“I hurt, Papa!” Mellick cried softly. Her tone wasn’t a mewl but the skin-scraping voice of a child in agony.
Her father Toenz, stood by and heard, but there was nothing he could do. First molt is always painful.
Her little brother Sume, at the other side of her bed, looked from his sister to his father and back again. He was silent. Mother told him what would happen, but he looked with hopeful expectation to his father all the same.
Was there nothing Papa could do?
Mellick endured as best she could, because she too knew that this was part of growing up. Didn’t make things any better, but at least she knew she wouldn’t die.
There was the sound of tissue ripping and though she tried to be strong, Mellick drew a sharp breath before her scream.
Embarrassed at having let the scream escape, she cut it off as fast as she could bear.
Mother Myra stood at a distance.
Her child writhed in pain and there was nothing she could do. Yes she went through first molt too, as did her brothers and sisters but they weren’t her children. Mellick was her first.
Myra’s anger at her own helplessness came out in her voice.
“Any blood yet?”
Opposites attract, but not for Toenz and Myra. Everybody knew they were two seeds in a pod and like Myra, Toenz was handling his first child’s first molt with bad grace.
“Would I still be here if there was?” Toenz snapped.
Myra was ready to take exception to her husband and drive her sharp mouth right through his head. But this hot flash was chased down and extinguished, by the cool knowledge that he was only feeling as helpless as she.
Already Toenz was reading her mood.
“Not in the warrior’s nature,” he recited by rote, “to stand idly by.”
Myra raised her shoulders in a smile. “Especially Cloak Warriors.”
They knew each other so well. Still they each gave off the scent of anger and, at a moment like this, it was a danger to them all to be too close. So Myra remained at the doorway, not daring to approach.
Pain and worry exuded from their children, keeping them safe from harm, causing protective emotions in their parents. But because their parents could do nothing they were frustrated. And because they were warriors their frustration turned to anger.
Like a projectile hitting stone, there was a sudden sharp crack and Mellick cried out, louder than before.
“She’s bleeding!” Toenz shouted in joy.
Sume bristled in happiness.
“Ow. Ow. Ow.” Mellick hissed, trying hard to push down the pain.
“It will soon be over, Mel!” Sume assured.
“What do you know?” Mellick growled.
“Hurry!” Myra scolded and stepped far from the doorway so they could pass.
Toenz scooped up his bloated daughter and turned for the door. Sume looked at him wistfully. Toenz looked to Mellick and with the slightest pause, she nodded. Toenz lifted his son in his other arm and carried them both through the house and outside. Myra stayed back. The soiled bed had to be undone and remade for Mellick’s return and rest.
Toenz carred his children toward the beach, footfalls silently gliding right into the cold shallows. Once deep enough, he gently lowered Mellick into the water. The soothing brine was almost immediate and Mellick’s blood bloomed.
Toenz released his daughter and let the ocean gently carry her out to the depths. Sume held on to his father’s shoulder, watching from his high vantage point.
They lost sight of Mellick but her blood was having an affect.
Here and there the waters splashed and churned as the blood scent ignited frenzy in the nearby Janks. The creatures got their bearings by thrashing about, trying to detect the source of the blood.
One was quicker than the others and shot toward the beach, where Toenz was certain his daughter floated, hatching from her chrysalis.
The Jank breached the surface, raising up to deliver death, its beak descending for attack, when the water below it erupted in one hundred flashing, whipping silvery tentacles, grabbing the Jank and quickly rendering it defenseless.
The startled Jank first fought to escape and used its beak as a sword, slicing Mellick’s tentacles this way and that, but it was no use. There were too many, they were too fast, and they rapidly speared their way into the beast’s flesh, sliding into muscle, connecting to nerve, controlling the animal.
Against its furious will, the Jank helplessly surrendered itself as Mellick’s host.
The other nearby Janks, sensing the unexpected danger, turned and fled the area.
Tired from the molt and weary from capturing her host, Mellick forced herself to swim back against the tide, toward her father and brother.
In spite of her exhaustion and with a sense of warrior’s pride, Mellick rolled in the shallows to show off her prize.
Toenz and Sume raised their shoulders in a smile. Toenz set Sume into the water, as he would need both arms to carry Mellick and her host back home.
Back at the house, Myra stood in the doorway, bristling with happiness.
“When I molt,” Sume said. “I’m not going to cry.”
“Oh!” Mellick sneered through her new mouth. “You are such a liar!”
Story by E.C. McMullen Jr.
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