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Slowly, my eyes cracked open. Weird. I should be dead, so why did that ceiling look so familiar? And the cream shade of paint on the walls. I knew the solid feeling under my fingers, a durable cloth that was neither soft nor rough. How many times had I been wrapped in one of these blankets while Jonavan healed me?

But how did I get to Eden’s hospital? My shaking hands covered my face as the memory of that Orc thrusting his sword down at me flooded my mind. I’d been on my last couple HP at that point — there was no way I should’ve survived that.

Yet here I was, laying in the hospital bed, with an IV in my hand and listening to the heart monitor. The beeping glitched sporadically as I remembered everything that happened leading up to the bright flash of light. I didn’t die and go to heaven, right? There was no way I was going to believe that heaven was a hospital. That was just too much of a rip off.

A strange bell-like sound chimed softly in my ear.

Huh? When did someone come in? I lifted my hands and glanced towards the wooden door. It remained shut, just like the blue curtains over the window. Then I noticed a pale teal System screen hanging in the air in front of me. 

[You have four new notifications. Would you like to read them? Yes or No?]

“What?” I whispered and sat up. Since when did the System window change color? It had always been blue, there were no other options. But that wasn’t the only strange thing. The System was passive, it never announced any changes until I opened the window first. The only exception was when a teammate passed messages to other team mates, a feature I’d never used.

No, that’s a lie. My eyes widened as those horrible memories, so fresh I could still feel the pain on my smooth skin, flash in my mind. I wrapped my arms around my stomach and worked on slowing the rate of the beeps on the heart monitor. The System did pop open its own window one other time.

Right before … and I said yes. But what did I say yes to?

It seemed so harmless, really. I was used to the System, looking at it daily. But that was when I could control when the window opened and closed. Did the reason why it was different have to do with the new notifications? Did I have to say my response out loud or could I just think them like normal?

Was this a dream? Something my mind thought up to deal with the trauma I just went through? I reached over and pinched my arm, hard. The pain made me flinch, as another pain came to mind. Jeez, how long was it going to take before I forgot that feeling?

I frowned at the window and thought, Yes.

The teal window opened up to my main menu. A message flashed across the screen. [Welcome to the Becoming Stronger Quest.]

“Becoming Stronger Quest?” I whispered. A quest? Since when did the System hand out quests? That sounded completely different than a monster bounty and there was no way I’d ever accept one of those. Those were things that higher-ranking Hunters dealt with.

Still, I couldn’t deny that Becoming Stronger’ wasn’t attractive to me. 

The door to my room opened and a nurse stepped inside. She paused, half in the door, and gaped at me. “Jyn! You’re finally awake.” Melea, a sweet, plump woman in pink scrubs hurried to my bedside.

Now I knew this was real. As much as I liked Melea, I’d never put her in my dreams. I glanced at the System window, but Melea didn’t seem to be able to see it. Weird. Other Hunters could usually see the windows of another Hunter, though it was just a blank screen to them. But by the way Melea immediately started to check me over, it was clear that the System window was invisible to her.

“Goodness sakes, you gave us a scare,” Melea chided gently. She pushed a button at the side of my bed. The bed shifted under me until I was raised to a sitting position.

I gave them a scare? “What do you mean?”

“You’ve been unconscious for four days.” She looked me in the eyes.

“Four days?” My eyes widened. “Does … my family know?”

“Of course they do,” Jonavan’s soothing voice came from the door.

I jumped and looked over as he walked into the room. Melea flushed as pink as her scrubs and stepped to the side as Jonavan pulled up a chair beside my bed.

“Good morning, Miss Jyn. Or should I say, good evening, given what time of day it is?” He sat down and gave me a soft smile. “We always contact the family members when something major happens to a Hunter. Especially when one slips into a coma for no apparent reason.” He reached out and took my hand. His fingers began to glow gold as he used his power to check my condition. “Some of the other healers were starting to wonder if it was Sleepers disease. That should be impossible for a Hunter, given the nature of the disease.”

A chill down my back. Oh no, what was my family thinking now? It was bad enough that my mom was stuck in a hospital. I groaned and scrubbed my hands over my face. The IV tugged at my skin, but I ignored it. “How did I get here?” What happened after I said yes?

“A friend of mine found you on the ground in Gate Vale, perfectly whole and healthy but unconscious, so he brought you to me. From what I understand, that’s the second time he’s saved you in a week. Maybe I should take you to thank him. You two obviously should know each other.”

I dropped my hands and stared at him with a confused expression. Who on earth was he talking about?

A small smile skipped over his lips then his expression grew serious. “But that’s for another time. As for what happened before you passed out, I was hoping that you could tell me, Miss Jyn.” His hands stopped glowing and he looked at me with expecting eyes.

I bit my lips, playing over everything that happened from the time that Blake and his crew showed up to when I woke up here. A lot happened, but what should I say about it? I didn’t have to be psychic to know that Blake was going to try and cover up what he did. Besides, taking my kill was the worst thing that would be proved with witnesses. It was against the code, but it still happened. And his whole group saw him help me escape from the cell with them. But no one saw him throw me at the Orcs. In the end, it was my word against his. With his backing, who would believe me over him? Especially when I am completely healthy now. If I did accuse him of trying to kill me, what lengths would he go to to keep my quiet?

And who would believe me if I told them how the Orcs tortured me to death, but a white flash of light appeared and saved me? That woman also spoke to me, but I didn’t recognize her voice. Really, the whole thing was like a nightmare that I wanted to forget. Only I could still feel the tip of the Orc’s sword digging into my skin when I closed my eyes.

I bowed my head and stared at the white blanket over my legs. I forced my hands to stay loose at my side. “I don’t remember what happened.” 

Since I didn’t know if the authorities even knew about me and other Hunters getting kidnapped into the portal, it was better not to say anything about it at all. I just hoped that Emma stayed quiet about it too.

“Nothing?” Jonovan mulled over the word. “Nothing at all? Do you even remember going into the Gate that morning?”

I slowly nodded. “Yes. But after that, it gets a little…” scary. “Blurry,” I said slowly. “I remember a white light and waking up here.” That should be enough. Start with the truth, end with the truth, and gloss over everything in between.

“Are you sure?” Jonovan looked at me with a serious expression.

I looked at the System screen still floating in front of me and nodded. “Yeah.”

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, slightly messing up his ponytail. “OK, if you need to talk about anything I’m always here.”

I bit my lip. As if I could talk to anybody about this, who would believe me anyway? Technically Jonovan should be able to see the screen, but Jonavon obviously couldn’t see my oddly colored window because he hadn’t asked about it yet. 

I mean, I don’t even know why it changed. And I still hadn’t even had time to open the windows and see what the notifications were about. To see what the Becoming Stronger Quest was even about. I’m not going to lie, it kind of sounded like a hack. Or a name someone would spout if they had no idea what else to call it. I was dying to open it and see, but there was something else I had to do first.

I looked up at Jonovan. “Do you have a phone? I’d like to call my family.”

He stared at me for another couple minutes before he stood up. “Yes. I’ll have Melea bring you the phone.” He paused while turning and looked at me again. “Are you sure you don’t remember anything?”

I shook my head. “No, nothing.”

I guess he finally accepted my lie. “I'm going to keep you in the hospital till tomorrow morning just to make sure that everything is okay. Rest well, Miss Jyn. I’ll be back later today to check on you again.” He paused at the door. “Oh, when you were found, your Items Bag was missing so I gave you another one, but I don’t know where your original Items are. You can go to the Hunters Association and get a new sword and armor tomorrow.” With that, he left.

A moment later, Melea walked back into the room holding a phone. She told me how to use it and then handed it over.

I took it and stared at the numbers for a couple seconds. Geez, what had my family thought of these last four days? Guilt tour at me. Was it even fair for me to call and say, JK, you were worried over nothing?

I dialed the number to my aunt’s apartment and put the phone to my ear listening to it ring. I almost didn’t want them to pick up. Would it be easier just to leave a message? No, that would be a jerk move.

I didn’t have to worry about it for long. All too soon, my sister’s voice came over the phone. “Hello?”

I closed my eyes and let the sound of her voice wash over me. I didn’t know how badly I needed to hear her voice until that moment. For the first time, I finally felt like I was alive. “Aliya,” I whispered. “It’s me.”

She let out something between a gasp and scream. “Jyn! Oh my god, Jyn is that you?” Her voice broke as she started to cry. 

My stomach twisted like a pretzel. I knew what an emotional toll it would take on my family, that’s why I never told them about what happens in the Gate. But since I wasn’t even awake, there was no way I could prevent the Hunter’s Association from telling them about my condition. “Yeah, it’s me—” 

“They told us that you got hurt,” she cut me off, wailing so loud that my ears started to ring. “And that you won’t wake up. I thought you were…” she dissolved into tears. “...like mom…”

Tears pooled in my eyes and I glanced up at the ceiling, trying to blink them dry. I knew that’s what they would think. Even after all this time, as long as Mom was in that hospital bed, it was an open festering wound that couldn’t close. There was still hope that someday they would find the cure, but it didn’t mean that my family could handle having a second Sleeper in the family — both emotionally or financially.

Listening to her cry, I felt like I let her down. My weakness almost left Aliya alone, without a father, mother or sister. Even with our aunt and uncle, I knew she was like me. Losing another family member might break her.

But now there was more to that. What was going to happen when Blake found out that I was still alive? It was a pure miracle that I survived once. At this point in time, I wouldn’t survive a second time.

I focused on the System screen and read the words Becoming Stronger over and over. All the raging emotions, the anxiety, the doubt, the disappointment in myself, calmed. For the first time since I stepped into Eden, I felt like I could breathe. For the first time, I knew what to do and I wasn’t scared to do it.

I talked to her for a couple minutes longer, listening to her tell me about the places that my aunt and uncle applied for, how she was doing in school, and what not until she was calmed down a bit. All the while, I never took my eyes off the System screen.

“Hey,” I said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t come see you right now.”

Aliya paused. “What?”

“There’s something that I have to do. I can come and see you in a couple days, okay? I promise that I’m okay, healthy as an ox.” And weak as a duckling. But not for long.

I didn’t know what this Becoming Stronger program was about, but I was going to milk it for all it was worth.

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A note from MichelleRReid

New Divide by Linkin Park.

This song is actually for the ML. From the lyrics to the feel of the song, I can’t think of a better way to describe his life experiences and how he sees the world. 

I’ve always been a huge Linkin Park fan. From the first time I heard them on the radio (even though I was a huge country girl) to now. I do miss their original stuff, but I love the new things they do too.

 

A funny fact: Melea's name wasn't originally Melea. But autocorrect changed it so much that I just gave up and went with the flow. (I can't even remember what her name used to be.)


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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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