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.
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.
“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.
“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.
At the same time, the girl had attacked him. This was a matter of his safety!
Sarah picked up on his anxieties, and her smile faded. She rose and walked around the desk, guiding him to a chair.
“What’s on your mind, Matti?” She asked. “Are you upset about what happened with Kayla this morning?”
Relief washed over him. Sarah had this way of reaching out that soothed his nerves. He nodded.
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…”
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.
“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.
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.”
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.
“I found her on a job up north.” This next part was a little harder. “Matt, have you heard about frostfangs before?”
Matt vaguely recalled reading about them in a bestiary, but that was years ago. “They’re like tigers, right?”
“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.”
Matt wasn’t sure where she was going with this, but he nodded along. How had the conversation gotten from Kayla to frostfangs?
It dawned on him seconds before the words left her lips.
“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.
“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?!
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-!”
Sarah caught herself and cleared her throat. “Ahem. Well. Needless to say, it came as quite a shock.”
Matt could imagine. He was having trouble believing it himself.
“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.”
“And she just… came with you?” He remembered the exchange from earlier, Kayla purring like a kitten while Sarah doted on her.
“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?”
“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.”
“Emergents only hunt humanoids. Not a clue why, but they have no interest in wild animals. But if those animals traveled with a humanoid…”
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.
“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.”
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.
“You look like you’re not sure that’s possible,” Sarah smiled at him, and Matt’s face heated up.
“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.”
Sarah turned to the large window behind her, staring out at the bay.
“Matti… do you know what the Guardians’ words are?”
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!
Sarah chuckled. “How bold. Joining a guild and not even remembering the words you’ve sworn to uphold.”
She looked back at him and tapped a placard on her desk.
“AS LONG AS WE STAND, WE WILL PROTECT.”
Two lines. Simple and easy.
But Matt could feel the weight of those words.
“Did Kanone ever tell you about the day I decided to found this guild?”
“I-I never heard, no…”
“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.”
Matt was astounded that a woman so young could have eyes with such depth.
“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.”
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?”
“For Kayla. And also for you.”
He tilted his head back to look at her. She was dazzling.
“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?”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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”.
He wanted that passion now. Sarah was making him feel something he’d never felt before, and he was getting addicted to it.
“Sarah… can I ask you something?”
But there was still something that weighed on him.
She kissed the top of his head. “Of course, Matti. You can ask me anything.”
“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.
Sarah was so much purer than that, like a star having fallen from the heavens to grace the world with her presence.
Matt wanted to be like that. Could he? Someday?
Her smile was all the answer he needed. But it was her words that surprised him.
“You already are.”
For an instant, nothing else mattered. It was just the two of them, gazing into each other’s eyes.
“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.”
Her praise was damning. Matt couldn’t bear the look in her eyes a second longer.
“What’s wrong?” She frantically asked. “Did I say something wrong?”
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.
Protecting Willow, saving the townsfolk, those hadn’t even crossed his mind.
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.