This book is five years after Sand and Ash. Rutejìmo is comfortable with his role as a father to two children (Kitópi and Piróma), being a tender/priest of the dead, and still the slowest runner in the clan.
The book opens up when some runners of the clan are attacked in mission. While the others race to help, Rutejìmo knows that he is needed as a tender of the dead so he runs the other way. His son, Kitópi, asks him why he is a coward, but he can’t answer because taking on the role means he must remain silent and no one looks at him, though children didn’t know that. The rituals for the dead are long and painful, including a night of burning the bodies and a day-long ritual of purifying himself by walking naked in the sun.
The attack on the clan points out that they need a bigger contract. The clan decides to head over to the Kosobyo on the far side of the desert for a contract. They are the most powerful of the day clans and also rich. Rutejìmo is included, though he would slow them down but because his duties may be needed.
Along the way, Desòchu has Rutejìmo spar with Nifùni, who was one of the survivors of the attack on the clan. Nifùni is angry because Rutejìmo is allowed to use his tazágu, a night weapon, but Desòchu is quick to point out that Rutejìmo is a pacifist and only uses the weapon for defense. They are also traveling with Byochína, Mapábyo, and Chimípu.
When they finally reach Kosobyo City, Rutejìmo is called away by a cloud of white and gold, someone had died. Along the way, he encounters another kojinōmi who refused to help the person because they were a night clan. Rutejìmo continues there and forces his way past a ring of day warriors to help the night clan and a little girl who was dying. As he burned her body, he writes down her story in the Book of Ash and watches the breeze and sands telling him the desert’s will.
At the end of the purification ritual, he encounters Fidochìma who is a night warrior looking for revenge. Rutejìmo tells him not to do it, but they part ways.
Finally, Rutejìmo can enter the city. He is exhausted and burned. He meets up with Dimóryo, a supposedly street guard. She helps him find the rest of his clan. Together with his wife, they spend the next day shopping in the city; no one in the valley had seen such a large city and they bought gifts for almost everyone.
In the middle of their shopping, they find out that Nifùni was trying to negotiate another courier job without having the authority. Rutejìmo interrupts, which makes Nifùni angry. The six clan members vote against accepting another job, but the next day Nifùni accepts anyways.
The woman who gave the job to Nifùni is killed and the clan has to flee the city. They inflict a lot of damage in their way to escape.
Outside of the city, Desòchu almost ejects Nifùni from the clan but Rutejìmo stops him. They rest but then find out they are surrounded by forces from the city. They look at the message and find out that Kosobyo is attempting to become something different than the sun or night clan, but stand equal with the great spirits. The last time this happened, there was a civil war for decades. The message is critical because the Kosobyo wish the make it a surprise to avoid anyone finding out. The clan splits up the message and they go their separate ways.
To protect their way, Desòchu takes Rutejìmo aside and tells him how proud he is. And then he goes to stall the gathered forces, sacrificing himself to let the others get away.
Running alone, Rutejìmo morns for his brother. He considers suicide but doesn’t. Instead he writes in the Book of Ash about his brother.
Days later, he meets up with Nifùni who slows down to travel. They fight during the camp, but Rutejìmo doesn’t want to remain alone. They eventually come up over a mountain and stop at a spring where an old warrior woman is guarding it. Rutejìmo sees smoke asking for a kojinōmi. Nifùni wants him to abandon his ways since they are running for his life, Rutejìmo doesn’t and they go separate ways.
When he comes back, he finds out that a group of warriors were chasing them. The old woman directed them after Nifùni to keep Rutejìmo safe; her sister was a kojinōmi also and she feels that the tenders of the dead should have as much honor as warriors. With her blessing, he continues along without anyone thinking he was alive.
He reaches Wamifuko City but is ambushed. The warriors of the city couldn’t go more than sixty feet from the edge, so he is forced to reach that to ask for help. He is injured but makes it. Gichyòbi defends him, slaughtering his opponents. Along the way, Rutejìmo sees something his healing his wounds.
They flee to the city. They find out that Mapábyo’s parents were attacked with her mother killed. Rutejìmo insists on burning her body, so they sneak out of the city, have a day-long ritual, and then Rutejìmo continues his run without a purification ritual.
He is getting close to home when he sees another streamer of smoke. He diverts himself to investigate but it is an ambush. There are a hundred warriors trying to kill him. He calls for help and, to his surprise, warriors of various clans join in the fight. They are all killed but it is enough time for Chimípu to arrive who finishes the fight and saves him. She is killed in the process, but she remains alive long enough to say that she loves her “little brother” before burning away.
Sickened by the friends and family dying, Rutejìmo continues his path. He reaches the three rocks (from the first two books). Mapábyo is there, but she doesn’t say the right thing and he realizes she is actually Dimóryo wearing his wife’s form. He finds he has the power to curse her, but not before she poisons him with a dagger.
Poisoned and dying, Rutejìmo runs for his life. He fails and collapses just as Mikáryo, the former love his life rescues him. Mikáryo keeps him alive for the night but tells him he will only have one day left to run before he dies. Tsubàyo is also there, they finally resolve their conflict.
Rutejìmo runs for his life knowing he would die at the end of it. This realization opens up speeds he didn’t know and he runs faster than he had ever done before, only to be ambushed outside of his clan’s valley. With the defense of the clan, he manages to make it to the valley but is grievously injured. He gives the final message.
His daughter, Piróma, takes on the whites of the kojimi and he tells her everything he can before dying.