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I gasped and stumbled back. As soon as my hand moved away from the Vale Wolf carcass, the notifications disappeared. Still in shock, I looked around, half expecting them to pop back open and give me another heart attack.

“What is that supposed to mean?” I demanded to the open air like a crazy person. “It’s the Hunter’s job to collect energy crystals from monsters.”

I’d spent the last twelve-plus months slaving away just to dig a tiny crystal out of monsters. It was how I ate, and how my family was able to stay off the streets, and Mom got medical attention. Now this new System was telling me to leave it alone? After I just nearly killed myself for it?

Nothing happened around me, no dings, no random screens with an answer to my question. Maybe I’d been wrong when I’d thought the System was interacting with me.

I scowled at the carcass. Like hell I was going to just walk away from an energy crystal and leave it for someone else to stroll in and take. I knelt down and reached out again. Instantly my vision filled with red windows telling me not to touch the energy crystal. There were so many that it was like the sky suddenly turned red — a scary thought in and of itself. I’d certainly had enough of Portal Bursts lately.

With a frustrated growl, I stepped back until the messages disappeared. “Then what am I supposed to do? How can I survive without collecting energy crystals? I can’t get stronger if I starve to death!”

A white glowing orb appeared on the ground in front of the Vale Wolf. A teal title window labeled it [Drop Item].

“What is that? Did you do this?” I muttered then slapped a hand on my forehead.

Maybe I really was going crazy, talking to the System like it was a person. If this was the first day, I was scared to think of how I was going to be in a week or even a month from now. There was a special place where deranged and dangerous Hunters were kept. If I couldn’t survive in Eden, well, there was no way I could survive there.

I sighed and reached out of the glowing orb. Hunter 101 said to never touch unknown items — especially ones that glowed. But it’s not like I could touch the energy crystal, so I could only assume this was the next best thing. The System seemed to want to help me, so it should give me something to compensate for the energy crystal. Well, in theory. The instant my fingers skimmed the orb, it vanished and a message appeared.

[You have obtained a Vale Wolf pelt.]

The message disappeared and the Vale Wolf’s body exploded into tiny light fragments. The lights scattered in the air and faded to nothing in less than two seconds. In the end, it was like the carcass was never there. Even the wolf’s blood on my body faded away.

In awe, I opened my Items screen and stared at the new addition in there. “Cool,” I whispered. This was just like a Drop Item in a game. The System could go this far, even manipulate the monsters that I killed?

One crystal from a Vale Wolf counted for about a hundred dollars. As long as I made at least that much by selling Drop Items from monsters, I wouldn’t actually need to collect crystals. Not to mention, the rarer the Drop Item, the more money it would be worth.

My greedy thoughts jerked to a halt when a message appeared.

[Destroy the energy crystal.]

“What?” I blinked and looked down. Sure enough, on the ground where the wolf used to be was a dime-sized glowing light.

I stared at it. I knew what the System said, but just ten of those crystals could cover nearly all of my family’s living expenses for a month. And one just layed there on the ground, glowing like a pale blue star.

I reached for it but paused, my fingers just inches away. This time the red warnings didn’t flash in my eyes — I couldn’t get them out of my mind. Why would the System prevent me from touching the energy crystal? They were literally the energy source for the entire human population.

I drew back and summoned the kindjal to my hand. For a moment, I stayed there crouched over the crystal, watching as it glowed in the dirt. I glanced up at the message still hanging in the air and frowned.

“I must be crazy,” I muttered. Then I lifted the kindjal in the air and thrust down, hard.

The energy crystal exploded in bright blue sparks. Was it my imagination, or did a sound come from the crystal when it broke? Before I could decide one or the other, the crystal dissolved into powder then sank in the dirt and disappeared.

I stared at the spot a second longer. “That was so much money…”

I still didn’t understand what just happened or why, but I did know that my heart ached seeing the crystal disappear. I almost hated the hand that held the kindjal. It’ll be fine, I told myself. If I got enough Drop Items, the crystals wouldn’t matter. Although it would be amazing to have Drop Items and crystals at the same time, the devil on my shoulder whispered.

With a sigh big enough to fill a sail, I stood and winced. I was so distracted that I’d actually forgotten about how much my ribs hurt and the state of my HP. Without waiting another second, I hurried back to Eden.

-----------

The look on Jonovan’s face when he saw me sitting on the exam table could only be described as spitting mad. For the first time ever, he glared at me. His face turned red and his hands fisted at his side. “Miss Jyn, what the devil do you think you’re doing?” His voice shook in an effort to keep it calm. “Do you think that I spent so much effort the last five days on you, so you could just turn around and nearly die in the Gate again?”

I smiled at him, finding his words funnier than I should. “Isn’t this how it always is? I nearly die in there, get healed by you, then wake up and do the same thing over again? It’s nothing new.”

He swore under his breath and tugged on his pony tail hard enough that it displaced the tie. He approached me with quick movements and put his hand on my shoulder. A second later, his warm power coursed through my body, soothing away all pain.

“Has anything happened to you since last night?” Just like that, his anger disappeared as his brows wrinkled in concern.

Happened? How big is your imagination? I thought.

As soon as the thoughts crossed my mind, a warning flashed for just a second before it was gone. [Talking about the Becoming Stronger Quest and anything related to it is prohibited.]

I sighed. It’s not like I was really going to tell him. I just wanted to know what kind of face he’d make if I did. You know, before I laughed it off as a joke.

Still, I cocked my head to the side and gave Jonovan a clueless expression. “No? Why?”

He frowned and slowly pulled his hand back. “You almost feel … a little different. But not, at the same time. I can’t put my finger on it.” He stared at me like he was trying to dissect my brain.

I couldn’t help but fidget under his gaze. I mean, it didn’t matter how much he stared, I couldn’t tell him about it anyway. “Okay,” I said slowly and started to slide off the table. “Since there’s nothing else—”

“Hold it,” Jonovan cut me off.

I froze mid-motion and looked back at him. Was he still going to try and talk about how I changed?

“Stay right there,” he said and stood up. “I’ll be right back.” Without explanation, he left the room.

I shifted back onto the table. With nothing else to do, I opened my Main Menu and checked the time. It was already almost four o’clock. I only had four hours left to track down and kill another Vale Wolf then get out of Gate Vale before dark. Frowning, I glanced at the door, hoping that Jonovan would hurry.

The thought barely left my mind when the door swung open and Jonovan came back in. He handed me a stack of papers and stared at me expectantly.

“Ah.” I glanced at the papers, but didn’t really read them. “Thanks?”

“I want you to quit being a Hunter,” he announced.

A jolt went through my body. All I could do was stare at him with wide eyes.

He motioned to the papers in my hands. “I pulled some strings and found a way to recall your Hunter status. You don’t have to keep getting hurt anymore. You can go to school like the rest of the normal kids your age and have a long, peaceful life away from the monsters and violence. You don’t have to be a Hunter anymore, you can be anything that you want.”

Slowly, I looked down at the papers and leafed through them. It was like holding a key to a locked door, one I’d been staring at for so long I didn’t comprehend there was a handle. I could wake up in the morning and eat breakfast with people that actually cared that I was alive. Go to sleep with Aliya’s sweet good night in my ear. I could go to school with Marcie, who I hadn’t seen in months, and actually choose what career path I wanted to follow.

I could be anything I wanted. I could be …

I gripped the papers hard enough to wrinkle them. A million things popped into my head that I could be. A sales associate, a teacher, a business woman — there were hundreds of options. But there was only one word that struck a chord in my soul. A desperate desire that I wanted so badly that my chest ached.

I want to be stronger.

I couldn’t gain that if I signed these papers and walked away. Who knew, maybe the System wouldn’t even let me sign them? Regardless of what it wanted, I personally didn’t want to give up now. After struggling for so long, I finally had a chance to get what I truly wanted.

It wasn’t going to be easy, I knew that. But nothing could be worse than being powerlessly thrown into a group of Orcs. The next time I faced a monster, it would be on my terms. And if I ever got to meet that Orc leader again, he was going to be the one bleeding on the ground. As for Blake, I’d figure out his fate later.

All I knew is that these papers weren’t needed. I smiled softly at Jonovan. “Thank you. Really, thank you for always doing your best for me. It means a lot. But I’m not going to sign them.” I held them out to him.

His eyes widened. “Jyn, what are you talking about? Can you honestly say that you like your life right now? You always hide behind a small smile and sarcasm. But, truthfully, are you actually happy?”

That was an easy question. “No,” I whispered. “I’m not happy.” I was so powerless to control my life, how could I be? My chin tilted up until I could meet his level gaze. “But I will be. I will be happy. I can’t get that if I sign these.”

He didn’t move. It was like he’d turned into a statue, the way that he just stared at me. Finally he sighed and jerked on his ponytail again. “Fine. Fine! Do whatever you want. I don’t care anymore!” He stepped back and dropped onto his chair, still scowling. “But I don’t want those papers back. You keep them. That way, when you finally get sick of this life, you can sign them and be done.”

In the end, I thanked Jonovan and left. I still needed to find another Vale Wolf and I was running out of time.

It was nearly five o’clock by the time I made it back to Edmond Woods. My stomach reminded me it was dinner time. I took out the rest of the sandwich I had for lunch and inhaled it as fast as I could. It wasn’t a lot, but it would be enough to hold off my hunger for at least a couple more hours.

All set, I slowly walked down the trail again. It was getting later in the day and the odds of finding another wolf was getting slimmer by the second. After walking up and down the path for a while, I bit the bullet and started to creep through the brush once again. I returned to where I’d found the first Vale Wolf and wasn’t too surprised that I didn’t come across another one. Undaunted, I kept going, fully aware that I was getting farther and farther from the edge of the forest. Finally, I couldn’t take my nerves anymore and turned around.

I’d barely taken a step when a low growl echoed behind me. I spun around, swinging my kindjal out at the same time. A yelp sounded as my blade smashed into the jaws of a Vale Wolf mid-jump. It fell to its side, bleeding. I stumbled back and quickly regained my balance. Adrenaline surged through my body, yet my mind remained clear as I stared at the wolf, waiting for it’s next move.

I couldn’t get hurt as badly this time. Jonovan knew I’d already killed a wolf, so I technically didn’t need to go back into Gate Vale. If I returned to be healed a second time in the same day, I doubt he’d let me leave until I gave him a good reason why I was hurt again. I didn’t want to lie to him, but I couldn’t tell him the truth. So it was better to just not get hurt at all.

Wish I could have started doing that from day one.

The wolf jumped at me. I side-stepped and slashed at it’s achilles tendon as it passed by. The monster yelped and rolled to the ground. I spun and lunged at it, trying to take advantage of it’s position.

It retaliated just as fast as I surged forward. Mouth open, it angled for my throat. I pulled back, lifting my left arm. The wolf clamped down on my forearm, its fangs piercing my skin. My new armor prevented a fatal wound. Somehow, it’s boost kept the wolf from biting my arm off. I cried out as my HP bar dropped four points. With all my strength, I gripped the kindjal in my right hand and stabbed it down as hard as I could into the wolf’s skull. There was a dull crack, then my blade sank deeper until the bloody tip exited it’s throat. The wolf released my arm and collapsed at my feet.

Breathing hard, I hugged my arm to my chest. God, I really needed to stop using my body as a shield just to get the kill shot. First, it was my chest. Now, it was my arm. What was next, my hand? Jonovan would be pissed if he had to grow back my pinky again. The puncture wounds burned like the devil, but the wound wasn’t the end of the world. I’d only lost three HP from the attack. If I didn’t get the punctures treated they’d leave scars, but it could have been worse.

A teal screen appeared over the wolf. [EXP +4]

A loud chime sounded in my ears and a second window appeared. [You have Leveled Up! Please assign available Stat Points.]

I barely had time to read that before yet another screen appeared. [Daily Task (Kill Two Vale Wolves) Complete. +5 EXP. Would you like to accept your reward? Y/N?]

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A note from MichelleRReid

The next song is Soldier by Samatha Jade.

I hope that you all had a good (albeit confined) Easter. 

 

I spent the whole day in the ER with my three year old. She’s fine now, but it was rough. By the time I got home, I was just done. It was a rollercoaster then I just felt like I got kicked when I was already on my knees. You know how that goes. I’m glad that I had a draft set ready to release Monday morning. Anyway, thanks for letting me vent. And thank you for supporting me by reading Jyn’s story.


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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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