Chapter 1: Running Alone

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In Miwāfu, only the last part of a name is accented. This creates a confusing situation for outsiders when a member of the Beporómu clan is named Beporomu Fusóki.

—Jyomiku Komishímu, Words of the Desert

Shimusogo Rutejìmo ran alone across the desert, chasing after a bird, a dépa, he could never catch and only he could see. No matter where he ran, his feet struck solid ground. As his bare foot lifted from the ground, the rock crumbled back into shifting sands before being sucked into the plume of dust and rock that billowed out behind him. Despite running faster than most horses, his heartbeat was a steady rhythm that matched the impacts of his bare feet against the sun-burned ground. On a good day, he could cover thirty miles in less than an hour for as long as the sun hung in the sky.

The small bird was Shimusògo, his clan spirit. Only a foot tall, it always raced a heartbeat in front of him no matter how fast he sprinted. If he slowed, it would disappear and the heat and exhaustion would bear down on him. But when he chased Shimusògo, Rutejìmo felt the euphoria of magic pulsing through his veins and beating underneath his feet.

For the first time in months, he ran for the sake of running instead of racing from one end of the Mifuno Desert to the other while delivering documents and decrees. For a few days, he didn't have to worry about recording legal contracts in Wamifuko City or the constant back and forth between Kidorisi Valley and Mafimara Ridge during tense negotiations for trade rights.

The last job, the one involving the Kidorīsi and Mafimára clans, still haunted his thoughts. More than a few times he had to circle around an ambush or sneak into the valleys to avoid being attacked by those opposed to the treaty. The wound on his leg still itched from his brush with a sniper's arrow.

Rutejìmo tore his thoughts away from the previous job. The two clans signed their treaty, and Rutejìmo personally delivered it to the archives in Wamifuko City. It was the end of three months of hard running, and he was ready to spend a few days doing nothing but relaxing.

The desert air beat against his bare chest and tickled the dark hairs that dusted his chest. It tugged at his red trousers with sharp snaps of fluttering fabric. Motes of bright energy slipped out from Shimusògo's wings and joined in with the wind to buffet his skin. The energy streamed around his body before joining in with the vortex of air created by his passage.

Rutejìmo smiled and pushed himself to run as fast as he could. Despite his speed, he was still the slowest runner in the clan. But alone on the sands, he didn't have to worry about anything besides running in a lazy circle around Shimusogo Valley, his ancestral home. He kept the valley in the periphery of his vision and strayed no more than five leagues away before coming back around. Even close to home, there was always danger.

The sun touched the horizon. The dépa turned sharply and headed for the valley. He followed without question, submitting himself to the spirit's will. The route brought him in line with the entrance of the valley, and he raced across a patch of sharp rocks before coming up to the familiar trail that would bring him home before the sun's light faded.

Like all spirits of the sun, Shimusògo gained power from the light, and Rutejìmo gained his power from the spirit. When darkness descended across the world Rutejìmo's speed would fade, and he would feel every ache, pain, and guilty thought in his head. He would be just another man in the desert, slow and plodding.

Too soon, he was coming up to the two pillars that marked the entrance of the clan's valley. He slowed down and cringed. He hated that moment when he ceased to run. In front of him, the dépa grew closer with his slowing. When he smoothly shifted from a run to a jog, the bird disappeared from sight.

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