Lock was the only survivor. The tiny black cherub-patterned Ridgeback female huddled close to her mother, chewing a scrap of fish in her mouth. She held the full attention of her mother Ande.
Likewise, her three dead brothers held the full attention of her father and pseudo grandfather. Zone carried the two Ridgeback males–coral-skinned Jaun and the golden Giti–and their Skydancer brother Tet away to the graveyard outside. Lymph followed him, head low, eyes void of light.
Ande was surrounded by most of the other females of the clan, those that had children of their own–Safe, Chemi, Pati. Lassa and several other females were with them, cooing at tiny Lock and comforting the shaken Ande. First deaths were always so difficult on the mothers, no matter how much they tried to steel themselves in preparation for the day of hatching.
When the plague could swoop in and take all of that happiness away.
Betes, of course, remained distant. Her daughter Theria tailed her, leaving her sister Rosi to care for things in their absence. Most of the males kept their distance too, either out of respect or in fear of an emotional outburst from Ande.
But some curiosity could not be denied. Jakob and Somia were determined to see the new baby. Tryp, their babysitter, could not suppress or contain them. The two young Guardians wiggled between the legs of the adults until they squirmed free to dart to Lock.
She was big for just being born, bigger than Jakob and Somia had been at that age. Lock blinked bright red eyes and wobbled weakly to her feet. She chirped, fish tucked under her paws.
Silence swept over the clan. Tryp froze, aware that everyone was either watching him or the children. He was embarrassed. He was supposed to keep them contained and he failed!
But one look at Lock…and he forgot all of that.
She was beautiful. Those markings, those eyes, that cute chirp. She was adorable. Too adorable.
He was in love.
Jakob chirped out a greeting. “Wanna play?”
“…Okay,” Lock nodded.
Tryp felt jealousy, like an arrow in his heart. Seeing Lock snuggle close to Jakob, the rotten little brat, made his blood boil. Why, if he could get his claws on that whelp–
Tryp froze. What was he thinking? Lock was barely alive for an hour and Tryp was ready to kill a hatchling for her.
He stepped back, slinking away. What was the matter with him? It reminded him of his jealousy toward Rabi long ago. What a horrifying emotion.
He had to keep this under control. He had to.
He chose to distance himself from the children. It would be safer. He wouldn’t endanger the hatchings just because he couldn’t keep a lid on his emotions, his desires.
It wasn’t worth the trouble it would cause, anyway.