The tauren fell to the ground, sick to his stomach. "By An'she, it was me," he said. "I know it was."
"Get up!" Mokimo struck Dezco across the head with the bottom of the torch. The blow snapped the tauren out of his daze. He glanced around until his eyes settled on the blood-soaked hozen.
"He's gone. How, you will never know," Mokimo said. "All that matters is Redhorn."
Dezco struggled to his hooves and followed Mokimo to the edge of the pool.
"The mogu once used these waters for evil, but good can come from them too," the hozen said. "Each of these pools represents a different emotion. Courage… peace…" Mokimo stepped into the pond, wincing. The blood from his wound clouded in the water. "This is the pool of hope."
"What—what do I do?" the tauren asked. A handful of fish, illuminated by the pool's energies, fled from him as he loomed overhead.
"Give me Redhorn."
Dezco handed his boy over without hesitation. There was nothing else he could do now. Nothing. All the tauren could do was watch as Mokimo carefully—lovingly—lowered Redhorn into the water up to the child's neck.
He was suddenly taken by the scene: by how Mokimo held his son as if he were his own, by how much the hozen had risked to give Redhorn a chance, however dim it was, of life. Looking back on the battle, it was clear what had happened. Mokimo had put himself between the mogu's blade and the child. Even though the weapon had still cut Redhorn, Dezco knew his boy would be dead if not for the hozen.
"Come." Mokimo struggled to wave his hand. He was fading. "Leave… Cloudhoof at the edge."
Hesitantly, Dezco set Cloudhoof's body by the pool and then splashed into the water.
"Take… handful," Mokimo said. "Pour… over Redhorn."
Dezco obeyed, his heart pounding. He let the water fall across his son's head. Mokimo did the same. Glowing beads trickled down Redhorn's nose. It didn't seem to have any effect on the child.
"Nothing's happening." Dezco scooped up more water, but Mokimo grabbed his hand.
"Let… vale do its work," the hozen said, his breathing shallow. "You can't control this. You can only have… hope. Believe as Leza did. When she faced death, did she… despair?"
"No." Dezco clenched his eyes shut. She'd always believed. She'd always been so strong. Leza deserved to be here. Not him. If she had been, none of this would have—
A wave of heat flooded over Dezco, and he opened his eyes. A translucent image of Chi-Ji walked on the water as if it were solid ground. Gold light rippled outward from where his talons touched the pool. With each step, a faint chime, like a tiny bell, rang.
The celestial snapped his wings open, and the sudden rush of air blew a shower of water across the tauren and hozen. Mokimo righted himself and patted his neck. His wound had sealed shut.
Chi-Ji leaned forward, piercing through the water with his beak and touching Redhorn's chest. Dezco watched and waited, the moment seeming to go on forever. And just when he'd begun to fear for the worst, the child squirmed. Dezco stared at him in disbelief. Redhorn's eyes opened and darted around until he saw his father. Then, he clawed out toward Dezco, crying.
"Thank you!" Dezco hugged his child close. Then he remembered Cloudhoof, and he turned back toward the edge of the pool, where he'd laid his son's body. "My little boy. Red Crane, is there still a way to—"
His words trailed off as he faced Chi-Ji. The Red Crane was gone.
"Quilen dead. Refugees with Weng." Rook thumped a giant paw against his chest. He'd arrived at the pool shortly after Chi-Ji's appearance. When the monstrous pandaren had learned what had happened to Cloudhoof, he'd sat down and sobbed for a long time before recovering. Dezco had never expected the death to impact Rook. He'd barely even met the children.
But it did. Somehow the Lotus cared for them so much. Dezco wished he understood why. All he knew was that the order's concern was genuine. In some way, the younglings were like family to them.
"Good!" Mokimo said to Rook, and then he turned to Dezco. "It's best if we return to the shrine for now. I know you want to leave, but we have to make preparations. Whatever it takes, I'll find a passage home for you and Redhorn."
Home. Dezco thought about his tribe's small enclave in the sunny plains of Mulgore. When he and Leza had left, they'd wondered if they would ever see it again. He'd believed they would, but he knew his wife hadn't. She'd always spoken about the land in her visions as if it was their home. A home they'd always belonged in but hadn't yet known. He finally understood what she'd meant. He'd seen the vale's power, its potential not only for him, but for the lives of so many people across the world.
"I'm not leaving," Dezco said.
"Truly?" Mokimo replied.
"There's something else," Dezco added. He looked down at Redhorn in his arms. "Will you still…" he began to say, but it was too hard. He held out the child to Mokimo.
"That isn't necessary." Mokimo shook his head. "If you're thinking Chi-Ji wants something in exchange for what he did, you're mistaken. The gift was given freely."
"Take him," Dezco pleaded. "This is why we came. This is it." By An'she, he thought, I was a fool not to realize it sooner. They had come so far to seek the vale, to see it with their own eyes, to dwell within it. But to be a part of it… to be one with it. That was so much more.
"If this is what you want," Mokimo said, "what you really want, then of course."