Guardians of Dawn: Volume 1
Cynthia had only been gone for a few days when the Guardians hosted their next guest.
Right away it was clear this was no ordinary visitor. Lori went out to meet her at the front gate. Only Sarah Dawn herself would have been a higher honor.
Nallia the Soulforger deserved no less.
“Welcome, Guild Master.” Lori lowered his head in a respectful greeting to the leader of the Ballon Union. “We’ve been expecting you.”
“It’s a pleasure to see you again, young man,” the woman curtly greeted him. “Where is your Guild Master?”
Nallia wasn’t one for niceties.
Lori was undaunted by her bluntness. “She is addressing other important affairs at the moment. In the meantime, may I escort you to the tea room while you wait?”
If Nallia felt insulted by being made to wait, it didn’t show. She brusquely nodded her head and followed him inside without another word.
“I expect to be attended to personally, young man,” she sternly directed him as she took a seat in Strayhaven’s tea room, slinging her bag off her shoulder. “Not one of those mechanical dolls.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be serving you myself,” Lori assured her, preparing the tea as she sampled the cakes.
Emi came downstairs and saw Ryan and Serena crouched outside the door.
“So that’s her, huh?” Ryan mused, shaking his head in disbelief. “She’s really… impressive alright.”
“The Soulforger herself, coming all the way here… this has to be about that meeting that the Guild Master went to, right?” Serena guessed.
“Uh… what’s going on, guys?” Emi asked. The two quickly shushed her.
“Come here, quick,” Serena hissed, pulling Emi down with them.
Emi peeked inside, surprised to see a woman as intimidating as the leather-clad titan in front of her.
“Who’s that lady?”
Serena and Ryan stared at Emi in shock.
“You don’t know who that is?!” Serena gasped.
“That’s Nallia, the Soulforger!” Ryan informed her.
Emi shook her head. She had no idea who she was.
“She’s the Guild Master of the Ballon Union, one of the largest guilds in Autoria! They make weapons and fortifications, handle trade, hunt Emergents, they even dabble a bit in magic and community service, they do everything!” Serena explained. “Nallia has been their Guild Master for over forty years!”
Emi choked a little and did a double take. She couldn’t believe it, that woman, she…
“She looks so young…”
“It’s hard to tell, huh?” Ryan nodded in agreement. “See how pale her skin is? And her red eyes? She’s a Celian, like Lori.”
Emi gasped. She’d heard of Celians. Like her own people, they had inhabited the lands of Autoria before the humans immigrated. Emi never imagined they would look like humans though! In the books she’d read were depicted as small faeries with red eyes.
“Celians don’t just live hundreds of years, they get to look flawless doing it, too,” Serena muttered enviously, biting her nail. “It’s not fair, why can’t my skin look that young?!”
“You look fine,” Ryan assured her, rolling his eyes.
Emi ignored them. She wondered, if Lori was a Celian, did that mean he was a lot older too?
The sound of Sarah Dawn clearing her throat scattered that thought, and the three Guardians with it.
Sarah stared down at them with a neutral expression, her arms crossed in front of her chest.
“G-Guild Master!” Serena choked out, recovering first. “P-Pardon us, we were just-“
“Spying on our guest?”
Emi drooped. Sarah was using her mom voice. “I’m not mad, Emilia, I’m just disappointed,” her own mother would say. “How are you ever going to catch a man’s eye if you stay inside studying all night instead of partying with your sisters?”
“Now let’s go inside and apologize to the nice Guild Master, shall we?” Without even waiting for an answer Sarah threw the door open and walked inside, the three of them trudging in after her.
“Ah, greetings young woman,” Nallia said, glancing up from her drink. She cocked an eyebrow. “…And others.”
“Guild Master Nallia, I would like to apologize on behalf of my guild members. While you were waiting, they were rudely spying on you. If it was any inconvenience at all, please rest assured that they were certainly just curious about one as magnificent as yourself!” Sarah’s words were bold and reverent, and Emi smelled something funny.
“No need. I hadn’t noticed.” Nallia coolly sipped her tea, staring at a fidgeting Sarah. “And besides. A few eavesdroppers arn’t nearly as inconvenient as being made to wait. Tell me, young woman, did you think that if you drew my attention to them I would ignore your own actions?”
Sarah flinched and averted her eyes. Emi scowled. Bullseye.
“…I’m sorry, that was wrong of me.”
“It’s fine. See them out. We have business to discuss.”
Lori escorted the three of them out of the room. Emi took one last look at the cool Celian, wondering what it would be like to even have Sarah deferring to her like that.
Alone with Nallia, Sarah regained a little more composure now that she didn’t have anyone to show off for. She sat across from her fellow Guild Master and apologized a second time.
“I was in a meeting with the mayor of Goldia talking about shoring up the city’s defenses and working on the alarm systems. I truly meant no disrespect, but in times like these, such matters are important.”
“It’s fine. Luckily, that young man brews an excellent cup of tea. But you know I hate to be kept waiting. It’s not often I do a favor of this magnitude. People who seek my patronage usually come directly to me. I haven’t made a house call in nearly a decade.”
“Yes, yes, and thank you again, I’m soooo sorry I kept you waiting. And I’d have liked to come to your guild, really, I would, but with Matt’s leg like that, traveling would be kind of-“
“Stop groveling young woman. I didn’t come here to see you prostrate yourself, I came to appraise that young man of yours, the little brother. I assume you haven’t told him?”
Sarah nodded. One of Nallia’s conditions was that Matt wasn’t to know anything about her potentially making him a weapon. She preferred those with pure intentions, and didn’t want to cloud his thoughts.
“Then summon him at once. I’m a very busy woman running a very busy guild. Not everyone has the ability to hop from one place to another at a thought.”
“R-Right, I’ll have Lori go get him.” She nodded to Lori, who went to fetch Matt.
Now, she was faced with the daunting prospect of making small talk with Nallia while they waited.
“So, um, long trip?” She asked, nodding at the large bag at Nallia’s feet.
“It’s not luggage. It’s a demonstration.”
Right. Nallia wasn’t a “small talk” sort of gal.
Oppressively awkward silence it was then.
Relief washed over Sarah when Matt limped into the room. He looked confused. His face went pale when he recognized Nallia and he nearly dropped his cane.
“O-Oh!” He gasped, stumbling forward. “Uh… um…”
Lori had told him he had a guest, but he never imagined that someone as famous as the Guild Master of the Ballon Union would come to call for him personally.
“Greetings, young man. Are you Mathew Hearthome?”
“Uh, um, yes, that’s Matt. I mean, I’m me. I’m Matt! Yes, that’s… right.” He looked desperately to Sarah for clarification what the heck was going on, but she had nothing to say. She rose from her seat and clapped him on the shoulder, leaving him alone with Nallia.
Whatever happened next, it was between the two of them. She couldn’t interfere.
Nallia stared wordlessly at Matt, her eyes burning holes in his face as she waited for him to sit down. He finally got the hint and took Sarah’s seat, feeling dwarfed by the presence of the imposing Guild Master.
“You’re probably wondering why I called you here.”
Yeah. He definitely was. Matt couldn’t conceive of a reason why Nallia the Soulforger would ask for him personally.
“I heard you injured your leg in battle with an Emergent. Because you were weak, and stupid.”
Her words were as harsh as advertised. Matt couldn’t argue.
“I… I fought against an Emergent without a weapon, and I-“
“Like I said, stupid. Only someone with incredible power or incredible foolishness would fight an Emergent barehanded, and anyone with eyes can see which one you are.”
Matt seriously doubted that the Guild Master had traveled hundreds of miles just to insult him, but she was doing a good job of convincing him.
“I don’t care. I’m not your mother, and I don’t really care if you want to go out and get yourself killed. I’m here on business.”
“Your Guild Master asked me to make a weapon for you.”
Matt couldn’t believe it. Nallia the Soulforger was going to make a weapon for him? But… but her weapons were the best. Swords that would never dull, and were light as a feather. Shields so strong they would repel shells from a tank with ease. Her Soulforges were tools of unmatched quality, and so highly sought after that people would sell their own children for her to craft one for them.
And she was just going to give him one? Just like that?
“You seem shocked.”
“It… well, it’s hard to believe. I mean, you’re going to make a weapon for me? That’s-“
“NO. Let me correct you right now, young man. I said that your Guild Master asked me to make a weapon for you. I never said that I would.”
“But then why are you here?” Matt was so confused he forgot to be polite. But Nallia didn’t seem to mind.
“Tell me young man, do you have children?”
What kind of question was that?!
“Uh… I’m 18.”
Her brow furrowed in confusion. She wasn't sure how old 18 was for humans. Did they have children at that age?
“…No, I don’t have kids.”
“Well if you did, would you leave your child in the care of someone you had never even met?”
“And that is why I am here. To judge your worthiness. So tell me, young man. Prove it to me, are you worthy to wield one of my weapons?”
Matt wilted a little under her gaze. Her eyes were balls of scarlet flame searing into him, burning away the layers of skin and bone and trying to see what lied underneath.