Part 1

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Desòchu stood between his father and his grandmother as he watched his mother die at his feet. Chyojímo's eyes, the color of the palest green, seemed to fade in the bright light. Her chest stopped rising but her arms continued to twitch as a long gasp escaped her blood-flecked lips. When the tension left her legs, they slumped against the gravel with a scrape of stone.

Blood pooled at Desòchu's feet, a pair of rivers snaking through the rocks. Most of it came from between his mother's legs. The sharp smell of it swirled around him, choking him as his throat seized.

Unable to look at her, he lifted his gaze to follow the crimson trail of her fall from the highest trail. It wasn't a straight line, but a ragged one that bounced off rocks and painted the cliffs with her blood.

"What happened?" asked someone.

Somiryòki, one of the clan warriors, said, "There was a lot of blood up there. Something must have ripped inside her, probably from Rutejìmo's birth. It looks like she slipped and fell." His voice was monotone, giving no hint of the emotions Desòchu knew had to burn underneath.

Desòchu's gaze traveled to his mother's feet. The toes still twitched, but he could see the blood smeared along her callused bare feet.

Tejíko, Desòchu's grandmother, rested her hand on Desòchu's shoulder as she spoke over him. "How is the baby?"

Hikòru sighed, a deep ragged sound. He opened his mouth and then closed it. Instead of looking down at the brown-skinned baby in his arm, he looked up as tears shimmered in his eyes.

No one said anything.

Finally, Hikòru answered by handing the baby to Tejíko. "Take Rutejìmo."

As soon as Tejíko took the baby, Hikòru turned and walked away.

Turning toward his father, Desòchu called out. "Papa?"

Hikòru, Desòchu's father, didn't stop or slow. He continued walking down the path without looking back.

"P-Papa?"

Another one of the clan walked past Desòchu and headed back to the family caves that lined both sides of the narrow valley. More joined him, each one saying nothing as they walked away.

Desòchu turned on his grandmother, desperate to stop the people he grew up with walking away from his dead mother. "No, they can't leave!"

"Walk away," she said.

"No, that's my mama! She's---"

Tejíko glared at him. "Walk away!"

"That's my ma---"

"Boy! Be quiet and go home!" snapped Tejíko. She switched Rutejìmo to her left arm and grabbed Desòchu's shoulder. The movement cause her long braid to swing behind her. The heavy ring that she used at the end thumped back the back of her thigh.

Desòchu shook his head. Balling his hands into fists, he glared at her. "No, I can't. I won't ever leave her."

"No fourteen year old should ever see this, but Chyojímo is dead and there is nothing we can see. W-We can't see the dead." Tejíko's voice cracked, but she managed to speak clearly.

"She's right there." Desòchu pointed accusingly at his mother's still body.

"No, she isn't."

He batted her hand away. "Yes! Yes, she is."

A muscle tightened along Tejíko's neck. "Boy, take your brother and go back home. Someone will deal with this later."

Desòchu glanced down at his brother. The dark-skinned baby pawed the air aimlessly. He was only two weeks old and his green eyes couldn't focus. The tiny fingers clenched into a puffy fist.

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