Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Matt barely had time to think as he jumped out of the way of the Emergent. His body was making the decisions for him, doing whatever it took to stay out of harm’s way. Ryan was down, Serena was running towards him, and Emi…
Wait, where was Emi?
Emi was wallowing in fear and self-loathing. There was nothing new about that, but she felt particularly miserable right now.
She had always been afraid of Emergents. Even before she ever saw one, she’d heard the stories.
But Emi didn’t know anything. She’d only had a child’s understanding of how terrifying an Emergent could be. But when that Emergent had grown right before her eyes and put Ryan on the ground, she learned about real fear.
Like the coward she was, Emi had run away. She’d rushed to safety behind the doors of the jeep, curled up behind the wheel and hoping the Emergent wouldn’t see her.
And she hated herself for it. She hated this part of her.
For as long as Emi could remember, there had been two sides to her. When she was at her best, she was happy and filled with energy. Everything was bright and filled her with joy, you couldn’t keep the smile off of her face. But then there were the days like this. When the depression sank in and the worst of her came out. Miserable. Pathetic. Someone so frightened she would abandon her friends to die just so she could live a few seconds longer. And no matter how wrong she knew it was, she wasn’t strong enough to fight it.
All she could do was hug her knees and whisper apologies as she shut her eyes away from the horror in front of her.
But Emi was the only one blaming her for her decision. Neither Serena nor Matt could hold it against her. They were both doing their best just to stay alive; what could Emi do against this Emergent? Send a small breeze to cool it off before it ate them?
At least while she was hiding, she was safe. They could focus on keeping away from the thing.
While Matt was panicking and trying to keep the creature’s lightning-fast tail from hitting him, he found himself wondering how the hell this thing was so strong. He used his Naturia to block a strike to chest that would have caved in his ribcage and looked to Serena. She had it worse than he did.
While Matt was fending off the Emergent’s whip-like tail, Serena was dealing with the rest of it. She stood like a sentinel in front of Ryan’s crumpled body, shaping her dust into shield after shield as the creature swatted at it.
Judging from the strain on her face, she couldn’t keep this going for long. Matt couldn’t imagine the kind of control needed to use a complex Naturia like hers, and he wasn’t in the mood for finding out her limit today.
If only there was some way to get the creature’s attention, get it to focus only on him. Serena had more experience with these sorts of fights than he did, maybe she could come up with a plan. But she didn’t have any time to think!
Matt looked around for something he could use, and he saw something shining in the grass.
The knife! That was it! Perfect! The only problem was that there was a tail as thick as a tree branch between him and it.
Matt sucked in his breath and wait for when the Emergent lunged high towards his chest again. He ducked and rolled under the tail, snatching up the knife and breaking into a sprint. He clutched it tightly and wince in anticipation, drawing the blade across his palm.
“HEY!” He shouted, ignoring the pain and digging even deeper into his skin. “HEY LIZARD! OVER HERE!”
He clenched his wounded and into a fist and squeezed his blood out onto the grass. The Emergent froze, its tail hovering in the air, and its head whipped around towards him.
Yes! Perfect! It caught the scent!
The creature may have been fast and strong, but it was still an Emergent. Its primal urge to feed took precedence over everything else, and right now the isolated and wounded Matt made better prey than Serena and Ryan, who it couldn’t get its claws into. The beast rounded on Matt instead, fangs opening wide.
Matt knew he had just made the dumbest of all dumb decisions but now wasn’t the time to beat himself up. Ryan told him to do what he could do, and right now what he could do was be bait. As the Emergent got closer, Matt tried to cool his thoughts and remember his training.
When the Emergent got near enough to attack, it rose onto its hind legs and lifted its claw to strike. It’s just like martial arts class, no big deal, Matt told himself as he stepped into the arc of the swing.
The Emergent was caught off-guard. Even its primitive brain could recognize patterns, and it new from experience that when it attacked prey, the prey would try to get away from its fangs, not come closer to them. That second of hesitation before it lunged into bite Matt’s head off gave him enough time to duck under the creature’s arm, stepping past it-
…And right into the path of its tail. Matt was knocked off his feet by the heft thing, flung back into the grass. Luckily his Naturia had shielded him, otherwise his guts would have been sprayed across the Wildlands. But he was still on his back with an Emergent bearing down on him, a position he was getting far too used to.
“GYRAAAAAAAAAAASHH!” The Emergent gnashed its jaws and dropped down on Matt, ready to rip him to shreds.
Fine then. He certainly wasn’t going to make it easy! Matt covered what he could with his Naturia as he looked up into the creature’s ravenous maw. Hopefully if it eats me… I can stall it long enough for the others to…
Matt wasn’t sure what he was hoping for in those agonizingly long seconds before the end. That Serena would be able to kill it? That they could get away?
He knew he was about to die, but he didn’t think of his loved ones. His mind was blank.
But the bite of the Emergent never came. Its claws never tore into his flesh.
All Matt could see in front of him was silver. A silver cocoon had covered his body, the Emergent thrashing uselessly against it.
From the corner of his eye, he spotted an exhausted Serena with her hand raised, shielding him with her Naturia. He felt a surge of triumph for a moment before he realized what it meant.
Serena didn’t have a plan. She’d desperately tried to save him. And she was weakening. He sighed in resignation and stared up at the shield of dust above him, looking frailer and frailer by the second.
Emi couldn’t watch. The Emergent was right in front of her, trying to kill Matt. This was just like last time. She was useless then, and she was useless now. Where had the strong and brave Emi from yesterday gone?! Why couldn’t she be that Emi again?
“I’m sorry, Matt… I tried, I really did,” she whimpered pathetically, tears rolling down her cheeks. “But I can’t… I’m not brave like you.”
Emi had seen the whole thing. Matt had cut his hand open to lure the Emergent away, even though he knew he might die. Even though he couldn’t fight it. Emi could never do something like that.
Neither one of them were strong enough to hurt the thing. But Matt was fighting it anyway. Because he was brave, and Emi wasn’t.
Matt was gonna die. He was gonna die, and she was gonna let it happen.
Matt and his warm eyes. His sweet smile. He was the first boy to look at Emi and see a girl, not a Venti to screw. She’d only known him a few days, but he already held such a big part of her heart.
And she was just going to let him die.
Something in Emi clicked. Like that other side of herself was calling out to her, trying to push her way back into Emi’s thoughts. Her negative emotions were like powerful tide, but this other Emi was trying to swim against the current and force herself inside.
So what if Emi was weak? So what if she couldn’t do anything? Was she really just going to let someone she cared about die because she was that weak?
She wasn’t at her best. She wasn’t shining Emi who went wild and loved life. She was more miserable than ever, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t help.
Grabbing her staff, Emi summoned up what little willpower and courage she could muster in her present state and resolved to do her best. She was going to fight! She wasn’t going to hide away in this jeep!
She was in a jeep.
The Emergent’s roars were getting louder and more furious as it slashed away at the metal sand. It was deafening, but it kept Matt focused. He could see that Serena was taking longer and longer to repair the damage. She must have been weakening. He grimaced and raised his arms to shield his vitals as the monster ripped away a whole large enough to reach him through.
It was right on top of him, hideous mouth stretching wide. He could feel its hot drool sizzling against his skin as it prepared to rip his face off.
Then it was gone.
Matt sucked in a gasp of air in disbelief, the pressure of the Emergent’s weight lifted from him immediately. He sat up and caught his breath, confused.
Emi was confused herself. She clutched the wheel so tightly her knuckles turned white, hyperventilating. “Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit…” She continued to mutter in disbelief.
Emi had hit the Emergent with 2,500 pounds of solid metal truck, sending the monster flying. She couldn’t believe she had just done that! How the hell had she just done that?!
“Emi?! What the… wow!” Serena was at a loss for words. Matt just stared up at her in amazement.
All heads turned in terror at the beast’s cringing roar.
The blow had hurt the Emergent, no doubt about that. Its left claw had nearly been ripped from its socket and its side was caved in, chunks of metal plating hanging off of torn open black muck.
But a wounded Emergent was not a dead Emergent. And the beast was already on the mend, tears repairing and armor hardening as it limped back towards them, picking up speed with every step.
Emi slumped back in her seat, defeated.
It was Serena who took action. She may have been forced to stop using her Naturia from fatigue, but she was NOT going to die here. She crouched next to Ryan to see if he was okay. They had to get out of here, NOW.
He was in bad shape. The surface wounds were manageable, but his head was bleeding. He must have hit a rock when he came down. His eyes were blurry and unfocused, and she feared he might have a concussion.
“Come on big guy, you aren’t leaving me like this,” Serena pleaded, trying to help him up. “Come on, we need to get moving!”
“W… Wait…” He managed to mumble out. “C-Can’t… need… need flare gun… get… others to…”
That was all he managed before he passed out.
“Matt!” Serena shouted. “Get the flare gun! We need to signal! Now!”
Just happy to still be alive, Matt was on the move. He ducked around the jeep to the glove compartment and fumbled for the flare gun. Even if that thing got them, someone else would be able to find it and take care of it, and-
Pain worse than anything Matt had ever felt shot through his leg. The Emergent had reached them and gone for the first thing it could get. It bit down hard, its fangs like daggers cutting through flesh, bone, muscle as it prepared to eat Matt’s leg first, and then the rest of him.
“You… fucking… die!” If Matt tried to pull free it would rip his leg off. So, he did the one thing he could and swung his knife into the only weak point he saw on the armored creature.
“GHHHIIIIIIIIIIIEEEEE!” The creature wailed as black sludge gushed out of its eye, rearing back and freeing Matt from its jagged fangs. Exhausted and bleeding heavily Matt slipped from the jeep and hit the grass, the flare gun hot in his hand.
He’d barely slowed the thing down. It was on him again, and he didn’t have the strength to fight it off. For the briefest of seconds Matt looked the creature in its good eye, seeing the primal hunger and rage contained in the glowing red orb.
It reared its head back and opened wide, preparing to finish the job it had started on his leg.
Cynthia was the first thing Matt thought of. Cynthia, then Jermaine, then Sarah. His brother, and Emi, the rest of the Guardians, they all flashed through his mind as he stared into the vacuous void the Emergent called a mouth.
He didn’t even feel himself doing it. He’d never be able to explain how it happened. But as the beast stretched its jaws and prepared to devour him, he raised the flare gun and pointed the barrel down the thing’s throat.
The light nearly blinded him, and the heat seared his face. The Emergent didn’t even have time to cry out as its head exploded, raining black gunk down on Matt.
He slumped back, exhausted, and lost consciousness.