Chapter 1:

Chapter 1: First Meeting

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1

The salty sea air would take some time to get used to. Matt had never seen the ocean before, but it was beautiful. The way the waves burned in the rising sun told him where Goldia got its name.Bookmark here

The city of Goldia was a busy port on the East Sea. Matt didn’t want to look like a bumpkin from the sticks, so he’d worn his nicest dress shirt and trousers for his first meeting with the Guardians.Bookmark here

Next time he’d skip that crap and bring a sweater. It really got this cold, even in summer?Bookmark here

Matt got off the bus and set down his duffel bag, taking a look around. Someone from the Guardians would be coming to pick him up, and until then he would wait at the bus stop. But all he could see was a bridge and the ports below. The city's walls were a line in the distance.Bookmark here

That’s when he saw her.Bookmark here

She was a tiny little thing, shorter than Cynthia and skinnier than Jermaine. She stood a few feet away with her hands on the railing, looking at the sea below with her downcast green eyes.Bookmark here

From the way she held herself Matt immediately knew her type. Quiet and shy with a voice like a squeak, and would fall over if you blew on her. A girl like that wouldn’t stand out normally, but a mage’s staff rested beside her, and that brown cloak was distinct.Bookmark here

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Matt walked over to her, certain she was who he was looking for.Bookmark here

“Remember, you’re a newcomer accepting a commission!” Cynthia’s advice played back in his head. “You’ve got to project an aura of confidence, otherwise they’re going to think you’re just some schoolboy playing guild member!”Bookmark here

Confidence, project confidence, Matt repeated to himself. With as bold a voice as he could, he called out “hello there!”Bookmark here

“HIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!” The girl’s brown ponytail jumped like a startled cat and she shrieked. She had the wildness of a startled animal in her eyes.Bookmark here

Matt was startled by the trembling girl’s outburst. “H-Hey, sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you,” he tried to put her at ease. “I thought you were the person I was meeting here.”Bookmark here

He must have been mistaken, someone as skittish as this couldn’t be a member of the Guardians. But even as that thought crossed his mind, he saw a glimmer of realization in her eyes.Bookmark here

“Y-You… are you… um… sorry, I didn’t realize…” Her face was bright red and she couldn’t meet his stare. She took a deep breath and bowed, “h-hello there! I’m Emilia Wynn, it’s an honor to meet you!”Bookmark here

So she was his contact after all! Matt felt like such a fool, he’d nearly ruined his first impression. He held out his hand and smiled. “Hi. I’m Mathew Hearthome, but you can call me Matt.”Bookmark here

The girl, Emilia, smiled shyly up at him and took his hand. “And you can… call me Emi.”Bookmark here

They stared at each other, neither knowing what to say.Bookmark here

“So, um… what comes next?” Emi asked.Bookmark here

Matt was confused, he was waiting on her to tell him what to do. She was gonna take him to the guild hall, right? “I guess I should come with you, then?”Bookmark here

Emi wore a perplexed expression and tilted her head to the side. “I thought… I mean… yes? The guild hall… we’re going to the Guardians’ guild hall?”Bookmark here

Matt didn’t know why she phrased it like a question, but he nodded. “So let’s… get going.”Bookmark here

Emi gulped. Her confused look turned to one of fear. “You’ll take me there… right?”Bookmark here

Huh? Shouldn’t she know where it was? “To the guild hall? Sorry, I’ve never been there before.”Bookmark here

Then the fear became abject terror. Her tiny eyes widened and she began to shake. She held her staff in front of her like a shield.Bookmark here

“…You don’t… know where the guild hall is, and I’ve never seen your face… in any of the photos of the Guardians,” she mumbled, taking a step back.Bookmark here

“…Yeah, because I’m not one of the Guardians, I-“Bookmark here

She screamed at the top of her lungs. Matt was caught off-guard by how loud such a tiny girl could scream. But he was even more caught off-guard by the blast of wind that hit him in the face, knocking him into the dirt.Bookmark here

“H-Hey, what-“Bookmark here

“You’re a KIDNAPPER, aren’t you?!” Emi shouted, swinging her staff at him. “Get away from me!”Bookmark here

“Ow! Hey!” Matt shielded his head from the blows. What was the matter with this girl?! “I’m not a kidnapper, hey, ow, that hurts!”Bookmark here

She kept hitting him while she screamed.Bookmark here

“Liar! My mommy said the big cities are full of kidnappers! They try and lead you somewhere and then they grab you and do a bunch of bad things!” She wailed, winding up and swinging again.Bookmark here

“I’m not a kidnapper! It’s all a big mistake, I accepted –ow!- a commission with –hey!- the Guardians, and I thought –ack!- that you were –ow!- one of- STOP HITTING ME!” Matt was about to use his Naturia to protect himself when the blows stopped. Bookmark here

He warily peeked up to see the red-faced girl staring down at him in confusion, staff held high in her small little hands.Bookmark here

“You’re… here to join the Guardians?” She panted, wiping the sweat from her brow.Bookmark here

“Yes,” Matt grumbled, rising to his feet. “I promise, I’m not a kidnapper.”Bookmark here

“O-Oh…” she sighed, and dropped the staff. “…Sorry…”Bookmark here

Matt rubbed his head and felt a lump. He winced. “Look, it’s not a big- hey!”Bookmark here

While he was talking the girl had begun climbing over the railing.Bookmark here

“What the heck are you doing?!” He shouted, grabbing her before she could go over the edge.Bookmark here

“Lemme go!” Emi wailed, her face red with shame. “I messed up on my first day! I attacked a total stranger, just let me go and become sea foam or something!”Bookmark here

“Are you mental?! It was just a misunderstanding, what’s the matter with you?!”Bookmark here

“I can’t live after something that humiliating, just let me drown!”Bookmark here

Matt had his arms wrapped tight around Emi’s chest as she kicked and screamed, dangling over the ledge. If she wasn’t so light she might have turned it into a double suicide.Bookmark here

“Well, I’m glad to see our new members are getting along so nice!”Bookmark here

Matt and Emi turned to see a man walking their way. He was tall, tan, and handsome, with the sort of face that was impossible to imagine angry. The dull rust of his hair clashed with the mirthful gleam of his sea blue eyes.Bookmark here

“Let me give you a hand,” he said, pulling Matt and Emi back to safety like it was nothing. Matt looked at the muscles bulging beneath his white shirt with envy.Bookmark here

“Matt Hearthome and Emilia Wynn, right? You’re the new commissions?” He asked. They nodded. He slapped his chest and grinned, “well, I’m Ryan Sardon, pleasure to meet you two!”Bookmark here

“It’s an honor to meet you, too, sir!” Matt said, holding out his hand. He was desperate to move past that… awkward introduction.Bookmark here

With a laugh, Ryan took his hand and pulled him in, slapping him on the back. “Don’t use any of that ‘sir’ talk! Ryan’s fine! Heck, I was standing where you were last year! So enough with that ‘deer in the headlights’ look.”Bookmark here

Matt forced a grin to his face, glancing away. “Look, I mean, there’s no look, I just-“Bookmark here

“Please, you two look like you’re a loud noise away from a heart attack!” He cackled. “But it’s okay. There’s no need to be worried, everyone’s excited to meet you.” The assuring tone of his voice helped Matt relax. “So let’s quit standing around in the cold! Come on, I’ll take you guys to the guild hall.”Bookmark here

Matt picked up his stuff and followed Ryan down the road. Emi trailed after them. They headed down the steep staircase towards the port.Bookmark here

By the time Ryan brought them to a sleek black speedboat, Matt’s heart had finally calmed down enough where he could start to relax. “We’re going by boat?” He asked.Bookmark here

“Yup!” Ryan nodded, helping the two of them get on. He pointed out across the sea. “See that island over there?”Bookmark here

In the distance was a large island, connected to the mainland by a thin golden bridge. “That’s where we call home!”Bookmark here

Matt was astonished. He’d remembered reading that the Guardians had their own private island, but he thought that was just another rumor. He glanced at Emi to see what she thought, but she had already curled up into a ball on the floor and begun mumbling something to herself.Bookmark here

Ryan gunned the engine and the boat began to move across the water. Matt felt a giddy feeling well up in his stomach as it took off. His first time at the sea, and now his first time on a boat! He stuck out his head and held on, feeling the spray catch him in the face.Bookmark here

“If the island’s connected by a bridge, why are we taking a boat?” Matt asked Ryan.Bookmark here

“See that bridge? That’s the Golden Thread,” Ryan shouted back, pointing at the bridge. “That route’s used for deliveries and pedestrians, people coming to make requests of the guild! But we have our own port to use!”Bookmark here

He glanced over his shoulder and flashed a smile. “Unless you want to be hounded for autographs all day?!”Bookmark here

Matt sat back in his seat. It was starting to sink in now, he was actually joining the Guardians.Bookmark here

When Sarah had first made the offer, he hadn’t thought it was real. It didn’t seem real, that somebody like him would qualify to join the Guardians. For a second he had almost considered turning it down, before Cynthia slapped some sense into him.Bookmark here

And now here he was, giddy with excitement.Bookmark here

Matt glanced at Emi. She was still curled up in embarrassment. If they were going to be working together, then he needed to fix the misunderstanding and awkwardness from before.Bookmark here

“Hey, you’re Emi, right?” Matt asked. Emi glanced up at him warily, and nodded. Her eyes were puffy. Matt held out his hand to her again. “Sorry we got off on the wrong foot before. I’m Matt.”Bookmark here

This time, Emi didn’t take his hand.Bookmark here

“I promise I’m not a kidnapper,” Matt assured her with a smile. “…Except that one time.”Bookmark here

Her eyes bulged and scooted down the bench.Bookmark here

“…That was a joke,” Matt resisted the urge to laugh.Bookmark here

“O-Oh,” Emi said, letting out an awkward laugh and brushing her hair back. “Ha…”Bookmark here

Matt could barely hear her over the motor, this conversation was going great.Bookmark here

“That was magic before?” He called to her. “That wind?”Bookmark here

Emi nodded quickly.Bookmark here

“…Cool, never met a mage before.”Bookmark here

Oh, stellar job, Matt. How can you make screwing up conversations with girls look so easy?Bookmark here

Cynthia was easy to talk to. Heck, Cynthia did most of the talking in the first place.Bookmark here

Emi was no Cynthia, that was for sure.Bookmark here

The boat slowed down as they approached the island, Ryan cutting the engine and letting it drift through the water. The boat headed towards the back side of the island, and Matt took the chance to admire the scenery.Bookmark here

The island was mostly cliffs, taller than most buildings Matt had seen. Trees and assorted vegetation dotted the cliffsides, a prelude to the large forest he could see above. With each turn of the bow Matt saw another steep edge; how big was this island anyway?! It was practically large enough to house a town!Bookmark here

When they rounded the point, Matt was the first to see the narrow beach, sheltered by large rocks and steep cliffs on either side, with a thin pier jutting out into the waves like an outstretched hand. The boat edged into the cove, Ryan maneuvering through the smooth arch like an expert.Bookmark here

But it was a little too close for comfort.Bookmark here

“Is-Is this safe?!” Matt called up to him as the side of the boat nearly scraped against a jagged rock.Bookmark here

“Sure is!” Ryan called back. “This baby doesn’t just have a motor in her, she’s being moved by Impulse Orica!”Bookmark here

“Impulse Orica?” Matt asked, surprised. He stuck his head over the rear of the boat to take a look, and sure enough, he could see tiny crystals the color of amethysts embedded beside the propeller.Bookmark here

“Orica store magic energy of all sorts,” Ryan explained. “Those ones we’ve got there release air, as gently as you like and whatever direction you please, you get it?”Bookmark here

Matt got it. By pushing air out under the water Ryan could guide the boat in smoothly even without the motor.Bookmark here

Ryan glanced back at Matt with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Matt knew that look. It was a Cynthia kind of look. “How about we go for a ride sometime with the Jet Orica active, and I show you what this baby can really do?”Bookmark here

Matt didn’t need to know what “Jet Orica” were to know that was probably not a good idea.Bookmark here

True to his word, Ryan docked the ship safely, and helped the two of them off the boat. Emi looked a little green and had to sit down, while Matt turned to look up at the cliffs.Bookmark here

Now that they were on the beach, he could see a lot more. A thin stairway was carved into the rock face, weaving its way through the dark stone. It was a long walk to the top, and what awaited them…Bookmark here

“There it is,” Ryan whispered. His voice was filled with awe. “Strayhaven.”Bookmark here

The guild hall of the Guardians was a castle. Its black stone walls gleamed in the morning sun, looming overhead in silent judgment. The shadows of its high spires rolled down the rock face like waterfalls of darkness, pooling ominously in the sand below. An imposing sight even at a distance, Matt swallowed his anxiety and remembered Cynthia’s advice.Bookmark here

“Confidence! Project confidence!”Bookmark here

He clutched his bag and stepped into the sand, walking towards the future that awaited him.Bookmark here

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