A Hatchling and His Winter Wolf

This entry takes place during Day 7 of this challenge.

Scavenging again. What fun.

Zone scrounged through Wind territory. He just had a good feeling about this place. Besides, it was March. In another week or two, the Mistral Jamboree would be on them. Maybe it would give their tiny clan good luck.

Zone doubted it but one could hope. Hope was all they really had.

Especially in light of yesterday. It still made him shudder. He had thought of destroying an innocent egg. What would that have accomplished? Absolutely nothing, that’s what. It scared him, though. Who would break an egg like that?

Apparently, Zone thought, me.

Chess pieces, moldy bits of leather, bottles of bones, and chunks of bamboo greeted his claws as he hunted for various materials and trinkets to bring home. Nothing overly special. Not like the egg he’d found yesterday.

Yesterday, a day of life and death. Three lives were lost before they even began. One life was started. Three lives were saved from a horrid death in the isolated wastes of the Plague territory.

That thought stuck with Zone. How had those hatchlings gotten out into the Wandering Contagion to begin with? That was a long journey for hatchlings of their elements–Light, Ice, and Shadow. How did they end up all the way out here?

Maybe their parents abandoned them, part of him suggested. Unwanted little hatchlings, tossed to Plague territory to die a lonely death. Maybe not so lonely since they found each other, but it certainly would have been painful. If the monsters didn’t get them, then perhaps starvation or the plague itself would have.

Zone tried not to think about the plague. It was clear that that was why the nest had failed. It was no fault of his or Safe’s. They had done all they could. The plague that had been striking dragons across the Plague territory were effecting eggs in nests now, too.

Then why are Safe and I immune?

Who said you really are? part of him argued.

Zone shuddered. He didn’t like that part of himself, the part that hissed and needled away at his mind with doubt and anger. That part had to be what tried to make him crush Bola’s egg yesterday. He’d never do that of his own accord.

Would I? Zone wondered.

Zone abandoned his hunt, stone-brown wings spread wide to carry him through the sky. Grassy plains and sparkling ponds gave way to rotted land and boney spires, the transition between Wind territory and Plague territory. Zone touched down close to where he’d found Pizzicato, Malihini, and Winse yesterday, nosing through the pile of debris.

Nothing but the faint scent of hatchlings. It was empty.

The Guardian crushed his desires, his hopes. Why would there be another hatchling here, exactly where he found the other three? Preposterous! He was just wasting his time while Safe was at home, caring for four squirrely hatchlings.

He made for home, head held high. Some part of him was still hopeful. He just had a feeling. The lingering smell of disease and death clogged his nostrils but he held onto that tiny thread of hope that screamed HATCHLING. If three could turn up out here, why not more?

Because that would be too convenient, that awful part of him whispered. And you’re simply not that lucky. You never were.

Zone wanted to snap back, prove that part of him wrong. He had been lucky so far, very lucky! He’d found Safe right when he needed a companion. He’d been able to have a nest with her. They found children to care for when their own perished. The Windsinger had felt enough mercy to let him find an egg in his territory. They had yet to starve or suffer from beasts in the wilderness.

But his retort was unneeded. The snarling of a beast cut his thoughts off, quieting the awful part of his mind.

Zone froze, wings flared, jaw parted to show off his teeth. He was the very definition of dangerous dragon. Nothing would dare approach. Or so he hoped. He may be in better condition than he was six days ago but he was in no shape to fight a roaming beast.

The snarling came from a white and gray shape huddled beneath a pile of bones and rotted flesh from the territory around him. The animal’s blue eyes flared out from the dark, teeth glinting from saliva in the lessening light of the sun. It took Zone a moment to identify the beast.

A Winter Wolf.

“A little far from home, aren’t you?” Zone muttered.

While heavily defended, the beast was also vulnerable in its current position. Zone would just need to climb atop the boney structure that the wolf was beneath and let gravity do the rest. His weight would bring the debris down and crush the animal, leaving not a scratch on Zone.

The tomato-red Guardian moved, circling the structure to climb it from the side. He had begun to scale it when sharp chirping greeted his ears. He paused before peering through the gaps in the bones. His jaw dropped in shock.

Nestled against the wolf’s hindquarters, completely hidden from Zone when he’d first seen the animal, was a hatchling. A Skydancer, judging from the delicate bat-like wings. He was an iridescent black with striped purple wings and a lighter underbelly. Maize-colored gems were stuck to his tiny body. Gembond, Zone believed the condition was called.

He didn’t look hurt. If anything, he looked distressed…but not because of the creature ihewas pressed against. His head swung all around the makeshift hidey hole, searching.

For me, Zone guessed, withdrawing from the tiny gaps.

He couldn’t kill it now. He knew what this was. The Winter Wolf wasn’t just any old roaming beast. It was a familiar, attached to this tiny Skydancer hatchling. To kill the familiar would be traumatic for the hatchling, who couldn’t be more than a day old at best. No, Zone couldn’t possibly kill the Winter Wolf now.

But how was he supposed to get the hatchling?

Why do you even want it?

Zone ignored that voice and dug through the treasures he’d found. There were plenty of bones in the mix. Maybe those? Wolves liked bones, right?

It was worth a try.

So Zone left a trail of bones behind him. Bone shards, squirrel and sparrow skulls, wing bones and ribcages, whatever bones he had on him from his scavenging. He plodded back to the lair, slow and steady, listening.

Steady crunching told him that the familiar had left the den, likely with its hatchling charge in tow. He dared not look behind him to check, though. He didn’t want to scare them off. So he kept moving, growing closer to the den with each slow step.

Safe was waiting for him at the entrance, her four red eyes wide when she saw the beast that her mate was leading home. The sight of the Skydancer hatchling placated her but she was wary. She moved alongside Zone when he entered, both heading deeper into the den where the hatchlings were.

Bola chirped in greeting, racing over to nuzzle her adoptive mother’s foreleg. Winse and Pizzicato were wrestling with one another, fighting over a chunk of meat that Safe had been painstakingly feeding them. While they argued, neither noticed Malihini sneak in to claim the unattended meat for herself. All movement ceased when the adults parted to press themselves against the walls of their den, the Winter Wolf stepping into view.

Pizzicato and Winse both puffed, hissing and flaring their wings. Bola squeaked in fright, diving behind Safe and huddling behind her thick tail. Malihini choked, spitting out her stolen meal, and proceeded to start hissing herself, tail thrashing, shaking her head so her frills made her look bigger.

The tiny Skydancer tumbled from the familiar’s back, wobbling to his feet. The other hatchlings’ attention turned to him, aggression dying. The tension was thick, the familiar’s fur rising warily.

Malihini broke it, picking up the meat she had been trying to eat and carrying it over to the new hatchling. Winse and Pizzicato proceeded to complain loudly, looking to Zone for support. The Skydancer looked from the meat to Malihini in confusion before turning to chirp at his canine companion. The Winter Wolf stepped forward, took the meat, and downed it in one swallow.

“Daaaaaaaaaaad!!” Pizzicato and Winse cried miserably.

The familiar snorted, licking its lips before settling down on the floor to sleep. The Skydancer toddled forward, bumping noses with Malihini. She smiled toothily.

“Wanna play?” she asked.

“Okay,” the Skydancer nodded, voice soft.

“Gotta name?” she asked.

The Skydancer looked confused. Zone started churning names in his head when Safe interrupted him.

“Lymph.”

“…Sounds good to me,” Zone conceded. He had named so many. It was only fair to let Safe name some too.

The Winter Wolf was still there come morning and was still there the next day. It never left Lymph’s side but it no longer snarled aggressively at Zone. The hatchlings played on and around it like it was a living playground. The beast did not complain, so neither did Safe or Zone.

Zone still kept an eye out each time he scavenged now, searching for more wayward hatchlings. Perhaps the plague could kill his young, but that wouldn’t stop him from saving those that turned up on his lair-step.

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