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“Ha!” 

I lunged forward and stabbed the dog-like monster with everything I had. My short sword pierced it’s furry chest. With a sharp yelp, Vale Wolf collapsed to the ground, dead. I still hated that sound, no matter how many times I’d heard it. Since it was one of the weakest monsters in Gate Vale, I heard it nearly everyday. Even though the monster had four red eyes, a double-jawed mouth with three inch fangs and was longer than I was tall, it still yelped like a normal dog when it was hurt. 

Panting heavily and holding the bleeding cut on my arm, I sat back onto my butt and tilted my head, looking around the Gate Vale. I knew there was another land on the other side of the Gate, but even I hadn’t expected it to be this big. The first time I’d walked in here a year ago, my knees nearly gave out in shock. 

For the most part, the Gate Vale looked a lot like Earth. Well, Earth in the pictures from the past. It was a huge valley with huge green forests, a lake with a perpetual rainbow arching over it, a crystal clear river, a meadow and even a marshy swamp, all under a blue sky. The mountains that surrounded Gate Vale were always covered in snow. The weather was always perfect, depending on where you were standing. And if you were too hot or cold, you simply moved to a different part in the Vale and the problem was solved. If it wasn't for the ‘animals’ — and sometimes the plants — that wanted to kill you, it would be a paradise.

Never mind the random portals that open up around the edges of the flat land that spill out monsters every night.

I’d even heard some high ranking Hunters say how they wished they could live in the Gate Vale. Since Earth technology didn’t work here, there was no pollution. But that didn’t change the fact that when night fell the most dangerous S Ranked monsters came out. For that reason alone everyone had to leave the Gate at night. It’s a given that anyone who stays is dead by morning.

As for how amazing those environments were in real life, I wouldn’t know. I had never been to most of the Gate Vale. The farther you are from the entrance, the stronger the monsters became. For someone like me, anything farther than a mile from the Gate was asking for it.

I frowned at my bleeding arm. It was such a common sight I couldn’t even muster the energy to panic. It was a joke really. I was a joke, my life was a joke. What Hunter gets this hurt killing an E rank monster? Just me. Lucky me. 

“Hey, it’s dinner time. Let’s head back,” a man said somewhere to my right. 

He wasn’t talking to me, but to someone in his party. As a stronger Hunter, I’m sure he knew I was here on the other side of the bushes, but that didn’t matter to him.

It did to me though. I didn't know his name or anyone else’s in his three-person group. That didn’t matter, really. It’s just that they were the group I was following today. With them around to take care of the stronger monsters, I could pick off one that was too weak for them to pay attention to and fill my quota for the day. Once they were gone, the odds of me getting seriously injured increased. A lot. 

“Crap,” I muttered and hurried to the dead Vale Wolf’s side. 

I dropped down to my knees beside it and thrust my short sword into its chest. Gritting my teeth, I wedged it’s rib cage open and stuck my hand into the cold, bloody hole. By now, I knew this breed of monster well enough that my fingers instinctively knew where to search. I touched something solid, round and warm. I grabbed it and pulled out a dime-sized energy crystal. 

When I’d killed my first monster a year ago, I puked and cried. And proceeded to dry heave again and again as I searched for the energy crystal inside it.

A transparent blue box appeared slightly above my line of sight and read: [You have acquired an Energy Crystal.]

I pulled a water bottle out of my Items Bag and cleaned off my hands and the small bright blue crystal.

It was kinda pathetic how these tiny things controlled my life — and the lives of the rest of the humans. Even one as small as this one emitted enough energy to power a house for ten years. The larger crystal found in stronger monsters were more powerful and worth a lot of money.

I looked at the carcass and scowled. Another Hunter with the time and know how could skin the hide. The extra money from selling monster parts was always helpful. And those body parts were used to make armor and weapons for other Hunters. But that option wasn’t available to me. No one’s ever taught me. I’d tried a couple times before on my own and only managed to gross myself out and make a bloody mess. Literally. And it’s not like I could ask the guys I followed to do it for me.

They were nice enough to let me tail behind them for protection anyway. And they didn’t go out of their way to kill every monster in sight so I could at least get one. Over the long months of learning everything the hard way, I’d also figured out which groups didn’t mind that I tailed them. Of course, that was as close as it gets. Tailing. Any closer and they shooed me away. 

It was the same thing with friends. The few that talked to me were casual friends, the kind that you wave and say hi to as you walk by. Maybe stop and have a ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ conversation without putting too much emotion into it. They were afraid I would get too close and start asking for favors. In this dog-eat-dog world, who would choose to let a dead weight join you into a place that was trying to kill you? 

I’m sure the human world would scream ‘heartless’ and ‘foul.’ But when someone’s life is on the line, were they going to pick someone they knew wasn’t strong enough to guard their back? It’s as simple as that. Sometimes stronger Hunters will let weaker people into their groups to use as bait to ensure an easier getaway if things go bad.

With reason, I avoided people like that. I might not be eating great now, but at least I was still alive to eat. 

The group started to walk away. I waited a minute then walked behind them in the direction of the giant Gate in the middle of the Vale. I was halfway back when the bright blue sky suddenly flashed red.

I froze, eyes wide. The group I followed gasped in alarm but I could barely hear them over the stuttering of my heart. Red. Why did the sky have to turn red while I was here? Of all the times to have a Portal Burst, why did it have to be now? Desperate, I looked around. 

Please be far from me. Please be far from me. My horrible luck held true.

Magic pooled in the air only a hundred feet from me, like a rainbow whirlpool. It was gorgeous, the way the colors shimmered in the air. Deadly gorgeous. It ended before I could even take a breath. The colors smushed together and created a black pit hanging in the air, just like Portals that rimmed the land. This might be smaller, just the size of a house, but that didn’t make it any more safe. If anything, it was worse. Portal Bursts had a nasty habit of opening, vomiting out super strong monsters, then disappearing while Hunters were left to deal with the aftermath.

My legs shook as I stood rooted in place. What should I do? The Portal Burst was between me and the Gate. I could either run for it and hope I got past the Burst and hope I didn’t attract unwanted attention, or I could run farther into the land, where stronger monsters were. Monsters tended to get a dose of adrenaline when a Portal Burst happened. I was SOL no matter what I did.

Before I could make a choice, things went from bad to worse when a huge, earth-shaking roar echoed out of the black pit. I clamped my hands over my ears and my legs gave out under the tremendous power that pulsed through the ground. From the Portal Burst’s depths, a huge black dragon sailed out. The force of the wind under its wings swayed trees and flattened bushes. It tossed it’s head in the air and roared again, nearly bursting my eardrums. Above it’s head, a bright red title bar read: [Dragon, A Rank]. Then it’s red eyes focused on the closest living thing in the open.

Me.

“Run!” The group of Hunters by me screamed. A second later, three men in armor came hurling through the bushes past me, going faster than I could ever dream of moving. Two of the men vaulted over me and kept running. 

One of the guys grabbed my hand and pulled me up after him. But he was moving too fast, I just couldn’t keep up. My feet tripped over themselves and my hand was ripped from his. “Run!” he yelled over his shoulder, but didn’t come back for me.

The world went dark as the shadow of the dragon settled over me.

I screamed and scrambled to my feet.

The dragon’s toothy maw opened and lightning exploded out of its mouth. It hit the ground where I had been a second ago.

The ground exploded behind me sending out a shock wave of power and hot dirt. I think I screamed, but I couldn’t really hear anything over the ringing in my ears. All I knew was that I was flipping through the air. I landed flat on my back and rolled across the ground until I came up hard at the bottom of a tree. 

I gasped for air but my lungs hurt too much to hold more than a shallow pant. It wasn’t just my lungs. My back, stomach, and head was screaming in pain. I know I had at least a bruised rib on my right side, and hopefully it stopped at that. Broken ribs really sucked. 

Red words flashed before my eyes: [Warning! Your HP has dropped below ten percent.] As if I didn’t know how badly I was hurt.

Squinting through double vision, I watched the dragon as it arched its neck, eyes still locked on me. Apparently the fact that I was alive was simply unacceptable. With a powerful flap of its wings, it dove at me.

My short sword appeared in my hand. Stupid, I know. I could barely move, and it was a frickin’ dragon. Even an A Rank Hunter would have trouble with this thing. But if I was going to die, I’d die fighting.

A flash of silvery blue streaked across the sky, right in front of the dragon. A huge ring echoed out. The dragon and the blue streak stopped just long enough for me to see a Hunter in silver and blue armor suspended in the air, his sword pressed against the dragon’s talons. He’d actually stopped the dragon, in mid air.

My lips parted as I stared at them. It was like that image had been captured in my memory, something that I would never forget. The beautiful lines of the man’s fighting form. The way the bright magi-steel gleamed in the sun — so sharply different from the dragon’s solid black talons. The malicious gleam in the dragon’s eyes as it focused on a new target, it’s black body a sharp contrast to the blue sky behind.

The dragon spun in the air, moving almost as fast as it’s lightning, and whipped at the Hunter with it’s long tail. The Hunter jumped up using nothing but air, smoothly sailing over the tail that missed him by inches.

I gasped, shocked. Double jump? I’d heard of the ability, but it was so rare, I never thought I’d see it with my own eyes.

The Hunter landed on the dragon’s back. Without hesitation, he sprinted up the spine, his steps as light as if he were dancing across a stage. The dragon roared and arched it’s back, thrashing around to dislodge him. Nothing seemed to work, it was like the Hunter was glued to the dragon’s body. The Hunter reached the dragon’s long neck, ran the length of it, then halted between the huge arched horns crowning the dragon’s head. He raised his sword with both hands. Was it a trick of the light, or did his blade start to glow faintly blue? Before I could decide, he stabbed down. As if cutting putty, the sword sank all the way down until the hilt hit the top of the dragon’s head.

The dragon immediately plummeted from the sky, it’s body like a wet noodle, wings flailing lifelessly in the rushing air. The Hunter rode it all the way down, his form as sure as stone. The dead dragon slammed into the ground with an earth-shattering bang, so strong that fissures webbed across the ground under the force.

 The dust settled, and the Hunter pulled his sword from the dragon’s skull then stood up. Even the dust in the air or the black blood dripping from his sword couldn’t deter from the awe-inspiring way he stood over his kill. He was more than a knight, he was like a god. He had to be, to so easily kill an A Rank monster. It left only one option. S Rank. 

Even though his back was to me, I couldn’t help but stare at the Hunter with desire. Yes, I desired that. Strength. To be strong enough that no one would abandon me for dead. Or even better. The strength to never need to rely on anyone else.

As much as I desired to be like him, the longer I watched, the more an empty pit opened in my heart that had nothing to do with the pain that still tore at my body. Or maybe it was. There was such a huge gap between me and that man. Never mind killing a dragon, I couldn’t handle the aftermath of it’s attack. How much longer could I survive in this world?

My family needed me. If I died, what would happen to them? How would my sister handle losing another member of our little family? I wanted to make their lives easier. I thought it was something I could do, now that I was a Hunter.

I’m such a joke.

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About the author

MichelleRReid

Bio: I am an author, mother, wife, and jack of all trades. I mean, every mom is, but I’ve found that through my research for different stories, I’ve picked up a lot of random (and sometimes actually useful) knowledge and skills.
I’ve had a vivid imagination since I was a child. And as much as I wish I could actually live in the worlds in my head, the closest I can get is with the words I put on the page. These characters are like real people to me. The funny lines they say, their emotions that make my heart bleed, the amazing things they can do that I physically can’t, the adventures and sights that I can see in my head. I love sharing those things with my readers and hope that they can feel at least a part of what I do.
I do have other works that are published through Amazon. They are not LitPRG, but I'm still really proud of them. Check them out if you have the chance.

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