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"It is," Dezco replied. "Is there something we need to do? To make it official, I mean."

"We…" Mokimo lowered his head. "There are rituals, yes. I will take the child to Zhi, and then he will present him before Chi-Ji for anointment. I'm afraid only the Golden Lotus may be present when that happens. I'm sorry."

"I understand." Dezco's voice caught in his throat. "Go now, then."

"It doesn't need to be now," the hozen said. "We can return to the shrine first."

"Go. Before I change my mind."

"Once the rituals are over, you can see him," Mokimo added as he took Redhorn into his arms. "He'll be busy training in the years to come, but he'll be here in the vale."

"One of the Golden Lotus."

"And your son," the hozen said. "Always that, but now something more."

Mokimo glanced at the basket with Cloudhoof inside, hanging at Dezco's chest. The tauren had mended the remains of the basket, tying it around his neck with rope. "And him?" the hozen asked.

"I'll build a pyre and light it at dawn so that An'she can watch my boy's passing," Dezco replied. "I… I'd prefer that I do it alone."

Mokimo nodded slowly. Without another word, he motioned for Rook. Just as they set off to leave, Dezco called after them, remembering something.

"Wait." The tauren felt for the lock of Leza's hair on his head and quickly unbraided it. He wove the lock into Redhorn's mane and then leaned down and touched the child's forehead with his snout.

After that, Rook and Mokimo departed. Dezco spent the next hour gathering wood for the pyre, thinking about the days ahead. He would resume his duties at the shrine, but he didn't look forward to telling Nala and the others what had happened. What would he say? Would they forgive him for the loss of Cloudhoof? Would he ever forgive himself? Maybe not. But that much he deserved. All of this had been his choice: a terrible and mistaken one.

Dezco sat down to rest before beginning the funeral. It was still dark out, but the dawn would come soon. He could feel it. The when didn't concern him any longer.

"We're home," Dezco said aloud. He held Cloudhoof in his lap and stroked the child's mane. He turned to face the east, knowing it was only a matter of time before the yeena'e appeared.

Bleeding Sun

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