Geri scratched at the dirt, trying not to disturb the two Guardians on the other side of the graveyard. He was very aware of the death that had happened yesterday. Everyone in the clan knew. Everyone always knew when a death happened here.
The Skydancer tore his mind from that. He had his own death to worry about. Swiftflight was no business of his. Never was, never had been, never will be. She was Losis’ problem, not his.
He had his daughter to mourn.
Kemia lay around a nest in the lair, feeding their two sons. Resting on the dirt near Geri was their daughter, Rhea. The plague had taken her moments after birth. She had simply been too weak to survive.
It broke Geri’s heart. He’d seen Rabi, his brother, do this before. The act of burying your own child changed you inside. It brought coldness. No wonder their father had such a hollow look in his eyes, on his face.
Geri fought the coldness creeping into his chest as he scraped out the hole that would be Rhea’s grave. He was losing this battle. His paws were going numb, his vision becoming fuzzy on the edges from unshed tears. He had promised not to cry in front of Kemia, the boys, or while burying Rhea. He had to be a strong father, even in the face of his daughter’s deceased body.
He picked up her limp, cooling body in his jaws and placed the baby Spiral in the hole he’d dug. He nosed dirt over her, packing it down to prevent curious hatchlings from trying to dig her up. He’d heard the horror stories involving such attempts by hatchlings early in the lair’s existence.
The last of the dirt in place, he grabbed a rib bone he’d pulled from a skeleton in the wasteland and drove it deep into the ground. Rhea’s grave marker. He stepped back to survey his work, chest cold, eyes burning. It would do.
The tears fell down his face as he headed back to the nest where Kemia lay waiting. She was staring into nothing again. She’d told him that she could see spirits, their dead clanmates, all around them. Geri was unsure if he believed her but, if she told the truth, he’d have to guess she was watching Rhea now.
Lio and Toma, their two surviving Spiral sons, were curled close to Kemia’s pale blue belly. They shivered from cold and weakness, fighting to digest the meager meal their mother had fed them. If they could manage this, they would most certainly live.
Geri settled by Kemia and nuzzled her. She stared straight ahead. Geri let it go. There was no distracting her. He settled down to sleep.
He hoped Rhea wasn’t mad at him for crying. He really had tried not to.