Chapter 20: Guardian
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What's this? A second chapter in two days? Yeah! I want to thank my readers who have kept coming back, even when my releases got inconsistent in the wake of the holidays. So thank you to you and I hope you enjoy some extra Hatched this week.

———

When we got outside, Cee was looking at Alex and Vander with disgust, and the guards were looking tense. Alex was keeping his cool remarkably well, and Vander seemed to just be paying them no mind. Both of the humans’ eyes lit up when we exited, and Alex asked, “[So?]”

I shrugged in response, preferring not to chat in front of the mini-chief for the moment. I started to understand what had Kelz so aggravated with the person that was her Ghisé. The superiority complex I knew Cee for had started to pick up a particular brand of nasty. She huffed when she saw us exit, “Can we dispose of these things now?”

The anger I was biting down at the elders found its outlet. “Shut up Cee! When did you become such a [bitch]?” I walked up to her and pushed my finger into her chest, “You could at least act like this is a good day for my sake. Long lost sister come home and all. You don’t think I saw enough blood getting here?” Thank the moons Kelz didn’t stay as stuck up as her.

“Don’t bother,” Ghisé chimed in, “She’s nothing but a walking rulebook and mouthpiece for that old hag.”

Cee’s face screwed up. “How dare you—!”

Sen pushed her way between Cee and I, then started pulling me towards the wagon. My exhaustion made it easy for her to push me along. Whatever. I shot Cee a hand gesture I knew she didn’t know. She could go cluck off if it’s going to be more politics and rules.

Cee huffed and stormed her way back into the meeting chambers. “Watch them,” she ordered the guards. “Them” probably included her own sisters as well as the humans. I grabbed some hardtack-like rations, might as well fill my mouth with something so I don’t have to talk to anyone anymore. The ancient tome was still there too.

The mood outside the building remained tense, and silent. All I could think of was getting home, if the damn crones willed it. Jiju exited alone after several minutes had gone by. Whether things has gone well or poorly, as usual I couldn’t tell from her face alone.

“What did they say?” Ghisé asked.

She grumbled, “You split their opinions. Fray and Na are very interested in the advancements you claim you can create here. Chief Getra and Oiwe would rather see the humans killed. However, since Lightblessed Talivi is still a fledgling, she cannot take responsibility for the humans. So, I will until she comes of age.” She signaled the two guards, who in turn saluted and took to the skies.

“Wha—,” I started, trying to hurriedly swallow the lump of mushy tack I’d been working on.

Jiju put up a finger to silence me, “I have conditions. From dawn until dusk, I will make a proper Blessed and warrior of you. When the sun goes down, you’ll work with the humans to produce whatever the Chief needs to let us be. You’ll do this until you can complete your ceremony.”

“But Tali wont be fit to fly for at least a year with what they did to her,”

I scratched at my throat slightly as I forced the dry biscuit down. I didn’t even know Jiju could speak so much at once. She continued, “You three can go, I’ll take the Lightblessed and humans home.”

With a swig from the water-skin, I found my voice again, “Wait, you’ve moving in with us?”

“With you,” the guardian corrected. “Your home is isolated and has plenty of space for our purposes. The humans will not be able to traverse the walls anyway. The Chief sent word ahead to Terese.”

My sisters had… moved out?

“Don’t worry Tali, I’ll move back,” Ghisé offered.

Before I could even thank her, Jiju shot her down. “You can visit, and only to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with her duties. The Lightblessed needs rest, not distraction. We start in one week. Use that time to reconnect with your sisters.”

“[What are you saying?]” Alex asked, aloud, then to me, “[What are they saying? You look upset.]”

“[Hesht business, but you’re both safe,]” I somberly reassured him and Vander.

Vander approached me tentatively, then pulled me into a hug. What happened to his bindings? “[You did good Tali. Time doesn’t stand still, even for a small Hesht village, but whatever happens going forward you’ll be a part of it.]”

I clenched my fists, willing the welling of tears to stop. Vander was right, I would be part of shaping the future of this village, especially as a Lightblessed. The significance of that fact was nowhere in the memories of two lives, but I’d learn. I’d make this village home again.

“Will you visit soon?” I asked the sisters of mine who were present. “Bring the others.”

“At first light,” said Kelz. Sen and Ghisé nodded, and left. I hoped Reyna, Ber, and Inir would too.

Turning to my humans friends I said, “[Let’s go you two. I’ll give you the grand tour.]”

———

When I entered my old home for the first time in years, I found that unlike everything else in the village, this building was mostly the same. That plain oval room, with three coming off them. The same furniture too, but it was so… small. It was like walking into a primary school as an adult. The chairs too low to the ground, the amenities a bit undersized. The bedding would likely be on the smaller side too, and we’d have to get some proper human beds for Vander and Alex.

The most surprising presence in the building, was actually a person, Henmother Terese. She exited her quarters as soon as she heard us enter, and rushed over, throwing her wings over me protectively. “It’s true! You’re back Talivi.” She nuzzled my head with her own.

“You… stayed?” I asked.

She smiled a gentle smile, one that was rare in my childhood—I was a bit of a handful… “Until Ber moved out. But I never let the dust pile too high. When I heard your clutchmates were out looking again, I got the place ready for you. And ah—I see you’re still quick to cry.”

“Hm?” I pulled away and dabbed at my cheeks. Damn.

“Guardian Jiju, I’ve cleared my quarters. Take care of her, and don’t spoil our princess, I worked very hard on her.”

“I’m right here!” I whined. They didn’t seem to care. I grabbed Vander and Alex by their wrists, “[Come, I’ll show you to your room.]” I led them into the room on the right, the one Ghisé shared with Inir, Ber, and Reyna.

There were still four small nests in the room, some simple furnishings, and some traditional Hesht art. It was pretty sparse, especially compared to some of the more ostentatious displays that the humans like. Anything of individual significance my sisters would have taken with them, but most Hesht culture was communal in nature. Possessions changed hands often, and were crude. Long claws and large talons don’t benefit delicate work. Ironically, the way my claws were dulled during captivity actually benefitted me. The work I did with Alex, and Hesht Spellweaving were both more manageable using clawless hands than taloned feet.

“[It’s very… traditional,] Alex commented.

“[Hesht culture used to be much more developed, but even at the peak of their society, it never appealed to human sensibilities.]” Vander added.

Alex snorted, “[You really like to flaunt your knowledge. It’s unbecoming.]”

Vander actually looked slightly offended at his remark, “[I suppose…]”

“[It’s okay Vander,]” I said, “[I would actually love to hear more stories. I’m sure Ghisé and Reyna would love to hear tales of Hesht history too.]”

His eyes lit up a bit, “[Well, for starters, no race produces vocalists like the Hesht. Great a capella.]”

I raised a finger to his lips, “[Another time Vander, I promise. I just think I’m spent for the day.]”

———

We spent the next few minutes rearranging the space while the low tones of Jiju and Terese’s conversation carried in from common area. The four small nests were turned into two larger ‘beds’, using a loose definition. By we I meant Vander and I, Alex still wasn’t up to moving too much. At a certain point he stopped helping entirely, and started flipping through the magic tome that I’d gotten used to smuggling around.

The clinking of beads informed us that Jiju entered the bedroom. She stood in the doorway wearing her customary facial expression. In her claws she held a small clay pot that brought back childhood memories of cuts and scrapes and had me recoiling on instinct.

“Noooo!” I whined, “Terese still had that crap?”

The guardian pinched the bridge of her nose, took a deep breath, and released it, “I think I’m beginning to understand the real reason your clutchmates called you Princess. If you’re more trouble than Ghisé… Phoenix help me.” She put an edge into her voice and looked down on me, “Let’s talk ground rules.”

“You already said: training during the day, studying at night. I’ve got it,” I said dismissively. “And I’ve got a week.”

She shook her head, “That was my condition for taking in your br— your friends. I need to explain the rules of this home. Terese’s rules are no more.”

“But this is my house!”

“Enough Talivi!” She said it the same way she scolded Ghisé, and it sent a shiver up my spine.

Also— what? No ‘Lightblessed’ this time? In the Redwoods she made it seem like she was my subordinate.

Her frustration bubbled as she asked, “What happened to the bright girl who talked two humans into the village for the first time in its history?”

Was that Liv? No… no that was me. “I’m just… tired. I’m sorry Jiju.”

“Been long days. Long years for Talivi. We stay here. Won’t leave,” Vander gestured to the room around us. “Rules tomorrow?”

Jiju huffed, letting the tension in her body out with it, “As far as humans go, you’ve found good ones. Rules tomorrow then.”

Vander bowed in response. Alex followed suit in a hurried and awkward manner, guessing it was safe to just mimic the boy—the exchange drew a light chuckle from Jiju… somehow the most shocking event of a long two days.

The guardian placed the small pot on a table by the door. “I suggest a bath and a proper meal, then bed Lightblessed Talivi. I will catch some fish as you clean up. Enough for the humans too.” With that, she left.

“[You’ll both be okay tonight?]” I asked.

Vander nodded. Alex said, “[I’ll sleep more soundly than I have in months. I’m certain.]”

I found myself smiling. I did find some good humans, and Jiju was alright even if a bit intimidating. As I left the room, I paused, there was the clay pot with the stinging poultice inside. Pouting, I plucked it off the table and took it with me. I only had a week to rest and heal.

———

That night, I lay in my childhood nest, belly full of good fish, cleaner than I’d been in years, wounds slightly throbbing and tingling. Jiju was already sleeping soundly, on the other end of the room. Why didn’t she just take Terese’s room?

I closed my eyes, and spoke softly, “Luna? Can I remember the promise?” Then I was asleep.

———

Announcement
Next chapter will be R18+. As stated on the first Smuturday, and the story synopsis, R18+ chapters are skippable without impacting the story!
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