Chapter 5:

Chapter 5: Willow's Garden

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1


Matt woke up in an unfamiliar bed.Bookmark here

That’s right… yesterday I joined the Guardians…Bookmark here

He took a deep breath and prepared himself, got changed, and headed downstairs.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“You must be Matt!” He waved. “I’m Nick. Nice to meet you!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Where’s Chloe?” Sarah asked. “I thought you said she arrived?”Bookmark here

“I took her to her room last night,” Serena answered. “You don’t think she’s still asleep, do you?”Bookmark here

Ryan snickered and Sarah gave an exasperated sigh. “Oh, well, I’ll go see her later.”Bookmark here

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?”Bookmark here

“…Nice to meet you, too, young lady,” Nick grinned. “And you are?”Bookmark here

“Oh! S-Sorry!” She gasped. “I-I didn’t mean to be so rude, it just… slipped out.”Bookmark here

He laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m just kidding. You’re Emi, right?”Bookmark here

She nodded.Bookmark here

“Well, Emi, this right here?” He pointed at his eye, “is a souvenir from my last job.”Bookmark here

Emi went pale. “An-An Emergent did that?!”Bookmark here

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!”Bookmark here

The table jostled. He glanced at Willow, and she gave him an icy glare.Bookmark here

Emi was on the verge of a panic attack herself. She quickly downed a glass of water.Bookmark here

“Nick’s just joking.” Serena gave her a comforting pat on the back. Emi shied away from her.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“Wait, Emi, before you go, I want to ask you something.” Sarah caught her before she could leave. “Matt, you too.”Bookmark here

Matt looked up from his plate.Bookmark here

“I thought it would be good for you two to try your first job today,” she explained. “Chloe, too.”Bookmark here

Emi squeaked. “A-Already?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

That made Emi feel a little better.Bookmark here

Willow put down her fork and rose from her seat. She caught up with Emi as they left the room.Bookmark here

“Emi, can we talk?”Bookmark here

Emi looked warily back at her. “Wh-What?”Bookmark here

Willow smiled warmly. “Are you settling in okay?”Bookmark here

“I-I guess…” She didn’t feel very settled. She was too afraid that her secret would come out to relax.Bookmark here

Willow could tell. “Would you like to see my garden?”Bookmark here

Emi was surprised by the offer. “Garden?”Bookmark here

“It’s very relaxing. And with how skittish you are, I think you could use it,” she said. Bookmark here

Emi was nervous, but… a relaxing garden might settle her nerves. She nodded.Bookmark here

Willow led her to her room. Emi was surprised by what she saw. Her own room was so sparse, but Willow’s…Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“It’s like a jungle!” Emi gasped in disbelief.Bookmark here

Willow snorted. “This little thing? This is nothing, the real show’s over there.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Willow sauntered to the door, throwing a look over her shoulder. “Come on.”Bookmark here

Emi followed her in, and was at a loss for words.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“What is this…?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“I can handle the gardening by myself, but an extra set of hands is always welcome. Do you want to join me sometime?”Bookmark here

Emi nodded. She’d like to spend more time here. Bookmark 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.Bookmark here

The morning sun hit Emi in the face and she squinted. They were outside now, standing on a deck. Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

She released the breath she’d been holding.Bookmark here

“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-“Bookmark here

“It’s lovely,” Emi murmured. The greenhouse was gorgeous, but this place… “Can I really…?”Bookmark here

“Public access,” Willow nodded to the door. “Come and go whenever you like.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

Perfect.Bookmark here

Willow smiled. Her work was done.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

“Matt!” Willow called to him. “You’re still here? I thought you’d be going on your first job.”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“That’s Willow!” A whisper broke the silence.Bookmark here

“Are those the new members?” Someone asked.Bookmark here

“Is that one girl walking in her sleep?”Bookmark here

“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. Bookmark here

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. Bookmark here

A loud banging sound echoed across the room.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

The citizens of Goldia opened a path.Bookmark here

“Sorry guys, maybe next time,” Willow apologized. People went back to their business, and she led the flustered trio over to Lori.Bookmark here

“Is it… always like this?” Emi asked, feeling a little shaky about having to come here every time she did a job.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Emi felt like she was going to vomit.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Emi doubted it.Bookmark here

Lori cleared his throat. “Did you bring them here for a sightseeing tour, or are you going to be taking a job?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Lori nodded, and waved to a large billboard across the room. “Well, job requests are right where they’ve always been.”Bookmark here

“I don’t think they’re ready to pick their own jobs off the board yet. Don’t you have anything for them?”Bookmark here

A sigh escaped Lori’s lips and he placed three posters on the counter. “These three I set aside for them. Take your pick.”Bookmark here

Matt looked at the job requests.Bookmark here

PARK BEAUTIFICATION! MAKE GOLDIA CENTRAL PARK LOVELY!Bookmark here

HELP REQUESTED! 2-4 PEOPLE NEEDED FOR CITY WATCH!Bookmark here

LIBRARIAN’S ASSISTANT! INQUIRE!Bookmark here

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?”Bookmark here

“It could be, yeah,” Willow admitted. “And it would be a two-week assignment. Lori, what’s this one doing in here?”Bookmark here

“I think they could do it,” Lori said. It was as simple as that.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Let’s pick something they can do in a day. So, the park or the library…” Willow flipped between the two papers. “Any thoughts?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“…Okay,” he said, trying not to seem too reluctant. He tried to smile.Bookmark here

“The library it is then!” Willow turned back to Lori. “We’ll take this one!”Bookmark here

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