Kemia watched the young Guardian snuggle against her brother. Tero couldn’t feel his sister’s scales or her warmth. He couldn’t feel her at all, nor could he see her if he lifted his head to look. Gia was invisible to her brother.
Dead from the plague.
But Kemia could see her.
She watched Gia snuggle and cuddle against her brother, cooing and chirping encouragements. Tero was so weak, breath rattling in his lungs. He had barely eaten the meat scraps his father Tryp had given him. If this kept up, the young Guardian wouldn’t survive the night. He would join his sister in the afterlife.
But Gia didn’t want her brother to join her. She wanted him to live. He needed to live.
Their parents warmed and soothed and fed Tero. The rest of the clan helped, whether physically or with softly spoken prayers to the various deities of Sornieth–Plaguebringer, Shadowbinder, Lightweaver, Tidelord, and so on. Tero was never left alone, not even for a moment, not with death lingering so close.
But death would have a difficult time trying to take Tero in those few hours after his birth. Gia hovered over her living, breathing brother, swatting at death with her tiny paws and hissing threats that no hatchling her age should ever utter. She fought with the shadowy presence, biting and scratching and kicking at it. She slapped it with her tail and beat at it with her wings.
The hours ticked by and Kemia watched the war as it occurred on a plane so distant from theirs that nobody could ever understand it the same way Kemia did. The glittering Spiral watched the war as she curled around her own nest, body warming the eggs within. She was enraptured and could not be torn from watching the battle between spirits.
Gia was no longer alone. A massive Guardian emerged from the nothingness around them, battering death with his mighty wings and sharp claws. He roared viciously, sheltering Tero’s quivering soul with his wide wings. Gia hissed at death, hunkered under the bulk of the larger spirit–Cad, Betes and Losis’ deceased brother from months ago.
Other spirits emerged from the spirit realm, all shapes and sizes. They all hissed and growled and roared at death. Hatchlings and grown dragons alike gathered around Gia and Cad, guarding Tero’s weakened soul from death’s gaze. Kemia recognized each dragon, knew their lives, their stories, their deaths. All of them from this clan, all familiar with death’s ways.
Death looked at each enraged spirit and finally admitted defeat, slinking into the gloom from whence it came. But it would return, as it always did. It would take its due. It would not be denied entirely.
The spirits faded one by one until only Gia and Cad remained. Cad moved, nuzzling his nephew gently. He breathed hot, vital breath into Tero, who wheezed in response.
“Live long and grow strong,” Cad rumbled.
Then Cad disappeared, fading from the world of the living. Gia nuzzled her brother one last time before following her uncle into the next world.
Tero was left curled by his mother’s belly, breaths loud but less rattling. As minutes passed, he coughed and drew larger breaths. His breathing leveled. His heart beat strongly in his tiny chest. Then he wailed, a noise so loud that every dragon in the lair jumped.
Tero, who had hatched without a single cry, would never be that silent again.