Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Emi was like a frightened animal when Matt brought her into his room. Her eyes were hopping all over like she was looking for an escape route.
“Hey, if you don’t want to do this, you can go.” Matt didn’t want to make her any more uncomfortable than she already was.
“No! …No, it’s okay,” Emi gasped. “I-I… it’s just… I’ve never been alone with a boy in his room before…”
Her face was scarlet, but she didn’t look embarrassed, she looked terrified. She held her staff like a weapon, clutching it so tightly her knuckles were white.
“I won’t do anything, promise!” Matt said, giving her all the space she needed.
“I’m sorry, this is like the bus stop all over again,” Emi mumbled sheepishly. “It’s just… I’m a Venti. Boys… think things.”
People said things, too. Venti had a reputation.
“Is that why you don’t want anyone to know?” Matt asked. Emi nodded.
“Have you met a Venti before?” Emi asked.
“No, you’re the first.”
“But… you’ve heard the stories, right? About how Venti d-d-do things with men, how they’re… sl-sl…” Her voice faded. She was too embarrassed to even say it.
He could only admit yes.
“What, um… what have you heard?” Emi’s eyes were watering. She didn’t look eager to hear, but she didn’t want to say it herself.
“That Venti will have sex with anybody. They’re always on the prowl. That they eagerly seek out new partners, sometimes in multiples. That their voices are so stimulating they can enthrall any man. That a Venti is judged by how many men she’s been with.”
Emi got smaller and smaller with each word, and by the time he was done she was a trembling ball on the floor.
“H-Hey, look, that’s all just talk, I don’t think that way!” Matt quickly clarified.
“Please stop, I’m gonna die…” Emi’s voice was muffled. She raised her head, red and teary.
“Look, Emi, I know that Venti aren’t like that.” Matt was trying to be reassuring. It didn’t help that those stereotypes were partly based in fact.
“I know… a lot of Venti are… you know,” Emi whimpered. “But it’s not like that! Venti are just… just!”
She began hyperventilating. Her eyes shot to the balcony and for a second Matt was expecting a repeat of the railing that morning.
But she gathered herself, blowing her nose into the tissue he offered.
Then she got angry.
Emi’s tiny little face scrunched up in rage was one of the cutest things Matt had seen. She hopped up and began pacing.
“Look!” She shouted, pointing at him. “Venti aren’t sluts, okay?! We’re just… we…” Her finger began to shake, and the embarrassment returned.
Matt sighed, and waved to his bed. “Emi, why don’t-“
“I knew it! I knew it! You just brought me in here in order to-“
“No! I just thought you might want to sit down!” Matt said, giving her a wide berth.
Emi wailed and jumped into the bed, shamefully burying her face in the pillows. She screamed and began whacking herself in the head.
Mat didn’t believe in stereotypes, but Emi was certainly living up to the “Venti are emotional basket-cases” one.
“…Sorry,” she mumbled, raising her head. “I… I…”
“Take your time.” Matt sat down. The hard floor was a nice reminder to buy furniture.
“People say that Venti are all girls, but they aren’t. “Emi finally found a way to explain without getting embarrassed. “It’s just that there’s only one boy in every eight children. So they have to… fight for partners. That’s where their… our voices… come from.”
She buried her face in her hands.
A female Venti’s Song was seductive, capable of stirring arousal and enthralling men. Matt thought mentioning that would only make things worse.
“Venti can reproduce with other races, so… they seek mates.” Emi couldn’t look him in the eye. “B-But, they… they’re not all like that! I’m not!”
The desperation in her eyes was shocking. Matt had no reason to think she was anything like that, but the way she was staring at him…
She clearly assumed he saw her that way.
“I went to school, to learn magic. And the boys there… when they saw me, they only thought one thing. And the girls, they were even worse, calling me names, saying I was a…”
Her eyes were muddy and her face was covered in shadow. Like a sad puppy, Matt wanted to give her a hug. But he knew to keep his distance.
“Emi, I don’t see that when I look at you.” He could only tell her the truth and hope she believed it. “And I don’t think they’ll see that, either.”
For a second, he saw a spark of hope in her eyes. Then she turned them away.
That was a surprise.
“She came to my school, looking for mages to commission. I was hiding my wings then, but she still pointed me out immediately somehow. Said it wouldn’t matter. That’s why I came here, but…” She sighed and slumped back on the bed. “I’m scared.”
“I wish I could help.” Matt had no clue what to say. “But if you need to talk, well, we newbies have to stick together, right?” He cracked a smile. “And I think I’m at least a better conversationalist than Chloe, right?”
Emi giggled, wiping her tears. “…Yeah… thanks, Matt. I’m glad you’re different from the others.” She smiled, a big beaming one aimed right at him. Her voice was as soft as silk and her sparkling eyes were like pools of crystal, inviting him closer, drawing him in…
Matt’s heart skipped a beat, and he felt his face heating up. A familiar feeling was welling up inside of him, and it made him sick.
“Uh… w-well, um, it-it’s getting late!” Matt scrambled to his feet and rushed to the door. Damn. “B-But it’s our first day tomorrow, so we should really get some rest!”
“Oh…” Emi was a little disappointed. She’d wanted to keep talking for a little longer.
“P-Please, we can talk again in the morning.” Matt was too ashamed to show his face, afraid she’d think he was like the others. Even as he was escorting her out the door, part of him wanted her to stay. He just wanted to be near her! But he knew it was better for both of them if they kept their distance.
Emi gave him a shy good night and slipped into her room, and Matt finally felt like he could breathe again. He slumped against the door and tried to calm his heart, picturing Cynthia’s smile. Luckily, Emi’s allure was quick to fade in her absence.
Matt really hoped he hadn’t made her uncomfortable. He couldn’t help it, damn it, and he knew she couldn’t either.
He needed a shower to clear his mind, and then he was going to call Cynthia.
While Matt was occupied and turned in for the night, downstairs the other Guardians were just getting started for the night. Ryan and Serena were shooting pool in the common room while Chloe snored away.
“So what do you think of those two?” Ryan asked, lining up his shot. “Emi and Matt.”
“Oh, I love ‘em to bits!” Serena twirled her cue while she waited. “Emi’s a little shy, but she’s just precious! And Matt, well…”
“He’s 18, Serena,” Ryan warned her.
“And I’m only 20. Besides, he has a girlfriend,” Serena said, winking. “Don’t worry. I’m not interested.”
“Good, that would be awkward.”
“What? Don’t like the idea of being in the same guild as a flirting couple?” She teased.
“Please, you’re flirty enough for three people. I was asking a serious question!”
“You? Being serious? Did you bump your head one time too many up those cliffs?”
“Ha ha. Very funny. Seriously, what do you think about them?”
“Matt’s Naturia has its uses,” Serena admitted. “Being able to protect himself from attacks would definitely come in handy against the Emergents.” She sent a smirk his way before shooting down a ball. “More handy than some people’s Naturias anyway.”
Ryan stuck his tongue out.
“Matt’s eager, but Emi doesn’t want to fight Emergents,” she confided. “I haven’t seen her magic yet, but I’m curious what kinds of jobs she’ll be taking.”
“She definitely needs a confidence boost,” Ryan agreed. “She reminded me of a sad puppy. She needs a big sister to help her out, you think?”
Serena batted her eyelashes and leaned over the table to emphasize her cleavage. “Got anyone… in mind?” She purred.
“Not gonna work, Serena, I’m sinking that 8 ball.” Ryan made the shot flawlessly.
“Son of a-!” Serena spat, nearly breaking the cue in half.
“Hah!” Ryan picked the bills up and waved them in her face to taunt her. Serena glared back.
“You were a lot more fun when you were the kid fresh off the boat.”
“Had time to get used to your feminine wiles,” Ryan smirked, raising his eyebrows.
Before Serena could fire back, the door opened. A man wearing a long black duster and a cocky grin walked in with a swagger like he owned the place. His hair was tousled like crows’ feathers and his brown eyes were deep and warm.
“Nick!” Serena’s lost money was forgotten, and she skipped across the room to pull her friend into a big hug.
“Hey, Serena, how’s my favorite girl?”
She kissed him on the cheek and pulled away.
“Tending her garden,” she teased. “Still not talking to you.”
Nick made a pained face, holding his hand over his heart. “You wound me.”
“Better than what she’ll do.”
“I have my gun, I’ll be fine.”
“Want a last meal?” Serena asked, walking towards the kitchen. “I can still whip something up.”
“Nah, caught a bite in town. So who’s the new girl?” Nick had already turned his attention to someone else.
“Chloe Rosenthal,” Ryan replied. “But you can call her ‘Off Limits’.”
Nick laughed. “I’m smart enough not to date in the workplace, don’t worry.” He adjusted the blanket on her and straightened up. “Now, I believe I have a date with the flower girl.” He winked at them. “Don’t wait up.”
“Oh, yeah, he’s smart alright,” Serena said, rolling her eyes.
“Hope you survive it!” Ryan called after him.