Chapter 12:

Chapter 12: New Day

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1

It was the crack of dawn when Matt got out of bed. The sky was still dark, with only the briefest glimpses of sunlight peaking over the horizon.Bookmark here

He knocked on Emi’s door and waited for her. She stepped out in a lumpy nightgown, rubbing her eyes.Bookmark here

“Matt… wha?” She yawned.Bookmark here

“It’s time to go. Ryan and Serena are meeting us downstairs,” he reminded her. He had mentioned they’d be meeting this early, right?Bookmark here

Emi was quiet for a little while, giving Matt a look that would make Chloe proud. Then her eyes snapped open and her face went pale. She let out a “yeep” and slammed the door in Matt’s face. Matt could hear her scurrying around and getting ready. Bookmark here

Emi emerged a few minutes later, red-faced and panting. A bulky backpack pressed against her cloak, her staff tied to it. It looked so heavy Matt was afraid she would fall over.Bookmark here

“R-Ready,” she wheezed. They headed downstairs.Bookmark here

Ryan and Serena were notably livelier than Matt and Emi. Bookmark here

“Hey, Matt, how’d waking up at… huh?” Ryan’s good-natured smile fell away as he caught Emi coming down the stairs. “Oh, Emi, you’re up this early?”Bookmark here

Serena tensed, guessing what was happening. “Matt, you didn’t…”Bookmark here

Matt could feel the pressure of her stare but he pressed on. “Emi… wants to come with us.”Bookmark here

“No. Absolutely not.” Unsurprisingly, Serena was quick to put her foot down. “One inexperienced fighter is risky enough, two…”Bookmark here

“Pl-Please!” Emi begged, startling everyone with her shout. Serena recoiled, her eyes bulging.Bookmark here

“Emi…”Bookmark here

“I want to fight Emergents too! Please teach me! I promise I won’t be a… a risk, or anything like that! My magic can help!”Bookmark here

Serena wasn’t used to such forcefulness from Emi, so she was at a loss for words. She glanced desperately to Ryan to back her up, but he was stunned himself.Bookmark here

“I-I talked to Emi last night,” Matt explained, a little more used to Emi’s outbursts than they were. “And she told me-“Bookmark here

“I can speak for myself!” Emi snapped, turning on him next. Then she smiled. “…But thank you.”Bookmark here

Clearing her throat, she explained to the older Guardians why this was so important to her and why she felt that she needed to go. By the time she was finished, neither one could say anything in response.Bookmark here

“…If that’s what you want.” The warmth of Serena’s smile was blunted by the reluctance in her eyes, but she still nodded in agreement.Bookmark here

“Then it’s settled!” Ryan cheered. “Let’s hit the road!”Bookmark here

The four Guardians gathered their things and headed for the main gate. The walk across the bridge was long and exhausting, made worse by Matt’s exhaustion. By the time they got to the bus station at the other end, Matt was grateful for the chance to rest. He and Emi were practically unconscious by the time their butts hit the seats, leaning against each other. Bookmark here

Serena peeked back at them.Bookmark here

“You sure they’ll be okay?” She asked, turning to Ryan. “They’re just kids…”Bookmark here

“I was just a kid last year,” Ryan reminded her. “And when did you join the Guardians again?”Bookmark here

Serena sighed. Ryan had a point, even if she didn’t want to admit it. “This… it’s just different! You already had training with a sword! But Matt…”Bookmark here

“Matt has his Naturia. It might not be powerful, but it will keep him safe. And Emi has her magic. They’ll be fine.”Bookmark here

“You really think they’ll be okay?”Bookmark here

Ryan grinned. “Absolutely. I guarantee it! And you know me, Serena, I never lie!”Bookmark here

Serena laughed. She patted him on the shoulder. “Fair. But then, you aren’t very smart, either.”Bookmark here

“Hey!”Bookmark here

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The bus screeching to a halt shook Matt awake. He coughed, realizing Emi’s hair was tickling his nose. They pulled away from each other just in time for Ryan to look over the seat and call out to them. “We’re here!”Bookmark here

Matt stepped off and stretched out his arms in a big yawn. He felt like it was a new day already, with a new sunlight-reddened sky.Bookmark here

The last stop of the bus was at the Goldia Outpost. The people who worked there were members of the City Watch, and it was their job to check the credentials of everyone coming into and going out of Goldia. Past the building was a massive wall that rivaled the treetops. The wall stretched across the perimeter of the city and was etched in wardings. It was the city’s first line of defense against any Emergents who might consider snacking on the civilians.Bookmark here

Matt felt small next to that giant barrier. A whole different world lay just beyond those gates.Bookmark here

“It’s so big…” Emi whispered his thoughts into words. “We’re really… going out there, huh?”Bookmark here

Matt could see she was shaking. “If you don’t feel like you’re up for it-“Bookmark here

“No!” She quickly shoot away the doubts on her face. “I’m ready.” She slapped her cheeks. “I’m ready I’m ready I’m ready I’m ready I’m-“Bookmark here

“Emi! Matt!”Bookmark here

“Eeep!” Emi jumped into the air. Her face red with shame, she hung her head and trudged to where Serena and Ryan were.Bookmark here

The two were talking with an older woman. Her hair was chopped short and she wore her rough life on her face. A large rifle was slung over her shoulder.Bookmark here

“So one jeep, a distortion checker, two days of rations, camping equipment for four, anything else you need?” She asked, scanning over a clipboard. Her eyes landed on Matt and Emi. She didn’t look impressed. “What about weapons? Guns?”Bookmark here

“No, nothing like that,” Ryan assured her.Bookmark here

“Well, there’s a flare gun in the truck,” she grumbled, handing him the keys. “We’ll send a patrol if we see it. Or if you’re not back by this time Saturday.”Bookmark here

Ryan nodded. She muttered out a “good luck” and headed back inside.Bookmark here

“You two can sit in the back with the equipment.” Ryan led them to the jeep, letting Serena into the passenger seat. Matt helped Emi into the back and followed her, and with the engine’s roar they headed for the gate.Bookmark here

Past the walls of Goldia were the wonders of the Wildlands. The fields spanned out for miles, filled with thick, lush grass. In the distance the shadows of forests could be seen blurring the horizon, with the far image of mountains in the very back. These sights were common, seen from windows, but the fresh air of the Wildlands was something else.Bookmark here

“It’s so nice,” Emi murmured, resting her head on her knees. She enjoyed the feeling of the air on her face. “It doesn’t seem dangerous at all.”Bookmark here

Matt felt the same way. He remembered from history textbooks what things looked like before the Emergents appeared. Autoria hadn’t always been this lush and green. But after the Cataclysm humans and other races had been forced to hide behind their walls. So for the last 13 years nature had been allowed to grow unencumbered across the uninhabitable areas.Bookmark here

He wondered what things would look like 20 years from now.Bookmark here

“You’re probably used to sights like this, huh?” Matt realized, turning to Emi. Most Venti lived in agrarian communities, their settlements were a lot more in tune with nature than humans’ tended to be.Bookmark here

Emi nodded. “On Mt. Junco, on a clear day, you can turn north and see forests covered in snow and ice for miles. It’s really beautiful.”Bookmark here

Matt tried to picture it. Snow… that was another thing he’d never seen.Bookmark here

“My girlfriend, Cynthia, her family lives on a farm.” Matt’s thoughts drew back to when she’d invited him to stay over for break, how amazing it was to see those wide fields filled with life. “I remember thinking how nice it would be, growing up somewhere that peaceful.”Bookmark here

Emi and Matt reminisced in silence. The homes they were thinking of were very different, but the warm memories were the same.Bookmark here

“…Having good internet is definitely better though,” Matt said. “Couldn’t get a signal to save my life living there.”Bookmark here

“Oh, I know, right?! You’d think that if we’re high up enough we should obviously get better connection, but no, total dead zone!”Bookmark here

The two shared a look and then burst into a fit of giggles. They were relishing this temporary comfort, even though they knew the job would only get more difficult from here.Bookmark here

Matt didn’t even realize he had dozed off when he was shaken awake for the second time that morning. He yawned and sat up, confused. He had only closed his eyes for a second, but he didn’t see anything familiar.Bookmark here

“Come on you two, time for breakfast!” Serena poked her head out and handed them a pack of rations. “We’re almost to the first site, so eat up.”Bookmark here

Ryan and Serena climbed into the back with them, and caught Emi up on the job.Bookmark here

“We’re going to hunt two different packs of Emergents,” Ryan explained, showing the two posters. “The first one was reported a couple miles from here. When we get in range, our distortion tracker will make a beeping sound to let us know. You hear that beep, that means get ready for a fight, got it? Even if you don’t see anything.”Bookmark here

“Right,” Emi said. She sounded sure of herself, but Matt saw her hands trembling as she ate her calorie bar.Bookmark here

“Leave the major fighting to Ryan and me, okay?” Serena asked, taking a swig of her canteen. She turned to Emi. “I know this is a bit late, but what kinds of magic can you use?”Bookmark here

Emi’s confidence faltered a little but she kept her cool. “I can mostly use supporting magic… and wind-based spells. Things like controlling the wind, or gusts of wind, and wind blades…”Bookmark here

“Tornados?” Ryan sounded like an excited little kid.Bookmark here

“Th-That’s a little too much mana for me,” she stuttered, turning pale. “Maybe… a whirlwind?”Bookmark here

“That can definitely help,” Serena smiled. “So we’ll rely on you for support. Cast spells from behind us while Ryan and I attack the Emergents.”Bookmark here

Matt didn’t want to sound like he was butting in, but these plans didn’t seem to include him. “What should I do?”Bookmark here

Serena didn’t feel comfortable with Matt fighting without a weapon, but she also didn’t feel comfortable saying that. Luckily, Ryan came to the rescue.Bookmark here

“Here,” he said, digging into one of the supply kits and offered Matt a large knife. “Use your Naturia to protect yourself. And if you have the opportunity, jam this into their throat or eyes or any other vulnerable spot you can see. Sound good?”Bookmark here

Matt stared at the knife. “Do I really have to use it? Can’t I just-“Bookmark here

“Matt, take the knife or stay in the jeep while we fight the Emergents, those are your choices.” Ryan’s ultimatum was pretty clear. Matt was about to object, when a sharp whistle came from the distortion tracker placed on the jeep.Bookmark here

Matt grabbed the knife and everyone jumped to attention. The Emergents were here.Bookmark here

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