Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Matt swallowed his pride and walked into the common room. Serena and Ryan glanced up from the pool table.
“Matt! You okay?” Serena asked, picking up on Matt’s shaken state. She set down the cue and walked over to him.
He shied away from her touch and forced a smile to his face. “Y-Yeah. Don’t worry about me, just a little shaken up by what happened this morning.” He didn’t know why he was lying to her. But right now he didn’t want to commiserate his misery.
There was something else he came here for.
“Serena… Ryan… can I ask you two for a favor?”
The two tensed. Matt seemed unusually serious.
“What is it?” Ryan asked.
“After what happened last night… and this morning… I need practice.” It was painful to admit, but it was true. He could be a great Guardian, he knew that, he just didn’t have enough experience fighting Emergents.
“Kayla still has the Playroom, but this afternoon-“
Matt cut her off with a shake of his head. “I don’t mean just practice spars. You two have fought Emergents, right?”
“Uh…” Ryan had a bad feeling about what Matt was going to propose.
“We do, but…” Serena glanced at Ryan. Neither one thought this was a good idea.
“I want to get better at fighting Emergents,” Matt said. “Can you two take me on a job to hunt some Emergents, please?”
Serena shot Ryan a warning look. She smiled sweetly at Matt and took the redhead by the arm, dragging him out of the room.
“Matt, wait right here please, Ryan and I need to have a little talk.”
Matt sat down in a chair and waited. He assumed they were probably talking about the idea, and he hoped they would agree to his request.
But he couldn’t deny the doubts. Neither one had seemed very enthusiastic.
No, stop thinking that way. If they say no, you have to convince them to say yes! Matt pictured Cynthia’s fiery smile. She was the kind of girl who didn’t take “no” for an answer. If she was here right now, she’d be telling him to stop doubting himself, too.
Thinking about Cynthia made him smile. She was the one who’d suggested he join the Guardians, and now here he was.
But that came with doubts as well. Right now, Matt was starting to question if he even had the right to be considered a Guardian.
Next time I don’t want to just attack Emergents… I want to protect people. He could think that as much as he wanted, but he didn’t know what that difference looked like. Right now, the only idea he had was fighting Emergents.
My brother was a Guardian before he formed the Dragon Corps… maybe I could ask Sarah about him. That was something Matt didn’t want to do. But if it was his only option…
“Okay, Matt!” Ryan called, the slamming door forcing Matt back into the real world.
Ryan glanced back at Serena. She wore a sour look. And for the first time, Ryan wasn’t smiling.
He hunched over a little so he could look Matt in the eye.
“Matt, if you really want to hunt Emergents with us, then we’ll do it,” Ryan said. “But I need to know you’re sure about this. You were attacked by an Emergent before, and nearly died. This could be even worse. Are you prepared for that?”
When Matt had joined the Guardians, fighting Emergents had been his main goal. But he’d been in a haze all day, not sure how to respond to the idea after what had happened.
He steeled himself. He’d been shaken by the attack, but not discouraged.
“I’m ready,” he said.
Ryan didn’t look happy with that answer, but he didn’t argue either. Serena did.
“Matt, are you sure about this? You’re just starting out, maybe you could work up to fighting Emergents, start with some smaller jobs…?”
“Serena, he’ll be with us. That should hopefully be safe enough,” Ryan assured her. “Matt’s a man, he can make his own decisions.”
Matt held his head a little higher hearing that. Ryan had faith in him.
Serena clearly wanted to object, but she held her tongue and nodded.
“One thing though,” Ryan said, glancing back at Serena. “Serena has a condition.”
Matt didn’t like the sound of that. “What condition?”
“The job is tomorrow,” Serena explained. “We leave first thing in the morning. But today, I need to train you.”
“Train me?!” Matt had received hand to hand combat training already, back at school. “Look, what happened yesterday, that was just…”
“That’s my condition.” Serena’s eyes left little room for arguing.
Matt begrudgingly agreed.
The trio waited for Kayla to finish her own practice for the day, and entered the Playroom. Serena wordlessly walked over to the wall where the practice staff hung and picked it up, turning back to Matt.
“Get a weapon,” she coldly stated. It was unnerving, seeing her like this.
Matt shook his head. “I don’t need one.”
She narrowed her eyes and stepped forward, and in a flash she swung the side of her staff up to his throat, stopping just short of hitting him.
“Wh-what the heck?!” Matt exclaimed, stumbling back in surprise.
“If this had been for real, I would have caved in your windpipe just now. You need to be prepared. And you need to be armed. You can’t fight Emergents without a weapon. Didn’t you learn anything from your last encounter?”
“You don’t understand!” Matt shouted back. Didn’t she get it? Kanone could defeat Emergents with his bare hands. Matt was his brother. He should be able to do the same thing. If he didn’t, then what would be the point?!
Serena could see Matt was troubled, but this wasn’t the time for that. Troubled or not, he needed to get stronger or else he would die out there.
“She’s right, Matt. You need a weapon. Try this.” Ryan handed him a practice sword.
Matt had never used a sword before, and it showed. Serena practically bounced him off the walls as he swung wildly at her, to the exasperation of both of them. Staves weren’t a much better fit.
As Matt’s inability to land a blow on Serena persisted, he got angrier and angrier. “This is stupid!” He shouted, flinging the practice sword onto the ground. “I’m not going to be able to learn how to fight with a sword in a day!”
“He has a point Serena,” Ryan agreed. “Speaking from someone who grew up practicing swords, trying to make him into some weapon master overnight isn’t going to go well.”
“Well, he has to!” She snapped, even while she knew that he was right. “I don’t want him dying out there, Ryan!”
“He won’t, not as long as we’re with him,” he assured her. He turned to Matt. “Look, dude, it’s okay. Why don’t you go take a little break, and I’ll talk with Serena a little more, okay?”
Matt was happy to leave. He had to work off some of the frustration he was dealing with. His muscles were a little sore from the pointless training, and it was almost dinner time. He went to go take a shower and relax.
Ryan pulled Matt aside after dinner and assured him that they would still be going on the job tomorrow. “Don’t worry. I convinced Serena that I would look out for you.”
Matt was relieved to hear that, but he felt a little uneasy, too.
What if they were right? What if he couldn’t defeat an Emergent with his bare hands?
…No, no, that wasn’t what he should be thinking about. He could do it. He would become strong enough to protect people with just his Naturia. The way his brother did.
“I’ll show you what I’m capable of.” Matt hoped that he sounded more assured of himself than he felt.
“Yep! I can’t wait!” Ryan grinned, giving him a thumbs’ up. “For now, though, you make sure you get a good night’s sleep. We’ll be heading out before breakfast tomorrow, and we’ll be staying overnight. You’re going to need a lot of energy!”
Matt nodded. He turned in early for the night.
Tomorrow was going to be a big day.
Matt closed his eyes, and saw that snarling Emergent again. He could feel the slash of its claws and the heat of its breath, hear the growls and roars echoing in his ears.
He was going out into that again. He was going to face something like that again. …Not that he was afraid or anything. He was too tough to be afraid of something like an Emergent!
He was just anxious, that was it.
He lay back in bed and tried to go to sleep. He tossed around restlessly as he forced himself to calm down and settle in when a rapping sound on the window snapped him awake. What the heck?
Matt got out of bed and walked over to the balcony, shocked.
“Emi? What are you doing here?”
Emi stood on the ledge in a nightgown, staring in through the open door. Her wings were spread wide, framed in the moonlight as she shimmered with an ethereal glow.
“Sorry,” she whispered, lowering her head. “Sorry I woke you up! I didn’t… well, I mean… I know it’s late, but I just… needed to see you tonight.”
Matt laughed it off. “It’s okay. I was having a hard time sleeping anyway.”
She sighed with relief as he let her into his room.
“I have a door, you know.”
“I know. I spent the last ten minutes knocking on it.”
Matt felt a little ashamed that he hadn’t heard her. “So… what did you want to talk with me about?” He felt a little guilty having another girl in his room at night. Cynthia wouldn’t be happy.
“You and Serena and Ryan… you’re going out on a job tomorrow, right?” Emi couldn’t meet his eyes.
“Yeah, we’re going out fighting Emergents,” Matt said.
Emi swallowed, and finally looked up at Matt. She was shaking. “Can I… can I come with you guys?”
That was the last thing Matt expected. “Wh-What? You want… to come with us? To fight Emergents? But Emi, last time-“
“I know what happened last time!” She exclaimed. “I know! I know I froze up! I know, I know, I know!”
Matt stepped back, startled.
“Uh… Emi, if you want to come, you can, I was just… surprised.”
Emi calmed down. “S-Sorry about that.”
“No, no, it’s fine. So… why the change of heart? You said you didn’t want to deal with Emergents.”
Emi turned red. “That… was stupid of me. I can’t be like that forever. I was afraid of that Emergent, and you got hurt. You could have been killed, and I… I don’t want that to happen. If someone died because I was afraid, I don’t think I could live with myself…”
From her, that didn’t sound like an idle threat.
“I’m… still scared,” she admitted, reaching out and taking Matt’s hand. Her own hand was trembling like a leaf. “But I… I have to get over it. Be tough.”
Matt could see the fear in Emi’s eyes, but he also saw how resolved she looked. He nodded. “Yeah, I get it,” he agreed. He could understand wanting to improve yourself.
The two stared at each other for a moment in silence. Then Emi’s face turned red and she pulled her hand back. “I-I should go,” she stuttered, staggering away from him.
“That’s probably a good idea, yeah,” Matt hurriedly agreed. “The job is gonna be tough, and if you’re coming you’re going to need some sleep.”
Emi rushed off the balcony and back to her room while Matt slumped back into bed. Anxiety about tomorrow filled his head as he drifted off into a dreamless sleep.