Chapter 20: The Failure - Zephyr

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(Alternatively: The path to success is paved with many failures)

Zephyr was desperate. She could feel her place in the group slipping from her, could feel herself being pushed away with every turned head and unspoken word.

She was practicing her stances alone, outside of the fighting chamber because of the judgement she could feel in there, even from Khamseen, who looked like he was trying to hold it back.

Zephyr did a lunge with a throat grab, yelling her frustrations into the air as tears threatened to gather in her eyes. She needed to be stoic, poised, perfect, or they would get rid of her but she couldn't help it. There was too much to feel now, too much that could hurt her.

Turning into a wide stance, facing left, Zephyr raised hands with curled fingers and leapt forward, imagining an enemy for her to slash at.

She landed wrong, hitting the dirt with a grunt, wishing she could get angry at herself. But that would lead nowhere, only to hurt for someone that wasn't her.

She just-, she needed some standing, some value to the others, and everything would be alright again.

Just-, just something.

Zephyr shivered on the ground, refusing to let her tears fall as she pleaded to higher powers she didn't believe in to help her.

****

"Wally!" Zephyr whisper-hissed at her friend. "Wally I have an idea!"

Her friend looked around before following her, getting away from the others.

"What is it?" he asked.

"If-," Zephyr swallowed. "If I beat one of the other protectors in a fight, that would give me some standing, they would have to acknowledge I'm better than the one I beat, someone they currently value as more."

Wally's face got worried. "But what if you lose?"

Zephyr scrunched her face. "That won't happen. I'm sure of it."

Wally's face didn't change. "I-if you're sure."

"I'm very sure."

Wally took a stuttered breath in. "W-who are you going to challenge?"

Zephyr considered this for a moment. "There's no way I would beat my father, he's too good, and Levanter is a bit of an enigma, but Khamseen? I know him. I have the highest chances of winning against him."

"B-be careful," Wally said.

Zephyr smiled. "You know I won't be."

Wally giggled a bit. "Just-, don't lose, okay?"

Zephyr nodded. "I'll do my best not to."

****

Feet together in front of her, she leaned forward, pressing her forehead to the ground, stretching her hips.

"Breathe, two, three, four..." she whispered to herself, counting each polok that passed. The stretch in her hips burned, pulling on ligaments and muscles as she held the position. When she had counted 10 polokil she lifted her head.

Standing up, she struck her open palm with her other fist. She was ready.

Zephyr smiled as she walked to the combat chamber. She could feel the hum of her body pressing her forward, pressing her towards victory.

"Khamseen!" She yelled in announcement. "I challenge you to a duel!"

The slightly older dragon startled, his white horns scraping against the wall he was resting against. He was staring at her.

"Don't do this Zephyr," he said.

She glared at him. "I, Zephyr Flare-Meltemi, challenge Khamseen Sirocco to a duel, to see which of us is the more skilled combatant!"

Khamseen shook his head as he stood up. "I don't know what you're doing, Zephyr, but I hope it's the right thing."

Zephyr took a fighting stance, left foot in front, wings out behind her, and arms lifted out before her.

"Fight me!" She snarled, sharp teeth gnashing together.

Khamseen flicked his tail, a blade construct flying out of the glowing tip.

Zephyr formed a barrier as she leapt to the left, out of the way.

"I said fight me!"

"What do you think I'm doing?" Khamseen asked as he leapt towards her, a leg swinging around towards her from her right.

Zephyr lifted a leg, blocking Khamseen's with her shin. She then lifted her calf over his thigh and forced him down, where she then grabbed an arm and twisted.

A strong gust of air forced her off of him and she had to flap her wings frantically to keep from falling over.

"You won't win," Khamseen said. "Stop now and I will consider it a draw."

"I have to win!" Zephyr shouted back.

Khamseen shrugged. "This will be your failure to make then."

He then jumped forwards, a leg stretched out to hit her in the chest.

Zephyr leapt left and caught his leg in the curl of her right arm. Backing up, she lifted his leg until he toppled.

"I'm going to win, and you can't stop me."

She grabbed his arm and knelt over it, pulling it up into her shin.

"I-if you do, what w-will happen to Simoon?"

Zephyr stilled for just a moment and then she was on the ground, wing trapped under legs, arm held in a lock, and neck in a choke hold.

She couldn't get out of this, there was no way. She'd lost.

"I-I yield!!" She called, voice cracking around the pressure in her throat.

The pressure receded and Zephyr could breathe again.

"You've made a failure of yourself, Zephyr Flare-Meltemi, and you will be punished accordingly," Khamseen said flatly, betraying no emotion.

Zephyr hitched a sob into the dirt below her.

"You know what you need to do now."

Zephyr slowly got to her feet, shivering from the adrenaline that refused to leave. She had to face her father now, had to make him look at what she'd become.

She headed out of the chamber on heavy feet, weighed down by dread and regret. She barely wanted to look at herself, she couldn't imagine what her father would see.

Exiting the chamber brought Zephyr to an outside that was noisy, dragons clamouring about everywhere. No one was still.

'What is going on?'

"A Guardian is coming!" Someone shouted. "He's graced us with his presence!"

Zephyr looked around for a moment, confused, until she saw it, a large glowing falcon that was growing closer with every second.

He turned into a dive, falling straight down at incredible speed.

Wham. The Guardian landed. Right in front of Zephyr. His presence loomed over her like something terrifying, like a final strike one could see coming. He glowed with a gentle aura that did little to make him seem less terrifying.

"Hello Zephyr," he said into her mind. "It's been a long time since I last saw you."

Zephyr was deathly afraid, limbs frozen in place. "H-has it?"

His eyes seemed to glimmer menacingly. "Indeed."

"A-and," Zephyr gulped. "Why are you here to see me now?"

The Guardian took a step forward. "Because I am disappointed and tired of waiting. Because you have failed to do what I saw you do. Because you are weak." He was practically overtop of her now, looming like a blood red shadow.

The Guardian opened his wings wide. "Because you are my Champion and it is time for you to rise."

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