Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Matt heard the Emergents before he saw them. Their howls sent a shiver down his back and he clutched the knife tightly as he scanned the hills.
There they were! Five beasts loping towards the jeep, all claws and fangs and shiny armor. They were slower than the one he had fought before, and their armor was bulkier, with sharp spikes sticking out of the back like hedgehogs.
Matt felt himself relax a hair. There were only five of them. Five Emergents, and four Guardians. They were at a disadvantage, but five… they could take five.
He knew what his brother would do right now. Kanone would have charged into the fray and destroyed them effortlessly. But Matt couldn’t do that. He didn’t have his brother’s overwhelming Naturia.
But that doesn’t mean I can just sit back and do nothing, he chastised himself. He prepared his Naturia and charged forward, raising the knife.
“Matt! Get back here!” Ryan shouted. With the heft of his giant sword, he didn’t have the speed to stop Matt.
But a twirl of Serena’s staff kept Matt behind her.
“Didn’t you hear the plan?” Ryan snapped. “Stay back!”
“But…!” But Matt needed to help somehow. He wasn’t going to just hang back!
“Emi!” Serena called. “Can you hold these guys back with your magic?”
“…Huh?” Emi snapped to attention. The sight of the Emergents had paralyzed her, but she was back in it. “Y-Yeah! I can try!”
She closed her eyes and raised her staff. The air around her began to swirl, catching her hair and cloak.
A wall of wind pressed against the Emergents, slowing them down. Ryan was the first to move. He raised his sword, the blade nearly as tall as he was, and swung it down on the closest one. He broke through the armor and cleaved the beast’s skull in half, the Emergent collapsing into a puddle of shadows.
Two Emergents broke through the wind, leaping at Ryan with claws and teeth bared. Ryan jumped back, barely avoiding the beasts.
The Emergents were slow, but with a weapon as unwieldy as his sword there was no way Ryan could take them both. Matt ran towards him, but Serena got there first. She lifted her staff towards the charging beasts…
…And it burst into pieces.
Matt couldn’t believe his eyes. The metal staff had turned into a cloud of dust.
Serena smiled, and began to move her hands. The cloud swirled and bent to follow her gestures, forming tendrils that wrapped around the two Emergents, holding them in place. They snarled and thrashed, helpless against the coiling bonds.
Ryan nodded to her and turned to the other Emergents, one of which had charged right for him.
But the other had circled around and was running for Emi.
“Emi! Watch out!” Matt dashed across the field and leapt in front of her. He raised his arm to shield them both, and the Emergent bit into it.
“Matt!” Emi cried.
“I’m fine! My Naturia’s blocking it!” This Emergent didn’t have the long claws of the last one he’d fought, so he just had to keep it where it was.
The problem was, the Emergent was bigger than him, and stronger, too. He had to push with everything he had to keep it from toppling him over. But he was losing ground.
Then he remembered the knife! He brought the sharp blade up into a gap in the armored plates on the Emergent’s neck, driving it in as deep as it would go.
“GRAAAAAAARRRRGHH!” The Emergent roared, pulling back and snapping the knife. It reared back on its hind legs, black liquid oozing out of its wound. Enraged, it lunged at Matt again, and he rolled out of the way.
Well, I had knife, what now?! Matt looked at the useless handle in his hands. The Emergent was wounded, but the wound was already repairing itself. Anything less than a killing blow would have no effect on one of these monsters.
Luckily, he had more room to move around than that day in the street, and this one was considerably slower. It lunged at him and jumped back, dodging the slash of its claws as he thought of a plan. He didn’t like it, but he couldn’t fight this thing with his bare hands.
A gust of wind blew past him and an invisible blade sliced through the Emergent’s outstretched claw. The creature yowled in pain and backed off, the severed limb crumbling away.
“Matt!” Emi ran to Matt’s side, her face flushed with sweat. “Are you okay?!”
“I’m fine!” Matt snapped. He hadn’t meant to, but he didn’t have the time to be polite. That thing’s leg was already starting to grow back!
“I-I’m out of mana,” Emi whimpered. “I don’t have enough for another wind blade!” She’d used all her courage, and now that she was drained she felt more like food than a Guardian.
Matt stepped in front of her and took a defensive position, holding up the broken handle for what little good it would do. The Emergent charged. But before it reached them, Ryan swung his sword, and sliced its head off. The creature crumbled away.
Matt let out the breath he was holding. The strength left his legs and he collapsed. The other Emergents were dead.
“That was a close one,” Ryan said, helping him back up. “Sorry. I didn’t think your knife would just break like that.”
“It was my fault,” Serena apologized, relieved to see they weren’t injured. “I should have taken care of them faster.”
“What was that thing you did?” Emi asked curiously. “Your staff, it just… whoosh!”
Serena’s staff was propped over her shoulder, as solid as it had been this morning.
“Oh, that was my Naturia! Shatter Dance!” She explained. She held up the staff again, and it burst into pieces, hovering like a dense fog around her.
“It’s a Bestowal Naturia,” Matt noted. She nodded.
“Bestowha?” Emi looked at him in confusion.
“Let me explain.” Serena reformed her staff and handed it to Emi. “Feel that? Solid, right?”
Emi whacked it on the ground to make sure. Then she whacked it against a rock. Then to make triply sure, she whacked Matt on the head with it.
Emi giggled and handed the staff back to Serena.
“My Naturia spreads a field over any inorganic object and does this!” Serena shattered it again. “I can break it down into particles to control.” She sculpted the shiny powder into several shapes. “Then, when I release my Naturia…”
She held out her hand and snapped her fingers, the staff reforming in front of her.
Emi was amazed. “So you could, like, break up a whole mountain?!”
Serena laughed. “No, I can’t do something quite that big. And even though I can change the shape, the particles can’t be separated. It’s not the best Naturia I could have… but it’s mine.” Her smile was warm with pride.
“I wish I could have a Naturia,” Emi sighed. “Magic is cool and all, but that was just amazing, tying those Emergents up like that!”
“It takes a lot of control and practice. Definitely a lot of-“
A loud honk interrupted her.
“You guys know we have another pack to hunt, right?!” Ryan shouted from the jeep. He honked the horn again.
“…Let’s get going, before Mr. Impatient leaves us stranded out here,” Serena laughed. She joined them in the back this time.
Serena and Emi chatted while Matt rested his head on the rail. He was still burning up about the fight. He should have been able to take that Emergent barehanded like his brother, but not only had he barely made a scratch with his weapon, couldn’t even protect Emi. If Ryan hadn’t been there…
He wanted to be alone with his thoughts, but Serena didn’t let him. She poked him on the shoulder.
“So Emi tells me you were a big hero, protecting her from that Emergent.” Serena nodded to her. “Nice work!”
“…Whatever,” Matt muttered, turning away from the girls. What did he do to deserve anyone’s thanks?
“Don’t downplay it,” she said, placing a gentle hand on his shoulder. “If you weren’t there, she might have been seriously hurt before Ryan or I could have gotten to her.”
“So?” He snapped. “I couldn’t even beat that Emergent!” That was what really upset him. He’d felt completely useless that fight!
“Matt, killing Emergents isn’t everything.” Serena’s voice was stern, but she didn’t sound mad. “Look. Ryan and I, we went and killed them. But you did a lot, too. The only reason we could fight those Emergents without worrying is because we knew that you were behind us, protecting Emi. We all had our roles to play, and you played yours perfectly.”
Matt glanced at Emi. She smiled shyly back at him, her face red.
“Your Naturia is wonderful,” Serena said. “It’s perfect for defending and protecting. And that’s what it means to be a Guardian.”
Matt could hear Sarah’s voice coming out of Serena’s lips.
“Still… if you guys weren’t there… if Ryan hadn’t…”
“But we were. And he did.” She smiled. “Don’t worry. You’ll be able to fight Emergents on your own one day. But right now, focus on what you can do, okay? And that’s protecting us. And yourself.”
Serena’s eyes were shining with faith.
Matt turned and watched the horizon again. Serena made him feel a little better, but he still hoped he’d make a better showing in their next encounter.
Matt was startled. He hadn’t noticed Emi had sidled up next to him.
“I can’t really make big warm speeches like Serena,” Emi said, glancing back at the blonde, “but you saved me.”
“Well… you saved me, too, with your wind blade,” he reminded her. “So let’s say we’re even.”
“B-But that… I was just really desperate and everything, and I only cut off its leg, it didn’t even seem that injured!” She looked down. “I was totally useless…”
Shit. She looked like she was about to cry. The last thing he need right now was for her to get all hysterical because she felt useless.
“Hey, if you hadn’t cut it with your wind blade, it could have gotten me before Ryan could step in,” Matt reminded her. It might not have been a lot, but it had definitely saved him. “You helped a lot, just because you didn’t kill it, that… doesn’t mean…”
Emi’s big green eyes gazed innocently back at him. “Doesn’t mean…?” She batted her eyelashes and smiled.
This girl-! She'd tricked him!
“…Shut up,” he huffed, turning away from her. Emi giggled.