Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Matt woke up in an unfamiliar bed.
That’s right… yesterday I joined the Guardians…
He took a deep breath and prepared himself, got changed, and headed downstairs.
There was a new face at the breakfast table. The black-haired man wore a smirk and a dark bruise circled his eye. Willow sat across from him, calmly eating without a word.
“You must be Matt!” He waved. “I’m Nick. Nice to meet you!”
Not long after Matt took a seat, Emi came down, her cloak still covering her wings. The others came soon, and greetings went around the table. Matt kept his head down. He still wasn’t comfortable around everyone.
“Where’s Chloe?” Sarah asked. “I thought you said she arrived?”
“I took her to her room last night,” Serena answered. “You don’t think she’s still asleep, do you?”
Ryan snickered and Sarah gave an exasperated sigh. “Oh, well, I’ll go see her later.”
The small talk continued, but Emi had finally had enough. She had been staring at Nick all morning, and she just had to know. “What… um, what happened to your eye?”
“…Nice to meet you, too, young lady,” Nick grinned. “And you are?”
“Oh! S-Sorry!” She gasped. “I-I didn’t mean to be so rude, it just… slipped out.”
He laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m just kidding. You’re Emi, right?”
“Well, Emi, this right here?” He pointed at his eye, “is a souvenir from my last job.”
Emi went pale. “An-An Emergent did that?!”
He shook his head. “Worse. An evil flower witch.” A wicked grin spread across his face. “Ten feet tall, with ugly, wrinkled skin… long fingers and sharp, hungry little teeth, filled with- ow!”
The table jostled. He glanced at Willow, and she gave him an icy glare.
Emi was on the verge of a panic attack herself. She quickly downed a glass of water.
“Nick’s just joking.” Serena gave her a comforting pat on the back. Emi shied away from her.
“Th-That’s fine, I-I’m done,” Emi said, forcing a shaky smile. Matt caught the fear in her eyes. They both wondered if Serena felt her wings.
“Wait, Emi, before you go, I want to ask you something.” Sarah caught her before she could leave. “Matt, you too.”
Matt looked up from his plate.
“I thought it would be good for you two to try your first job today,” she explained. “Chloe, too.”
Emi squeaked. “A-Already?”
“Of course!” Sarah walked over to Emi with a comforting smile, patting her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to do it by yourself. Anyone here would be happy to lend you guys a hand.”
That made Emi feel a little better.
Willow put down her fork and rose from her seat. She caught up with Emi as they left the room.
“Emi, can we talk?”
Emi looked warily back at her. “Wh-What?”
Willow smiled warmly. “Are you settling in okay?”
“I-I guess…” She didn’t feel very settled. She was too afraid that her secret would come out to relax.
Willow could tell. “Would you like to see my garden?”
Emi was surprised by the offer. “Garden?”
“It’s very relaxing. And with how skittish you are, I think you could use it,” she said.
Emi was nervous, but… a relaxing garden might settle her nerves. She nodded.
Willow led her to her room. Emi was surprised by what she saw. Her own room was so sparse, but Willow’s…
Willow room was filled with plants. There were pots of flowers littering her desk, ferns hanging down from her shelves, and even a cactus in the corner.
“It’s like a jungle!” Emi gasped in disbelief.
Willow snorted. “This little thing? This is nothing, the real show’s over there.”
Emi followed her finger and gasped again. She’d been so focused on the plants, she’d missed that the entire back wall was made of glass.
Willow sauntered to the door, throwing a look over her shoulder. “Come on.”
Emi followed her in, and was at a loss for words.
It was a palace of glass, with high walls and elegant carving, like a sculpture. There was green as far as the eye could see. The massive room was filled with more types of plants than Emi knew existed. There were bushes covered in berries and trees teaming with fruit, and a rainbow of flowers scattered in pots. It was a magical place.
“What is this…?”
“This is my greenhouse. I grow… well, anything and everything,” Willow breathed. “Don’t mind the heat and humidity, I need to set things for ideal growing conditions.”
Emi wiped the sweat off her brow. It was hot alright, a lot hotter than she was used to. Nothing like back home. But it was beautiful, too.
“I can handle the gardening by myself, but an extra set of hands is always welcome. Do you want to join me sometime?”
Emi nodded. She’d like to spend more time here.
“Now, there’s one last part of my garden I’d like to show you.” Willow led her to the other end of the greenhouse and out the door.
The morning sun hit Emi in the face and she squinted. They were outside now, standing on a deck.
Before Emi’s eyes was a sea of white. It took her a second to realize it was a pool of gravel. A stone bridge stretched across it, winding this way and that towards a flat gray slab in the center. Large trees framed the strange garden, and the rush of a distant creek brought the sounds of nature to Emi’s ears.
She released the breath she’d been holding.
“It’s a stone garden. For meditation and focus,” Willow explained. She stepped onto the rock bridge and beckoned to Emi. “I don’t know much about magic, but I thought… if you needed somewhere to focus, maybe-“
“It’s lovely,” Emi murmured. The greenhouse was gorgeous, but this place… “Can I really…?”
“Public access,” Willow nodded to the door. “Come and go whenever you like.”
Emi fought the impulse to spread her wings and fly to that slab with everything she had. She joined Willow on bridge instead, admiring the décor of moss and stone.
She sat down in the center of that giant slab and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. She could feel the mana in the air blowing across her, and she shaped it into a soothing breeze.
Willow smiled. Her work was done.
Matt was taken aback by the big smile Emi wore when the two girls entered the common room. Whatever they’d been up to the past few hours, Emi was the happiest he’d seen her.
“Matt!” Willow called to him. “You’re still here? I thought you’d be going on your first job.”
“Sarah thought it would be better if we all went together. All… three of us.” He nodded to Chloe, who had returned to sleep on the couch.
“Oh, well, in that case, want to come with?” Willow suggested. “I was going to take Emi here on her first job, and the more the better.”
Matt shook Chloe awake. He still hadn’t had a decent conversation with her. Chloe looked back at him with bleary eyes and mumbled something, swaying to her feet.
Willow led them out the wide double doors of Strayhaven’s front entrance, and they headed down the walk towards another building, at the front of the long bridge.
“Strayhaven is where we live,” she explained. “But that’s the main entrance hall. It’s open to the public, where they can come and post their requests.”
It was a lot more modest compared to the opulent Strayhaven. Matt was surprised how busy it was. People were mainly filling out paperwork. When they entered the lobby, all heads turned their way.
“That’s Willow!” A whisper broke the silence.
“Are those the new members?” Someone asked.
“Is that one girl walking in her sleep?”
“Hey everyone!” Willow greeted them with a wave, and that broke the tension. Everyone rushed over to them, and the silent hall was filled with the sound of countless questions.
Emi in particular was getting overwhelmed, her earlier relaxation seeming like a distant memory. She curled up and hid behind Chloe, trying to ignore the crowd.
A loud banging sound echoed across the room.
“That’s enough of that!” A gruff voice snarled. Matt turned to see Lori, who had been sitting at the counter. His scowl was especially cold. “They have jobs to do.”
The citizens of Goldia opened a path.
“Sorry guys, maybe next time,” Willow apologized. People went back to their business, and she led the flustered trio over to Lori.
“Is it… always like this?” Emi asked, feeling a little shaky about having to come here every time she did a job.
“A little bit, yeah.” Willow felt sorry for the anxious girl, but she wasn’t going to shield her from the truth. “It’s something you’ll have to get used to. You’re a Guardian now, Emi, that means you’re famous.”
Emi felt like she was going to vomit.
“Don’t worry, I’ve been a Guardian for years, and I promise, it gets easier,” Willow assured her. “You might even find you enjoy the celebrity.”
Emi doubted it.
Lori cleared his throat. “Did you bring them here for a sightseeing tour, or are you going to be taking a job?”
“Sorry,” Willow apologized. “Yeah, we’re looking for a job that all of us can do together. Something easy, to get them used to things.”
Lori nodded, and waved to a large billboard across the room. “Well, job requests are right where they’ve always been.”
“I don’t think they’re ready to pick their own jobs off the board yet. Don’t you have anything for them?”
A sigh escaped Lori’s lips and he placed three posters on the counter. “These three I set aside for them. Take your pick.”
Matt looked at the job requests.
PARK BEAUTIFICATION! MAKE GOLDIA CENTRAL PARK LOVELY!
HELP REQUESTED! 2-4 PEOPLE NEEDED FOR CITY WATCH!
LIBRARIAN’S ASSISTANT! INQUIRE!
None of them were things he was particularly interested in. He’d joined the Guardians to fight Emergents. He wanted his first job to be something noteworthy, not… picking up trash in a park or helping out at a library. At least the city watch had a chance of an Emergent showing up. He was about to suggest it when Emi asked “the city watch job, is that… dangerous?”
“It could be, yeah,” Willow admitted. “And it would be a two-week assignment. Lori, what’s this one doing in here?”
“I think they could do it,” Lori said. It was as simple as that.
Emi frantically shook her head. Well, so much for that. Matt was glad he was only working this one job with her, he doubted he’d be able to do the kind of jobs he wanted to if she was afraid of getting hurt.
“Let’s pick something they can do in a day. So, the park or the library…” Willow flipped between the two papers. “Any thoughts?”
Matt shrugged. He wasn’t thrilled with either one. He glanced at Chloe, but she seemed to be having trouble just staying upright. No input there, either.
“I… I’d like to see the library…?” Emi suggested. “What do you guys think?” She’d asked them both, but it felt like her hopeful eyes were staring solely at Matt. She was looking for an ally, and Matt couldn’t bring himself to say no.
“…Okay,” he said, trying not to seem too reluctant. He tried to smile.
“The library it is then!” Willow turned back to Lori. “We’ll take this one!”