The Guardian Paladin

Zack opened his eyes slowly, and was nearly blinded by a bright light that streamed through an open window where a fresh air channeled into his room.

“Zack, you okay?” a face suddenly popped up over him.

And out of surprise, he yelled before realizing that that person was actually Weston, who leaned backwards in surprise.

“Sorry, I didn't recognize you in the first place,” said Zack, relieved.

“Jeez, you scared me, too,” said Weston.

Zack scanned his surroundings. “Is this a hospital?”

“Yeah. You were asleep for two days when you suddenly passed out while Mikey was helping you at the Dome arena.”

“Two days-?”

“Yeah. The doctor said that you didn't just pass out from the fight and the wound you got there on your arm, but also because of exhaustion. Have you been sleeping well before that?”

Zack thought back to two days before he arrived in Redwall. He'd stayed awake for 48 hours, worrying about his motion sickness problem on the flight all the way to Redwall, even though he didn't think he should have worried too much. But worry about his motion sickness made it hard to sleep.

He reached for his arm, and found it firmly bandaged.

“You were here for a long time?” he asked.

“No, I came in an hour ago. I was planning to go out for lunch with you if you wake up while I'm here.”

At the same time, Zack's stomach rumbled.

“Looks like someone also agrees,” said Weston.

Zack looked at him indignantly, as Weston gathered some clothes off a chair and tossed it to him.

“What are these?” Zack asked.

“Spare clothes, so you can change into them before we go,” said Weston.

“I can just leave the hospital right away?”

“Yeah. The doctor said that you were otherwise just fine. Why'd you pass out, anyway? You really scared everyone.”

“Man, sorry about that,” Zack sighed. It would be embarrassing if he had to tell Weston about one of his flaws.

“So . . . what link do you have to the the Core Gladiators?” asked Weston, and now, Zack saw that Weston's expression was serious. “Why did you get hurt in a game that's not supposed to hurt you?”

Zack looked at him in surprise. “Do you have to know?”

“I want to know,” said Weston with a frown. “Also, especially since Mikey says that you're a Core Gladiator. Although . . . he won't explain it to me.”

“Then you don't need to know,” said Zack with a grin. "What about lunch?"

“Give me a break,” Weston sighed.

Zack smiled slowly. “I don't really want to explain it all to you, but I could tell you what happened,” he said, and fingered the bracelet he wore with Galadhar's key hanging on it. “A few years ago, when I was younger, a hero came to my home.” Weston frowned, but listened intently. “Even though I was a normal kid, acting like one of the street scum of my city just to protect my neighbors so their own kids my age won't come out, he gave me a weapon, saying that I have to defend myself. That hero . . . saved my life several times in the time he stayed in that old city I grew up in. That weapon was Galadhar. That hero showed me that the world isn't so dark as I used to think it was.”

“So that's how you became a Gladiator?” asked Weston.

“That's it.”

“It doesn't link you to the Paladin in any way.”

“You sure you want to know?” asked Zack. “Only my brother knows it, but knowing him and his friends, I guess the Synchron Organization's higher-ups are familiar with my story. It's the first that an outsider would know.”

“I'm a Gladiator, too. Just tell me.”

Zack held up his key. “Delta. The Greek letter delta is the Paladin's mark. That hero is now my predecessor. Garrett Heaton, avatar named Pegathor, the previous Guardian Paladin.”

The End

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