Sand and Bone 32: Limits

Despite the vast expanses of the ocean, love and hatred will always meet. — Perils of the Sea Queen’s Son (Act 1)

Rutejìmo sprinted as fast as he could, gasping with the effort to cover every mile before the sun dipped below the horizon. He didn’t dare stop or even slow down. If he did, the poison could take hold, and he may not survive another step.

He focused on the dépa before him, ignoring everything else in the world except for his endless attempts to catch up with the translucent bird. So long as he did, he could ignore anything else, including the overwhelming need for food, water, or the blood in his veins.

The sun was almost below the horizon. Every passing second brought him a chain closer to his destination. He wasn’t going to make it. He knew there was no force in the universe that would let him reach home before the sun set.

Despair hung over him, a dark cloud of death that chased after him. It was Mifúno, he could feel whispers echoing in his mind. There was no anger or excitement, only a calling to slow down and let oblivion take him.

The temptation was powerful, but the fear for his family was stronger.

Foot after foot, mile after mile, he ran at his limit and kept pushing against the restrictions of his own spirit. Rutejìmo couldn’t channel power fast enough, even knowing that Mifúno chased after him. He may have cheated death but only for a day.

The dépa took a sharp turn to the left.

Surprised, Rutejìmo dug into the sand and ripped a deep furrow in the ground before he slowed down enough to turn. He surged forward and shot after Shimusògo.

Arrows slammed into the ground behind him. He didn’t know if they would explode like before but he was already past them before the next ones caught up with him. He felt one graze his ribs, but it was nothing compared to the searing agony already eating him from the inside.

The dépa jerked to the side and he followed, leaving a long gouge in the sands before shooting out. More arrows flashed past him. One of them caught the wind and fluttered away, zooming past his ear as he raced by.

He wished he could grab one and throw it back, but he didn’t dare. He needed to run. He followed the dépa, ducking and weaving the arrows until they no longer sailed past him. The bird straightened and so did he, accelerating back up to full speed in a matter of seconds.

Rutejìmo held his breath and waited for the one last lucky shot, but it never came. Wind howled past him, ripping at his skin and drying the blood and vomit on his chest. He didn’t care, so long as he kept moving.

The left side of his face ached, and his vision clouded over with crimson. He tried to wipe it off his face. He pulled back a stained hand from where his nose was bleeding and his eyes were dripping black.

Between one footstep and another, the dépa and the sunlight disappeared. Rutejìmo let out a cry as he fell forward. He curled his shoulders as he hit the hard ground and rolled forward. He dug into the rocks with his hands, cracking his fingernails but finding purchase to regain his feet.

No longer able to pull on the power of Shimusògo, Rutejìmo ran with only his physical body. Bare feet slipped and smacked against the smooth rock. He tripped and clawed at the ground, using hands and feet to keep moving forward.

He reached the edge of the smooth rock and stumbled on rough gravel beyond. Thankful for the sharp rocks that sliced at his palms and feet, he staggered forward without looking back. As soon as he did, Mifúno would catch him.

Whimpering, he reached a ridge along the gravel and ran along it. He hated that he cried out with every step, and the ragged, wet gasps escaping his throat, but he couldn’t stop. He had to tell his clan.

Rutejìmo kept running even when the sun’s light faded. Soon, he was blindly crawling in the dark, unsure if he was heading in the right direction or racing toward a cliff. In his mind, he could imagine a thousand deaths that would take him in the night. He had seen giant snakes, men falling off cliffs, or even a sharp rock that cut an artery or sliced into a groin. A million ways to die and he was still racing in the pitch darkness.

Blood poured down his chest and soaked his thighs. The poison continued to burn his insides, but he had nothing left to throw up. He wanted to curl up and die, to find a bed, to find peace, or even a sharp rock that would end the agony in a flash. Anything other than running through the horrid darkness and praying that the spirits would guide him.

A wave of nausea crashed into him, and weakness took him out at the knees. He pitched forward and slammed into rocks, his head striking something that left bright sparks floating across his vision.

“No!” he gasped and dug his hands into the ground, pulling himself forward without a clue where he was going. He sobbed and dug his cracked nails into the rock.

His legs refused to work. He sobbed as the rocks scraped against his belly and chest, cutting at his flesh. He gripped rocks further along and pulled himself harder, inching across the black desert as he tried to reach home.

And then his hand caught nothing. He pawed at the air, trying to find purchase, but nothing came to his grip. He sobbed as he clawed down, batting at the ground as he clutched to the side of the sharp edge. He had found his cliff.

“No… no, this can’t be it.”

Footsteps crunched before him. He felt a blast of hot breath against his back.

Crying out, he tried to pull back but lost his balance. With a scream, he fell forward only to land on sharp rocks. He rolled against his side until sharp rocks digging into his back stopped him. They were short, but it felt like a thousand knives digging into his skin.

Someone coughed, a man.

And then a woman’s voice spoke close to him. “You really are pathetic, aren’t you?” It was a voice that plucked memories from beneath the veil of pain and exhaustion. His first shikāfu, his obsession for ten years that almost destroyed Rutejìmo’s love for Mapábyo. It was Pabinkue Mikáryo.

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