Zephyr stared up at the Guardian, his stubby tongue preening and cleaning his feathers.
"You called for me?" she said.
His neck twisted, head now angled towards her. "Indeed."
He didn't elaborate. Zephyr didn't understand.
"Why?" She asked, numerous other questions still floating in her mind.
He dropped the wing he had been working on. "Today, your task is to talk to my Hand. A Champion is a Guardian's tool or weapon, to be wielded by them… or their Hand."
Zephyr scowled. "As you wish, Lord Batlis," she said with a bow.
The Guardian's beak opened slightly, as if smiling. "You could become amazing under her tutelage, so see that my visions become reality."
Zephyr gulped. "As you wish."
Batlis' eyes crinkled. "Elli, my Hand, go teach Zephyr some new tricks."
"Yes, Lord Batlis," Elli said from the corner of the chamber where Zephyr had not seen her.
Zephyr stared at Elli as she walked past her, out of the cavern.
"You should follow her, Champion Protector," Batlis said, drawn-out and unkind. "You don't want to get on her bad side."
Zephyr took a deep breath in through her nose and turned around to follow after Elli.
"You are one of this clan's protectors, are you not, Lady Zephyr?" She asked when Zephyr had caught up. Elli was smiling, making her already glimmering face seem just that bit more bright.
"Yes, I am…" Zephyr said with a tinge of confusion.
"When did you start your training for that position?"
Zephyr had to actually stop and think for a moment. "I, uh, I think I was 6. Wally was still new and Khamseen had just arrived with Simoon. Khamseen had offered his skill in battle in trade for housing. I… I wanted to protect Wally, be a skilled battler too. Etesians and Khamseen worked together to help me, to train me. I owe them both so much."
Elli tilted her head. "How interesting… you have a strong heart. Now…"
Elli stopped and turned on her heel, nearly causing Zephyr to walk right past her.
"What do you know of swords, lady champion?" Elli asked.
"I-, uh, I'm a hand-to-hand fighter, not a soldier," Zephyr replied nervously.
Elli smiled at her and drew her sword from her hip. "As a Protector, you need to learn many weapons and skills, so let's start with shields."
Elli raised her sword. "For this exercise, you can not attack me, you may only create shields."
Elli smiled and then spun to the left, launching into a spinning jump that threatened to bring her blade too close to Zephyr's neck.
Zephyr threw up a flat barrier just in time to trap Elli's blade in place.
Elii blinked at her sword. "You're better than I thought, but still, there's improvement to be had."
Elli's hands and horns began to glow green and then the draconic symbols that ran up her sword blade lit up.
Elli smirked and then she moved, her sword cracking through the shield as if it were glass. "Let's try this again, shall we?"
Zephyr felt a stab of terror flood through her.
Elli swung her blade again, going for a diagonal strike down to Zephyr's left.
Zephyr panicked and made a new barrier appear, this time being smaller and rounded.
Elli's blade bounced off with a shk sound, but Elli just worked with it, going into another spin and attempting to hit Zephyr's right heel.
Zephyr jumped over the blade and then stepped back, dispelling her previous barrier and forming it anew around Elli's hand, forcing her to drop the sword.
Elli stared in awe at her empty hand as the shimmering rainbow glass of the barrier gleamed her reflection back to her.
"I underestimated you, but you surely still have much to learn. There are few weapons around here."
"I have a question," Zephyr said as she removed the barrier. "About something I think I'll need to know."
"Ask away," Elli replied. "And I will do my best to answer."
"What will be required of me, as Batlis' Champion?" Zephyr asked.
Elli smiled. "Well, you'll have to go out and either be by his or my side, or follow any quest we command you to. The only time you may be away from either of us is if you're on one of said quests."
Zephyr scowled. "That seems very restrictive."
Elli's smile twitched upwards. "Indeed."
"Am I allowed to bring anything with me?"
Elli's smile fell. "You must leave as much of your former life behind as you can, only things that you own with intense emotional ties can be brought, anything else would be a distraction from your prerogative, your mission."
A chill ran down Zephyr's spine. "I'm sorry what?"
"I said you can't bring much, you must leave as much of yourself behind as you can."
Zephyr felt her muscles tense. "C-can I bring Wally, my friend? Can he come with me?"
Elli's eyes grew intensely sad. "He's not something you own, despite his importance to you. He can't come with you, he will distract you, Guardian Batlis will order it if he has to."
Zephyr was shaking now with the effort of trying to stay still, of trying not to erupt into anger, into sadness, into brokenness.
Zephyr gulped. "And if he was my s-slave?"
Elli's face went shocked. "You wouldn't! That-, you'd be forcing him to be with you!"
Zephyr's whole body was shaking now, she couldn't control it anymore, she was too tense. "I know, but I can't just leave him! He barely has any value as it is, without me here as his 'sister' he'd be kicked out, left on his own."
Zephyr clenched her fists tightly. "He'd die if I didn't bring him with me."
Elli's face became sad again, eyes soft and wide at the edges as her cheeks tightened. "You're very loyal, Champion Protector, and not just to those you love. Be proud of that. In you place, I'm quite sure I would have just taken your brother and fled, rather than taken the role you've been given."
Zephyr's hand was shaking, so tightly clenched her claws were digging into her soft palm. "I need to do everything I can to keep him and myself safe," she said, her voice tense. "And I owe it to Guardian Batlis for saving me at my weakest moment, so I will do anything to make sure Wally stays by my side."
Elli smiled. "Then I won't keep you any longer, as it seems you have something to do, quite quickly I imagine."
Zephyr turned and ran, not saying a word.
Zephyr barged into Etesians' chamber, Wally trailing behind her. "What do I need to do to make Wally into my slave!?"
Etesians stared at them. "...Well, there are many things you could do, but the main idea is to humiliate him, make him feel bad for having to take this path, even though it's the only path he can take. There are a few staples though, and a few steps that must be done."
Zephyr licked her lips nervously. "What's first?"
Etesians sighed. "So, you're really going through with it then? Why?"
"What's first?" Zephyr repeated.
Etesians didn't reply for a moment. "You have to cut his horns off, preferably close to the base. This is required, and it will be his duty afterwards to keep them shaved down."
Wally released a cut-off sob, a hitch of breath that broke Zephyr's heart.
"Once you start, there's no going back," Etesians said calmly. "You can still back out now."
"No…" Wally practically whispered, his voice watery. "It was my idea, I can't back out. And we need to do this."
Zephyr turned slowly to face her friend, the comrade she had been with since childhood, her greatest treasure.
"Are you sure?" She asked him.
With tears in his emerald eyes, he nodded.
Zephyr raised a glowing hand and formed a shimmering rainbow blade into being, held strongly in her grip. The translucent surface was mistlike, or maybe like shifting pastel glass, it was always hard to describe.
Zephyr grabbed Wally's yellow horns with her free hand and slashed, quick, precise, over in a moment. Zephyr now held a detached horn, something that used to be part of Wally but no longer was. The other had thumped to the floor.
Zephyr dropped the horn and spun around. "What's next!?" She asked, voice firm and steady despite how much her heart was racing.
Etesians hesitated. "There are many things you can do now… it's not required, nowhere near as traditional as the horn removal, but most dragons would…" Etesians stopped for a moment, taking a breath. "Most dragons urinate onto their soon-to-be slave, showing that they can do anything they want to them now, that the slave will let them, and marking them primally with their master's scent."
Wally burst into tears. "I'm not doing that," Zephyr said.
Etesians smiled, though it was sad, especially around his eyes. "I didn't think you would."
Zephyr took a breath, trying to steady her heart. "What's next, what do I have to do that's required?"
"Since you're part of a group you need to show off," Etesians said slowly. "In front of at least two of the others, Wally needs to be on his knees in front of you, your foot holding his head to the ground as he pledges himself to you publicly. He needs to beg you to take him as your slave and you need to refuse until you feel he's been humiliated enough."
Zephyr's mind screamed as her body carried on, separate from herself in a way she wouldn't have been able to describe to anyone. "Is there anything after that?" Zephyr asked.
"Once you accept him, you need to burn your name onto him, somewhere easily seen, so that everyone knows, for all time, that he was owned by you."
Zephyr nodded as her mind wailed, as Wally tried desperately to hide his sniffles, as Etesians' eyes finally began to gather water at their edges.
"Alright," Zephyr said. She then grabbed Wally's hand and pulled him to the centre of the settlement, where anyone would be able to see them.
Wally trembled in front of her, his dappled green body shaking like a leaf.
"Kneel," Zephyr said flatly.
Wally knelt, his forehead pressed to the ground. Rashabar seemed to notice them and wandered over, as well as Simoon and Alize.
"Now beg," Zephyr commanded as she planted her foot on the back of Wally's head.
"Please let me be your slave, Zephyr!" Wally yelled.
Zephyr pressed down slightly. "Beg!"
"Make me your slave! Please!"
"Please! I have no other use, Zephyr, make me your slave!" Wally shouted.
Zephyr pressed down more. She could feel tears in her eyes, but she blinked them away. She couldn't let the others see such a sign of weakness when she was trying to be strong.
"Beg!" She repeated once more.
"I'm worthless and runty and small, I'm useless and powerless and without purpose! I beg of you, please give me one!" Wally wailed, his entire body shaking like mad.
Zephyr lifted her foot, wishing she had the luxury to shake like Wally did.
"What's my name?" She asked.
Wally hadn't lifted his head. "Master," he replied.
"And what are you?"
Zephyr nudged him with her foot, turning him over so his chest faced the sky. "That's right," she said as she raised a now flaming hand. "You're mine."
Zephyr touched a fingertip to Wally's chest and he screamed in absolute agony, shattering Zephyr's heart to dust.
Zephyr started with the Zen symbol, two upwards pointing spikes that were difficult to form as Wally squirmed, trying to get away from Zephyr's heated hand. Then above it she wrote the Eti, two horizontal lines stacked on top of each other.
Panting, Zephyr paused and raised her hand from Wally's chest, giving not only him, but herself a break. She met his eyes and tried to tell him sorry with just her gaze.
She placed her finger down again, making Wally wail in pain once more as she drew the Phal, one line, with the middle section poking out to the right with a spike, and the other line, straight, going down through the tip of the spike of the first line.
"Stop struggling!" Zephyr commanded. She was trying to make this go as easy on him as possible, but she couldn't just kindly tell him to stay still, that would ruin the illusion she was trying to cast. "Your shaking is making this take longer than it has to!"
Wally sobbed and tried to blink his tears from his eyes, body shaking with the effort of trying to keep himself still.
"Better," Zephyr said, barely holding her actual emotions back behind her mask of power.
Zephyr drew the Ima to the left of the spike on the Phal, one horizontal line and one up-and-right diagonal line below it. They weren't touching but clearly connected. And then she drew the Klak, a horizontal line all the way through the Ima and the Phal.
One symbol left, Zephyr took a deep breath in and dropped her hand for the final time, dragging the heated tip slightly diagonal down and right, and then straight down, forming a bent line, a Resh.
ZE—'PHI'R was now written on her friend, his tears pooled on the ground beneath him.
"It is done," Zephyr said firmly, with strength she didn't feel. "You're my slave."
Wally didn't reply, only continuing to sob.
Zephyr looked up at the assembled crowd, all of the dragons of her clan and even some of Batlis' attendants. "He is my slave now, yes?!" She asked them, clearly not expecting a reply.
Rashabar's eyes were wide, but she was silent, breathing quickly.
"Writing your name on him doesn't make him yours!" Chinook called.
His father, Sukhovey, scales dark red with tall orange horns, slapped him. "She performed the ritual in front of us, he is her slave now! You will accept that as fact!"
Chinook glared at Zephyr when he managed to look back up. "Fine!" he growled. "Williwaw Woods is Zephyr's slave!"
Zephyr felt an ugly and sad emotion rise in her throat in response to that, so she grabbed Wally's hand and fled, making sure that none of the others would see her cry.