After a quick stop at the E Hostel to put on my leather gear, I hurried to the Gate. It was late enough in the morning, I had probably already missed the groups I normally follow. Still, I loitered at the entrance for a bit, hoping that I was wrong. I wasn’t. After another half an hour without seeing any of the members of the ‘safe’ groups, it became clear I was out of luck.
I took a deep breath and crossed into the Gate. On the other side, I looked around before heading towards the wooded area north of the Gate. Every night, the portals around Gate Vale opened up, spilling out millions of new monsters. Needless to say, it was the most dangerous to hunt in the mornings until higher-ranked Hunters killed off the stronger monsters. That being said, it was also easier to find a monster I could actually handle in the morning since the other Hunters hadn’t cleared them out yet. Since weaker monsters tended to hang out in this little forest — Glenn Holt — maybe I could pick off one around the entrance without actually going in and risk running into stronger monsters deeper in the woods.
At the edge of the Glenn Holt, I pulled out my short sword and listened hard for sounds of movement. When I couldn’t hear anything, I took a few cautious steps down the dirt path until the shade of the trees fell over my head. The hair on the back of my neck raised. A monster must be close, but I couldn’t see one.
A sound between a squeak and a growl exploded at my right side. I twisted to the side and staggered back. A dire rat the size of a medium dog sailed past my arm, so close that it’s gray fur brushed against my arm bracer. My heart tightened with a cold shot of adrenaline. That was close. I whirled to face it, not trembling like I used to. Instead I was grateful that this was a monster I could handle without getting too hurt. Finally something was going my way.
I lunged at the dire rat and slashed out with my short sword. It ducked as my sword sailed over it’s head. It reared back on its hind legs and hissed at me, revealing dagger-like front teeth. I relaxed into a fighting stance, the one that I learned from the basic guide in the System’s tutorial book, ready to lunge. If I took it down fast enough, I might not get hurt at all and that would save time from having to walk back and forth between here and the hospital.
Just as I was about to attack the dire rat, a sharp whistle echoed through the air. I leaned to the side as a dagger sailed over my shoulder. The blade entered the dire rat hard enough that it flew three feet in the air.
My eyes widened, staring where the monster used to be. What? That was my kill! Stealing someone else’s kill without being asked for help was against the Hunter’s Code. Unfortunately, it was only punishable if I could prove it.
The sound of crunching dirt beneath rushing boots reached my ears. I spun and glared at a group of eight Hunters.
“Hey, good shot, Blake!” A woman dressed in a revealing purple dress and mage robe laughed. She patted a leading man on the shoulder. “Right over her shoulder and all. It was like a trick shot!”
Blake’s mouth hooked up on the side and he leaned his head back, pleased with himself. “Told you I could do it.” His steel shoulder pads gleamed in the sun as he strutted forward.
It was like I wasn’t even there, even though we were only ten feet apart. My hand fisted at my side. “That was my kill.” I lifted my chin in the air, trying to act like I wasn’t nervous by the sight of their flashy, superior equipment.
They finally noticed me, but their expressions weren’t any better. Derision, disdain, mockery. It was all there, like always.
Blake rest a hand on his chest and had the gall to look taken aback. “I just saved your life. Shouldn’t you be saying thank you instead.” Then he looked over his shoulder to get the approval of his comrades.
Even though he looked nearly five years older than me, I guess some people never grew out of needing to have their ego stroked.
“I didn’t ask for help. That kill should be mine.” I needed the crystal from the carcass. Did this Blake even know how hard it was to find weak enough monsters because of Hunters like him? Even if he did, he obviously didn’t care.
He snorted and opened his mouth. Before he could answer, a voice from behind him cut him short.
“I know you!” A girl stepped around the group and hurried to me.
I blinked at her. Emma.
I knew that she got into a good Guild, but I didn’t think that Emma would get attached to a group like this. At least they looked like they were taking care of her. Instead of the basic equipment that everyone got when they started as a Hunter — the kind I still used — she wore light armor and had a nice looking bow over her shoulder. The armor was obviously borrowed since it wasn’t tailored to her shape, but it was still much better than what I had.
I smiled at her. “Hey —”
“Emma, you know this girl?” Blake cut in.
She smiled over her shoulder at him. “Yeah. It’s the girl I told you about. The one who brought me to Guild last night.” She beamed at me. “Good morning, Jyn!”
“Good mor —” I was cut off again.
“Ah, I get it,” the female mage from earlier spoke up. “You should stay away from her. She’s a leech.”
A twinge of fresh anger washed over me. “I am not!”
Emma’s face wrinkled. “That doesn’t sound very nice.” She turned and looked at the group of older people.
Blake motioned to a guy next to him. Without a word, the guy walked over to the dire rat, cut out the energy crystal, then began skinning the carass.
My eyes narrowed. It was mine, but what could I do against someone so much stronger than me?
“A leech is exactly what it sounds like,” Blake’s voice broke through my thoughts and drew back my attention. “Someone who sponges off another Hunter for a free ride. Think that being friends with stronger Hunters means free energy crystals. Most E scum are leeches.” His chin lifted as he stared down at me. There was a light, a gleam in his dark eyes that sent a chill down my spine.
I couldn’t deny what he said because it was true for the most part. A lot of Es do attempt leeching off of other Hunters. But that didn’t mean that I did. Every crystal I got was by my own hand, none were given to me. Only, what was the use of arguing with narrow-minded people? It never worked. I might as well save my energy so I could find another monster.
“That’s not true,” Emma insisted. Her voice shook as she glanced at me, waiting for me to speak up. “Jyn’s not like that. She even gave me a crystal last night when she saw that I didn’t have one.”
There was an instant change in the group. Their barely tolerant gazes sharpened at the comment. Obviously they didn’t take kindly to her siding with an E.
Blake snorted. “She only did that to get your sympathy, so she can take advantage of you later.”
I glanced at her and paused. It was there in her stubborn gaze — a small gleam of doubt, a slight wrinkle in her brow as a question formed.
I sighed. Whatever. It was always the same thing, why should I think it would ever be different? Why did I always feel the same prick of disappointment when I knew how it was going to end? Besides, at this rate Emma was going to get in trouble with her group — which could be fatal within the Gate.
I glanced back at the mostly skinned dire rat. Someday … someday, I wasn’t going to get kicked while I was down. And then the world would end. I smirked at my own bitter thoughts.
When I turned to Emma, my smile turned genuine. “It was good seeing you again. I’m glad that you found a strong group.” Even if they were pricks. Hopefully she’d learn something from them, then find a better group.
But that wasn’t any of my business. I needed to find another monster as soon as possible. It was better to move to a different area, in case this group started to target me out of spite.
Emma looked at me with a torn expression. Her gaze flicked between me and her team. Then she focused over my shoulder. Her eyes widened in horror and she screamed shrilly.
What? I whipped around and gasped as the man skinning the dire rat slumped to the ground. Only … he was missing his head.
It rolled to a stop just inches from my boot, staining the ground red.
The shadows beneath the forest canopy shifted and moved.
My eyes narrowed. Stealth. Whatever had done this was using Stealth. There were several levels to this skill, the first being the ability to walk silently. But I could only think of a couple Hunters that were strong enough to use the highest level and become completely invisible. Each one of them was A ranked or higher. This was bad. Really, really bad. From the looks of dead Hunter, one of the concealed monsters had to be mere feet from me.
My hand tightened on my short sword and I lifted it into a defensive position, my stance alert.
The shadows in the forest shifted and moved again, this time thinning until I could make out humanoid figures — eight-foot-tall humanoid figures.
Emma screamed in my ear and stepped behind me. Stupid, if you ask me. She was how much stronger than me? Still, it was easy to see she’d never seen anything die before.
Even for me, seeing a dead human was startling. It could have been me if Blake hadn’t taken my kill.
“Hunters,” Blake commanded, “ready!”
The Stealth fell away from the monsters. I gasped and froze when one appeared just ten inches away from me. With wide eyes, I stared up into its red face. It was an Orc, but not like any I’d read about in the Monster Manual. It’s build was leaner than the pictures — it’s bare chest and arms were still more muscular than any man I’d ever seen. It’s skin was the color of red clay, the thick black hair on it’s head tied in messy braids and beading. The scariest part was the vicious intelligence in it’s dark red eyes. It stared down at me like it was thinking how to dissect me, and not in a quick way.
Heavy power radiated from it and washed over me. My muscles seized as terror filled my mind. Even if I could think straight, I doubted I could do anything but shiver with fear. Oh my god. When did this giant monster get so close to me? How could I not sense it?
Emma whimpered and grabbed onto my shoulder.
The group behind me yelled attacks with gusto. Their cries quickly changed to screams of pain.
Emma was shaking so hard, she was moving my own body.
I wanted to look behind me, but I was just as scared to take my eyes off the Orc staring down at me. Slowly, my head shifted until I could glance at the group behind me. My eyes widened and I gasped in horror. The Hunters who were so strong had been disarmed. One lay dead, two were on the ground bleeding, and the rest — even the arrogant Blake — were obviously defeated. Around them stood twenty or so Orcs, red and tall like the one by me. They were in the process of tying up the remaining Hunters.
Something cold, wet, and sharp touched my neck just under my chin. A frigid chill stabbed through my heart as I recognized the feeling of a blade. Without turning my head, I glanced at the Orc with wide eyes.
He looked down at me with derision. His cruelly jagged sword, covered in blood, rest at my throat. A smile stretched across his lips, revealing pointed fangs. Then his mouth opened and he said something in a rough, clipped language.
I didn’t think I could get anymore horrified. These Orcs had a language? I’d never, not in any book or lesson or experience, ever heard of a monster with its own language. Most monsters were more animal than anything else, growling and such. But this Orc was obviously speaking.
Then I was shocked out of my mind when the universal translator in my Guide System activated and a message appeared in front of my eyes.
[This will work perfectly.]
Suddenly, I felt dizzy and couldn’t seem to get enough oxygen in my lungs. It spoke and my translator knew what it said. How was that possible? How could my translator know the language of a monster?
“I-It spoke,” a shaky voice whispered behind me. The defeated team was just as shocked as I was.
The Orc jerked his sword away from me, leaving a stinging cut on my chin. He looked over my head and spoke again. [Take them all.]
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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.
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