Malar couldn’t help the guilt that swamped his soul as he curled protectively around his newborn daughters. Only minutes ago, he and Laria had been so happy. None of their clutch had died. Two tiny, wailing Guardian hatchlings ate and wriggled and screeched with life. It was breathtaking to the carmine Guardian.
That was quickly vanquished when his aunt Chemi returned from the wilderness, Lizotte at her side. It was the form across the speckled green Guardian’s back that had caught his attention. Grey and black, covered in bar-like markings.
It was Tero. He was dead.
The clan gathered. His grandparents–Chemi’s parents, Tero’s great-great-great grandparents–demanded answers. Chemi shakily gave them. Lizotte moved to the graveyard outside, Tero’s bloody body draped across her back like a canvas sheet.
They had been five battles in when cockatrices ambushed Lizotte rapidly. Tero, taking a risk, had flung himself in harm’s way to defend her. He took the blows meant for her, using his bulk to protect the one he had fallen for.
It was fatal.
Chemi had wanted to leave immediately, to flee from the wilderness. But Lizotte’s blood ran hot with rage. She thirsted for revenge. She tore deeper into Woodland Path, fighting like a wild animal with reckless abandon. Chemi followed, shoving potion after potion down the other’s throat when Lizotte grew too weak to move but demanded more of the battle that had engulfed her.
When the rage had run its course, Chemi weakly gathered her great-great grandchild and his beloved and guided them home. Lizotte ceased to speak, bearing Tero’s weight on her own. They made no detours or stops on their journey back to the Abiding Boneyard. They came straight home to bury Tero and tell the group what had occurred.
Safe was silent for a long time before moving, nuzzling her daughter. “You did well. Thank you.”
The clan moved in to comfort and nuzzle Chemi. All except Malar and Laria, who guarded their nest; Lizotte, who was clawing out Tero’s grave; and Kemia, who was watching an entirely different scene play out before her.
Tero stood near Lizotte, a shimmering silver. Invisible. His beloved would never see him again. That pained him.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, though the wind would not carry his words to the audible plane.
“You did your best.”
Cad was beside him, as was Gia. The younger Guardian moved, nuzzling her brother lovingly.
“You tried. And you succeeded. Maybe you died too early, brother,” Gia admitted, her gaze drifting to the speckled green Guardian that clawed at the dirt. “But you kept her alive.”
“You gave me all that power and I wasted it. I’m sorry,” Tero choked, looking up at Cad in guilt.
“You did what you deemed best with it. You lived a short, but honest, life. You died nobly,” Cad reassured. “She will not forget you, Tero. She may move on, love another, but you will always stay in her heart as her first.”
Tero smiled. He moved, nuzzling Lizotte. Lizotte shivered, not feeling the touch but registering a sudden chill in the air around her. Tero smiled again, pulling back.
“Goodbye,” he whispered.
He vanished alongside Cad and Gia.
Lizotte ceased her digging, looking around. For a moment, she had sworn she heard Tero’s voice. But no amount of looking yielded a speaker. Only Kemia, resting idly in the dying sun near the lair mouth.
Lizotte sighed, hanging her head. Tero was gone. Dead. That, she must learn to accept.
But first, she had to give him a proper burial. He deserved it, for all he did.