Chapter 15:

Chapter 15: Disgust

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1

“So that’s why you’ve got an issue with camping.”Bookmark here

“Yeah. After all the times my brother refused to take me on hunts with him, I just kind of grew to hate it. Sorry. I know I shouldn’t take it out on you guys.”Bookmark here

“No, no, don’t worry about it,” Ryan groaned. “It’s fine.”Bookmark here

Matt and Ryan were walking back to the campsite. The sun had set and the fire was burning bright. But just as the tents came into sight Matt slammed into something invisible.Bookmark here

“What the fuck?!” Matt rubbed his nose and stood up, shocked. He could feel a wall in front of him, even though he couldn’t see anything.Bookmark here

“Oh come on…” Ryan ran his hand along the wall and shook his head. He pounded on it. “Come on, Serena! Very funny!”Bookmark here

Serena rose from her folding chair and ambled over to them, a playful grin on her face. “Hey boys. Problem?”Bookmark here

“What is this?” Matt asked. He was more curious than annoyed. She was holding a remote control in her hand, and he assumed that had something to do with this.Bookmark here

“It’s a Barrier Orica Chain,” Ryan explained. “And it’s annoying! Let us in Serena!”Bookmark here

“Mmm… nah, you boys can sleep out there.” Serena’s playful grin said she was kidding. At least Matt hoped she was.Bookmark here

“Serena!”Bookmark here

Serena made a thoughtful face like she was thinking it over. “Hmmmm… tell you what! Ryan, say ‘Serena, you’re the cutest and sweetest girl in the Guardians’ and I’ll let you in!”Bookmark here

Matt couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They were supposed to be on a job, and they were playing around like this?Bookmark here

“Serena, you’re the cutest and sweetest girl in the Guardians.”Bookmark here

“Nuh-uh. Like you mean it. I wanna feel like I’m the cutest and sweetest.”Bookmark here

“Oh, come on!”Bookmark here

“And throw in a foot massage.”Bookmark here

Matt glanced over Serena’s shoulder. Emi was watching them and trying not to laugh. At least one of them was having fun.Bookmark here

“Serena, you are the most talented and beautiful girl I’ve ever laid eyes on. If only I was a bolder man I would worship you like the goddess you are.” Ryan’s smile was the fakest Matt had ever seen from him.Bookmark here

“Aww, Ryan, you’re such a sweetheart!” Serena cooed. She pressed a button on her remote. Matt could walk through the barrier now.Bookmark here

“So what are these Barrier Orica Chains?” Matt asked.Bookmark here

“Orica Chains are like normal Orica,” Serena explained, leading him over to a spot on the field. Matt saw a metal disc lying in the grass with a yellow crystal in the center. “But they link to other Orica. A normal Barrier Orica can create an energy shield, right? But if you have three or more of these special-made ones, they chain together to make a big barrier.Bookmark here

She flipped the switch again. The Orica flashed, and tracing a square of light around the perimeter of the campsite. The barrier was back up.Bookmark here

“They’re standard for camping out in the Wildlands. Emergents can’t emerge inside the barrier and not a lot can get through it. So we won’t end up getting eaten in our sleep.”Bookmark here

That was a relief.Bookmark here

“It’s getting late, guys,” Ryan called from the jeep. “Let’s have dinner, then we’re gonna have to pack it in for the night. We’re leaving at dawn.”Bookmark here

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After dinner the boys unloaded their sleeping bags while Serena helped Emi deal with the fire. She was concerned by how nervous the other girl was.Bookmark here

“Is everything okay, Emi?” The way she flinched was answer enough.Bookmark here

“I guess… just tired…” Emi wouldn’t meet her eyes.Bookmark here

Serena didn’t push the issue. Tiredness could be part of it, but she figured Emi was just worried about the Emergents. It had been a stressful day.Bookmark here

A smile was what she needed. “Let’s get packed up!”Bookmark here

They wished the boys goodnight and headed into the tent. It was a little cramped, but there was room. Serena changed into her pajamas while Emi eyed her enviously.Bookmark here

“Aren’t you going to change?” Serena asked. “You’re gonna roast with that cloak on in this heat.”Bookmark here

Emi scooted back a little. She’d been dreading this. Sleeping with her wings bound was uncomfortable, but showing Serena was terrifying.Bookmark here

The blonde’s warm hand on her cheek was a comfort.Bookmark here

“Hey. Are you okay?” Serena had hoped that getting Emi alone would help her unwind, but she looked even more uncomfortable.Bookmark here

Emi could feel Serena’s worried gaze, her eyes were so kind. She reminded Emi of her big sisters back home. Bookmark here

It… It would be okay, right? Serena was a girl, and she was so pretty, she wouldn’t be jealous or mean like all those other girls.Bookmark here

“Serena…”Bookmark here

“Yeah sweetie?”Bookmark here

She was gonna do it. She was. Emi squeezed her eyes shut and tried to be brave. When Matt saw her wings, she’d thought it was the end of the world. But he hadn’t treated her any differently after that. He didn’t look at her the way other boys had.Bookmark here

Serena was even nicer than Matt. Emi could do this.Bookmark here

“Can I tell you a secret?” She squeaked out.Bookmark here

“Of course!” Serena was caught off-guard by that, but she was always willing to listen to a friend who needed her. “I promise it won’t leave the tent.”Bookmark here

That soothed her nerves. Emi let out a sigh of relief and shed her coat. She unbuttoned her shirt and unlatched the harness underneath, shrugging those off, too.Bookmark here

It was such a relief to let her wings finally breathe. She opened them and relished in the touch of the air against her sweat-matted feathers.Bookmark here

Not hearing any gasps of disgust or outrage, Emi cautiously opened her eyes. Serena’s wide-eyed face showed surprise, but not rejection.Bookmark here

“You’re a Venti?” She whispered.Bookmark here

Emi nodded. “You can’t tell anyone, please.”Bookmark here

Serena hand reached out instinctively but she pulled it back. Emi didn’t mind, people naturally felt the urge to touch her feathers.Bookmark here

“Does anyone else know?”Bookmark here

“The boss does. And Matt. But nobody else! And you can’t tell ‘em either! Please!”Bookmark here

“I already promised, I won’t.” Serena’s smile soothed Emi’s worries. “But I can’t imagine why you’d want to hide something like this! Your wings are beautiful, Emi! Why, if I had wings like you I’d be showing them off to everyone!”Bookmark here

A cringe of terror shot through Emi as she imagined that. “N-No, I… I could never.” She hugged her knees to her chest.Bookmark here

“…Well, there’s nothing wrong with being shy. I’m glad you thought you could share your secret with me, though.”Bookmark here

“I… thought that if it was you, it would be okay…” Emi wasn’t naïve enough to believe she could hide her wings from the others forever. She showed Serena first because Serena was so nice, she would definitely accept Emi being a Venti. And so far it looked like she did.Bookmark here

A coy smile crossed Serena’s lips. “…But you already showed Matt? Oooh, tell me what that was like!”Bookmark here

Emi’s face twisted in shock. She felt a little queasy. “NO!” She hissed, quickly pulling her cloak up over her chest. “I-I didn’t… I didn’t show him! He just saw me on accident! …And dressed! Very dressed! There were mountains of dressing involved!”Bookmark here

Oh, why was her face this hot?! Serena’s giggling didn’t make it any easier. She WAS just like Emi’s big sisters!Bookmark here

“…And besides, he has a girlfriend anyway.” Emi stared at the floor of the tent until she realized she’d said that last part out loud. Her eyes shot up to Serena’s, seeing the amazed look on her face.Bookmark here

There is was, the look of realization.Bookmark here

Oh no.Bookmark here

OH. NO.Bookmark here

“Emi, do you-“Bookmark here

Oh no. No no no no, no, this was bad, this was-Bookmark here

“Do you like Matt?”Bookmark here

“No! Shut up! I do not!” Emi practically flew at Serena to try and get her to shut up.Bookmark here

“You’re the one shouting!” Serena hissed at her. Emi realized that their tent wasn’t far from the boys’. Her voice died in her throat and she felt like dying too.Bookmark here

Emi fell off Serena and curled into a ball. She could feel the outburst coming and she braced for it. She was crashing, HARD. Raw emotion was rolling over the horizon like a tidal wave, and it slammed into her.Bookmark here

She collapsed.Bookmark here

“Emi?!” Serena rushed to her side and helped her up.Bookmark here

“It’s not fair…” Emi wailed. “It’s not…”Bookmark here

“Oh, come here, don’t cry,” Serena crooned, wiping the tears from her eyes. “There’s nothing wrong with liking a boy, Emi, it’s natural! I think it’s sweet!”Bookmark here

“He has a girlfriend!” Emi had to keep her voice down. If Matt heard how she felt, that was it. She would really end things then.Bookmark here

“…Well, yes, he does,” Serena admitted. “And I know that must be hard.”Bookmark here

“I hate feeling this way. I hate it! Stupid, stupid!”Bookmark here

Serena was stunned by Emi’s transformation. She’d been an ocean of smiles all day, the brightest Serena had ever seen her. And now she was like a puddle of misery.Bookmark here

“Emi, you haven’t even known him a week,” Serena gently reminded her. “I know it stings, but-“Bookmark here

“It’s not about that!” She sobbed.Bookmark here

Emi knew that her feelings for Matt weren’t normal. That made it even worse. She pulled away from Serena and sat up, wiping her nose.Bookmark here

“I’m a Venti… even if he didn’t have a girlfriend, I’m still…”Bookmark here

Serena could understand being upset that your crush had a girlfriend, but she couldn’t understand Emi’s tears. She wanted to give her a big hug, but she was afraid it would set her off even worse.Bookmark here

“When I was in school, do you know what the other girls called me? Do you know how the boys looked at me?”Bookmark here

Emi searched desperately for understanding. Serena was a gorgeous woman, someone that lovely must have had her share of troubles like this.Bookmark here

A shadow crossed Serena’s face. “Slut. Whore. Bitch. Loose woman. Tramp.” She wasn’t looking at Emi when she said them. She wasn’t looking at anything. “…They’re just words, Emi.”Bookmark here

“Well, when you know that’s all people think of you as, they’re a lot worse than just words,” she muttered.Bookmark here

“But no one here would ever call you that! And as for boys, no one would ever look at you that way just because you’re a Venti!”Bookmark here

Serena was far from ignorant to the pain of slutshaming. And it must have been a thousand times worse to be thought of that way just because of your race.Bookmark here

She wanted to help the girl, but she wasn’t sure what words she could offer to console her.Bookmark here

“Emi, you’re a beautiful girl. Matt knows you’re a Venti, doesn’t he? And he doesn’t think that about you, right?”Bookmark here

Emi sniffled and shook her head.Bookmark here

Matt was kind. He saw her as just another girl. Not a Venti. It was wonderful and sweet, and for Emi, that might have been enough to develop feelings for him.Bookmark here

But that wasn’t what she felt.Bookmark here

“Serena?”Bookmark here

“Yeah?”Bookmark here

“Have you ever… been with someone before?”Bookmark here

Well. Of all the hard questions, Serena hadn’t expected that one. “I… I have, why?”Bookmark here

“Is it… good?”Bookmark here

Normally Serena would be fine gently leading Emi through a course on sex ed. But the tension in the air gave her pause.Bookmark here

“What’s this about, Emi?”Bookmark here

“People… a lot of people… they think Venti are sluts, and say we spread our legs for anyone.” Serena didn’t like the self-loathing she heard in Emi’s voice.Bookmark here

“But I don’t think that. And a lot of people-“Bookmark here

“I want to have sex with Matt.”Bookmark here

A feather could have knocked Serena over after hearing THAT one. Shy little Emi, a girl Serena was CERTAIN had never known the touch of a man before, had just admitted to wanting to have sex with Matt?Bookmark here

“W-Well, Emi, that’s-“Bookmark here

“But I don’t want to!” She cried. “I-I mean… I do, but…”Bookmark here

Emi clutched her stomach, just under her bellybutton.Bookmark here

“Matt… is a great guy… he’s the nicest any human guy has ever been to me. And… even though I know it’s wrong, even though he has a girlfriend, whenever he smiles at me, or gets close to me, I just get all warm right here, and I… I want to…”Bookmark here

Emi would have never admitted any of this if she were in her right mind. But she wasn’t. Self-control had gone on vacation a long time ago and her emotions were throwing a party in its absence. She felt like if she didn’t get this out to someone NOW it would stay bottled up until she did something she couldn’t take back.Bookmark here

“Emi, those thoughts… I mean, fantasies about boys, that’s normal, especially for a teenager,” Serena tried to comfort her. “You shouldn’t feel bad about something like that.”Bookmark here

Serena didn’t get it. She was a human. It was different for Venti.Bookmark here

“Venti aren’t… like that. When we… when we’re… attracted to someone, we… even if we don’t want to, sometimes…” She couldn’t say it. It was sick. She was sick. Sick and twisted and horrible. She didn’t deserve Matt’s kindness. If he saw the way she really thought about him, even though she knew about his girlfriend, he would be disgusted with her.Bookmark here

It made her want to laugh.Bookmark here

“Emi?” Serena was starting to worry.Bookmark here

“Did you know… I have a beautiful singing voice?” Emi asked, wiping her eyes. She couldn’t even look at Serena right now. She was too disgusted with herself. “I mean… all Venti do, but me… mine was beautiful. My mom told me every day how lovely my songs were. I loved to sing for her when I was little. But now I… I haven’t sung for anyone in years. Because if a guy hears my song then he’d…”Bookmark here

Serena’s heart ached. She couldn’t imagine what it was like.Bookmark here

“Emi…” All she could do was uselessly say her name.Bookmark here

“I’ve been alone with Matt a few times, and I knew. Looking into his eyes I could feel it, all it would take was one song. Just a few notes and he would be mine. I could do all the things with him my body is SCREAMING at me to do! And when that feeling comes… I want to die. Because I know I’m a filthy, disgusting person for even thinking that.”Bookmark here

Serena didn’t have any words to comfort her. All she could was hug the sobbing Venti and give her a shoulder to cry on.Bookmark here

“I don’t WANT to be like this! I want to like a guy normally! I want to fall in love with someone, not have my body screaming at me to… to… that the minute I see him! It’s not fair!” Bookmark here

Her voice finally broke. She whimpered and snorted into Serena’s nightshirt.Bookmark here

“…Why does it have to be me?”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.