Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
When Emi woke up, memories of the night before flooded her mind and she felt the world coming down around her.
She… She’d shown Serena her wings last night! She’d been totally out of control, what had she been thinking?! And not only that, everything else she’d said, revealing her… feelings about Matt…
How could she show her face?!
“Emi? Up already?” Serena yawned, sitting up and turning towards Emi. Emi gulped and feigned dead.
“…Emi I saw you, that’s not going to work.”
“Emi’s dead now, go ‘way.”
Serena gently touched her shoulder.
“What you told me last night… I promise I won’t tell anyone. And I’m sorry I couldn’t be more help.”
Emi sighed. She’d messed up last night. And even though she wanted to just die and be done with it, she couldn’t do that.
She sighed and got dressed.
After a quick ration breakfast they packed up the campsite and hit the road again. Matt could tell something was up with Emi. She seemed really down compared to yesterday. He scooted beside her.
“Hey, are you good?” He asked.
She raised her head and gave him a tired look. “Whatever.”
Matt could feel an aura of “shut the hell up and get out of my face” emanating from the small girl, so he quickly complied. He didn’t feel good about it, though. He kept watching Emi out of the corner of his eye as the jeep crossed the Wildlands and wondered what had happened to get her so down today.
It was a few more hours of awkward silence before Ryan stopped the car for a stretch break. Right on time, too, Matt was starting to get sore. He got out to take a quick walk and Ryan followed him.
“Here.” He handed Matt a knife like the one from yesterday.
Matt was wary about taking it. The last knife he’d used had snapped like a twig. They clearly weren’t made for fighting Emergents.
“I know it wasn’t much help last time, but I’d still feel better if you held onto it,” Ryan explained, seeing the apprehension on Matt’s face.
Matt took the knife. It felt flimsier than the last one, but it was better than nothing.
“Remember, Matt, this time just do what you can. That’s all any of us are expecting.”
Ryan cracked a grin and gave him a light sock in the shoulder. “And we’ll do what we can, too!” He laughed.
Ryan’s positive attitude was infectious and Matt found himself smiling too. They returned to the jeep and set out again, Matt feeling a little better about their chances.
Emi, on the other hand, looked like she was getting worse.
Matt could tell she wanted to be left alone, but he was also worried. They would need her help fighting these Emergents, so he had to make sure she was okay.
“Hey, Emi, are-“
A sharp whistle cut out his words and he jumped to attention. The distortion tracker had just gone off, and that meant the Emergents were coming!
Ryan slammed on the brakes and nearly sent Matt flying out of the jeep.
“Come on, get ready!” He shouted, leaping from the vehicle and grabbing his sword off the side. Serena followed after him.
Matt jumped off the edge and turned back to Emi. “Emi, let’s go!”
She curled up and shook her head. She should help, she KNEW she should! But she couldn’t bring herself to move.
Pathetic. I can’t believe I’m this weak. My friends are going to fight for their lives, and I’m too scared to join them.
Her eyes snapped open and she gasped. Matt’s face was right in front of hers.
“Come on.” He took her hand in his. It was so warm. “We need you.”
Emi didn’t know what to say, so she just nodded.
Matt and Emi joined the other two in the field. Everyone was tense, anticipating the attack of the Emergents.
“Shouldn’t they be here right now?” Matt asked, looking around.
“The distortion tracker has a maximum range of two miles,” Ryan replied. “It’s hard to say when they’ll get here if they’re at the edge of it.”
“Plus there’s the forest,” Serena added, pointing her staff at the trees near the road. “That could provide some significant cover.”
Matt’s knife felt heavy in his hands. This would only be his third bout with Emergents, but he should be fine, right?
Emi wished she could be that confident. But she wanted to run back to the jeep and hide. No, you have to be strong! Even when you’re like this, Emi! You need to be strong and brave!
“Ghiiiiisssss…” A rasping sound came from the woods, and three figures slithered out.
“There!” Ryan pointed his sword at the monstrous Emergents.
They metallic creatures were slim with reptilian features, like armored lizards. They scuttled towards the group, red eyes glowing hungrily.
“Only three?” Serena sighed in relief, relaxing a little. “Three shouldn’t be a problem. Emi, can use whip up a wind wall like last time?”
“I-I’ll try,” she stuttered, raising her staff. She tried to summon winds, but she was afraid. What if she messed up? What if someone got hurt? Her doubts seeped out and poisoned her mana, and the resulting spell was much weaker than it should have been, barely slowing the Emergents at all.
“They’re breaking through!” Ryan shouted, running forward. He brought his sword down on the closest of the trio, but it evaded him, whipping out with its tail and slicing through his shirt.
“Shit, they’re faster than the last bunch!” Ryan jumped back to safety and Serena stepped forward.
“That’s just fine with me! Shatter Dance!” Serena swung her staff and it turned into sand, swirling towards the Emergent.
Serena grinned. “The scales on these look a lot thinner than the last bunch! And that’s just perfect!”
She twisted her hand and held out two fingers like a blade, and the sand moved with her, pressing thin like a needle.
“Watch closely boys, and I’ll show you how it’s done!” Serena couldn’t make new solid objects with her Naturia, but she could still mold the particles into different shapes by pressing and stretching them. This form wouldn’t have the strength of a spear, but it could still stab just fine!
Her sand pierced the Emergent through the throat, coming out the other side. She brought it back down and stabbed it again, weaving the compressed particles through the Emergent’s hide like a sewing needle through cloth.
The first Emergent burst into pieces, and she turned to the next.
“Serena, go for the legs this time!” Ryan called as he ran for the next one.
Matt was amazed at their teamwork. Serena pierced the Emergent’s legs with her Naturia, impeding its movements, slowing it down enough for Ryan to lop off its head. He felt relieved seeing the two of them in action, like he knew it would be okay.
Ryan and Serena turned to the last Emergent, watching them carefully from the rear of the pack. It snarled and hissed at them, but didn’t approach.
“One left,” Ryan said, raising his sword. “How should we handle it?”
“Same as before?” She suggested, sculpting her staff into another thin blade. “I go for the legs and you take the head?”
“GIIIIIIIIIYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRSSSSSSSSSSHHHH!” The Emergent reared up onto its hind legs and threw back its head, unleashing a roar so loud the trees shook.
“What’s it doing?” Serena winced, holding her ears. This thing was so loud it was impossible to think!
Whatever it was doing, it wasn’t attacking, and that meant this was their chance to strike! Serena brought her hand forward and sent her shattered staff flying towards the Emergent, compressing the particles of the tip into a fine point.
But before it could pierce the Emergent’s hide, the creature grabbed it out of the air.
“What?!” She gasped in disbelief.
“Hey, what’s it doing there?” Matt couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He’d thought it was odd that the Emergent stood up on its hind legs, but he dismissed it as some bizarre defensive move. But now it was doing something else. He thought his eyes were playing tricks on him, but no.
The Emergent was growing. Its muscles bulged underneath its armor and the metal plates stretched to wrap over them. Like a balloon inflating with air its body grew and shifted as it straightened its posture, looking less like a lizard and more like a man. The Emergent’s claws and fangs lengthened and sharpened as its tail stretched out behind it, thumping against the ground. By the time it finished it must have been eight feet tall.
Matt had heard of Emergents that could change and grow, but he’d never heard of one that could change its shape this drastically before. He looked to Ryan for answers but the other boy looked as shocked as he was.
“Is it… transforming? Evolving somehow?” Ryan said the words like he couldn’t believe them. But Matt couldn’t think of any other way to describe what they were looking at.
“It’s bigger, that means it’s a bigger target,” Serena said, pulling back her weapon and adjusting its shape. “This time I’ll lock it down!”
She swung her arm and dispersed the blade into a cloud of fog, sending it towards the Emergent. She hardened the particles to seal its movements, hoping to slow it down enough for Ryan to finish it off.
With a roar, the Emergent broke free of its restraints and charged.
Serena cursed, leaping out of the way. She quickly sent the sand at the creature, stabbing it in the back. But it couldn’t even scratch the surface.
“What?! But it worked last time!”
“So its scales are harder now? Oh, that’s just great!” Ryan glared at the approaching Emergent. “Well, come at it big guy! Let’s see you defend against this!”
Ryan put everything he had into his swing. That thing’s armor might be tough, but his blade had definitely cut through harder!
The Emergent slipped around the sword like its body was made out of water.
It’s so much bigger… but still as fast as before? Impossible… Those thoughts were the last things to pass through Ryan’s head as the Emergent’s tale slammed into him, and then he was in the air.
“RYAN!” Serena screamed as she saw him crumple and hit the ground. His sword had fallen and he wasn’t moving.
Matt’s heart was racing a mile a minute. Ryan was already down. Serena’s attacks were ineffective, and now the Emergent was coming for him. How had it gone to shit this fast?!
The knife slipped from his fingers, next to useless against the monstrosity that approached. His head was blank, he had no idea what do.