After a very long, sleepless night — I’d just woke up after sleeping for four days, who sleeps that long? — I was finally released from the hospital.
I stepped out the front doors in a borrowed pair of pants and T-shirt, and took a deep breath of non-medically-sterile air. With my horrible track record, I might be used to being in the hospital, but it didn’t mean that I liked staying in it for a long time. And Melea was determined to make sure that I didn’t move an inch from my bed.
Before I could even release my breath, a System screen popped up.
[Congratulations on being released from the hospital.]
I choked on the air stuck in my chest. Coughing and blinking away tears, I stared at the screen. Was … was the System interacting with me? What?
I didn’t have time to fully accept or reject the idea when a soft bell-like ping chimed before another window popped up.
[Daily Task: Kill two Vale Wolves.]
“Are you shitting me?!” I screeched like a banshee.
The few people passing by the hospital entrance turned and looked at me. A mix of emotions were displayed from amusement and concern to derision. So uncomfortable. My face went red and I hurried away from the onlookers. It wasn’t until I was a whole street away, and free from curious eyes, that I loosened up and my mind started to work again.
I opened my main menu and saw that there was something in Tasks.
[Task: Kill two Vale Wolves before nightfall. Failure to do so will result in punishment.]
That was it. There was nothing else to it. In the brief explanation of the Getting Stronger Quest, it said that I would get EXP for completing tasks, but not how much. Would I get different points for different tasks based on their hardness? That would make sense. Then again, it’s not like killing two Vale Wolves was easy for me right now anyway. I usually lost at least half of my HP just killing one.
Granted, a week ago I knew I was going to have to kill two a day to help my aunt pay for rent, so this wasn’t a new idea. But it was different when I was doing it for my family, verses when a faceless System told me to do it. And if I didn’t kill the wolves, I’d get punished. Somehow. It could be a slap on the hand, or something major. I wouldn’t know what it was until it happened, but after the last week, I wasn’t going to openly look for crap dropped on my head out of sheer curiosity.
Still, it was a win-win case for me. I’d get two energy crystals, which I desperately needed since I should have had eight by now, and I’d get EXP to level up. It just wasn’t going to be easy. At first. But if killing Vale Wolves didn’t get easier after leveling up a little, I was going to find a way to return this Becoming Stronger Quest to whoever put it on me.
Before I could complete the task, I needed to change. The clothing I’d been wearing when I was taken to the hospital had been so trashed — who’da thought after my experience with the Orcs? — that Melea lent me a set of clothes. The plain blue T-shirt and cotton pants were fine enough to walk around in. It’s not like I had anyone to impress anyway. But they just wouldn’t cut it fighting inside the Gate Vale.
Quickly, I returned to E Hostel. I’d barely taken two steps inside when Henry came out of the front office.
The pages he held slid from his fingers and fluttered to the ground. He jumped forward. “Jyn!” He hugged me and started to thump me on the back hard enough to knock the wind out of me. “Ah this girl, you scared me! I haven’t had a good night's rest in four nights!”
I arched my aching back and slid out of his hold. Jeez, I should get EXP for surviving that. “Hey, Mr. Henry. Sorry I worried you.” I smiled at him, grateful for his concern. I bent down and started to pick up the papers that he was stepping on. I hoped that he didn’t get in trouble for the footprints on the backside of them.
“I got that,” he said and started to pick them up as well. “It’s still breakfast time. Have you eaten yet?” He looked me up and down then sighed. “What are they doing in that hospital? You look skinnier than ever.”
I laughed, remembering all the food Melea had shoveled into my mouth. “Yes, I’ve eaten. Thanks.” After reassuring Henry several more times that I was just fine, he let me go up the stairs.
I unlocked my bedroom door and paused after turning the key. There was no resistance when I turned the key. The door was already unlocked. But I knew for a fact that I’d locked it when I left. Cautiously I opened the door and peeked inside. The knob slid from my hand and I stared in shock at Leticia who was crouching in front of my closet.
“What are you doing?” I yelled. That was when I noticed that she was kneeling in front of the safe. And it was open. And her hand inside.
Leticia scowled at me like I was in her way, never mind that she had broken into my room and was stealing my stuff. She pulled her hand back and stood up. “Nothing.” She kicked the safe closed with her toe as if it wasn’t a big deal that she’d busted it open.
I lunged forward. Leticia skipped around me and walked out the door, not even bothering to shut it behind her. Her hands were empty, but that didn’t mean anything. She could have put something — or everything — inside her Items Bag. I didn’t bother with her just yet. I didn’t own a lot of stuff, but what I did have was priceless.
I dropped to my knees hard enough that I would have winced if I wasn’t so desperate. My stomach tightened painfully at the sight of the bent handle on. I almost didn’t want to touch the safe. Like it had been violated. I grabbed the handle, feeling the unfamiliar shape in my hand, and jerked the safe open. It swung open easily.
“Damn her,” I muttered under my breath. “Is she ever going to give me a break?” Never mind the fact that I’d just spent five days in the hospital.
It wasn't empty like I thought it would be. But it only took me a couple seconds to realize what was missing. Ten years ago, when my dad was still alive and we weren’t scrounging for money, he gave my mom a charm bracelet for their tenth anniversary. There were five charms on it, four flat hearts engraved with mine, Aliya’s and my parents’ initials, and a small ruby rose charm. As money got tighter and things started to get pawned off, Aliya took the necklace that had Mom’s and Dad’s wedding rings on it. I kept this. It was the only thing I had left that belonged to both of them.
My hands started to shake as my mind went blank. I didn’t even remember what happened next but suddenly I was at Leticia’s closed door.
I grabbed the handle, it was locked. Furious, I started to pound on the door. “Leticia, get your cheap ass out here!” I screamed at the top of my lungs. “Give it back, you piece of shit!”
Doors clicked open up and down the hall and heads peeked out, the women shocked yet curious at the commotion I made. For the first time, I didn’t care that I was the center of attention, if anything, I pounded a little harder and screamed abuse even louder. Twelve months of pent up anger bubbled up and exploded in waves of fury that I directed at the door.
With my strength, the door stood up well, aside from a few shallow dents. My hands, on the other side, were turning black and blue from hitting the door. I knew she was in there, I could hear pacing on the other side of the door, and cold hisses to every insult I screamed.
I wouldn’t leave until I had my bracelet back.
Most of the women were in the hall now, watching me with flabbergasted expressions. They didn’t seem to care that they were in various states of night time dress, a few even bold enough to stand there in only a cami and panties.
“Hey, what’s going on?” One of the girls asked.
I completely ignored her and pulled the kindjal from my Items Bag. Without pausing, I stabbed the door. The blade sank through the wood grain until the guard thudded against it.
Screams of shock sounded around me and also from inside Leticia’s room.
I pulled the kindjal out and prepared to attack again. I was going to get my bracelet back, even if I had to hack the door to pieces.
“What the devil is going up here!” Henry’s loud voice broke through my mindless state. I blinked and looked over to see him standing at the top of the stairs, staring at me like I was insane.
I didn’t really care though, I felt a little insane. So much crap had built up to now, that I just couldn’t handle more. I wasn’t so crazy that I’d hurt anyone, I promised, but I did want to break apart Leticia’s door. Let her know how it felt to have her stuff defiled.
The door swung open and Leticia appeared. “Henry, this bitch is trying to kill me! She’s gone insane!”
My gaze snapped back to her. With a deadly calm that I’d never felt before, I leveled my kindjal at her. “Give it back.” My words were like a bucket of cold water dousing her fiery explosion. “Give my bracelet back!”
Henry hurried up to me and grabbed my wrist. He pushed down on my arm, trying to move the weapon away from Leticia. “Put your weapon away and we’ll figure this out.”
I resisted. “Not until I get my bracelet back.”
“Jyn!” Henry barked. “You know the rules!”
“So does she!” I finally let him lower my arm and put the kindjal away. “I might get in trouble for fighting, but theft is against the law!”
Everyone looked at Leticia, no one acting surprised at all. Even Henry looked disapproving, but not shocked.
“I didn’t steal anything!” Leticia slapped a hand against her chest and had the gall to look offended. “What could that poor slut own that I would even want?”
“As if you have ever left me alone since the minute I stepped into this building,” I yelled back. “Is it that you just can’t breathe unless you’re stepping on someone? Blankets and pillows, what the hell? Just give my bracelet back!”
Henry put a hand on my shoulder. He looked between us. “Yelling won’t solve the problem. Jyn, tell me your side first. Then Leticia will get her turn.” Then he glanced around the hall, his sight skipping fast over some of the lesser dressed young women. “The rest of you, I think it’s time you returned to your rooms. There’s nothing to see here.”
As if that would work, but Henry was in charge of the food here. Some still muttered under their breath and cast looks at me and Leticia, but soon enough the hall cleared out. I bet that every single one of them had their ears pressed to their doors.
Henry sighed then turned back to me and Leticia. He crossed his arms. “Now Jyn, what happened?”
I took a breath and motioned to her. “When I opened my bedroom door, Leticia was inside my room, rummaging inside my safe.”
“I was not!” she wailed.
“Quiet!” Henry barked. “You will have your turn to talk.”
She still looked ready to yell, but I kept going.
“When I checked inside, I found that my mother’s bracelet was missing. It has four heart charms and a red rose on it. I want it back.” I glared at her.
She snorted and tossed her two-toned hair over her shoulder. “She’s lying. I didn’t take anything. I don’t know where she lost it, but I didn’t take it.”
“Yes, you did. I know for a fact that it was in my safe the last time I was in my room. The only one who’s opened my safe in the last five days is you. You even bent my safe getting it open. It’s back there,” I waved towards my open door. “Anyone can go check it. I don’t know where you put my bracelet, whether it’s in your Items Bag or you stashed it somewhere, but you took it.”
Henry scowled at Leticia. “Did you forget about the security cameras, girl? You like to prance about like a princess, but even you can’t escape the law. Do you really want me to get the authorities involved?”
Leticia’s eyes widened. For the first time, the smug look on her face started to slip.
“Yes!” I yelled before she could respond. “I want it back, even if I have to press charges.”
Proving it would be a double-edged sword, really. If they couldn’t find proof that she stole it, I would get in trouble for slander. But I wasn’t worried about that, since I knew for a fact that she stole it.
Leticia’s expression slid through emotions like the ticking of a clock. Shock, fury, then loathing. She glared at me before her gaze slid to Henry. “It’s just a damn piece of trash. The hell are you getting so worked up for?” She swung her hand out.
A flash of silver flew through the air. It struck the wall at the other side of the hall and clattered to the ground.
I gasped and ran over. My heart was pounding in my ears as I stared down at the bracelet. The ruby rose had broken off and a couple links were bent. My hands shook as I scooped it off the floor. My thumb smoothed over Mom’s and Dad’s initials as I checked it for any more damage. Finally, I let out a sigh. All the pent up emotion drained from my body and my shoulders sagged. I didn’t even realized I was that tense until now. It was damaged, but it could still be fixed.
Henry was still glaring at Leticia. “Since you gave it back, I won’t contact the authorities. But I still have to record this incident.”
Even if she gave it back, something like this could prevent her from a number of things in the future. Especially if she wanted to move up in the Hunter’s world. Theft wasn’t unheard of — hell, neither was murder. All was fair in the Gate Vale as long as you weren’t caught, but inside Eden Hunters had to abide by the laws. As long as there was proof, it became a black mark on your record.
I couldn’t get revenge on Blake, but it felt good to finally get back at Leticia, even if it was only a little.
Leticia reacted like a furious cat. “What the hell! It’s just a damn bracelet. I gave it back, there’s no reason to write it down.”
Henry shook his head, as if he couldn’t believe her. “Why did you take it to begin with? You knew you’d get in trouble if you were caught.”
She snorted and planted her hands on her hips. “That waste was gone for days. Normally it means they are dead and their stuff is fair game. How was I supposed to know that she was going to randomly show up again? Someone like her should just stay dead.” She glared at me.
My heart jumped and accelerated as the image of watching my skin get sliced off piece by piece and my blood drip off my body drop by drop, came back so vividly I could almost feel it again. My knees almost gave out. I reached out and planted a hand against the wall.
Henry was scolding her, completely oblivious to my reaction. “No, Leticia. When a Hunter dies, their possessions go to their family. It’s not a free-for-all. No matter what, taking something that doesn’t belong to you is theft. If I catch you at it again, I’ll kick you out.”
I could barely hear him over the ringing in my head. No, I thought, trying to banish the image of the Orc’s gleeful face as he flung another piece of my flesh to the ground. That would never happen again. I would never be a victim again.
I glanced at Henry still yelling at Leticia and went into my room to change. I got my bracelet back, that’s all that mattered. Henry could handle the rest. I had a task to complete.
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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.
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.
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