The last week had been one of celebration…and mourning…
Three sets of nests had been birthed. Three different clutches were incubated. Six hatchlings were born.
Two did not make it.
The first nest was Safe and Zone’s, their third nest since meeting in the Wandering Contagion over a month ago. Two eggs, quivering green in the goo, promised joy or misery to the couple. Their last nest had been successful despite the cost, bringing Losis and Betes into their lives.
The day of the hatching, Safe held her breath. Two hatchlings, both crimson-scaled with dark wings, spilled forth from their eggs.
They were both moving.
Safe collapsed within herself in relief. They would live. Strong cries guaranteed survival. Her third clutch had escaped death’s grip, this time completely.
Zone gathered his mate and newborn children to him, warming the minute-old hatchlings with his body. Losis scrambled over his father, the youngster now much larger than his parents, eager to see his new baby siblings.
Betes looked and then left. There was a coldness in his daughter’s eyes that Zone didn’t like. He decided to address it later. It was now a time to rest and relax.
His young were alive. That was what mattered now.
The young female would be called Chemi. The young male, Tryp.
Perfect names for perfect children.
Two days later, Leth and Lymph’s three eggs hatched. Leth had been excited in the aftermath of Safe’s nest surviving. Death had not crossed the young Spiral’s mind. Just the joy of being a mother, like Safe was.
The excitement died quickly.
Two of the young, a female Spiral and the lone Skydancer of the clutch, were unmoving. Only one Spiral, a tiny male, cried out and squirmed…but it was weak. He was barely alive.
Leth gathered her lone child to her, shocked. The plague, a nightmare only mentioned but rarely seen, had reared its ugly head to claim two of her firstborn children’s lives.
Zone left Lymph to comfort his mate, taking the limp bodies of the two tiny children away to bury them. He mourned their passing.
Leth would name the Skydancer Cepha and the female Spiral Boni. Their graves rested alongside Cad’s, marked with sharp rib bones that Zone found in the wastes beyond their lair.
The surviving Spiral would be called Rabi. Though weak at his hatchling, he was a fighter. He struggled to breathe, struggled to move, struggled to eat.
But he did not give up.
Chemi and Tryp, two days older, would often be found curled around the weak Spiral, as if trying to pass on their endless strength to him. The effort was appreciated by Leth, who had lost her perpetual smile in the wake of the deaths. She was slowly coping with Safe’s help, mother to mother.
Three days later, Winse and Betes’ nest hatched. In it was one lone egg, a vicious contrast to the five that Betes had envisioned having. She had become almost cold toward the nest and its egg, ignoring it.
She was rapidly drifting away from her family.
Winse hovered over the nest every free moment he had. He was in love with the tiny green egg that floated in the goo. How Betes could not feel the same, he did not know.
Maybe he didn’t care enough to know.
His heart, mind, and soul were with this tiny hatchling. It broke from the egg, giving tiny chirps. Winse hunkered nearby, wanting to reach out and help it. Zone had advised against such action.
“Let it break out on its own. It will help it build strength. If it can break out of the egg and still cry, still move, still fight, then it will live. The plague will take it otherwise.”
So Winse patiently watched and waited. Zone would know more than him on this, having fathered two surviving clutches and mourned one. Winse trusted his adopted father to know what to do here.
It took so long to hatch. Winse wanted to reach out, break the shell, scoop the tiny life from within out to show the world. To show Betes the fruits of their labor. Maybe that would make her warm-hearted again.
After what felt like eternity–probably no more than an hour in reality–the egg broke to reveal a tiny Guardian with carmine scales and chocolate wings. The eye spots made Winse’s heart rise. The hatchling, a tiny male, rolled in the egg shells and goo.
Swiped a paw.
Cracked open tiny red eyes.
He would live.
Winse cried to the heavens, gathering the child to him. Safe and Zone surrounded him, Safe crying at the sight of the child. Their grandchild. The pair were grandparents now. Oh, what a happy day!
The child would be named Malar. Winse had already decided to shower the hatchling with all the love and attention he deserved, on top of the love his grandparents would give him. Malar would never feel lonely, not with parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles to love him. Loneliness wasn’t possible.
But Betes was oddly absent at the joyous occasion of her son’s hatching. She was out by the graves, seated by Cad’s marker. She watched the sky above, full of angry gray clouds that promised a storm. The scent of rain buffeted her.
“Why?” she asked.
Where Winse believed there to be no deity, Betes thought the opposite. She had made her wish clear. The opposite had occurred. Mother and Leth’s young had survived, only two lost among five lives. Instead of five of her own, Betes received only one child.
This had to have been done out of spite. She had incurred a god’s wrath for her selfishness.
But wasn’t the Plaguebringer selfish too?
It was she who let the plague run rampant in her territory. She who let helpless hatchlings die of disease, barely out of the egg. She who allowed death to lurk over them as the adults hunted for food and fought to survive.
So who was she to blame and spite Betes for her own selfishness? Her request wasn’t that difficult to grant. It was fairly simple.
So why did it blow up in her face?