Zephyr's mouth gaped open at the Guardian as everyone else gasped in surprise.

"And just what the fuck does that mean?" She yelled.

The Guardian blinked calmly. "You are the Champion of Guardian Batlis, the one who made you. I have bestowed you with a great gift and in return you will do me a great service."

Zephyr glared. "Fuck you!" She cried with a wave of her arm. "I don't want anything to do with you!"

Batlis narrowed his eyes. "You will speak to me with respect, Protector, or you will regret a great many things." His voice boomed inside her mind, rumbling like thunder.

Zephyr bit her tongue to keep from speaking.

"Um, excuse me," Rashabar said, haughtiness radiating from every spoken syllable. "But she's kinda useless. She's a horrible person."

The Guardian spun around, curved beak snapping. "Are you questioning my choices?!" He yelled with his mind.

Rashabar opened her mouth but Norte, her mother, slapped a hand over her face. "You will say nothing," she hissed to her daughter. "A Guardian's word is absolute! We must listen. If Zephyr is his champion then she must have some value."

Zephyr didn't like the way Norte had said that.

Batlis tilted his head. "What is this about my champion's value?"

Levanter spoke up. "She had none, sir. She was on the verge of being kicked out of the clan."

Batlis hummed. "And now?"

Levanter flinched the tiniest bit. "She's here to stay unless she decides to leave."

Batlis nodded, satisfied. "Good. I think I will stay here for a while. Provide accommodations for me and my attendants."

Zephyr watched, totally detached, as everyone hurried off to make sure there were enough spare caverns for everyone to stay in.

"What have you to say, Champion Protector?" Batlis asked her.

Zephyr didn't answer and just walked away.

"Excuse me," one of the attendants said to her. Zephyr ignored her.

"Excuse me, Champion Protector!"

Zephyr spun around. "What!?"

The woman smiled at her, her browned skin almost appeared to shimmer. "I am Lord Batlis' Hand, if you could direct me to your clan leader, I would be very appreciative."

Zephyr clenched her jaw. "You're his what?"

The woman tilted her head, her eyes amused. "I am his most trusted, an extension of his will. I share some of his powers and authority. I wish to talk with your clan leader so I may arrange some things."

Zephyr stood still for a long moment. "…Follow me, my father is this way." She then spun around and started walking, not even checking if the woman was behind her.

"What is your father's name, Zephyr?"

"Etesians," Zephyr replied shortly.

The woman hummed.

Zephyr led her silently to her father's chamber. His was separated from the others, given his station as the leader.

"Father!" Zephyr called, announcing herself. "I wish to speak with you." She turned around and looked at the attendant behind her. "And I've brought someone who wants to talk as well."

"Come in then," Etesians called back.

Zephyr entered, followed by the Hand. Etesians was looking at his horde, brushing his fingers over the scraps of fine fabric.

"I lost a duel with Khamseen," She said, not wasting a second.

Etesians froze for a second. "Will you be leaving, then?"

Zephyr shook her head. "Guardian Batlis showed up and declared me his 'Champion Protector'. I have some value now."

Etesians was shaking slightly. "I see."

"I don't think anyone likes that I have this title though, I doubt it will grant me any respect."

Etesians shook his head. "No, definitely not." He sighed. "Who is this woman with you?"

Zephyr looked over at the woman. "She's Batlis' 'Hand', she wishes to… discuss with you."

Etesian's face stretched with surprise. "A Hand travelling with their Guardian? Unusual."

The woman chuckled. "I was required, so I came."

Etesians hummed. "Zephyr, go be with Wally for a while."

Zephyr turned on her heel and left briskly. She hadn't wanted to listen to them talk anyway.

Zephyr passed by Batlis as she was looking for Wally, his eyes capturing her attention. They were deep and slanted, predatory, following her every move.

"Yes?" She asked him.

He seemed to smile, though his face had not changed. "Champion Protector Zephyr Flare-Meltemi, daughter of Gale and Laurence Flare, ward of Etesians Meltemi. You please me." He practically purred the last words.

Zephyr shuddered with unease. She didn't want to think about how he knew all that about her.

"What do you want?"

Batlis shook his huge feathered body, sending small currents of air flowing as he further messed his already ruffled appearance. He looked older than any other living creature Zephyr had seen, crimson feathers dusty and splayed in mismatched directions, some bent and broken, others long removed by scars. "I am the Guardian of Battle, I want you to fight. Not all the time, not every day, but I want you to do it for me, in my name."

"How about no?" Zephyr said sassily, defensively. She wanted out of this conversation. Now.

He narrowed his eyes, his flowing aura going from thick and gentle to thin, bright, sinister. "Oh, but you will, or I will retract my championship from you."

The dark orbs of his eyes stared at her, full of power and darkness. He was looming again, his silhouette ugly and dark. Zephyr felt fear being planted in her heart, growing like a weed the longer she looked. She was fairly sure she now knew why this being was so respected, so feared.

She felt on edge just standing here.

"As you wish, Guardian Batlis," Zephyr said with a shaky bow.

Batlis' eyes glimmered at her, prickling her with his gaze. "Very good, Champion. You may go on your way now."

Zephyr walked away from the interaction with her heart trembling like a leaf in a storm.

Zephyr finally found Wally in his personal cavern, the last place she would have expected him to be. He was just sitting there, drawing patterns in the dust.


He looked up at her. "I heard you lost. When are we leaving?"

Zephyr felt her heart surge with sorrow. "We're not leaving yet, the Guardian gave me a title."

Wally blinked. "Oh."

Zephyr felt herself scowl. "He didn't give me any respect though, so I guess… be ready for your plan at any moment."

Wally nodded solemnly, face and eyes blank of feeling. "Alright."

Zephyr wrapped him in a hug, giving him a squeeze. "If worse comes to worse, I promise you'll be alright, okay. I promise nothing bad will happen to you."

She leaned back and smiled at him. "I was named 'Champion Protector' for a reason. I'll do my best to protect you."

Wally gave her a weak smile, some of his familiar light filling his eyes. "I know you will," he said. "You're the best."