Wamifūko have many secrets hidden in their stones.
— Wamifuko Efeshīri
“What about your purification ritual?” asked Gichyòbi as they stood in front of his house. “Walking naked in the desert with a dozen clans looking for you is a good way to die. Not to mention, you still have to come back for your messenger case and clothes.”
Rutejìmo looked up. It was almost sunset and he could feel Tachìra approaching the horizon. Pink suffused the sky except for a few dark clouds spreading above the city. He thought about Atefómu’s words and the young kojinōmi he met near Kosobyo City. “Mifúno will forgive me. I’ll perform the ritual until sunrise and then run.”
Gichyòbi looked at him with an unreadable expression.
“I will be okay, Chyòbi,” said Rutejìmo in a voice that was more confident than he felt.
The warrior cleared his throat. “The bone field is a quarter mile out of the city, well beyond the limits that Wamifūko were bound to their city. The spotters say that no one is near there. The Tifukòmi are bringing Kir—her—the body there now after taking the long way around.”
Rutejìmo had been there more than once as he performed the duties of the kojinōmi in the city. He glanced around before he responded. “Unless they know to look for it, they won’t see the fires. And the Wamifūko pay to keep it well stocked for any of the kojinōmi who serve the city.”
“You mean they think you’d be a fool to do this. They know what you are.”
Rutejìmo sighed. “I have to, Chyòbi. She’s… family, and I couldn’t face Pábyo knowing that I didn’t do what I had to do.”
“You could, and you would have.”
“But, this is…” Rutejìmo bowed his head. “I just have to.”
“I know, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to drive some sense into you. This is suicide, both the ritual and running on your own.”
“No one else in the city can outrun the Shimusògo.”
“That isn’t true either.”
“My family is in that valley.” Rutejìmo turned to him. “My grandmother, my boy and girl. The others that I grew up with. Those are the people who bled for me and stood by me. I can’t let them be surprised by Kosòbyo attacking any more than you could abandon your family and the city. I can’t lose anyone else just because of this message.”
Gichyòbi worked his jaw for a moment. His gauntlet creaked as he tightened his fist.
“I’m not the strongest or the fastest, but I have to try.”
A nod. “Then, come into my house. We’ll leave by the other exit.”
Stunned, Rutejìmo followed the warrior into the house. “Here? We can leave from here? There is—”
When he saw a massive snake in the living room, he stopped. It took him a second to realize a frying pan had crushed its head. Judging from the wounds in the snake’s body, it had been hit repeatedly until its skull was nothing more than red paste. The smell of cooking brain filled the room, not to mention the fried eggs that were splattered across the stone.
Kidóri stood next to another Wamifūko warrior. They were both looking at the twitching remains of the snake. She was shaking as she reached for the ground. Below her hand, the stone bubbled like soup.
“I take it we had visitors?” rumbled Gichyòbi.
Kidóri jumped before she turned on him. “Chyòbi, move your ass. This is the second snake I’ve killed in the last hour.”
“We moved them to the council hall. Ópi is currently drawing on the sacred scrolls, but I’d rather they were protected then draw them into this. Snakes can’t crawl through stone, but we can’t leave them there for long. They aren’t ready for it.”
Gichyòbi grunted. “We’re leaving through the cellar. Now.”
Her eyes widened. Turning to the warrior, she smacked him lightly. “Guard the house,” she snapped before heading into the kitchen.
Gichyòbi led Rutejìmo into the basement filled with large barrels of lager.
The large man shoved barrels and shelves out of the way until he revealed a large expanse of stone wall.
“That’s a wall.” Rutejìmo said, unhelpfully.
“Actually, a solid vein of chisogamāri that goes from here clear past the bone field. We can step out there safely.”
“It’s solid rock.”
Gichyòbi turned to him. “Rutejìmo, I’m not going to lie. This is going to be one of the most painful experiences in your life. Men have died going through this. You will feel rock tearing you apart, shredding you down into less than paste. The pain is probably more than anyone else could imagine, but I know you can survive this. This is what the Wamifūko can do, but that doesn’t mean you have to.”
Rutejìmo looked at the stone wall. He felt sick to his stomach, but determined. “Are you trying to scare me off?”
“Yes,” came the reply a second later.
Footsteps echoed against the stairs, and then Kidóri rushed in with two packs. One was Rutejìmo’s old pack, now swelling at the seams with supplies. The other was a new bag, also filled to the brim. She stopped in front of Rutejìmo. “I took out most of your unneeded belongings, including your…” she looked away, “stones. I’ll send them home with Hyonèku.”
Rutejìmo pulled her into a hug. “Thank you, Great Wamifuko Kidóri.”
She kissed him on the cheek. “We’ll take care of your wife’s father. I promise you, no snake will reach him so long as this family draws a breath. And he will have a full escort going home if he likes it or not.”
“Be safe, Jìmo. We all love you.”
He hugged her tightly. “And I love all of you.”
She pulled away with tears in her eyes. Turning around, she headed up the stairs without another word.
Gichyòbi held out his hand. “She said what I can’t. Ready, fool?”
Rutejìmo took his hand. “Ready—”
His word ended when he was yanked into the stone. One moment later, his entire body ignited into icy flames. The stone dragged through his insides, tugging at his organs and scraping along his thoughts. The burn continued to spread through him until he felt like he had been dragged miles through gravel.
And then he was throwing up in the middle of a black field. The agony passed over him, but he couldn’t do anything besides empty his stomach.
Gichyòbi strode away to where a pack of dogs and four human Tifukòmi stood. There was a wagon with a white-cloth shrouded body on top of it. Piles of garbage were heaped on the side; a few shreds of rotted food still clung to Kiríshi’s pale form.
He knew his role in the ritual. He stripped down before pulling out his white clothes. As he did, his thoughts quieted, and he felt a peace surround him. This was his duty as a kojinōmi, one he knew well.
He thought he would hesitate when he approached Kiríshi, but he didn’t. Instead, he scooped her body from the wagon and carried it to the bonfire. Even with the cloth, he could see where an arrow had impaled her left eye. More wounds marked her chest, stomach, and pelvis. Most went clear through, including the one that pierced her skull. Blood stained her wounds and coated her body. It cracked from where it had dried, lined the wrinkles on her face and outlined the grimace she wore when she died.
He felt a pang of sadness as he remembered her smiling and laughing. The hours spent arguing over dinner, or the way she helped him when he was dead to his clan. He grew up with her, and he didn’t want a single memory forgotten.
Already knowing what he was going to write in his book, he scooped up her body and held her tight. Tears dripped down his face as he pressed his cheek against her.
“I see you, Great Shimusogo Kiríshi.”