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I stood at the entrance of Glenn Holt and stared down the path, thumping my fist against my thigh in agitation. The green aspen-like leaves swayed lazily in the gentle breeze, flashes of sunlight breached the canopy. Green and gold bushes grew around the off-white trunks and framed the dirt path that cut through the woods. Red and pink flowers dotted the landscape, adding just the right amount of color to the peaceful scene.

God, I hated this forest. It’d been nearly two months since I was abducted by Orcs in this forest. My life had drastically changed since then, but I still hadn’t been able to take a step inside the damn place.

My fist thumped harder against my thigh until it started to hurt. I took a deep breath and pulled up my Daily Tasks. I swear it was getting longer every day. [Cultivate in Fogmire for 30 minutes — completed.] There were two left: [Destroy five energy crystals] and [Collect five Pearl Duku].

I’d checked and checked again. The only Pearl Duku trees were in Glenn Holt. For the first time, I seriously debated on intentionally not completing this Daily Task. While I wasn’t the kind of person who willingly looked for punishment — haha — at the moment, it didn’t seem so bad no matter what it was. So long as I never went in this forest again. All for a super poisonous fruit the size of a quarter.

Somewhere in the middle of the forest was a cave that I needed to find. I didn’t know where it was, but that wasn’t the hardest part. No, that was taking the first step.

I scowled and closed out my menu. I sucked in a deep breath. and took a step down the path … or I meant to. Before my boot landed, my muscles seized up. I couldn’t put it down on that dirt path. Images of red Orcs flashed through my mind and I could almost feel Blake’s hands as they lifted me and tossed me to my death.

I jumped back. My shoulder hit someone right behind me and my heart rate soared. I whipped around, expecting to see Blake and his group behind me.

A woman a couple years older than me in red armor blinked in surprise. “Excuse me.”

A man about her age in a black mage robe frowned at me from beside her.

I swallowed my heart back into place. “Oh, sorry.” I stepped off the dirt path into the bush so they could pass and I watched as the pair of D Ranked Hunters disappeared down the forest trail.

I let out a frustrated moan and scrubbed my face with my hands. What was I doing, getting worked up just because of a bunch of trees? I wasn’t that weak anymore and I refused to be a victim still. I lowered my hand to my side and fisted my fingers as I glared at the path. Head high, I entered the forest.

I should be looking for the caves in the middle of Glenn Holt, but I couldn’t stop my memory from guiding my feet through the woods. It had only been a couple of minutes of terror being tied and marched through these trees, but I’d never forget the route we took. The feel of the coarse rope against my skin, or smell of the bloody Orcs pressing us faster.

I stopped in front of two trees bowing together to form an arch. They looked different from the last time I was here, but I knew it was them. The biggest difference was the fact that there wasn’t a black portal shimmering under the arch of the trees. To make sure, I stepped closer and passed my hand between the trunks. It was normal air, as if there was never a portal to hell there to begin with.

“So it was a Portal Burst,” I whispered.

That would explain why I never knew there was a Portal in Glenn Holt. It showed up, let a bunch of Orcs out then stayed open long enough for them to kidnap a group of Hunters and return. I didn’t know if it was still ‘open’ after they went back in with us. Since I wasn’t conscious until four days later, I doubted I’d ever find out. But that didn’t matter anymore. As long it didn’t open ever again — or at least until after I left this forest — it could do whatever it wanted.

Still, I couldn’t help but sigh in relief as a heavy weight lifted off my shoulders. Glenn Holt didn’t feel so secretively sinister anymore. I could do this. It was time to find a cave.

Since I didn't know where to go, I figured the best thing would be to follow the path that led through the forest. An hour’s walk later and I had destroyed four energy crystals of an E and three D ranked monsters. I was glad to have my new Items Bag because it was filling fast, what with each monster dropping one to two items.

“Hah!” I yelled and thrust my kindjal into the chest of the D ranked Werecat and shattered the energy crystal. The monster exploded into little glowing lights.

[+56 EXP]

The System dinged. [Daily Task: Destroy Five Energy Crystals — Completed. +25 EXP]

[You have Leveled Up!]

“Sweet!” I hummed as I scooped up the Drop Items then adjusted my stats. Hmm, I was level 17 now, but still a D rank. How many more levels was it going to take to get an S rank? With that on my mind, I moved farther into the woods.

The forest path opened up in front of me, revealing a pond. It’s surface was so smooth it looked like faintly glowing silver glass. The trees around the pond grew thick and tall. They bent over the pond and spread their branches out, blocking out the sunlight, as if someone had purposefully woven the branches together. The dim light made the pond glow even more. In the middle of the pond was an island just big enough to fit a stone arch about fifteen feet in diameter. Within that arch was a tree that looked like a weeping willow — only it glowed. Faintly glowing pink leaves drifted lazily from thin branches on a nonexistent breeze. Between the leaves, clusters of bright white fruit twinkled in the dim light. Even the bark had ribbons of white neon webbing up and down the trunk and branches.

This had to be a Pearl Duku tree. It had to be one of the most beautiful scenes I’d ever seen in Gate Vale … So what was the catch?

I looked around but didn’t spot anything that could be a threat. I frowned at the pond and kicked a rock into the smooth surface. The splash was barely more than a ripple and the rock vanished after a couple feet. I waited another couple of minutes but still, nothing happened.

“Alright then,” I said and activated Feather Step. I stepped onto the pond.

Instantly the Pearl Duku tree exploded into thousands of pink glowing lights. I paused, shocked. No, it wasn’t that the tree exploded. Every single leaf of it soared into the air to form a mass of glowing lights. It took another second for me to realize that they weren’t even leaves. They were butterflies — according to their title bar, thousands of blood sucking level 10 Gem Butterflies. And they were coming at me like a swarm of angry bees.

“What the —?”

I threw up my hands and cast Mist. Only this time, I didn’t pull from the power that I had stored inside me. I used Mist Creation. The still water beneath my feet evaporated and blended with the air, creating a thick mist that I could control. I couldn’t control the water or the air separately, but I could blend the two together and use it to my advantage. I concentrated the two elements together as thick as I could. The butterflies entered my mist and immediately slowed down. After a short while, some fell into the water, their wings weighed down with dew.

My kindjal appeared in my right hand and I put my left hand against the short sword’s handle. As I pulled my hands apart, I cast Mirror. A second kindjal, a replica of the one in my right hand, appeared in my left. God, I loved this new skill.

I Feather Stepped forward and slashed at butterflies with both kindjals. No matter where I aimed, I hit several at once. But my task wasn’t to kill these monsters, it was to get the Pearl Duku. Swinging my kindjals around and holding my mist thick, I ran to the tree. The butterflies kept coming at me. I was able to keep most of them away, but a few landed on me. I knew the instant they did from the intense bee-stinging bite they inflicted. I slashed them away from my body and couldn’t help but notice that the longer they were on me, the longer they sucked my blood, the redder their wings became. Ugh. I fought my way across the pond until I finally reached the tree.

Panting, I inspected the Pearl Duku tree. Now that I was so close, it was obvious why they were called what they were. The fruit dangling from thin branches really did look like huge white pearls glowing in the dim light.

The kindjal disappeared from my left hand and I reached out to grab a handful of Pearl Duku hanging on the nearly bare branch. My grip was too hard and the fruit exploded in my hand. A milky gelatin squished between my fingers and opalescent juice dripped down my wrist into my arm bracer. “Crud!” I gasped and shook my hand out. The skins of the Pearl Duku flung to the ground several feet from me.

The Gem Butterflies stirred, some thrown into a whole new kind of frenzie, aiming at my hand as if it mortally offended them. Another portion of butterflies flew to the broken pieces of Pearl Duku fruit on the ground. They landed on it, each little bug trying to push others out of the way.

I swung my remaining sword even faster while I pulled another fistful of Pearl Duku off the tree. This time I quickly slotted them into my Items Bag before I could crush them.

[Daily Task: Collect Five Pearl Duku. Complete. +25 EXP]

I huffed a breath of relief then turned and ran back across the pond, a small swarm of butterflies chased after me and my left hand. I swung at them, while trying to collect as many Drop Item orbs as I could. Since their energy crystals were so small and most of them sank into the water, it was nearly impossible for me to destroy them and collect orbs at the same time. My mist slowed the buggy monsters and they weren’t so hard for me to evade. But I could see how a melee Hunter or a mage without an area spell could have trouble with them. Even so, I was still breathing hard by the time I made it to the shore and ran into the woods. The butterflies still hounded after me. Until, suddenly, they stopped.

I slowed down and turned, blinking at the mass of pink lights that shifted and swirled in the distance. Their wings made an angry sha-sha sound, but they didn’t come any closer. They didn’t move one inch from under the dim shadow the overhead trees cast. I blinked and looked at the sunlight hitting the ground around me. It clicked. Oh, they couldn’t go in the sun.

“Maybe they should have been called vampire butterflies,” I muttered.

My kindjal disappeared. I lifted my left hand, trying to think of what to do about the fruit juice on it. Then I paused. My hand was completely dry, as if it had never gotten wet to begin with.

“Hmm.” I had a feeling that the System wanted the Pearl fruit for something, just like it wanted the Essence of Nothing. Curious, I opened my menu. There were sixty pairs of Gem Wings in there. They were pretty to look at, as if someone really did carve delicate wings out of pink quartz. In the midst of them were two Pearl Duku.

“Two?” I muttered to myself. I knew for sure that I’d grabbed five. The System even marked it off that I had five. So where did the other three go? Or …?

I glanced at my left hand and wiggled my fingers around. Was it really like the Essence of Nothing that vanished from my Items Bag? The System wanted it for something and since there was some on my hand, it took that first and the remaining from my Items Bag? That’s why there was some left over? It seemed far-fetched. But was it really?

With that still on my mind, I turned around and walked back toward the trail. Just as I stepped onto the compressed dirt, I heard the sounds of people talking.

“You've got to be kidding me, Miles. That’s an idiotic idea.” A woman sighed in exasperation.

Hm. Was her voice familiar? I turned around and saw a man and woman standing off the side of the trail, the same couple that I’d bumped into earlier today just outside of Glenn Holt.

The man, Miles, stared at her with avid eyes. “No, I’m serious, baby.” He held up his gloved hands. In his fingers was a small glowing energy crystal, shining like a little star. “Haven’t you ever wondered about it? These crystals are full of energy. What if Hunters could absorb that energy into their bodies and use it to become stronger?”

*****

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Has anyone else asked that question yet? ;)


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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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