by E.D. Walker
The sky was a vibrant pink, like a sea fish newly ripped open, and the beach sand was cool and soft under Swift Shadow’s feet. Her hatchling scampered a few strides ahead, lashing her long tail and snapping her neck forward, biting the waves as if the sea were prey to be devoured.
Shadow sighed as she watched the hatchling dart into the waves. All things end and all things are eaten by the earth. Truly, she wouldn’t be able to call her young one a hatchling for much longer. Her clever girl had outlived all her siblings and Shadow’s own strong mate. Soon her youngling would enter her third year, which meant she would finally have her Naming. If only I can keep us alive that long.
Shadow nosed at the dirt, looking for some shells to crunch, to suck the slick, squishy meat free, but this was a singularly barren beach.
Meals had been scarce the past few days, and Shadow had led them toward the sea, hoping they might find something washed up and rotting. An easy meal to fill their aching stomachs. That seemed to have been a foolish decision. Shadow clicked her teeth together, then opened her mouth wide enough to call the hatchling back. They would look for their next meal elsewhere.
Darkness passed over the sky, and Shadow’s heart sped. “Get back to the trees!” she called at the hatchling, fear making her chirps into high-pitched croaks. The hatchling turned at once, the salt water brushing her knees. She trilled back confusion just as the dark silhouette plunged from the sky, diving fast toward Shadow’s hatchling.
Shadow shrieked alarm and anger both and charged as the large winged creature arced toward her young. Her hatchling threw herself into the waves, and the flying creature missed its grab. It had to swoop upward, circling to try again. The creature was huge, all massive wings and beak and a huge head with a long red crest.
Fast as a lightning strike, the beast plunged again, the stabbing sharp beak angled straight for Shadow’s hatchling.
“No.” Shadow threw herself at the creature as it plunged, and knocked into its side. She sank her long sickle claw into its neck. The beast flapped and cawed, churning the water. It’s massive leathery wings beat Shadow all about her body until she couldn’t catch her breath. She’d lost her mate, and all her last clutch of eggs but this one bright, beautiful girl. She wouldn’t let some monstrous set of wings take this child too.
The beast rolled, its massive body knocking her backwards into the water with a shock of cold that made her gasp and then gag. She flailed, trying to free herself, but the creature was too heavy. It moved to shake her off its neck then to peck sideways at her. The waves washed over her snout, making her hack and cough, but she didn’t let go of her talons or her foreclaws. Another wave rolled over, and panic gripped Shadow as she tried to surface and found she couldn’t. The beast atop her was slowing down, sluggish from loss of blood, but it was too heavy for her to shift.
A sharp-pitched shriek filled the air, and the weight above her shifted. Shadow flung herself out of the water in time to see her beautiful daughter perched atop the giant wings, snapping and slashing at the thing. Great sprays of blood gushed forth to mingle with the salt water. Finally, the winged beast stopped moving.
Shadow fumbled forward and rubbed her snout against her daughter’s. The two of them leaned on each other for support, with Shadow twittering comfort in a low tone.
Once both their heartbeats had slowed, they worked together using their jaws to drag the winged beast out of the water and onto the soft sand. They couldn’t leave the bleeding carcass in the sea or they’d risk attracting one of the great animals of the deep. And those creatures were all snapping jaws and quick strikes. A dark shadow of death hiding under calm water.
Shadow and her child ate their fill of the dead winged creature. It had recently feasted so it’s belly was full of strange oily fish with crunching bones and slimy skin that easily slid down Shadow’s famished gullet.
Once their bellies were distended from their kill, they sat in the shade and groomed the blood and sand out of their feathers.
“You did well,” Shadow said.
Her daughter butted her head against Shadow’s neck. “I was taught well.”
Shadow snorted. “I think the time for your Naming has come. Any child who can save their parent from certain death deserves a name.”
Her hatchling swallowed and sat on her haunches, breathing fast, and her brown feathers half-puffed up in anticipation.
Shadow cocked her head to the side. A proper name would be something like Scourge of the Sea or Wing Killer. But the tenderness in her heart for her last chick made her say something far different than the usual Name. “Solace,” Shadow murmured. “Your name shall be Solace.”
“Thank you. It’s a good name, Mother.” Solace huffed a breath out and stood, tiptoeing closer until she could lean her haunches against Shadow and hum comfort.
Swift Shadow leaned back and closed her eyes, and for the first time in a long time, her heart felt lighter. The crushing heaviness of her grief lifted as if she and Solace were sharing the weight between them.
All things end and all things are eaten by the earth, but for now Swift Shadow had her solace.
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About the Author
E.D. Walker, a native of Los Angeles, is the author of The Fairy Tales of Lyond Series that begins with Enchanting the King. E.D.’s short fiction has previously appeared in the USA Today bestselling anthologies Pets in Space 3 and Pets in Space 4. You can find her online at www.edwalkerauthor.com and on Twitter @AuthorEDW.