“Fluen… Kanker… Pox…” Zone suggested.
“I think those…are good,” Safe nodded.
The adults stood over the nest, hearts heavy. Three tiny forms had broken free of their eggs, weak and small. Zone had recognized the reality–they weren’t going to make it. Safe refused to believe, curling around the three tiny bodies, trying to feed them scraps of meat. One by one, each settled against her ribcage and ceased to breathe.
Safe was heartbroken, devastated. What mother wouldn’t be? Her children weren’t even twenty minutes old and already they had given up living. She had been powerless to keep them in this world.
Zone had no answers for that question. He turned away and went to scavenge. Anything to get his mind off of the reality that his bright future had been shattered in mere moments. An event of hope became his undoing. So he’d drown himself in work and pray for another chance.
His claws scraped against the bone and gristle of the Wandering Contagion as he hunted, searching for anything of value to bring home. He soon entered the territory of Wind flight. He ignored the looks, the concern, the fear.
Word of a disease sweeping through Plague flight had reached his ears not long after he met Safe. They were not the only clan suffering. It hurt. A plague was wiping out Plague. It might’ve been funny if Zone wasn’t lost in fantasies of his deceased children.
Green stood out, vibrant compared to the grass he was tearing up. An orb. No, oval. Egg?
Zone stared for a long time at the vine-covered green Wind Egg. His heart felt made of stone. All of their eggs had ended in death. Yet this one stood here, completely safe.
It almost made him jealous. Angry, even.
He picked the egg up in his jaws, fantasizing about crunching down, tasting the yolk and flesh inside. It looked ready to hatch. All he’d need to do was put down more pressure and–
What are you doing?
Zone froze. Had he…seriously…thought about killing…an innocent hatchling?
The Guardian lifted his head, tongue dragging against the vined surface of the egg. Yes, he’d thought of crushing this egg. Thought of committing murder. No, infanticide? What did you call killing an egg before it hatched?
Doesn’t matter. He almost did it.
Zone frowned before plodding away. He felt too tired to continue scavenging. He headed back home to Plague territory, to the lair, to Safe…to their empty nest…
He wasn’t sure how long it was before the noise reached him. The loud squeaking. Chirping. Distressed sounds. Hatchling sounds.
Not the egg. Over there, under the rot, in that ribcage.
Zone pushed the bone pile aside with his head, egg between his teeth, and stared blankly. Three hatchlings were huddled there, filthy and tired. A white Tundra covered in black patches and orange splashes, brilliant yellow wings folded close to his sides. A coral pink and red Mirror. A gray Guardian with brilliantly patterned brown wings patterned with eye spots.
The trio stared at him before slowly scampering over the fleshy debris, whimpering, crawling over his forepaws. They pawed at him, squeaking. Desperate, scared, alone…
Just like him…and Safe…
Zone sighed, rumbling deep in his chest. “Come along, little ones. Home isn’t far off.”
The hatchlings crawled up him, settling along his back and neck. The tomato-red Guardian walked the rest of the way to the lair, his heart mixed between joy and self-loathing. So much confusion inside. He hated it.
Safe was seated by three mounds of dirt outside of their lair, bits of bone serving as markers for the tombs of their young. The squeaking of the hatchlings attracted her. The trio abandoned Zone and ran to Safe, pawing and squeaking for food, bellies growling with hunger.
“…How?” Her eyes landed on the egg in his jaws. “Where?”
“Those three were out in the Wandering Contagion, stuck under some debris. This I found in Wind territory,” Zone explained, placing the egg at her feet. “We’ve lost our own…and nobody else was there…so I thought…we could take them in…if you’re okay with that.”
Safe’s eyes watered. She nuzzled the three tiny hatchlings, not even a day old, that wandered around her. “Yes… I’m okay with this.”
A sudden crack made all five dragons freeze. Safe stared at the Wind Egg before her. Cracks spread across it, goo rushing from chunks of shell that fell away under uncoordinated paws. The egg broke, a blood-red form tumbling from it. The shards were shaken away with tiny seafoam wings.
A baby Mirror, so similar to Safe in appearance. Safe’s heart bloomed with love instantly. She moved, nuzzling the newborn.
“Bola,” she declared softly.
The other three began to chatter and squeak in jealousy. Zone found himself laughing, a great booming noise. It felt nice to laugh.
“Bola, it is,” he agreed. “And these three…I say the gray one is Winse.”
“P…P…” the tiny Tundra choked out. “Piz… Pizzi…cato…”
“Pizzicato?” Zone repeated. “Quite a weird name.”
“Ma… Mali…hi…ni…” the tiny coral-pink Mirror chirped.
“So you two can talk, if only a little,” Zone noted.
“It must’ve been the names their parents gave them,” Safe guessed. “Do you think they…?”
“Who knows,” Zone shrugged. “They aren’t here now. And we are.”
“…I guess you’re right,” Safe conceded.
Zone herded the hatchlings up, guiding them into their expanded lair. He’d been working hard to claw out more room. It was rough work and slow going, but it kept him busy. Zone didn’t mind being kept busy. It made it easy to forget about the plague, the corpses, the death outside…
The lair felt a little brighter, a little warmer now that there were hatchlings. It made the Guardian feel happier. Safe was smiling again. That was good. Zone didn’t like seeing the poor Mirror so sad. And the way she was fussing over Bola… Adorable.
If only it was so easy to forget about the three tiny graves outside…