Chapter 3:

Chapter 3: The Third Member

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1

Matt had to process what he saw. Emi, on her balcony, with wings as white as snow.Bookmark here

“You’re a-“ …Venti. She was a Venti. One of the sky children, a race of winged humanoids that lived in the mountains.Bookmark here

Emi leapt across the balconies and pressed her hands over Matt’s mouth.Bookmark here

“Emi? Are you okay?” Serena called from the hall. “I heard you scream!”Bookmark here

“I’m fine!” She shouted back. “Just a bug! I’ll be out in second!”Bookmark here

She turned back to Matt, her eyes wide with terror. “You can’t tell anybody! Please! They can’t know I’m a… you know. Okay?”Bookmark here

Matt nodded. The last time Emi got embarrassed she’d flung herself off a cliff. He didn’t want to know what she’d do if this got out.Bookmark here

Emi let out a sigh of relief and stood up, flapping her wings and returning to her room. She glanced back at him and vanished from sight.Bookmark here

Matt was shaken. He walked out into the hall and joined the girls. Emi had her cloak on again, her wings were hidden from sight. Bookmark here

As Serena led them down the hall, he heard Emi whisper, “tonight,” in a quiet promise.Bookmark here

The last stop on the tour was a room on the third floor that Serena called “The Playroom”.Bookmark here

“Why’s it called that?” Matt asked.Bookmark here

“Because it’s where we can play, duh,” Serena laughed. The room was large, even bigger than the common room was. Weapons hung from the walls, and Matt wondered what kind of “play” she was talking about.Bookmark here

Serena kicked off her shoes and led them inside. The floor was soft woven fiber, and felt strange beneath Matt’s socks.Bookmark here

“Here we can practice,” she explained, lifting a wood staff off the wall. “Some jobs are dangerous. It’s not all picking up litter and helping old ladies cross the street. If you fight Emergents, you’re going to want to be ready.”Bookmark here

Emi began to shake. “D-Do I… do I have to?”Bookmark here

Serena walked over and placed a comforting hand on Emi’s shoulder. “You don’t have to do any job you don’t want to, okay?”Bookmark here

Emi felt a little better about that.Bookmark here

Serena turned to Matt next. “And you?”Bookmark here

“I’m prepared to fight Emergents,” was his answer. He’d never seen one of the beasts before, but if his brother could do it, so could he.Bookmark here

“Then do you mind if I test your Naturia a bit?” Serena stepped back and swept the staff to her side, tapping it against the mat. She nodded at the wall.Bookmark here

Matt glanced at the selection of weapons, but didn’t take any. He approached her cautiously. She may have looked like a supermodel, but her stance didn’t expose any weak points. She was a seasoned fighter.Bookmark here

But Matt knew a thing or two! The academy’s combat training was unparalleled. He lunged forward, fist raised.Bookmark here

Serena stepped to the side and her staff struck him in the leg, tripping him up. Matt fell flat on his back.Bookmark here

“M-Matt!” Emi gasped.Bookmark here

“Come on, they taught you better than that!” Serena laughed.Bookmark here

“Th-This isn’t fair,” Emi protested. “He doesn’t have a weapon…”Bookmark here

“Don’t need one,” he muttered, sitting up. “She caught me off-guard, that’s all.” He stood and took a fighting stance.Bookmark here

“I like boys with guts,” Serena smirked, twirling her staff. “Tell you what, if you manage to make contact, I’ll give you a kiss.” She winked.Bookmark here

“Bueeh?!” Emi sputtered.Bookmark here

Matt was so blown away by the offer he didn’t know how to react. She caught him upside the head next.Bookmark here

“Oww!” He hit the floor again, rubbing his jaw. “That was a dirty trick.”Bookmark here

“Stay focused,” Serena teased. “Don’t get… tempted.”Bookmark here

“I was surprised, not interested,” Matt grumbled. “I have a girlfriend.”Bookmark here

“Well I’m glad I didn’t break your jaw then. Wouldn’t want to ruin your kissy time.”Bookmark here

Matt’s face was hot. He scrambled to his feet. It was obvious she was trying to bait him, so he kept his temper.Bookmark here

“This is a Naturia test, Mathew. Don’t just punch.”Bookmark here

Matt lunged forward again, fist raised. She tried to trip him again, but he dodged, stepping back to get out of range of her staff. She came to him, bringing her staff up into his stomach.Bookmark here

He didn’t feel a thing. He grabbed the staff and stepped in, startling her. He pushed her shoulder and brought her down to the mat.Bookmark here

“…Not bad,” Serena admitted.Bookmark here

Matt had her pinned, but he wasn’t pleased. He got off of her. “You overstepped, so I could knock you off your balance. You let me push you over.”Bookmark here

Serena sat up, smiling sheepishly. “Sorry, it’s the big sister in me. Seeing a little boy trying his hardest just makes me want to spoil him.”Bookmark here

“Isn’t he a little old for you?”Bookmark here

Willow was standing at the door, not amused.Bookmark here

“Hey Will! Welcome to the party!”Bookmark here

Willow crouched down next to Matt and held her hands up. They were glowing green. He scooted away from her.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry,” she smiled. “I’m going to take care of you.” She reached up and cradled his cheek. The pain in his jaw began to disappear. Emi gasped as the redness disappeared.Bookmark here

“That’s… huh?” Her curiosity got the better of her and she approached.Bookmark here

“My Naturia is Nature’s Gift. I can stimulate cell growth. Bruises are a simple matter. Your ribs, though… oh?”Bookmark here

Willow pulled her hands back, confused.Bookmark here

My Naturia,” Matt lifted his shirt to reveal the patch of dark skin underneath, “is Combat Gear. I can turn my skin into a shield. That last hit didn’t even hurt.”Bookmark here

“Whoa, that’s cool…” Emi was awed. She wasn’t Gifted, but she thought their abilities were cool. Bookmark here

Serena hopped up and brushed off her dress. “Not bad, Matt. Gotta say, you really caught me off-guard with that one.”Bookmark here

“Serena, it was reckless to have a practice match with him without knowing what his Naturia was. What if he flung a fireball in your face or something?”Bookmark here

Serena shrugged. “I’d deal.”Bookmark here

Willow’s eye twitched.Bookmark here

“You’re fine,” she said, clapping Matt on the shoulder. “I’m gonna go get something to eat.”Bookmark here

Serena helped him to his feet and hung up her staff. “You two can use this room however you want to practice for jobs.” She clapped her hands. “And that’s the tour! Don’t be afraid to tip your guide in compliments.”Bookmark here

Emi giggled.Bookmark here

“Lunch should be in a few hours. In the meantime, make yourself at home!” She headed out, leaving Matt and Emi alone.Bookmark here

Matt walked over, feeling a little awkward without Serena around to ease the mood. “Hey, Emi…”Bookmark here

Emi glanced warily up at him, keeping her distance.Bookmark here

“About that… Venti thing…”Bookmark here

“N-No!” Emi waved her hands frantically. “T-Tonight! I’ll come to your room! J-Just… I’m not ready yet, I’ll die!”Bookmark here

She turned and ran out of the room. She was gone for a few seconds before she peaked back inside.Bookmark here

“Um… Matt… I-I wanted to practice my magic, so…” She was too sweet of a girl to ask him to leave, but he got it. He smiled and left, heading to go put his room together. He had a lot of unpacking to do.Bookmark here

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Matt was too anxious to eat lunch.Bookmark here

“We try to have our meals together.” Sarah was sitting at the head of the table. Ryan was the only one absent; apparently, he was going to pick up the third newcomer.Bookmark here

Sarah took a bite of her sandwich. “Delicious as always, Serena.”Bookmark here

“I went all out for our new friends. You should see what dinner is like,” she proudly replied.Bookmark here

“So our third member is another girl?” Willow changed the subject.Bookmark here

“That’s right,” Sarah said, taking another bite. “Chloe Rosenthal.”Bookmark here

“Too bad,” Serena sighed. “I was hoping for another cute guy.”Bookmark here

“Keep it under your skirt,” Willow scoffed, rolling her eyes. Serena flashed her a teasing smile in return.Bookmark here

“She’s a mage too, right?” Serena asked. “Not a Gifted like us?”Bookmark here

Sarah shrugged. “You guys, Nick, Kayla, Ryan, we’re full of Gifteds. I thought ‘hey, maybe we could bring a mage or two in!’”Bookmark here

Emi sunk down in her seat a little.Bookmark here

“Well, if she’s as cute as Emi is, I’m all for it!” Serena said, patting the brunette on the back.Bookmark here

Emi was still too nervous to speak up in front of so many strangers, but inside she was hoping that this Chloe would be nice.Bookmark here

Matt had his own question. “Is… no, never mind.” It wasn’t worth it.Bookmark here

“Huh? No, go ahead!” Sarah urged him. “Don’t be shy!”Bookmark here

“I’m not shy!”Bookmark here

“Good. Because when you two set foot in Strayhaven you became as much a Guardian as any of us. You’re not newbies. You’re Guardians.”Bookmark here

Sarah had a gentle way of talking that made Matt feel relaxed. He could see how she’d gotten her position.Bookmark here

“Is that… why you guys made the decision to accept three people?” He asked. “I… I’d always heard that you guys were really selective about… who you let in.”Bookmark here

He didn’t know who he was asking the question for. Emi? Himself? He suspected she’d only let him in because of his brother, and-Bookmark here

“Nope!” Sarah chirped. “I only commission people who I know are the perfect fit!”Bookmark here

Emi shared in Matt’s confusion.Bookmark here

Sarah’s grin lit up the whole room. “You guys are my family. I only let people into my family when I know that they’re right. It’s as simple as that.”Bookmark here

Matt’s doubts were washed away. That look in her eye told him he wasn’t here because his brother was Kanone Hearthome. Sarah wanted him. She saw something in him, whatever it was.Bookmark here

He wanted to live up to that.Bookmark here

Matt bit into his sandwich. It tasted delicious.Bookmark here

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It was just past dinner by the time Ryan strolled into the common room with a big grin on his face. Matt and Serena were watching a movie and Emi was curled up in a big chair reading.Bookmark here

“Hey guys, you miss me?” He called. “I’ve got someone for you to meet!”Bookmark here

“You’re back! What took you so long?” Serena asked.Bookmark here

“Well, let’s just say that our newest member is a little… unusual,” Ryan said. He beckoned her inside.Bookmark here

Matt took a good look at Chloe as she entered the room. Her long brown braid was neat, but the rest of her was a mess. Her face had the sloppy expression of someone who’d been woken up one time too many, and her clothes were all rumpled. Her bleary gold eyes stared off into space. Bookmark here

“…Hi…” He waved at her.Bookmark here

She didn’t even notice. She yawned, walking far enough into the room to get to a couch. She flopped down and promptly went to sleep.Bookmark here

“She’s… interesting,” Serena laughed.Bookmark here

“She was like this the whole trip here, I found her sleeping at the bus stop,” Ryan said. “I practically had to carry her up the stairs. I don’t think meeting Sarah’s in the cards tonight.”Bookmark here

“Well, I’ll go get a blanket.” Serena got off the couch and headed for storage. “I made pasta tonight, Ryan, you must be starved,” she called over her shoulder.Bookmark here

“Mmm, for your cooking? Absolutely!” Ryan said, patting his stomach and heading for the dining room. That left Matt and Emi alone with the snoring Chloe.Bookmark here

“So… wanna talk?” Emi asked, her face sunken with resignation.Bookmark here

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