Chapter 19:

Chapter 19: Service

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1

Cynthia adjusted her outfit in the mirror. She was on patrol today, and needed to look her best. Hair? Curled to perfection, of course! Uniform? Bright and blue as a baby’s eye! Smile? Just brimming with confidence!Bookmark here

Before reporting to the command office, Cynthia liked to spend her mornings walking through town. She had only been assigned to Carthade two weeks ago and was still getting to know her way around. It was so big! Nothing like the homestead she’d grown up on.Bookmark here

Plus, she could use the alone time to work on her officer’s swagger. That’s right, she was an officer in Central Services, a second lieutenant! She had the gold bar to prove it and everything!Bookmark here

A sweet scent called her off her usual path. Spiced peach bread fresh from the oven! She was sure a detour for breakfast would be fine.Bookmark here

“One loaf please!” She requested.Bookmark here

“Ah, thank you, that will be two and a half guls,” the baker said.Bookmark here

Cynthia counted out the coins when she spotted the listed prices.Bookmark here

“Wait, two and a half?” It clearly said three guls.Bookmark here

The elderly lady gave her a warm smile. “Military discount.”Bookmark here

“W-Wait, that’s okay, you don’t need to do that!” Cynthia frantically protested. The last thing she wanted was to take advantage of her commission like this!Bookmark here

But the baker was insistent. “I’m happy to do it. You all in Central Services, you put your lives on the line every day to keep us regular folk safe from the Emergents.”Bookmark here

Cynthia blushed, and paid the two and a half guls, and not a coin more. She left the bakery with her head held high.Bookmark here

She finished off the last of her bread as she entered the command center. Carthade was a large city close to the capital so the main office was crowded. She reported to her commanding officer, a surly balding captain, and received her assignment for the day.Bookmark here

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Cynthia’s assignment was a testament to the excellent work Central Services did in keeping the peace. What other reason could there be that a commissioned officer was given a job as modest as street patrol?Bookmark here

Today, she’d be working as the junior officer to first lieutenant Miles Hawthorn, a serious, no-nonsense type. He’d be watching her like a hawk with his sharp eyes and cold scowl. She couldn’t afford to mess up in front of him! They were assigned eight enlisted men for their patrol.Bookmark here

Cynthia was armed with a handgun and a baton, and a smile. Working on the wall was good, but she liked walking the beat. Seeing the faces of the people she was helping always brought a smile to her face.Bookmark here

Especially with a city as quiet as-Bookmark here

A scream shook Cynthia out of her serenity. It was followed by a massive crash. And more screams.Bookmark here

Cynthia took off in the direction of the screams. With the power of her Naturia she was there in a flash.Bookmark here

It took a moment to understand what she saw.Bookmark here

In the center of the road, suspended in the air, was a shiny silver dome. It was nearly twice her size, propped up on tentacle-like protrusions that twisted and churned. The dark tendrils were covered in armor.Bookmark here

It… it was an Emergent! She could see the cracks in the sky already mending.Bookmark here

An Emergent shouldn’t be here. There should have been no way to get past the city walls. But there was no denying the carnage it had wrought. Buildings were cracked open and cars were overturned. Massive fissures spread through the street. She couldn’t see anyone wounded. But there was blood. Lots of blood.Bookmark here

Cynthia immediately grabbed her radio and called for assistance, but there was nothing but static on the other end. Fuck! Was the thing broken?!Bookmark here

“L…Lieutenant…”Bookmark here

A flash of blue caught Cynthia’s eye. It was one of the soldiers! He was pinned under the debris. She dashed to his side. Not good, he was in critical condition and-Bookmark here

He reached up to her, and his arm fell off. The life escaped his eyes.Bookmark here

“Second Lieutenant Cynthia Ross requesting immediate assistance! Code 1-X! I repeat, Code 1-X, Emergent breakthrough, I repeat, EMERGENT BREAKTHROUGH! SEND… fuck!” She had to duck out of the way, her trusty legs clearing the Emergent’s tentacle as it swung towards her. It batted away the debris as easily as brushing away a fly. The tip of the writhing appendage split open to reveal rows of sharp teeth. Bookmark here

It was a grotesque sight. The tentacle sucked up the soldier’s body like a straw.Bookmark here

“SEND ANYBODY!” She shouted into the radio, pulling her gun.Bookmark here

Marksmanship wasn’t Cynthia’s strong point. But it didn’t really make a difference. The bullets harmlessly bounced off the Emergent’s armored shell. She fired until she emptied the clip, and jumped back to avoid another swing.Bookmark here

Then the Emergent’s tentacle pulled back. Its body throbbed and bloated and Cynthia prepared for the worst. Then it flattened itself, pushing off the ground and flying into the air.Bookmark here

Cynthia watched with horror as the creature soared through the sky, crashing down in another part of the city. The screams had started by the time she began to chase. This time she was closer, and this time she could see the civilians running away.Bookmark here

A lot of them didn’t get far.Bookmark here

The Emergent was big and bulky, but its tentacles were fast. It snatched up person after person, eating them in a sickening “SLURGHCH” of bone and viscera. Blood rained from the creature’s limbs as it thrashed in the street, wreaking mindless havoc to sate its hunger.Bookmark here

Cynthia was at a loss. She was out of bullets, and even if she wasn’t, she was armed for street patrol, she didn’t have any armor-piercing rounds.Bookmark here

Another scream and a cry. A mother and child. The mother’s fingers slipped from her daughter’s arm as the Emergent devoured her, another tentacle reaching for the little girl.Bookmark here

No. Cynthia used her Naturia at its maximum speed, tearing across the street. But as fast as she could run, she couldn’t make it in time! She turned her dash into a leap, sending her whole body flying forward.Bookmark here

She could barely see, but she felt something soft and warm in her arms. She hugged it close and rolled, shielding the girl with her body. The poor thing was crying.Bookmark here

Cynthia didn’t stop running until she’d brought the girl to safety. She had to save as many people as she could. Backup would arrive at some point. Someone had to have called for help by now, and by some chance they didn’t a bouncing metal jellyfish was pretty damn conspicuous.Bookmark here

She just had to hold out until then.Bookmark here

She pulled two more to safety before the Emergent could get to them. She stared loathingly at the faceless creature. How dare it do this? All these people… they were just trying to live their lives, damn it! All the smiling faces she’d greeted every morning… how many of them were in that thing’s belly right now?Bookmark here

BLAM! BLAM!Bookmark here

Gunfire! There was no mistaking it! But her excitement was short-lived as the bullets bounced off the Emergent like hers had.Bookmark here

“Second lieutenant! Are you okay?!”Bookmark here

“Lieu- Lieutenant Hawthorne!” Cynthia had never been so glad to see his scowling face. The lieutenant and three other soldiers came to her side, weapons drawn. Their bullets couldn’t hurt the thing but they were distracting it.Bookmark here

“Lieutenant, is your radio working?!” Lieutenant Hawthorne demanded. “Can you call for backup?!”Bookmark here

Cynthia shook her head. “N-No, I tried, but-“Bookmark here

“Ours weren’t working either,” the lieutenant grimly reported. “And neither were our cell phones. Whatever’s going on, we’re cut off from the main office!”Bookmark here

What… What was he saying? The radios were busted? No cell service? What was going on here?Bookmark here

“It’s like we were setup for something,” the lieutenant muttered under his breath. He turned to Cynthia. For the first time she saw something besides coldness. He was afraid. It didn’t show on his face or in his voice, but he was afraid. “Second lieutenant. I’m going to need you to follow my next orders very closely. Do I make myself clear?” His voice was surprisingly quiet.Bookmark here

“S-Sir! Yes sir!” Cynthia nodded, placing her hand over her chest.Bookmark here

“I need you… to run.”Bookmark here

Cynthia blinked.Bookmark here

“Run, sir?”Bookmark here

“Your Naturia lets you run faster than a car. And right now, we can’t get in contact with the main office!” His calm voice gave way to a shout. “Run! Get help as fast as you can! We need to minimize the damage to the city and start evacuations!”Bookmark here

For a second Cynthia was tempted to ignore his orders. The thought of abandoning Lieutenant Hawthorne and the rest to die make her sick to her stomach. But he was right. She could go and get help, she was the only one who could.Bookmark here

“…Yes, sir,” she said, giving him a salute. She turned and ran as fast as she could run. Her eyes were set on the bright blue flag in the distance.Bookmark here

But she never made it there. She had only gotten several blocks away when she ran into all the help she needed.Bookmark here

“Well now, where’s a little thing like you going in such a hurry?”Bookmark here

Cynthia was torn back by a sharp tug on her collar, nearly turning over from the momentum. She was aghast at being stopped until she saw who it was, and immediately tried to salute.Bookmark here

“Lieu-Lieutenant Colonel!”Bookmark here

Lieutenant Colonel Melanie Rhodes was one of the senior officers in Cynthia’s division, and a woman Cynthia both admired and feared. Tall and striking, her features were as beautiful and her smile was frightening. Bookmark here

She wasn’t even in uniform! The short-haired blonde was dressed head to toe in dark leather, her personal trademark. Melanie Rhodes was far from the officer ideal, having risen through the ranks on practically the merit of her Naturia alone. Bookmark here

No one wanted to work under the lieutenant colonel, but right now she was exactly who Cynthia needed.Bookmark here

“There’s an Emergent!” She cried. “It’s-“Bookmark here

“Yes, I know, I can hear it from here,” the officer scoffed. “And you’re running away from it?”Bookmark here

“I-I was going… to get help…”Bookmark here

A smile blossomed across the lieutenant colonel’s face.Bookmark here

“Then lead the way.”Bookmark here

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It took every ounce of willpower Cynthia had to run at the lieutenant colonel’s pace. She wanted to get there as fast as possible, to help out however she could. But she had to bring the lieutenant colonel back!Bookmark here

All she could do is hope that the lieutenant and the others would be able to hold out until they arrived!Bookmark here

When the Emergent came into view, her hopes were dashed. The streets were awash with blood, and empty save for the silvery beast. Its tentacles flailed in the air in search of prey. And that’s when she saw it.Bookmark here

An arm stuck out of one of the creature’s mouths. Cynthia saw the glitter of a gold watch. The watch Lieutenant Hawthorne had received from his wife for his birthday last week.Bookmark here

With a slurp it was gone.Bookmark here

Cynthia fell to her knees in shock. Today had started like any other day. How… How was this possible? How could this have happened?Bookmark here

She curled over her stomach and vomited up her spiced peach bread.Bookmark here

“What is this, your first time?”Bookmark here

Cynthia’s head shot up to see Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes staring coldly down at her.Bookmark here

“I-I just…”Bookmark here

“That’s the problem with you green recruits,” she tsked, stripping off her gloves. “When you get a taste for the real thing you just can’t handle it. But you’ll learn.”Bookmark here

She pulled her baton from its holster and pointed it at a puddle of blood. “If you don’t want to join them, anyway.”Bookmark here

It was then that Cynthia realized the lieutenant colonel was about to fight the Emergent with just a combat baton. What was she thinking?!Bookmark here

“Lieutenant Colonel, your weapon… don’t you have…?” Cynthia knew it was highly improper to speak out against a superior officer like this, but it just slipped out.Bookmark here

“You’re… a second lieutenant, right?” Melanie lazily asked, her eyes sliding to Cynthia’s bar as if seeing it for the first time. “Newly commissioned, I’d wager?”Bookmark here

She smiled and licked her lips.Bookmark here

“Then I guess you’re in for a private show. It’s your lucky day!”Bookmark here

Cynthia couldn’t believe the callousness to smile in a situation like this. But it wasn’t like there was anything she could do about it. She couldn’t even help.Bookmark here

“So, big guy!” Melanie shouted up at the Emergent, twirling her baton in her hand. “Had a bit of fun, eating a bunch of helpless folk who couldn’t fight back, didya?”Bookmark here

The Emergent turned, as if looking at her with eyes it didn’t have. It made a sound like a garbled bubbling, and lashed out with a tentacle.Bookmark here

Melanie raised her baton and deflected it. She was fast!Bookmark here

The creature pulled back its tentacle like it was hurt.Bookmark here

Melanie licked her lips again. “That stung, did it?”Bookmark here

“GRRGGLTHRESSH!” The Emergent gargled, lashing at her again. She blocked the strike, and the creature pulled back a second time. There was no third attack.Bookmark here

“Why… Why isn’t it attacking?” Cynthia asked in disbelief. She’d only seen the creature lash out to kill until now.Bookmark here

“Emergents might be dumb, but even they have animal instincts,” Melanie explained, tapping her baton against her hand. “Even a rat knows to stop if you shock it enough times.”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

“My Naturia… is Ecstasy Spark,” Melanie practically moaned, her face flushing. “Electricity runs through my entire body… I can generate it… moderate it… and release it.”Bookmark here

She touched her baton against the remains of a lamppost, and Cynthia jumped at the massive current that jumped between the two objects.Bookmark here

“Right now it’s about 1,000 volts of electricity,” Melanie explained, walking closer to the Emergent. “Just a bit of foreplay, only enough for a light kiss. See? It’s already coming for more!”Bookmark here

The Emergent appeared to have gotten over its initial wariness, its hunger trumping the pain. It swung another tentacle.Bookmark here

“But if we double it to 2,000 volts…” Melanie blocked it again. This time the creature cried.Bookmark here

“…It hurts, doesn’t it? That’s not some weak standard-issue stun-gun with reduced amperage that’s 2,000 watts of pure electrical power running through that hard shell of yours.” The way she spoke was chilling. It reminded Cynthia of a serial killer.Bookmark here

“…Shall we double it again?”Bookmark here

This time the lieutenant colonel went on the offensive. She ran forward, brushing her baton against the creature’s tentacle as she did. It practically exploded on contact.Bookmark here

Cynthia was amazed. She… she was forcing it back! The lieutenant colonel was terrifying with that gleeful smile on her face, but her Naturia was awesome! Finally she was under the creature, and grabbed its largest tentacle with her bare hand.Bookmark here

“I’m glad you Emergents can feel pain,” she murmured, practically caressing the creature. “It makes it so much better for me… watching you writhe like this.”Bookmark here

Cynthia had no idea how many volts her next attack was, but the flash was so bright it was blinding. By the time she could open her eyes again the Emergent was vaporized, black ash raining down upon the city.Bookmark here

Melanie wiped the sweat from her forehead. Her face was flushed with pleasure. “…Now that was satisfying.”Bookmark here

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