Title: The Hatchling
Rating: K+, for some violence between animals

Summary: A clutch of wyverns hatches and the farm owner's daughter risks herself to protect one of the babies when the hatchlings begin to fight. One shot.

Author's Notes: For those who may not know, a wyvern is a type of dragon with a total of four limbs (two legs and two wings) as opposed to a dragon's six (four legs, two wings). Enjoy!

They came into life amid storm and thunder.

The storm evidenced itself in the sound of the rain pounding against the metal roof of the maternity barn and the water rolling off the slickers and overcoats of the people hurrying in to watch. It had been raining on and off all day, but the storm itself had not started until twilight. It was a fury, all right.

Nearly the entire staff employed by the farm was present, gathered at the rail that ran around the recessed nesting pit and watching the clutch of eggs within avidly. There were four of them, nestled in a massive wood and plaster construction meant to mimic the mounds of sticks and branches nesting mothers used in the wild. The eggs were huge, which made sense, since the wyvern who laid them was relatively huge herself. They were nearly a foot long from end to end along the longer axis, and their dun coloring was mottled with a darker reddish-brown.

Shawna Murray had seen wyvern eggs before; the farm belonged to her parents, and she had been actively involved in it long enough now to have seen more than one generation of the creatures hatched and raised. That didn't mean she was immune to the excitement buzzing through the nesting chamber, though. In fact, she was looking forward to this hatching more than anyone else except, possibly, her father.

She glanced to her right, where her father leaned forward, watching the eggs in the pit avidly for any sign that the actual hatching had begun. His long face, normally solemn and serious, was tight with anticipation, and was that a smile he was wearing? Shawna certainly couldn't blame him. She was smiling already herself, and the first cracks hadn't even been made in the shells yet!

Of course, this clutch wasn't just any old clutch of eggs. This clutch represented a turning point in a project the Murray family had been working on for two generations. This was the first clutch ever to be taken from a hen without needing to immobilize or tranquilize her in any way, an incredible feat considering that wyverns were among the most protective and defensive parents of any species of animal on the planet. Mojave Twilight, the hen who'd lain this particular set of eggs, was probably the most docile beast on the farm, thanks to both her breeding and her training.

Shawna glanced at her father again. Physically, she wasn't much like him–bronze-skinned where he was pale, black-haired and dark-eyed where he was fair, and lean and muscular where he was stocky, their physical resemblance ended with their matched heights and aquiline noses. Shawna resembled her mother in looks far more than her father. In ambition and passion, though, she was undoubtedly her father's daughter. Just as wyverns were his life, they were already hers, and she was just as dedicated to his goal of breeding a beast as easily handled as the average horse as he was.

Abruptly, one of the eggs cracked, and the chattering ring of maybe a dozen farm hands and spectators fell silent. The rain drummed on the roof, nearly drowning out the rhythmic tapping of a snout inside the egg's shell. Shawna leaned forward expectantly, watching like a hawk. Her father leaned beside her.

A chip of shell fell away from the egg, and a narrow, blunt snout poked out of the hole, the nostrils at the end flaring as the hatchling took its first breaths. There was a shallow cone at the end of its nose–an egg horn that would fall off if the new wyvern was a female, but would strengthen and grow if it was a male. The baby rested for a few minutes before the nose retreated and the young one resumed work on getting out of its shell.

Suddenly, all four eggs were hatching at once. It seemed only a matter of minutes before all the shells were shattered and the nest was filled with hatchlings, each maybe two feet long, flopped all over with glistening wings, legs, and tails outstretched to dry. They lay prone, their little sides heaving as they took their first proper breaths and tried to recover from the stress of breaking free of the shells that had sheltered them.

Shawna knew that the peace would only last a few minutes. Were this a wild clutch, or even a clutch hatching under the watchful eye of one of the more traditionally-bred wyvern hens, the mother would allow the hatchlings to begin to fight, usually halving the clutch and establishing which chick was the strongest and the likeliest to survive into adulthood. Here, they wouldn't let that happen. Already, her father was vaulting over the railing into the nesting pit, turning to issue the curt command that would bring the trays of meat kept ready for this. His back was turned to the hatchlings, though, and he didn't see one of them lift its head out of the pile of little ones and strike at a sibling.

"No!" Shawna shouted, and leapt into the pit herself. Heedless of the consequences, she thrust her arms into the brawl, knocking the hatchlings apart. The aggressive one snapped at her hands and fingers, but her father was there, handing out hunks of meat, and suddenly it wasn't interested in fighting anymore. Shawna picked up the injured hatchling and shoved a gobbet of meat in its mouth to prevent any aggression on its part.

Shawna sat carefully down on the floor, cradling the hatchling in her arms. One of the farmhands had pulled another plate of meat from somewhere and handed it to her. Crooning softly to the little creature, she fed it piece after piece, until the thin skin of its belly bulged and it was asleep. She took a moment to examine it. The hatchling, a female, looked healthy enough, except for her injuries. She had two wings and two legs, both in the proper places. She was a touch smaller than was normal, but not unusually so. The nubs that would grow into the only two great black horns she would bear when she matured were present and properly placed. Right now, her skin was a pale, creamy color, contrasting sharply with the black of her claws, but it would darken and turn thicker and more leathery as she got older.

Her sibling's bite hadn't been that bad. It didn't get the chance to inflict all that much damage–it had bitten at her wing, but had missed the delicate bones that supported the flight membrane. The little hatchling would be fine.

Shawna felt a hand on her shoulder, and looked up at her mother. Mrs. Murray may not have been as obsessed with wyverns as her husband and her child, but she was an accredited veterinarian and felt as much empathy for them when they were injured as she would for any other type of animal. Wordlessly, Shawna relinquished her hatchling into her mother's arms. She picked herself up off the dusty floor and would have followed, had she not been intercepted by her father.

"Shawna, that was a stupid thing you did," he said sternly, wearing an expressive frown. Unexpectedly, it lightened, and he continued. "But I would have done the same thing."


"Still, that was dangerous, and you could have really been hurt," he went on. His voice was hard; he was obviously angry with her, despite admitting he would have done the same. "Newborn wyverns are even more unpredictable than adults. You haven't seen what they can do to each other. It's brutal."

"You mean it used to be brutal, right?" she interjected. "You're trying to change that, aren't you?"

"We are, yes, but that doesn't mean I want you jeopardizing yourself! Taking stupid risks is how trainers and jockeys get themselves killed!"

"But you won't let me jockey, Father," she objected softly. "I don't even get the opportunity."

"The danger's still there, and I won't see you hurt! Shawna, you're my only daughter. You've got to be careful. You're the only one I can trust to continue this when I'm gone!"

Shawna turned away, angrier than she thought she would be able to be tonight. Silently, she hauled herself up out of the nesting pit. Academically, she realized that the only reason her father was so angry was because he was afraid for her–it was the main reason behind his injunction against her having anything to do with the older, more dangerous beasts, or the equally dangerous sport of wyvern racing. However, that didn't mean that she couldn't resent what she thought of as overprotection on a purely emotional level.

Her father was silent for a minute as well, probably composing himself. "Shawna?" he said, using that voice of his that simply brooked no argument.

She turned. "Yes, Father?" she said, doing her best to keep the resignation out of her voice.

"Why don't you go catch up with your mother?" he suggested. It was a surprising reprieve–she'd expected some sort of punishment for presuming to save the hatchling wyvern from being savaged. "Since the baby owes its life to you, you can make sure it passes the night with a full belly."

So it wasn't exactly a full reprieve. Still, if her father's idea of punishment this time around meant sentencing her to staying up all night with a newborn, she didn't think she'd mind at all.

Author's Notes: All feedback is welcomed; let me know what you thought! Thank you for reading!