Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Matt was relieved by the time their job came to an end. He was happy he didn’t have to babysit Ceci, but it wasn’t like normal library work was very interesting.
“Thank you for your hard work.” Russel was all smiles as they parted, lavishing praises on all of them, but Willow most of all. “Hopefully those hooligans won’t return any time soon.”
“Happy to help!” Willow smiled. “And next time, feel free to add ‘driving off punk teenagers’ to the job description!”
“I’ll do that,” Russel laughed. Ceci tugged on his sleeve. “Oh, Ceci, did you want to say something?”
“Thank you for driving off the bullies, Miss Willow,” Ceci said, giving an adoring smile to Willow. She turned to Matt next, her expression turning shy. “And… thanks for playing with me. And the ice cream.”
“Aww, of course sweetie, any time,” Willow smiled, patting the girl on the head.
“…Yeah, sure,” Matt said. He was a little surprised how attached the girl was to the two of them.
Ceci lunged forward and hugged Matt tightly, burying her face in his stomach.
“You have to come back, okay?! Daddy said you’d come and play with me again!” Ceci’s watery eyes were insistent. Matt was positive if he refused she’d start bawling right then and there.
“S-Sure, maybe,” he finally agreed. He couldn’t resist those eyes of hers.
“Yay!” Ceci squeezed him even tighter. She finally freed him when her father said it was time for them to go.
“Matt, you have to come back in… four days! No, three!” Ceci shouted after him. Matt sighed.
Willow wasn’t about to let that go. “Well, better hope that girlfriend of yours doesn’t find out you’re cheating on her,” she teased him.
“Oh, come on,” Matt groaned.
“She was… a Venti,” Emi mumbled under her breath. Ever since meeting Ceci, it was like she was off in another world.
“Emi, you okay?” Willow picked up on Emi’s strange state and pulled her aside.
“Y-Yeah, I’m just… I was surprised,” Emi admitted. “A Venti child living with a human…”
“Well, it’s certainly an unconventional family,” Willow agreed. “But it’s not like Venti and humans living together is a problem, right?”
Emi felt a little lighter hearing her say that. She smiled.
“Now then! You three have officially completed your first job!” Willow grinned. She held up a shiny card. “Normally, when you complete a job, the reward is scanned to your card.”
“Wait, but I didn’t get a card,” Matt protested.
“Yeah, we’ll handle that tomorrow,” Willow explained. “Now that you can start taking jobs on your own. But since this was your first one, as per Guardian tradition, our funds are going to be used to pay for a feast!”
Emi’s eyes widened and she began to drool. Matt was pretty hungry himself.
“I know a great restaurant. You guys’ll love the food, promise!” Willow led them down the street while Emi and Matt looked at the different places to eat, and Chloe did her best to stay awake.
A scream snapped the four of them to attention.
Willow was the first to respond. She jerked her head around and ran in the direction of the screams. Matt glanced at Emi for a second, unsure of what to do. But he summoned his courage and ran after Willow. Emi gulped and followed him, leaving Chloe standing alone.
She yawned, completely confused. Then she ambled after the others.
It didn’t take long for Willow to find the problem. When Matt caught up to her and saw what it was, his blood froze in his veins.
There was tear in the sky. Like someone had taken a paintbrush and wiped a black smear across it, the air was starting to crack open. And behind that crack was a shadow with glowing red eyes.
Sharp claws ripped out of the tear, prying it wide. The Emergent leapt out.
There was only one of them, thank small mercies. The creature was like no other animal. It walked on four legs like canine, but instead of a furry dog’s hide its body was covered in metallic plates. Beneath the gaps in the armor, cracks of sinewy black flesh could be seen. A tail sharp as a blade trailed behind it, and it tilted back its head and revealed its glistening fangs, unleashing a tremendous roar.
“Run!” Willow shouted at the top of her lungs. “It’s an Emergent!”
Most of the pedestrians had already begun to flee at the sound of screaming. But there were still a few close by. The Emergent’s speed was uncanny. It shot across the ground, jaws wide, and bit down on man’s back. He wailed in pain and fell forward as the Emergent ripped out and swallowed a chunk of flesh, going in for another bite.
But it didn’t get that far. A heavy branch smashed it in the snout, knocking it off the man. Willow swung the small tree to fend off the creature, driving it back.
“Willow!” Matt cried. But Willow couldn’t hear him. Right now, she was focused on the Emergent.
What the hell?! An Emergent appearing here? Now?! Willow couldn’t believe it. Emergents never appeared in populated areas. People were supposed to be safe behind the walls, damn it! But no time to think about that, she had to take care of it while it was here. If it got loose in Goldia there would be bodies stacked high.
Where’s that damn city watch when you need it?!
She kept swinging the tree at the Emergent, but it wasn’t working. The wood was cracking against its armored skin. And then the beast got lucky. It caught the tree in its jaws and bit down, smashing it to splinters.
“Fucking mutt!” Willow cursed, leaping back and reaching into her pocket for more seeds. It was a futile gesture. The energy for her Naturia was starting to run thin, she would be lucky to bloom a few flowers. None of the plants she could grow would do much damage, anyway. Nearly every type of Emergent had a natural exoskeleton as hard as metal.
“Graaargh!” The Emergent leapt at her, and in the seconds she realized she wouldn’t have time to grow a full plant to stop it.
Shit! In her last seconds, Willow wished Nick was here to fight the damn thing off.
But instead of Nick, Matt stepped in instead. He threw himself in front of Willow, and the Emergent sunk its fangs down into his shoulder.
He winced. If it wasn’t for his Naturia hardening his skin, its fangs would have killed him immediately.
“Matt?!” Willow sputtered. “What are you doing?!”
“I can hold it back!” Matt shouted. He reached out and grabbed the creature’s front legs, holding on for dear life as the beast thrashed against him, trying in vain to rip open his throat. “Its fangs and claws can’t hurt me!”
“R-Right,” Willow nodded. She’d thought the newcomers would be too scared for something like this so soon, but Matt had charged right in.
If she was Ryan or Serena, she would have run right in and finished off the Emergent while Matt was holding it back. Unfortunately, she was unarmed. But there was something she could do that was even more important.
Willow crouched down next to the injured man, holding her hands over his back. She didn’t have much energy, she had to focus on reducing the damage.
The city watch must have been called by now, and that means the others are probably on their way soon, too. The boss can summon them immediately, we just have to hold out for a little longer…
“Emi!” She raised her head to see the young girl standing still as a statue, her face twisted in fear. “I have to save this guy. Matt needs your help!”
“B-B-But…” Emi couldn’t do it. That monster… she knew she needed to use her magic, but she couldn’t. Tears blurred her vision and she curled up into a ball and began to cry. This wasn’t what she’d signed up for.
While Emi cowered and Willow healed, Matt was trying to keep from being eaten. He pushed the Emergent away for a moment and pulled back his hand, punching the beast in its jaw. But even with his Naturia it didn’t make a scratch.
Should have expected that. Its skin really is as tough as steel! Matt described his Naturia as hardening, but it was a little more complicated than that. Combat Gear could prevent physical damage to his skin, but it was still just skin. He couldn’t stop the Emergent with just a punch.
“Fucking thing!” He shouted, straining his muscles and pushing the beast over. It was lighter than he’d imagined. He spread his Combat Gear over as much of his skin as he could, and tried to find a seam in the monster’s armor that he could rip open.
Then one of the beast’s claws caught him on the side of the face, ripping it open. He jumped back and wiped the blood from his face, his vision blurred red. He could hear the thing leaping at him, and felt its fangs dig into his hardened skin.
Matt had never been more sure he was going to die. Combat Gear was useful, but it couldn’t cover his entire body. Not even close. The moment the Emergent found purchase on an exposed piece of flesh, he was done. It was pressing down on him, and his ribs were starting to crack. The monster was going to cave his chest in before it tore his heart out!
“Helghp…” He gurgled out, blood rolling down his lips.
“Matt!” Eli’s wailing voice filled his ears, drowning out the panting and growling of the beast on top of him.
Then the Emergent was ripped away and he could breathe again. He sucked air into his lungs and sat up, panting, wiping the blood away from his eyes. And he saw it.
The Emergent was held aloft, struggling in the grip of a glowing spectral hand. The hand was attached to an arm, which had emerged from a corona of bright blue flames that burned around Chloe.
"Leave him... 'lone..." Using her magic, Chloe Rosenthal had grabbed up the Emergent that had nearly killed him like picking up trash off the street. Matt was shocked. She didn’t even seem to care. She looked like she was still asleep!
“GRYAAUADRRGH! Dorraaaagrgh!” The Emergent roared, thrashing against its bonds.
Chloe raised her hand, her braids floating in the air behind her. She clenched her fist, the projection mimicked her.
The Emergent let out one last pitiful whimper as Chloe crushed it like a grape, its body crumbling into black ash and muck that scattered in the wind.
Matt couldn’t believe what he saw. As the blood loss made him woozy, all he could think about was how close the Emergent had come to killing him, and how Chloe had so easily killed it. Like it was nothing.