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The woman gave Miles a look that expressed exactly what I was thinking. “Huh?” she asked in a flat, are-you-stupid voice.

“Just hear me out, honey,” the mage rushed on. “I really do think that a person can extract and use the energy in a crystal.”

The woman tapped her forehead and gave him a patient smile. “Miles, that was proved impossible over fifteen years ago.”

It was true. When crystals became the main source of energy, extensive experiments were done on them to make sure there weren’t any negative side effects. Some of those experiments were Hunters and humans trying to extract the energy so that a person could use it and become physically or magically stronger. Every single test had been a failure. No matter what they did, a person couldn’t absorb an energy crystal’s power.

I rolled my eyes and turned away, not interested in their conversation anymore. If he wanted to play with crystals like that, that was on his time.

But the man’s voice still carried in the wind. “I know. But I think they were doing it wrong. I’ve been reading a lot and I think the right way is through cultivation.”

My eyes flared and I froze mid-step. That was a word I didn’t hear from other people's mouths. Slowly I turned around and walked back. They still hadn’t noticed me. To keep it that way, I jumped into a nearby tree and perched on a branch to watch. Spying might be rude, but the man had finally gotten my attention.

The woman still didn’t look convinced. “Reading? Baby, those are fiction books. Fiction — as in fantasy! They aren’t real. If a process like that was possible, it would have been discovered years ago.”

“But all fiction is based on some sort of real event. Even Moby Dick was based on a real whale,” Miles argued back, nodded his head in self-righteousness.

“Yet there has never been a person that’s gone forty thousand leages under the sea in a submarine,” she said back in the same blunt tone. “And there sure as hell isn’t a prehistoric land in the middle of the earth. Most fiction is the product of someone with an overactive imagination and too much time on their hands.”

He opened his mouth to argue back and paused. “But there have been people in submarines that reached the bottom of the ocean.” He threw his hands in the air and hurried on. “I really want to try this, honey. I can’t accept that we’re stuck in the same place in the Hunter hierarchy our whole lives. You deserve so much better than that and I’m going to give it to you.”

The girlfriend paused and sighed. “Miles, I’m happy right now. Don’t get caught up trying to change something that you can’t and drive yourself crazy over it.” Her words were smart, but her tone had softened.

He gave her a tight hug and rubbed his cheek against her brunette hair. “I won’t. But I still want to try this.” He stood back and held up the crystal. “All of the books that I read had a specific way to cultivate. I just want to try it and see if it’s possible. If it is, it could change our lives forever. If not, oh well, it was a nice dream. What do you say?”

The woman stared at Miles for a second then slowly nodded. “Alright. But don’t come crying to me when it doesn’t work.” She gave him a quick kiss then turned around. “I’ll watch your back for one hour. Just one hour, you hear me?” She stabbed a finger at him.

He grinned like an idiot. “I love you.”

She smiled as she grumbled under her breath.

I watched their play, smiling to myself. I watched as the man sat down cross-legged on the ground. He held his hands differently than what I did, but all-in-all, it actually looked like a real cultivation position. Not that I was a pro. I had to be a toddler at best, but I was getting better everyday. Since my eyes were closed when I cultivated, I’d never actually seen the whole process. I couldn’t resist leaning over so that I could pay close attention.

A minute passed. Five minutes passed. The woman noticed a Dire Rat and ran off to kill it. She didn’t notice the second Dire Rat sneaking up on the man while she was gone, but I killed it by pairing Throw and Critical Hit. My kindjal exploded the energy crystal so by the time the woman returned, the rat carcass had disappeared and my kindjal was back in my hand. The Drop orb stayed on the ground just six feet from him for a couple minutes, completely invisible to the woman, until it disappeared by itself.

Twenty minutes of nothing else passed by. I lounged on the branch, swinging a leg back and forth under me. I wasn’t in that much of a hurry. My first time cultivating wasn’t successful, even though I had a manual in front of me. This guy was going off books that he read in the past. Who knew how much he remembered? Miles hadn’t moved a muscle but I could tell that he was concentrating hard from the thin layer of sweat that was building on his forehead. His girlfriend kept looking at him, but she bit her lips and looked away without disturbing him.

Another forty minutes passed with only minor monster interruptions — that the girlfriend knew about. Some of them I took care of before she even knew I was there. The girlfriend checked her guide menu for the tenth time, probably checking the time, and silently sighed. She turned to Miles and opened her mouth then paused and closed it again. Finally she gripped her hands together and walked up to him. She opened her mouth, “Mi —”

Suddenly the energy crystal resting in Miles’s hands lit up like a mini blue sun.

The woman gasped and stumbled back, holding a hand up to block her eyes. I gasped and leaned closer.

Energy, strong and bright, pulsed from the crystal. It swirled around the stone for a second then slowly drifted towards the man’s chest. As soon as it touched him, the energy rushed into his body.

His eyes popped open. “I can feel it!” he gasped. “I can feel the power. Oh my god, it’s so strong. I can feel it in my heart, in my arms, my hands.” He laughed in delight. “It works, honey! It works!”

I stared at him wide-eyed, seeing what they couldn’t. The title bar over his head was changing. Before, it said that he was level 17, the same as me. The same as his girlfriend. Then the number increased to 18.

It worked? He really was absorbing the energy from a crystal and becoming stronger. Even though I was waiting for it, the thought still blew my mind -- and all the contradicting theories of that I grew up with. If Hunters really could absorb the power in energy crystals, why hadn’t they done that from the beginning? For as long as I could remember, energy crystals were used as an energy source to power the world. Batteries full of clean energy. They had no effect on humans or Hunters.

The mage’s level rose to 19, the light of the crystal still strong.

If Hunters really could absorb the power, why was there such a heavy caste system in that blood thirsty society? Why did Es and Ds still exist if they could just cultivate a crystal and become stronger? A flash of anger boiled in me as the helplessness of my past came to mind. Did I really go through all that shit for nothing? Could I really have avoided the pain of being stuck at the bottom of society’s food chain, if it weren’t for believing the words that the government laid out? But why would they lie to us anyway? Wouldn’t it be better for them if Hunters were stronger? Then we could more easily handle the threats inside the Gates.

The woman stepped closer to Miles then back a couple feet. “Are you okay? How do you feel?” Her voice trembled, like she was excited and scared at the same time.

“I feel invincible!” the mage yelled in elation. His level rose to 20.

“Oh my god,” the woman whispered in awe. “This is amazing.”

His laughter slowly died and he looked down at the crystal in his hands. His brows pulled together. At first he looked confused … then concerned.

“What’s going on?” The woman stepped closer.

“I don’t …” Suddenly, he threw his head back and screamed. His voice was raw and brutal, obviously in intense pain, but there was no visible problem.

Shocked, I jumped to my feet.

“Miles!” The woman screamed and ran to him. She grabbed his shoulder with one hand and gripped the crystal in his fingers with the other. No matter how hard she pulled, neither the crystal nor his position changed. It was like they were frozen in place as he screamed in agony. “Miles! What’s wrong? Miles!”

He didn’t move. No, he was moving. Without shifting position, his body was moving. It was changing. Under his black robes, his arms thickened and twisted in odd shapes. His torso elongated and thinned as his neck widened. His legs twisted around and the boots slid off his feet. The fingers holding the dim crystal grew broader and sharpened at their tips until they were claws.

The woman screamed in horror and stumbled back. Her hands covered her mouth as she gasped for air, staring at the man as he changed into a monster.

His human scream morphed into a reptilian roar. Red scales replaced his skin, they spread into place as his clothes slid off his narrow shoulders and pooled in his lap. His hair fell out as his face lengthened and flattened, until it was more lizard-like than human. A four-foot tail shot out of the folds of the clothes.

The monster’s level hit 21. The crystal in its claws flashed bright then vanished. The monster the Hunter became opened its mouth wide and roared into the air. A blast of fire shot from its mouth and dissipated in the air above.

“Miles?” The woman gasped, like she couldn’t understand what was happening. Her legs shook as she stumbled back.

I could barely process what I was seeing. Oh my god, what just happened? Did I really just watch a human turn into a monster?

The huge, red lizard lunged for the woman, crawling on all fours and leaving the pile of clothing behind.

She blocked his first attack with her long sword. “Miles! Miles! It’s me! Come on, wake up!” She begged, her whole body shaking with her sobs.

Fast as lightning, the lizard whipped at her with its tail. While she blocked that, the monster’s head shot forward in a blur of movement and its wide mouth clamped on her throat and shoulder. The force of the attack knocked the woman backward, the monster on top of her. It all happened in seconds.

I flung my kindjal at the monster as I jumped from the tree. The monster dodged back from the woman and my kindjal sank into the ground between them. The large lizard looked up at me and hissed low, pulling its lips away from red gums. I closed the distance between us with Feather Step. The lizard whipped out it’s tail. I deflected it with the newly returned kindjal and twisted in the air, kicking the monster hard in the chest. It stumbled back five feet.

I glanced over my shoulder at the quiet woman on the ground. Her eyes were wide with horror, mouth slack, face white as a sheet. Blood continued to flow from the holes in her throat. The blood puddling around her grew wider. It could only mean one thing.

The lizard monster hissed as I faced it. I quickly cast Mirror with my kindjal. God, I hate this forest. If I survived the next ten minutes, I would never step foot in here again.

*****

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A note from MichelleRReid

Bahaha! Bet you didn’t see that coming, huh? Don’t worry, it gets better! ;)

 

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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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