Cad wasn’t coming back. Ever.
Winse had pulled the two young Guardians, grown now from their hatchling days, aside to the graves outside of the lair. Winse was the largest dragon in the lair now, towering over his adoptive father by nearly two meters. That meant he towered extra-high over Zone’s children, 5M Betes and 8M Losis. Winse was 18M. It was quite a difference.
It had all started when Losis saw the scars over Winse’s left eye. Three marks, claws, cutting along the ridge of his brow and cheek, slicing into the lid but leaving the violet eye beneath unmarked. The scales had parted, leaving pale pink scar tissue exposed.
Lymph and Leth had no visible scars, unlike their older sibling. That’s why it caught Losis’ eye. Nobody else had scars in plain sight.
Why he led them outside to the graveyard, the siblings had no clue. Winse stopped before three particular ones, sat, and spoke.
Losis wished he had never asked about the scar.
Winse told them about three dragons, two Mirror ladies and a Tundra male–Bola, Malihini, and Pizzicato–that he had grown up with in this lair. Told them of their daily forays into the wilderness for food and supplies, a practice that–back then–Zone and Safe had argued against until recently. Told them of the move–likely initiated by Malihini–into Woodland Path from Training Fields. Told them of the owls and chargers and serpentine plants and dryads.
Told them of how Pizzicato had gone down first in the forest, too weak to survive the ferocious attacks on him.
Told them of how Bola fell next, torn apart by Wildwood Owls four battles after Pizzicato died.
Told them of how Malihini tried her hardest to defend her adoptive sister against those owls. How she watched Bola die. How she soon joined Bola in death.
How Zone found them that evening when they didn’t come home. How Zone brought them back to the lair. How he yelled and blamed Winse. How Winse stayed outside that night.
How Winse would never forgive himself.
How they couldn’t stop now. How they needed the food and supplies to live. How hard life would be without him and Lymph and Leth taking that risk every day that they could.
How hard life would become if they three died and left Safe and Zone, Betes and Losis, behind.
Winse told them about Safe and Zone’s first nest, how those three had died minutes out of the egg. How Zone, depressed and angry, fled to Wind territory to escape. How Bola’s egg was found. How Zone found him and Pizzicato and Malihini abandoned in the Wandering Contagion. How, even to this day, Zone searched the ruined territory for abandoned hatchlings.
How the plague had driven them to this. Was still driving them to this.
The plague had killed Fluen, Kanker, and Pox. It had killed Cad too. It might kill the hatchlings from Safe and Zone’s next nest. It might kill Leth and Lymph’s future children too. It might even kill all of them.
“Why doesn’t the Plaguebringer do something? Can’t she fix this?” Betes asked.
Winse frowned. “How should I know? Safe saw her once and then never again. As far as I’m concerned, there is no Plaguebringer. Only the plague itself. And it sure isn’t friendly or about to help us. We’re on our own.”
Losis didn’t want to hear anymore. He turned and ran back into the lair. Leth’s stories were happier. She’d make him forget about all of this pain and sadness. He couldn’t bear it.
Betes stayed. She moved close and reached up with a paw–the bitten one, Losis’ teeth having marked it permanently. She touched Winse’s scarred eye gently.
“How did it happen?” she asked softly.
“Cockatrice in Woodland Path,” Winse replied. “It’s nothing exciting.”
“Tell me anyway.”
So he did.