Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Matt was breathless when he reached the top of the stairs.
Strayhaven stood before his eyes, high walls and tall gates. It looked like a castle from a horror movie, not something he expected to be associated with the Guardians. Draped over the large wood door was a black banner with a white symbol, a strange spiky spiral, the emblem of the Guardians.
“Don’t stand there gobsmacked!” Ryan laughed, slapping Matt on the back and knocking him forward. “Let’s head in already!”
Ryan led Matt and an exhausted Emi to the gate, pushing it open with a creak and heading in.
The castle was dark on the outside, but big and bright on the inside, the hallways filled with paintings and portraits, including ones of Sarah and Ryan. Matt was blown away by their new home.
Emi gasped in surprise. “It’s a palace! Am I really going to live here?” Her smile was bright for the first time.
Two voices spoke in unison. At the end of the hall stood a man in a sharp suit and a woman in a frilly dress. They looked like a matching set, flawless features and short black hair without a strand out of place, and hollow gold eyes. So perfect they couldn’t be human.
“Mechadolls?” Matt asked, taking a closer look. It was the first time he’d seen an automaton, they were more human than he’d imagined.
“Nero, Bianca, these are our new members!” Ryan greeted them.
The two dolls placed their hands over where their hearts would be, moving synchronously in a bow. They led the way down the hall.
“A place this size takes a lot of maintenance, and Mechadolls make it a lot easier. Great, huh? Of course, we also have to pitch in, do chores and stuff, but we’ll get to that. Here we are!”
The Mechadolls pushed open a set of double doors, and they entered a common room way too big for the three people inside it.
“Is this them?!” A blonde woman was the first to catch Matt’s eye. She seemed like the type to catch lots of eyes. Her white dress was plain but did nothing to downplay her curvy body, paired with a face that looked like it had broken a lot of hearts. Her hair danced around her hips as she walked up to them, pulling Matt into a hug.
Matt’s head went to how soft she was. He felt his face heating up as she pressed her voluptuous body against him. It was a relief when she finally let him go, scooping up Emi in her grasp next.
“This is Serena Johnston,” Ryan introduced her with a laugh. “You can tell she’s a hugger.”
Serena let the red-faced Emi go and winked at Ryan, turning to them. “Hey, I’m Serena, lovely to meet you both!”
“Emi.” She averted her eyes.
“That’s Willow over there,” Serena said, pointing to the other blonde, sitting on the couch.
Willow had hair like honey and a scowl like vinegar. She wore overalls, and her green eyes were sharp with judgment. Then her expression softened into a smile. In a second she seemed friendlier, more approachable, like Cynthia. She waved at them.
“So these are our new recruits…”
The last person in the room was the only man, dressed in a fine suit with a flat cap. Matt thought he was an old man at first due to his pale skin and stringy white hair, but as he got closer Matt could see he was surprisingly young. He shook Matt’s hand, his grip surprisingly tight for his gaunt frame. A fine saber rattled at his waist.
“I’m Lori. The vice-guild master.” His voice was terse and his red eyes skipped over them, landing on Ryan. “…Where’s the third one?”
Ryan smiled sheepishly. “She, uh… overslept.”
Serena giggled, and Ryan shrugged. Lori wasn’t amused.
“I’ll go pick her up later, come on!” Ryan laughed. Lori muttered something.
Matt felt those piercing eyes on him again.
“She’s waiting for you.” Lori’s thin finger pointed across the room.
Matt and Emi walked to the door, and glanced at each other. They both gulped.
“Y-You go first,” Emi whimpered.
“No, no, that’s okay, you can go,” Matt said, as anxious as she looked.
“If I go in there I’ll die, please!” Emi urged him, her eyes watering.
Matt sighed. Her pleading face could give Cynthia’s a run for its money.
He walked inside. It was an office, with a large desk. A portrait of Sarah hung behind it, with a long black blade mounted on the wall. Sarah herself sat at the desk, her face a lot stricter-looking than she’d been at his school.
Then she smiled.
“Matt! Emi! Welcome! I’m so glad to see you!” She grinned, rising from her seat and walking over to them. Matt thought he’d be in for more hugs, but she just shook their hands. “Welcome to the Guardians!” She waved her hand with a flourish.
She sat back on her desk. “So what do you guys think?”
“…About what?” Matt wasn’t sure what she was getting at.
“About everyone, silly!” She laughed. “Your guildmates? Ryan, Serena, Willow, Lori?”
“Oh! Uh, they’re… they’re cool, I guess,” Matt shrugged. Ryan laughed a lot like Jermaine and Serena was clingy like Cynthia.
“Uhum…” Emi gulped, nodding.
“We’ve got two more members, Nick’s off on a job and Kayla’s... in her room. They’re great! In the meantime, have Serena show you guys around, she’ll take you to your rooms! Your stuff’s already been dropped off!”
She turned to Emi. “We gave you a room with a balcony like you asked, Emi!”
“Oh! Th-Thank you!” She brightened up a little.
Sarah laughed. She placed a hand on each of their shoulders and gave them a smile like those Matt imagined a mother would wear, warm and filled with care. Matt felt relief wash over him.
“Come on you two, relax!” Her voice was soothing. “You’re Guardians now. This is your home. Your family. You don’t need to be so nervous. Everyone here is happy to have you, even scary ol’ Lori.”
“…Yeah.” Matt smiled. Sarah was trying to make this place seem like home to them.
Emi only nodded.
“You guys can come talk to me whenever you need, okay? Just think of me as your new mom!” She looked into Matt’s eyes, and let them leave.
The second they entered the common room, they were swept up by Serena again.
“Matt! Emi!” She cooed, taking their hands. “Come on! I need to show you around!”
Serena skipped forward with her arms out. “This is our common room. We’ve got TV and video games, books, even board games if that’s your thing. You can use it however you want.” She pointed at another door. “Kitchen and dining hall’s just through those doors. We eat at 8, 12, and 6, but you can stop by for a snack whenever.”
“Do the Mechadolls cook?” Matt asked.
“Nero and Bianca? Nah. But I do! We’ve all got different chores, we’ll work you two into the schedule somewhere. Let’s get going!”
Serena led them out of the common room down one of the halls.
“First floor is mainly our public amenities,” she explained. “You know, showers and stuff, we’ve got a gym, a library, storage, and… oh! This here’s Ryan’s room.” She stopped outside the door. “He’s on the first floor, Willow, too. Will’s got a lovely garden, you should have her show it to you sometime!”
She showed them the different rooms, and finally stopped at a spiral staircase.
“Nick’s still fixing the elevator, so we’ll use the stairs.” She led them up to the second floor and began showing them around the rooms.
“I’m over here, and that’s Lori, Nick, um…” She smiled sheepishly at them. “We have a lot of empty rooms.”
“Uh, what… what’s that?” Emi asked, pointing a shaking finger at a large metal door that was different from the other ones.
“Oh! That, uh… that’s Kayla’s room.” Serena looked uneasy. “Don’t… don’t go in there.”
Emi’s eyes bugged out and Matt felt a little uneasy himself.
Serena quickly led them away from there.
“And here we are!” She gave an exaggerated bow, gesturing to two doors. “Emi, we’ve got you on the right, Matt, you’re over here on the left. Why don’t you guys check out your rooms for a little bit, and then we can finish our tour?”
Emi ran into her room as soon as Serena gave her the key.
Matt was surprised by how large his space was. It was bigger than his dorm, that was for sure. His bags sitting in the middle were small in comparison. He walked forward and flopped on the bed, staring up at the ceiling.
This is… my room, huh? He’d gone through a lot, these last few hours. He was in a new place, meeting new people. And now he was a Guardian.
He sat up and took a look around. The large room looked so empty. He needed to get some bookshelves, maybe a TV, a throw rug…
Matt’s phone rang, shaking him out of his thoughts. It was Cynthia.
“Hey Matti!” She chirped. “What’s up? You there yet?”
“Hey girl.” Matt felt the smile already creeping up his face. “Yeah, I just got here.”
Cynthia squealed. “How are they?! You’ve got to tell me everything! Are they as awesome in person?”
“Cynthia, if you’re such a fan, you should’ve joined,” Matt laughed. “Anyway, I’m in my room right now, can you believe that? I’ve got my own private room. I can decorate it however I want.”
“Dude! That’s so cool! I can’t wait to see! It’s cool if I visit, right?”
“I’ll check, but it should be fine. Anything else you want to know?”
“Just that I love you, silly,” she cooed. Matt blushed.
“H-Hey, hey, that’s… thanks,” he mumbled. “I love you, too.”
He hung up, and got out of bed, stretching. He walked over to the screen door. The balcony overlooked the ocean, and Matt was amazed at how far he could see. The blue of the ocean stretched out in all directions no matter which way he look-
“Aaaaaah! Fresh air at last!”
Emi stood on her balcony with her arms stretched over her head, her smile bigger than any Matt had seen from her.
White wings like a bird spread out behind her.
Matt gasped. “E-Emi? You’re a Venti?”
Emi whirled towards him, tucking in her wings. Her face turned bright red with horror.