Chapter 10:

Chapter 10: As Long As We Stand, We Will Protect.

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1


After what happened with Kayla, breakfast that morning was awkward. Matt finished clearing the table and set his sights on Sarah’s office.Bookmark here

Kayla had been on his mind all morning. Nearly getting killed would do that. She clearly had some special circumstances going for her, and Matt was curious.Bookmark here

“Oh! Matt! Hey, what’s up?” Sarah greeted him with a smile. There was a mountain of paperwork on her desk and she looked happy to have a distraction from it.Bookmark here

“Hey…” Sarah was always bright and sunny, but Matt still felt uneasy. He was prying into something that was none of his business. As a newcomer, he didn’t want to do anything that would rock the boat.Bookmark here

At the same time, the girl had attacked him. This was a matter of his safety!Bookmark here

Sarah picked up on his anxieties, and her smile faded. She rose and walked around the desk, guiding him to a chair.Bookmark here

“What’s on your mind, Matti?” She asked. “Are you upset about what happened with Kayla this morning?”Bookmark here

Relief washed over him. Sarah had this way of reaching out that soothed his nerves. He nodded.Bookmark here

She sighed. “Kayla… she’s complicated. I’m sorry she attacked you like that, everyone around here knows to give her a wide berth. I thought Serena would have told you about her schedule, but I guess I’ll have to handle that…”Bookmark here

Matt wanted to ask why someone like that was a Guardian. Someone who would attack him just for entering the room. But he held his tongue. With all of Sarah’s talks about how the Guardians were her family, that was a horrible thing to ask.Bookmark here

“Can you… tell me more about her?” He asked instead. He’d been rebuffed reaching out to Kayla before, but he still wanted to make nice with her, even if only for his own safety.Bookmark here

Sarah made a tired face for a second before a smile crossed over it. “I can tell you a little,” she agreed, “because Kayla probably won’t mind it. Some of it you probably could noticed just at a glance. She’s Aizanu.”Bookmark here

Matt nodded. People from Aiza were famous for their crystal blue eyes, dark hair, and skin as white as snow. They were known to be as harsh and unyielding as the icy region they hailed from, and Kayla was no different.Bookmark here

“I found her on a job up north.” This next part was a little harder. “Matt, have you heard about frostfangs before?”Bookmark here

Matt vaguely recalled reading about them in a bestiary, but that was years ago. “They’re like tigers, right?”Bookmark here

“Less stripey, more toothy,” Sarah laughed. “But you’re right, another name for them is the Aizanu Tiger. Unlike tigers, though, frostfangs travel in packs, like wolves.”Bookmark here

Matt wasn’t sure where she was going with this, but he nodded along. How had the conversation gotten from Kayla to frostfangs?Bookmark here

It dawned on him seconds before the words left her lips.Bookmark here

“When I found that girl, she lived among the frostfangs like one of their own.” So it was like he’d guessed. No wonder she’d behaved like that.Bookmark here

“Seriously? She was just… living with them?” It was insane. The more they spoke the more his memories returned. Frostfangs were merciless predators. They hunted humans, preying on travelers. Before the Emergents, they had been one of the greatest dangers in Aiza. And Kayla lived with them!? As what, part of their pack?!Bookmark here

Sarah nodded, her distant eyes smiling at the memory. “Sleeping with them, hunting with them, eating with them, a little thing bundled up in hides, surrounded by wild beasts. You should have seen her then, Matt, she was a sight to-!”Bookmark here

Sarah caught herself and cleared her throat. “Ahem. Well. Needless to say, it came as quite a shock.” Bookmark here

Matt could imagine. He was having trouble believing it himself.Bookmark here

“The moment I saw her, a beauty among the beasts, I knew that I had to have her,” Sarah sheepishly admitted. “I was smitten with that wild look in her eyes, like one of those big cats herself.”Bookmark here

“And she just… came with you?” He remembered the exchange from earlier, Kayla purring like a kitten while Sarah doted on her.Bookmark here

“She didn’t want to at first. But eventually she realized she couldn’t stay with them.” The shadow that crossed her face was chilling. “Matt… what do you know about Emergents’ hunting habits?”Bookmark here

“They, um…” He was momentarily at a loss for words, confused where the topic of Emergents came from. But when he saw the stony look in her eyes, he figured it out. “…Oh.”Bookmark here

“Emergents only hunt humanoids. Not a clue why, but they have no interest in wild animals. But if those animals traveled with a humanoid…”Bookmark here

She let the implication hang in the air. It painted a grisly picture, and not one Matt needed described to him. A pack of Emergents vs. a pack of frostfangs. A child could guess how that turned out.Bookmark here

“I took her in after that and gave her a home. I wanted to help her, get her… normal again. It’s been years and years of hard work, and she’s come a long way. But still…” An exasperated sigh spoke to her frustration. “The call of the wild is a fearsome thing.”Bookmark here

Matt remembered Kayla’s eyes. They were filled with primal instinct, like an animal. Sarah talked about rehabilitating her, but Matt wasn’t sure that was possible.Bookmark here

“You look like you’re not sure that’s possible,” Sarah smiled at him, and Matt’s face heated up.Bookmark here

“I-I just-“Bookmark here

“It’s okay. You’re not the only one. Lori’s given me more grief than you can imagine, and it’s not like incidents like this morning have endeared her to the others.” A wistful look crossed her face. “But she’s my precious family, just like all of you.”Bookmark here

Sarah turned to the large window behind her, staring out at the bay.Bookmark here

“Matti… do you know what the Guardians’ words are?”Bookmark here

Matt swallowed. Shit. Every guild had a slogan, a motto, a code they lived by. The Guardians… fuck, he’d memorized them for a test once, but now he couldn’t remember a single word!Bookmark here

Sarah chuckled. “How bold. Joining a guild and not even remembering the words you’ve sworn to uphold.”Bookmark here

She looked back at him and tapped a placard on her desk.Bookmark here

“AS LONG AS WE STAND, WE WILL PROTECT.”Bookmark here

Two lines. Simple and easy.Bookmark here

But Matt could feel the weight of those words.Bookmark here

“Did Kanone ever tell you about the day I decided to found this guild?”Bookmark here

“I-I never heard, no…”Bookmark here

“Not much to tell, really,” she murmured, “it was just a day like any other after the Cataclysm. People scrounging about in the rubble, trying to dig ourselves free, the kingdom in a panic, nothing special happened. I’d just had enough. Enough of the helplessness. Enough of the misery. Enough of losing the people I loved. So I decided ‘no more.’ And that was it. Just two words.”Bookmark here

Matt was astounded that a woman so young could have eyes with such depth. Bookmark here

“No more,” she repeated. “At first, it was just a handful of us. You and your brother, Lori, a few others. People who I wanted to protect. And then there were more people. Everyone we met, I did what I could to help them. I made it my life’s purpose to protect the happiness of others. That’s the principle the Guardians were founded on.”Bookmark here

Sarah walked around him, draping her arms over his chest. He felt her chin rest on his head. “Do you know why I’m telling you this, Matti?”Bookmark here

“For Kayla…?”Bookmark here

“For Kayla. And also for you.”Bookmark here

He tilted his head back to look at her. She was dazzling.Bookmark here

“While I’m here, the Guardians will protect Kayla’s happiness. Protect your happiness. That’s our duty. To protect everyone in front of us.” She smiled down at him. “What do you think?”Bookmark here

Matt was amazed. It was like Sarah saw so much more than he could. She was gazing at a world where she could protect everyone, everywhere, like it was the most obvious idea imaginable. The conviction in her voice swept him up, nearly convinced him that she could do it.Bookmark here

This was the charisma that made such a young woman leader of one of the greatest guilds in Autoria. An unyielding belief in her ideal world, a will that would see it through.Bookmark here

Matt saw an ideal of his own in her image. It was an embarrassment, but he’d fallen in love with the life she described.Bookmark here

“That’s… amazing. Protecting everyone, I guess… wow.” Matt had commissioned with the Guardians because she’d asked him. He didn’t think she expected much of him, and had been more focused on proving he was as capable as Kanone.Bookmark here

He hadn’t given serious consideration to what it meant to be a Guardian. This wasn’t just a job. He remembered the passion in Cynthia’s voice this morning as she described her adventures, while he’d just played his first day off as “helping out at the library”.Bookmark here

He wanted that passion now. Sarah was making him feel something he’d never felt before, and he was getting addicted to it.Bookmark here

“Sarah… can I ask you something?”Bookmark here

But there was still something that weighed on him.Bookmark here

She kissed the top of his head. “Of course, Matti. You can ask me anything.”Bookmark here

“Do you think… that I could be like you?” He asked. He felt like a kid again, looking up in admiration at his big brother. Until now, he had been working in order to live up to the name Kanone Hearthome. He worked so people would be proud of him.Bookmark here

Sarah was so much purer than that, like a star having fallen from the heavens to grace the world with her presence.Bookmark here

Matt wanted to be like that. Could he? Someday?Bookmark here

Her smile was all the answer he needed. But it was her words that surprised him.Bookmark here

“You already are.”Bookmark here

For an instant, nothing else mattered. It was just the two of them, gazing into each other’s eyes.Bookmark here

“What you did yesterday,” she murmured, “jumping in front of Willow like that. Protecting her from the Emergent, nearly dying to do it… that’s what it means to be a Guardian. To put your own life at risk to protect someone else. You’re already a fine Guardian, Matti, don’t worry.”Bookmark here

Her praise was damning. Matt couldn’t bear the look in her eyes a second longer.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong?” She frantically asked. “Did I say something wrong?”Bookmark here

How could he tell her? After hearing her praise him like that, how could he let her down by telling her that he’d fought that Emergent to prove he could win, not out of altruism? He’d just wanted to be like his brother, killing Emergents.Bookmark here

Protecting Willow, saving the townsfolk, those hadn’t even crossed his mind.Bookmark here

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He rose from his seat and hurried out of the room as Sarah called after him. He couldn’t stand being in her presence another moment.Bookmark here

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