldn’t see his brother die.
Choking, Rutejìmo spun around and stumbled away. His bare feet tripped in the sand, but he managed to keep his balance. A few steps later, he found his purchase and dug his toes in to sprint forward.
The dépa raced past him again, and he chased after it, blindly running because he couldn’t see through the tears in his eyes or the despair in his heart. It took only a second to reach his limit, but then he was fleeing Desòchu’s final fight.