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I gasped, suddenly airborne. As I spun through the air, I saw Blake jump through the portal. A second later, I crashed into several hard bodies. Air whoosed from my lungs, sending me into a panic. Pain pierced my skull and I cried out as my vision darkened. I dropped to the ground at the Orc’s feet and blinked up. They hadn’t even flinched when I hit them. 

The leader Orc yelled something above me, his voice a snarl.

Gasping, I turned my head in time to see a handful of Orcs race to the portal. One shoved his hand out. Instead of going through, his hand slapped against the black circle like it was made of solid stone.

The Orc growled and looked back. [Shut, again.]

My eyes widened. Shut? But I just saw three people leave through it! It can’t be shut! I was still dizzy, but I clawed at the ground, trying to get to the portal. “No. No!”

I barely moved when a foot landed on my back, pinning me into place without actually crushing me. No matter how I wiggled, I couldn’t get out from under it. I clawed at the air as if sheer will could get me to the portal. It didn’t. I was so close. Just ten more feet and I’d be safe. I didn’t know why the Orcs couldn’t go through, but I fully believed that humans could. I had to believe it or I would break. 

They left me. 

They actually left me. And it wasn’t just that my own kind left me, Blake literally threw me away. Threw me like a piece of trash, nothing but a small diversion, to the monsters chasing us. He didn’t even have to. It was something he consciously decided to do.

I was still trying to process everything when the foot let up and rolled me over onto my back. The Orc leader stared down at me, his eyes burning with anger. Several Orcs joined him, just as big and imposing. The leader tilted his head up and looked at the portal before his red eyes landed back on me.

Every muscle in my body froze under his oppressive glare.

In a blur of movement, he spun around. The Orc to his right screamed out. The leader’s grizzly sword protruded from the unsuspecting Orc’s stomach. An Orc to the left flinched, his features tightened but he didn’t say anything. Was something like this typical for them?

The leader pulled the sword out and turned back to me, his expression without a care as though one of his people didn’t slump to the ground dead by his hand. Thick green blood splattered the ground, barely missing me.

The leader glanced at an Orc standing behind him. [My guards are lacking. But only one of you will do for now.] He jerked his head towards me.

The Orc stepped forward and reached for me.

Without the pressure of the leader, my body finally started to move again. I tried to jump to my feet, but I was barely up before I was seized in his huge hand. I tried to jerk away but only caused him to dig his sharp nails into my skin. The Orc jerked me forward, almost all the way off my feet.

[It won’t do to have it damaged.] The leader Orc started to walk away. The group of Orcs fell in step behind him, leaving the dead Orc on the ground like it was nothing.

The guard dragged me back through the city, headed toward the palace. There was nothing I could do to stop him. He was twice my height and a hundred times stronger. When I planted my feet on the ground, he simply kept walking and the soles of my shoes slid across the dirt. Even so, I still resisted. They were going to kill me, I knew they were. But that didn’t mean I had to meekly follow.

The group of Orcs branched off at the bottom of the palace stairs, leaving just the leader, the guard, and me. I was dragged up the stairs and past the pillars to two huge wooden doors. A mural carved onto the front door showed a woman floating in clouds. It would have been pretty if it weren’t for the hundreds of scratches all over it. Her face was completely gone and it was hard to make out anything else about the carving. 

The leader pushed open the front doors.

Rough laughter and low-pitched screams, and indiscernible noise polluted the air. I couldn’t understand any of it, but one thing was clear: everything that was making them was bigger than me. The leader looked over his shoulder at me. The green light from the fires that flanked the doors cast an eerie shade on his red face, as if his eyes were nothing but demonic black pits. He sneered and walked in.

On the other side of the door was a huge room, the size of a football field at least. Pillars lined two sides of the room with green flames flickering from the sconces. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, the room was filled with hundreds of Orcs. Some were male, broad-shouldered and bare-armed. And some appeared to be female. Super muscular females, with only slightly more defined chests and clothed in colorful, roman-like dresses. Honestly, if it weren’t for the clothes, I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart at first glance. They filled the room, swarming around the pillars with their loud noises and drinking from bronze cups.

The room quieted when we entered, and every single menacing eye focused on me. Whispers rose up like a wave of noise washing over me. What was worse was that my translator tried to keep up with the thousands of words. It flooded my vision with so much text, I could barely see in front of me.

[Look at it!]

[So small and ugly! So weak!]

[This is the current species? So disappointing!]

[Ooh, I hope I get a turn to play with one!]

On and on, their rough words filled my ears and eyes until I almost collapsed. It wasn’t just their words, but the heavy powerful air in the room that settled on my pathetic E ranked shoulders, making it hard to even breathe.

A loud, feral growl echoed from the back of the room. Instantly, all the noise stopped. Orcs parted and I was marched down the aisle they created. Occasionally an Orc leaned from the crowd to get a closer look at me — one even smelled my hair. After the leader Orc started to kick the brazen monsters away, they stopped trying to get closer to me.

On the other side of the room was a low platform. Centered in the middle was a tall golden chair with the biggest Orc I’d seen yet. He was dressed in a black robe that revealed his huge red chest. A thick black braid hung from both temples and the rest of his hair lay loose against his massive shoulders. He acted aloof the handful of females at his feet that massaged his legs and filled his golden cup. His blood red gazed focused on me.

The Orc holding my arm threw me forward. I stumbled to the bottom of the stairs, barely able to keep upright. I was physically free but the look in the king’s eyes held me more captive than any restraint.

[Welcome, creature of the current species.] His low voice rumbled.

All the hair lifted up on the back of my neck and I stopped breathing as his aura washed over me.

He motioned to the Orcs behind me. [Are you enjoying the party?]

Did he actually want to talk with me? I had to swallow twice before I could speak a word. “Why did you bring me here?”

[As the great current species, it only seemed right to invite one to a celebration.] He laughed, as if he were actually funny.

Low snickers filled the air.

Current species? Why did he keep calling me that? Would he even tell me if I asked?

Before I could decide, he spoke again. [Now that you’re here, let the entertainment begin!] He roared and smashed his cup against the ground. The metal warped and cracked beneath his strength like it was made merely out of glass. Instantly a female offered him another cup.

The Orcs in the room roared in response, so loud that I had a moment of vertigo.

Something landed on the ground next to my feet. I looked down and noticed a long sword with a red, thick blade. With wide eyes, I looked up to meet the Orc leader staring down at me with a malicious sneer. A smile stretched over his face as he held up a sword of his own. At least, that’s what it would be called from the shape of it, except that it was as long as I was tall.

It was then that I realized that I was the entertainment at this party.

The leader motioned to the sword at my feet with his own blade. [Show me the strength of the current species.]

What strength? Still, I reached down and grasped the handle. It was heavy, so much heavier than the short sword I used to carry, and poorly balanced so the blade felt overweight. My shaking arms could barely hoist it up into position. My brows pulled together as I glared at him, trying to hide how scared I actually was. How suddenly desperate I felt.

I was going to die. There was nothing I could do about it.

Why...?

My teeth gritted together and I lunged forward, my form bad. It wasn’t just the weight of the sword. I didn’t know how to use a longsword, I’d never been taught, and it required a different hold from the one handed stance that my short sword needed. Even if I had my normal weapon, the result would be the same. 

With a casual flick of his sword, the leader knocked me to the ground. But he didn’t leave it at that. He made sure to leave a cut on my left arm in the process, just deep enough to bleed but not prohibit my movement.

I glanced at the fat drop of blood that rolled off my arm and seeped to the ground. He could have killed me right then. But he didn’t. He was toying with me.

And he couldn’t look more pleased with himself.

The Orcs around us cheered as the king howled with laughter.

Why…?

I grabbed the sword and stood up. I couldn’t even get within six feet of him. The leader didn’t knock me down again, but each time I took the offense, he left me with another cut that shaved a fraction off my HP. Soon enough, I wasn’t even on the offense anymore, but made a pathetic attempt at defence. Really, the Orc had free reign over our exchange. Ten cuts turned into a hundred cuts, a hundred quickly turned into two hundred.

Why couldn’t I…?

My whole body dripped blood, each cut ached with every move that I made. Blood loss was starting to get to me. My body shook and I could barely lift the heavy sword. My vision distorted — not just because of the System warning me of my low HP, but also from the graying clouds around the edges.

It was torture, plain and simple. He was going to cut me to death for fun, in front of these loud, laughing Orcs. I always knew I would die early. Being so weak and all, it was a given. But I never thought I would die in such a humiliating way.

Why couldn’t I be stronger?

My knees gave out and I collapsed to the ground. No matter how much I filled my lungs, I couldn’t seem to get enough air. 

A red System box appeared in my vision, flashing with urgency. [HP has reached critical level! Seek medical assistance immediately!]

If I was only stronger, it wouldn’t be like this. I wouldn’t have been flung behind by Blake. Maybe I could have gotten away before I was even taken into this Portal. If I were stronger, I wouldn’t have even been in that blasted forest. I would have been somewhere else, like the Marsh, somewhere where I could actually get enough energy crystals so me and my family could live properly.

I thought I could persevere. Having the tenacity of a human cockroach, I thought I‘d make the best of what life dealt me. All I had to do was hang on and keep going.

Why … couldn’t I have been stronger?

The darkness that edged my vision thickened and began to fill in. Even the red System box disappeared. Finally, finally, the thundering noise of the Orcs began to dim until all I could hear was my heart beating. Slowly, sometimes with a pause between beats.

I want to be stronger. Aliya, I’m sorry … Dimly, I felt tears pool in my burning eyes. 

Then I will make you stronger,” a crystal-clear, female voice spoke in my mind. Her voice was soothing and calm, like a balm to my aching heart.

My eyes widened with shock.

The Orc leader walked up to me and used his foot to flip me onto my back. All I could do was stare up at him with blurry vision, barely able to make out his cruel face.

Suddenly, a teal System window opened in my vision, clear and clean. [You have filled the requirements of the Become Stronger Quest. Do you accept? Yes or No?] Beneath the words were numbers counting down. [5…]

The leader grasped his sword with both hands.

[4…]

He raised the sword over his head.

[3…]

“Yes.” The word escaped my cracked lips.

The sword plunged down.

A bright white light flashed and filled my vision until it was all I could see. 

Then, nothing.

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A note from MichelleRReid

The next song is Walk on Water by Thirty Seconds to Mars. 

 

Actually, this song was very influential to the story, but you won’t know how until later in the story. But it’s still pretty applicable to Jyn right now. Everything is going to change.


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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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