And now I’m covered in the colors, torn apart at the seams

Basilisks were the worst kind of opponents.

Rebra lashed out with her claws, tearing at brown and gold feathers. The grouse basilisk leaped away with a hiss, only to be demolished by a bolt of vile green and red magic spat from uncle Geri’s masked jaws. Its water basilisk companion was torn down by Psitta’s bloodied claws.

The only things worse than basilisks were cockatrices. They always came in pairs or with another basilisk. Rebra had never seen any other combination but her aunts and uncles and older siblings had told her tales. Tales of blood and battle and death.

And then there was the story of Recnac, his egg plucked from the claws of a dying grouse basilisk in this very forest.

Rebra didn’t know what to make of that. The older Mirror couldn’t speak and didn’t like talking–through writing–about it. Nobody else brought it up either, especially her parents, the clan progenitors.

Their battles were nearly over. Uncle Geri, cloaked in the deep purples and grays of his rogue garb, led her and her older great-niece Psitta deeper into the shadows of Woodland Path. This place was painted in red in the minds of her clan. Many had been lost here over the months since her parents created their clan.

The sanguine Guardian didn’t understand it. Why? Why were they fighting? Why must others die? What was the point?

Uncle Winse would say it was for power. You couldn’t die if you were strong.

But Rebra heard stories of her oldest siblings, Betes and Losis, and how they had died, despite their great strength, in an ashy forest far from here. Being strong hadn’t been enough. They had still died.

Rebra didn’t like it. All this fighting hurt. Even with the wild war games that she and her brothers played as hatchlings, she wasn’t ready for this. Every scratch and gash hurt. Some may even scar, like uncle Winse’s eye. The young Guardian wasn’t sure she wanted scars, even if they made her look tough.

Her brothers would call her a baby. A coward. Weak.

Rebra didn’t care anymore. Call her weak. Call her a coward, a baby. She didn’t care.

She just wanted to go home…

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Fairytales are not found, they are written in the walls

Another of Safe’s children had died today.

After many complications with this nest, only one of the two hatchlings lived–a little cherry Mirror named Lis. Her Guardian brother, Ignious, died moments after breaking free of his egg. Zone had taken the body to bury it, leaving Safe to care for her new daughter.

It was disgusting, how used to this they all were. Death was viewed with indifference. The living were dutifully cared for while the dead were swiftly buried. This was their routine now.

Even hatchlings no longer stayed innocent to such scenes.

Lupus, a young blue Spiral found in the wastes, watched Zone carry Ignious’ limp form away. The tiny hatchling, nearly grown, huddled close to Parkin. The albino Snapper, a fellow orphan who had grown days ago, watched the scene indifferently before nudging Lupus away to give Safe space.

Death was simply part of life now. They could not argue or evade it. They had to accept it.

Safe nuzzled her daughter gently, heart soaring with every hungry squeak that broke through those tiny jaws. In two more days, she would bear another nest. Until then, Lis would command her full attention.

Because of the complications of this nest, Lis was very late to be born. While Safe cared for her next nest, the newborn would be surrendered to her oldest daughter Chemi to care for. Chemi had ached for another nest of her own. Caring for Lis should pacify her.

Safe just hoped Lis survived and was happy. That was all she wanted.

What a beautiful lie, such a perfect denial

Geri tore through another basilisk, red and green magic swirling around his violet frame. His rogue’s mask hid his expression but the warring emotions in his red eyes betrayed him.

The Skydancer was angry.

Why? Why was he out here? Why was he back in this blood-soaked place?

Woodland Path. Killer of dragons. Stealer of lives. The bane of their clan’s existence.

Yet here he was, battling for his life again. Alongside him was his brother Rabi and Flin, the Ice flight Mirror who had joined them months back. They battled relentlessly, gathering food and resources.

A song and dance that both he and Flin hated with a passion.

Only a short time ago, Flin’s precious mate Histo had been slain here. The beautiful glittering Wildclaw had been double-teamed and had not survived. Seeing his body had made Flin fall into the same dark pit of despair that had swallowed Geri after his mate Kemia had died in Scorched Forest weeks ago.

Yet here they both were, back at this old song and dance again. Battling for survival, for strength, for the resources to keep their clan alive.

Though their clan now numbered fifty, with more on the way from the nests incubating at home, they had lost others recently beyond Histo. Siel, the lovely Tundra, and Pero, the majestic Nocturne, had both fallen during their past forays into the wilderness.

Siel had been too cocky. She had demanded to go into Woodland Path rather than the assigned Training Fields, to prove herself to Winse, her crush. The young Tundra had lost her life in the effort.

It was Pero that was shocking to lose.

The gorgeous young Nocturne had died in a place that the clan had grown to view as a safe refuge to fight–Training Fields. Slain by the strike of two Crimson Emperors, her death had been a stab in the heart to many dragons in the clan. Her death shook their faith and confidence.

Evening Training Fields was no longer safe. Each wilderness venue now had blood spilled in it.

But Woodland Path, second only to the nesting grounds in the lair, was the worst offender of all.

Geri spat more concentrated magic, blowing a burnt strangler away with the force of it. Near him, Flin unleashed a barrage of ice chunks. Rabi circled nearby, the Spiral lashing out with deadly claws as he slowly gathered magic for himself.

Geri could not help but feel reinvigorated, renewed. This act of killing brought fresh energy pouring into him. Gone was the dark pit of despair. It was now replaced with a deep sea of anger. Anger that only fighting and killing could appease.

Flin, she understood this. The poison-skinned Mirror felt it too. They were kindred spirits, born of loss and reborn through murder.

Perhaps one day, she and Geri would join together. Surely Kemia and Histo would not mind?

So I stayed in the darkness with you

Kemia was dead.

Geri couldn’t quite get that through his head. It had been nearly a week since he’d seen her body but it still wouldn’t add up in his head.

Kemia. Dead. Gone.

No….

Dead.

No.

Gone.

No!

Dead.

NO!!

Geri blinked. He was still huddled up in the nest he had once shared with the strange glittering Spiral named Kemia. The nest where their two sons, Lio and Toma, were born. This nest that he’d slunk to after Kemia’s burial and had not left since then.

“Geri? Brother?” Rabi curled by his Skydancer sibling’s side.

Geri didn’t react. He was numb. Had been for several days now. It was better than hurting inside. Better than crying. Numbness felt wonderful.

“Everyone’s worried about you,” Rabi said. “Lio and Toma say you won’t eat. You have to, you know. Dad says he’ll force feed you if you keep this up.”

Thinking of dad made Geri switch gears. Now he no longer mourned his mate. He mourned his mother–their mother, his and Rabi’s–Leth, Lymph’s first mate. Murdered in Woodland Path thanks to Janus plants. Slain not long after Geri was born.

Yet once Leth was gone, dad quickly found a new love…and built a new family. Geri felt bitter, had ever since he saw that first nest. Dad didn’t need him anymore. He had Ande, his new mate, and Lock and Chizo, his two lovely Ridgeback kids. What did he need remnants of his past love for?

“Geri? Please eat soon,” Rabi begged, getting up. “I love you.”

Geri said nothing. The Spiral sighed and left. Geri closed his eyes again.

Back to being numb and alone.

Silence of the hatchling

Auntie Lindro had told him that he’d come from a Grouse Basilisk in Woodland Path. That they had found his egg under its body upon its defeat. It and a Water Basilisk had been guarding his egg, fighting fiercely.

Recnac didn’t understand. Didn’t the basilisks know that his egg was a dragon’s egg, not a basilisk’s egg?

“Sometimes basilisks will incubate dragon eggs. It’s nature. Nobody is quite sure why that is,” Safe told him shortly after he’d learned how to write.

Yes. Recnac, the tiny one-day-old Mirror hatched from an egg guarded by a Grouse Basilisk, knew how to write. He had to.

He couldn’t speak. He was born mute.

He couldn’t make any vocal sounds. Not even a squeak. He tried. He attempted to mimic those around him to no avail. Nothing he did made his vocal chords work.

So he learned to write. Uncle Lyme could write, so Recnac stayed with the pink Skydancer and learned. They spent hours together, writing words and sentences in the sand with sticks.

The Mirror hatchling liked Lyme. He was distant and didn’t talk much either, but the Skydancer had stepped up to help Recnac get past his disability. This, Recnac liked a lot.

He still didn’t understand the egg thing, though.

How did he end up in Woodland Path? Did his real parents abandon him? Was he some mutant basilisk? Would he ever know?

Maybe one day, he could find that basilisk again and ask it. Just maybe…

One big family

The trio of grown dragons peered down at the nest and the gooey eggs that bobbed in it. They had seen eggs before but never like this.

Safe smiled at her last nest’s reactions. Gerd and Keton looked at each other before watching their Mirror sibling, Leuk, reach out to touch an egg. It spun in the goo and Leuk shrieked, leaping away to shake goo from his claws. His Guardian brothers laughed at him, causing the sanguine Mirror to pout.

Safe rose to check on the nest. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust her youngest. She just needed to reassure herself that her newest brood was okay.

The eggs were undamaged. She sighed in relief.

She turned to watch her sons brawl across the stone floor, the brothers disinterested in the nest now. Leuk cried out as Gerd, bigger and stronger, pinned him. With a bellow, Keton rammed into his crimson sibling and sent both Guardians tumbling. They all laughed, butting heads.

It made Safe proud to see the power in her sons. But it also hurt.

Other sons had been powerful.

Yet they had died in the wilderness anyways.

Safe frowned, looking at her nest. New lives waiting to be born…

Was this all her life amounted to? Bringing new lives into the world to replace those that were lost?

It sure felt like it…

Zone nuzzled her. “Relax. You’re thinking too deeply again,” he rumbled.

“I can’t help it,” Safe admitted.

“Neither can I, but we must,” Zone said, nosing an egg gently. “We’ve got newborns on the way. We can’t sit around, lamenting over the past. What’s done is done. We can’t change that. We must move on…for them…”

Safe knew her mate spoke the truth.

But it would never erase the cruel pain that it brought into her heart every time she acknowledged that fact.

Is this a dream or is it real?

Psyche bolted upright, pearl chest heaving. He looked around, pink eyes wide in terror. He expected to find the Arcanist looming over him, toothy mouth open to devour him. To destroy him. To…

“Psyche?”

The Skydancer jolted before looking beside him. Curled around him was the much larger Nocturne, Pero. she watched him with nervous light green eyes.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

Psyche forced himself to settle down. “I’m fine.”

“That nightmare again?”

Psyche hated that she knew that. Hated that she shared an identical affliction. Two orphans, unwanted by the world, huddled together in the dark, telling one another their stories. Their nightmares.

The deities were supposed to be mighty and just. If that was true, why had they been abandoned here to Plague’s deadly domain? Everyone knew of the lethal plague creeping through this land. Why would the deities allow it, let alone allow unwanted hatchlings to be cast here to their doom?

Yet the Arcanist hadn’t come to save him. Nor had the Windsinger come to rescue Pero or Mafrea. Or the Lightweaver to help Siel.

They were left to the plague, left to die.

But Zone had rescued them, if only for a bit. The Skydancer had seen the graveyard. He knew the stories. Just before they were found, a massacre in a place called Scorched Forest had happened to this clan. Many were lost.

They could be next.

But this was the only safe refuge in a land of death and decay. It was sickening, how safe it felt. Even the leader of this clan was named Safe.

Yet it couldn’t be. Nothing here was.

“Want something to eat?” Pero offered.

“Anything that’ll keep me awake. I’m done sleeping for today,” Psyche decided.

Reality was frightening enough. He didn’t need nightmares making it worse.