Chapter 29:

Chapter 29: Cold Night

Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1

The wind was rustling through the trees.Bookmark here

That was the sound Emi chose to focus on during her meditation. It was something she was trying to keep her mood swings in check. Something had to work at some point, right?Bookmark here

She couldn’t thank Willow enough for letting her use the outdoor garden. It was so peaceful here. It reminded her of her mountain home.Bookmark here

A cold gust made her shiver. The nights were getting chillier. Summer was coming to an end.Bookmark here

I can’t wait for the winter. I wonder if it’ll snow? That would be nice. Memories of home washed across her, bringing a smile to her lips. The crisp smell of the mountain air, the flutter of horse feathers above her head, and the soothing songs of-Bookmark here

“Emi, are you still doing that magic thing? You’re not gonna find a guy between the pages of a book, you know!” Bookmark here

Emi’s peaceful meditation was interrupted by her sister’s haughty smirk. Stupid Malita! She had to ruin everything! She shifted her posture and tried to return to that peaceful calm of an autumn’s eve…Bookmark here

“Emi just because you had a nice voice as a kid doesn’t mean you can look down on us! If you don’t practice your singing when the time comes you’re gonna lose out!”Bookmark here

Go away Lucina, I’m trying to meditate! Two sisters now, pushing their way into her thoughts when she was trying to focus! She didn’t want to spend another thought on her sisters. Back to calm, back to calm… She focused on the rustling of the trees again.Bookmark here

“Emi! Come on, let’s take a break and go fly with the horses!”Bookmark here

…And there was Amatia. Three for three on annoying big sisters. They couldn’t be more of a pain if they were right here in front of her.Bookmark here

The voices of the terrible trio blended together in a chorus of torment that refused to let her meditate in peace. She tried to force them out of her mind, but as she did a new face popped up to replace them.Bookmark here

“Hey Emi! Matti and I are going to watch a movie in the common room, wanna join?!”Bookmark here

Emi warily opened her eyes. Another meditation attempt foiled by her wandering mind. She’d been meditating more frequently since Cynthia had arrived, trying to regain her focus and put her feelings away.Bookmark here

This had been one of her more successful attempts.Bookmark here

With a sigh, she got up and left, deciding to take a walk. It was too late to do a job, and if she went inside then she’d see Cynthia and Matt being all lovey-dovey, and she didn’t have the stomach for that. So a walk it was.Bookmark here

There was more to the island than just Strayhaven. There were rolling hills and a large forest, and even a lake in the center with a river flowing down towards the ocean. Emi had admired the scenery from her balcony, but seldom had the free time to go exploring.Bookmark here

It was better than walking in Goldia. People were noisy and crowded around, but here in the forest she could feel free. She didn’t have to worry about offending someone or messing up, she could feel at peace.Bookmark here

She listened to the sounds of rushing water until she reached the river, and decided to follow it back to its home.Bookmark here

Emi was surprised how big the island was. She didn’t have a watch, but it must have taken her twenty minutes to reach the lake! She was glad that she did, it looked lovely. The dark water glowed in the light of the moon and the dancing fireflies, and she vowed to come back tomorrow to see what it looked like during the day.Bookmark here

She sat on the edge and thought about tomorrow. Cynthia would be leaving in the morning, and Emi… felt sad.Bookmark here

She had never managed to work up the courage to come clean with the other girl. As far as Cynthia knew, Emi only thought of Matt as a friend. Serena had told her that she didn’t need to say anything, but Emi…Bookmark here

Emi still felt like a liar. Like every smile she gave Cynthia was a lie, and every one she got back was undeserved.Bookmark here

There was another part of her, a dark part, that told her to just let it be. It whispered worries in her ear, telling her that if she revealed the truth to Cynthia, then no doubt she would tell Matt.Bookmark here

That was a terrifying thought that paralyzed her.Bookmark here

If Matt knew how she felt… if he knew how much of a liar she was… she was afraid that she’d never see those kind eyes of his again. His smile wouldn’t be welcoming anymore, he would look at her like… like… like those boys had.Bookmark here

Maybe she deserved that for feeling this way about him.Bookmark here

“There’s nothing wrong with fantasizing about a boy,” Serena had told her.Bookmark here

But it FELT wrong. Nothing about this felt right at all! And the longer she sat out here, recalling her disgusting fantasies, the more she felt the brightness in her slipping away, swallowed by the approaching depression.Bookmark here

She shivered and pulled her cloak a little tighter around her body. It was so cold… it hadn’t been this cold before. Bookmark here

Emi loved the cold, but even this was a little much. She could see her breath in front of her!Bookmark here

She took the chill as a sign she should probably head back inside. She’d spent enough time out here feeling bad for herself, she had to go tell Cynthia NOW.Bookmark here

Emi knew she wouldn’t be this high forever. She would fall soon, maybe even later tonight, and then she’d feel even worse than she did now if she didn’t come clean.Bookmark here

And if Matt didn’t want to be her friend anymore… she’d have to accept that. It was what she deserved after all.Bookmark here

Emi stood up and looked wistfully at the dark waters one last time before turning to the forest edge.Bookmark here

She never made it.Bookmark here

A rustle in the bushes startled her. Was someone there? Before she could call out, though, a dark shape burst out of the forest running straight for her. But it wasn’t a person, it was a wild boar!Bookmark here

“Wh-What?!” She cried, nearly tumbling into the lake in shock. There were wild animals on the island?!Bookmark here

It wasn’t as scary as an Emergent, but it was big and angry and barreling right for her, and in the dark she couldn’t see it clearly. She tried to calm down and summon her magic, but without her staff to focus her mana she’d have a hard time blowing a leaf forward.Bookmark here

Then a sick sound of something piercing flesh broke over her cries, and the boar crashed into a heap in front of her.Bookmark here

In the dim light she saw something shiny sticking out of the beast’s hide, and she felt another cold gust of wind pass by.Bookmark here

Another figure emerged from the forest.Bookmark here

Emi screamed. It was scarier than the boar!Bookmark here

Kayla ran towards her on all fours, and she brought the cold with her. Claws of ice covered her arms and legs, and a sharp tail danced above her head. She leapt into the air and fired an icicle from her tail with a snap, piercing the boar’s side again.Bookmark here

Kalya landed in front of Emi, and for a second she thought the wild girl was going to devour the boar then and there. Or worse, turn Emi into her dinner! Bookmark here

But when she caught the wild gleam in Kayla’s eye, her response surprised her.Bookmark here

Kayla snatched up the boar’s corpse in her claws and skittered back, staring warily at Emi like a tiger guarding her kill.Bookmark here

“K-Kayla…” Emi gasped. She had to get out of here. Images of Kayla fighting Matt flashed vividly before her eyes, keeping her rooted to the ground.Bookmark here

Her one saving grace was that the Aizanu hadn’t attacked yet. She… she was just staring at her. Watching her.Bookmark here

It wasn’t the cold sending a shiver down Emi’s spine anymore.Bookmark here

“You…”Bookmark here

Kayla’s voice was so quiet Emi barely heard it over her knees knocking. She was too afraid to say anything back. Kayla crawled towards her and Emi scooted back, trying futilely to get away from the terrifying girl.Bookmark here

What was it her mom always told her to do when a wild animal approached? Was it playing dead, or maintaining eye contact?Bookmark here

…Oh, right. Fly away. But she couldn’t do that right now.Bookmark here

Her butt touched water and she froze. There was nowhere to go. She shut her eyes tight and waited. Meanwhile, Kayla was still approaching, moving from side to side, like she wasn’t sure what to make of Emi. A cautious predator.Bookmark here

When Emi could feel Kayla’s cold breath on her skin, she was certain she would die.Bookmark here

Then Kayla sniffed her.Bookmark here

“…Eh?” It was so surprising it made Emi open her eyes to confirm. Yeah, Kayla was sniffing her. Her stern face was right up close to hers, and she looked perplexed.Bookmark here

“…Are you prey?” Her voice had a tinge of uncertainty.Bookmark here

“…Pl-Please don’t eat me…” Emi whimpered. “I’m not tasty… I’m all skin and bones…”Bookmark here

Kayla sniffed again, and pulled back. “Are you prey?”Bookmark here

Emi didn’t know which answer would get her out of this. She went with no.Bookmark here

Kayla rose to a crouch, and the ice slid off her body. She pointed to herself. “Kayla.”Bookmark here

Then she pointed at Emi. It took Emi a moment to realize what she was asking her.Bookmark here

“Oh! I’m… I’m Emi…” Emi squeaked out.Bookmark here

“Emi. Met before. You… were prey. Strange. Now…”Bookmark here

“…Huh?” Emi was at a loss. She’d only met Kayla briefly, and had kept as far away from her as possible. She’d given the girl’s room a wide berth ever since that day with Matt. Bookmark here

What was she talking about?Bookmark here

Kayla pulled away from her, turned, and retrieved the boar carcass. She dumped it on the ground in front of Emi, her eyes gleaming with… some emotion Emi was too terrified to guess at.Bookmark here

“Mine.” Kayla pointed to herself again. She lifted it up to Emi, almost like an offering.Bookmark here

Emi felt like she was going to throw up.Bookmark here

“Um… no thanks. I already ate.”Bookmark here

Emi braced herself for a barrage of ice as punishment for spurning the girl’s gift. Kayla just nodded and set it back down.Bookmark here

She crawled up to Emi and pressed up against her, and then… she licked Emi’s cheek.Bookmark here

“…Huh?!”Bookmark here

Kayla stretched cuddled up against Emi. She let out a soft coo as she curled up beside her. Her body was surprisingly warm.Bookmark here

Emi sat in the grass, too afraid to risk Kayla’s wrath by moving. The catlike girl purred contently, resting her head in Emi’s lap.Bookmark here

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