Black Sun Widow
Chapter 2—The Hatchery
Disclaimer: Maraina, the Twilight Dragon, is one of my characters. Twilight Dragons, as with all fore-mentioned and post-mentioned dragonflights, belong to Blizzard. Also, a fair warning: This chapter is somewhat gory.
"What's happening?" Cheru called as she nudged a whelp free from his eggshell cage.
"Some form of heat source or calling brought them out, just make sure to keep the healthy ones away from the sick ones," Lani replied. Most of them were healthy, but hiding a cave of 200 babies was something she had needed time to prepare for. No time for me. Seems I counted wrong since breeding…
"These five are dead—no, seven," Zelanna murmured. Lani pushed past her and hissed, wondering if the next ten eggs in that clutch were dead or just not ready to hatch yet. Slowly the cracking and squeaking turned into chirping and purring—112 whelps now flew around on weak wings, most desperately clinging to Lani's side or back.
"How many hatched?" Lani asked as she tried to lick and tend to every single one of the little dragons begging for her attention.
"Less than half…"
"Most eggs contained two or three each," Zelanna said. "Dad was feeling perky when he made this bunch."
"Shut up, Zelanna," Lani said, ducking her head so a whelp could climb onto her horns. She eyed the rest of the eggs warily. What had happened to make them hatch? Why hadn't they all hatched? The eggs didn't smell dead; were they rotting?
"Mother, mother, am I late again?" a voice called from the entrance of the cave. Zellana hissed and flared her wings.
"Don't answer that bitch," she growled.
"Hush, Zelanna, she lives here too. Yes, Maraina, you're late again," Lani replied, now concerned on why Maraina had come home empty pawed. She didn't have time for sibling rivalries, either. Zelanna was older than Maraina and thought herself superior because she was a black dragon. Maraina was smarter than Zelanna and beat her in many competitions. While they would fight side by side and die for each other, they both held grudges towards each other that compromised any peace that the cave might have.
"Wait, why did the eggs hatch? I know I'm not that late."
"We don't know," Zelanna snapped. "Why don't you share what you think happened. I'm sure you have some amazing opinion that will blow our minds and make us bow to you in awe."
"I smell father," Maraina replied. "That's my only guess. They hatched to get to the scent."
"Which would make sense if they had hatched when I came in last night. Might I mention that of the 51 that hatched, which is less than half of the brood, 112 were born. Twins and triplets in every egg that survived. Those born alone died, a total count of 26. If you'll excuse me, I need to consume the lost and teach these to feed," Lani replied, walking over to the pile of dead whelps. Her eyes teared up only for a moment before she leaned down and snatched one into her maw. The loud crunch sounded through the silent cavern. The healthy whelps hopped down and began gnawing on their dead siblings. The sickly ones tried, but were overtaken by the stronger ones and became a part of the meal. Lani ate beside them, her crunch sounding over the chirping of the baby dragons. Cheru, Zelanna, and Maraina stood silent in the background, all three respecting a mother's duty and fearing it. One day, if they survived, they would perform this same ritual for every brood they laid.
After the whelps were fed and the dead consumed, Lani let out a sad roar, laying down and resting her head on her front paws. The little ones did not approach her, instead finding nests to lay on for a nap. The total left was 52—19 chromatic, 21 twilight, and 12 black dragons. Less than half of the hatched survived, and it tore at Lani's heart. There was a high chance that this would be her last brood from Neltharion.
No. I'll save him. I can save him. Titans, guide me to those old gods so that I might find why they drove him crazy. Titans guide my wings to safety, and let my children grow to be strong like their father. Teach them the things I fail to teach them, guide them to skies I have not soared, and bless them as you have done for all dragonkin. I beg that you be with me and that I get to see Neltharion sane again, even if it is in his death. Dearest Titans, forgive where we have erred, where we have meddled with your plans for Azeroth, where we have played at being gods. Forgive us, and be with me, please, as I journey to save my heart's beat. In Norgannon's name, amen.
"You look strangely determined," Maraina mumbled as Lani stood up. She turned and nodded.
"I am going out to hunt for my own food, I trust the three of you can raise some whelps for a couple of days?"
Cheru shook her head while Maraina and Zelanna nodded.
"Why are you going to be gone more than a few hours?" Cheru asked, her scaly brow wrinkling in concern. She walked to her mother's side and brushed her wings against Lani's wings.
"I have more to do than hunt, Cheru. There are burdens on my heart that must be settled. I thank you for asking, but I won't answer more than that, and none of the three of you can help me safely. So let's discuss the whelps. They stay at the back of the cave near the water springs. If one ventures out, let it go. If it comes back, kill it as an example. As for food, there are plenty of worgs, deer, dwarves, and orcs nearby that make for an easy meal. Only one of you should hunt at a time, as keeping this cave safe is the key to our survival," Lani explained.
"What if one of us gets captured?" Zelanna asked, eyeing Cheru.
"Then I pray you a swift death. It's a sudden, hard responsibility I hand you three, but I trust you can do this else I wouldn't be wasting my breath," Lani replied. The three younger drakes nodded looking around the cave at the few whelps and the eggs left to hatch. Each one walked to a different section and an order came about them with Zelanna as the leader. Cheru would not be hunting if Zellana had anything to do with it. She was better suited nursing the young anyway. Zelanna and Maraina could switch shifts, taking different paths and hunting different areas to avoid attracting too much attention. The area was full of black and twilight drakes anyway, they would blend in.
"You are settled then? I will gather my things and return to you as soon as possible. Should I die—"
"No," all three girls shouted at once. Should their mother die, they would deal with it then and until then it was going to stay off their minds.
"I trust you and girls?"
"I love you, too," Lani whispered before vanishing in her corridor.