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The lizard shot at me like a blur. I gasped and mirrored his movements, blocking his attacks where I predicted he’d be. The monster’s long claws clashed against my kindjal with a force that sent the soles of my boots skidding back across the dirt. My heel hit the woman’s body and I jumped back before I lost my balance.

The monster stepped right on the corpse’s chest and kept coming at me.

I knew it was a monster now, but two minutes ago the lizard had been a man. A man who’d wanted to make his girlfriend’s life better. Then he’d turned into a monster and killed her. I knew what I had to do, I had to kill the monster, but my heart hurt. Because, two minutes ago he was just like me — struggling against an oppressive caste system as he’d desperately tried to improve his loved one’s life.

I cast Mist and dodged away from the monster’s tail. The tail slapped against the ground creating a divot. Empowered by the mist, I slashed out, slicing at the monster left and right with my twin blades. The lizard swiped back, it’s claws slamming into my blade. The collision threw me off balance again and sent a stinging shock up my arms. I stumbled back and grimaced at the four deep cuts on my upper arm.

The lizard hissed and inspected its hand. Black blood leaked from two deep cuts that spanned its digits. Blood gushed from a small stub where a pinkie should have been.

Why? I thought. How could a man turn into a monster? I’d never once heard of anything like this happening. I mean, it should be impossible! If this could happen, why wasn’t the knowledge available to the public?

The monster roared at me. From the black depths of its open maw, a light sparked. A second later, a stream of fire erupted from its mouth. I dodged but wasn’t fast enough to escape the blast. Heat seared my left shoulder. I gasped. Quickly, I patted at the hot material, trying to cool it with mist.

More alarming than the pain was watching my mist evaporate from the monster’s fire. This mist was part of the reserve I kept inside my body, the reward for hours of cultivating. Everything I used up would take precious time to replace.

“Damn,” I muttered. So my mist was fine against water, but weak against fire. Good to know.

I lunged at the monster, two kindjals ready. The monster spit a fireball at me. I created a solid mist shield over my left kindjal and used it to deflect the blast. The mist evaporated as soon as it came in contact, but it was strong enough to accomplish what I wanted it to.

The lizard lunged at me. As soon as its injured claws hit the ground, it shrieked in pain and flinched back. I took advantage of it’s hesitation and double slashed. My left kindjal hit its left shoulder, the blade slicing through red scales. The right kindjal hit that same spot a split second later, deepening the slice into a solid gash that leaked black blood.

The lizard shrieked and snapped my head. I leaned away as its lips brushed my cheek, jaws clamping shut just barely missing. Hot lizard breath blasted my hair back and a chill went down my spine. Its mouth gaped open and I got an up close view of the fire sparking inside its throat. God, if that hit me at this range …

“Ha!” I yelled and thrust my kindjal down its throat. My arm drove into its mouth up to my elbow and I could feel the moist heat of its fleshy throat through my gloves and arm bracer.

The monster’s green reptilian eyes widened and it flailed. Its injured claws gripped my leather chest plate and dug in, leaving cuts on my chest. It’s mouth clamped shut over my arm and I cried out as teeth sank into my skin.

But the more it thrashed, the more my sword swam inside its belly. Despite the pain, I twisted and thrust my left kindjal into its under belly and jerked down, trying to gut it. The monster stiffened. It collapsed to the ground. Strength left its jaw and I pulled my arm free from its mouth.

I stared down at the conquered lizard. I didn’t want to kill it … kill him. Really, I didn't. But reflex and survival instinct kicked in. It was him or me.

A System message appeared over the reptilian corpse. [+85 EXP]

I stared at the message almost sick to my stomach. That was originally a human. And I got EXP from the kill. An Items Drop orb appeared on the ground next to the lizard monster’s head. I couldn’t seem to move.

[Take the Items Drop orb and destroy the energy crystal.] The System prompted.

My eyes widened. “What? Energy crystal?” There was no way there was an energy crystal in this monster. Humans didn’t have crystals inside them.

Or did they? I wanted — needed — to know. But I still found myself hesitating. The System flashed the same message, urging me forward. I swallowed and reached out a trembling hand to the Items Drop orb. My finger brushed against it. Instantly, a glossy, red lizard hide appeared in my Items Bag. Lizard hide that used to be human skin.

The carcass vanished leaving a glowing energy crystal on the ground where the monster had just been.

I stumbled back until my shaking knees gave out and I collapsed, unable to take my eyes off the glowing crystal. “Oh my god,” I whispered. “How? How the hell did that get in there? What is going on?”

The System flashed a third message urging me to destroy the crystal. Slowly, I climbed to my feet and approached it. Numbly, I lifted my kindjal and stabbed down. The crystal shattered and dissolved into light.

I barely remember rummaging through the female corpse’s clothes and the empty mage robes. Try as I might, I couldn’t find any identification cards. That was one of the drawbacks about Items Bags. When the person died, everything inside them vanished. Including identification cards. Her Pearl would have her information, but I couldn’t bring myself to dig it out of her temple or carry her dead body with me out of the Gate. As for the mage that turned into a monster, there wasn’t even a Pearl left behind. And seeing the lizard skin made me nauseous. I pulled it out and left it next to the woman on the ground.

As I ran back to Eden, the surroundings blurred together. People died in Gate Vale all the time, but I’d never been part of it before. I didn’t really know what to do. It wasn’t really that I was upset that the woman was dead. Rather, I was horrified that the man had become a monster — a real monster with an energy crystal.

People had to know about this. People needed to know that there was something wrong with the energy crystals. Those stones powered our entire world. Houses, cars, cellphones, hospitals, streetlamps. Energy crystals were everywhere. And thousands more came out of the Gates everyday. So why didn’t people know that they were so dangerous if a person absorbed their energy?

Was this the reason why the System had me destroy the energy crystals? In fact, I hadn't even touched one since the System bonded with me.

I ran through the Gate and came out into Eden. I took a dozen steps away from the Gate and stopped, staring at the city. Hunters entered and exited the Gate completely unaware that I was there. The back of my neck prickled. Maybe someone had taken notice of me.

I looked across Gate Square and met Kesstel’s piercing gaze.

His long stride ate up the distance between us. Unlike the rest of the people in the square, he was in casual wear even though it was still the afternoon.

I usually ran as soon as I saw him, but not this time. I looked down at the ground and scowled.

He stopped next to me and looked me up and, taking in the blood, dried on my body. “Are— ”

“Not today,” I said. “I …” My voice drifted and I turned to my right away from him. Away from E Hostel.

A part of me wanted to go back to my room and forget everything that just happened. Pretend like it never happened, like I hadn’t watched a Hunter transform before my eyes. But I couldn’t. People had to know.

While my mind played over what happened, trying to make sense of it all, my feet carried me across Gate Square until I was a block north of it.

Kesstel followed me the whole way, always five feet behind. His gaze was locked on me, never leaving, just like the faint frown on his face.

I completely ignored him. Right now, I just couldn’t deal with it. No matter what he wanted, it would have to wait.

I stopped outside a grandiose, cream marble building. The same person who designed the library must have designed the Hunter’s Association Building, giving it a Roman and Renaissance flare. It was mostly square-shaped with the columns and a shallow-stepped staircase spanning the front of the building. In the middle was a towering dome full of intricate details.

If I were part of the Hunter Council, I’d march up to the large wooden doors at the center of the building and enter there. Instead, I circled around to a small wing at the right of the building where a metal plaque above a door read: Hunter’s Incidents Office. I imagined the inside of the main building was as grand as the outside, but when I opened the heavy metal door to this small annex, I was greeted with something normal.

Tan tile spread across the floor leading to a long, off white counter. The counter was divided by fiberglass panes. Incident Associates worked on computers between each section, some assisting people while others tapped away on their computers.

The door shut behind me. I was getting so used to Kesstel’s presence that I didn’t even have to look over my shoulder to know he’d followed me inside. I should be irritated that he was tailing me, but I didn’t have it in me to spare him a glance. Besides, if he overheard my concerns, that just meant one more person would know.

I walked between roped dividers that cut through the middle of the tiled waiting area. Two receptists were available to choose from. Between the bored looking man glaring at his computer, and the nice looking woman staring at me expectantly, my choice was obvious.

I approached her counter and relaxed a little when Kesstel didn’t follow but simply leaned against the wall next to the door.

She smiled at me. “What can I do for you today?”

I took a breath, suddenly nervous. How much of this could I even tell her? Would any of it be restricted by the System’s rules? “I want to report two deaths. And make the Council aware of a problem with the energy crystals.”

The receptionist’s brown eyes widened with surprise and she sat up straighter. “Alright.” She put her hands on the keyboard. “First, let's start with your name.” She took down my general information then glanced at me. “Can you tell me what happened?”

I nodded slowly. As I spoke the woman tapped on her keyboard. “When I was Glenn Holt, I came across a couple. The man tried to — ” My voice cut off before I could say ‘cultivate.’ I frowned and changed my wording, hoping it would work. “Ah, he absorbed the power inside an energy crystal.”

She paused and looked up. “You mean, the energy actually went inside his body?”

I nodded. “Yes.”

She frowned. “That’s impossible. When the Gates first opened and we started using the crystals as an energy source, hundreds of tests were performed on them. It’s impossible for them to affect Hunters and humans.”

I bobbed my head. “I know. That’s what I thought too. But I watched this guy absorb the energy. Then he turned into a monster.”

Her hands lifted off the keyboard. “He turned into a monster?”

“Yes. A fire-breathing lizard bigger than I am. The Guide didn’t have a name for it, so it must be a new monster type.” God, this really did sound crazy. “Look, I know it’s hard to accept, but I really did see it with my own eyes. The energy crystals are dangerous. I think more testing should be done on them, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.” I paused. “I mean, there has to be other records like this. Someone else must have seen someone turning into a monster in the last twenty years.”

Slowly, her head shook side to side. “I’ve never seen a report about someone absorbing an energy crystal and turning into a monster.” She took a breath and tapped on the keyboard in silence for a moment. “You said you had two deaths to report?” She glanced at me, obviously wanting to move on to a new subject.

My hands fisted and I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. “Yes. After the man turned into a monster, he killed his partner. I don’t know if they were married or dating, or what. But the monster killed her. Then I killed the monster.”

She slowly looked down at her keyboard and tapped on it. “And their names?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know. His was Miles, but I never found out hers.”

“And where are their bodies now?”

I paused and shifted my weight to lean on a hip. I could tell by her tone that she didn’t believe a word that I said. “Her body is in Glenn Holt still. I didn’t know if I should move it or not. Because it’s a crime scene, right? His, Miles, well … his body disappeared.” I almost didn’t want to say the last part. If she didn’t believe me before, it would be all that much harder now.

The Incident Associate stared at me, her hands still on the keyboard. “So you are saying that you saw a man absorb an energy crystal, then turn into a monster, you killed him, and then he… disappeared?”

I stared at her incredulous face and my hand fisted on the counter desk. Maybe I should have talked to the bored man instead. “Look, his body might be gone, but her body is still there. You just need to send someone to check it and it’ll prove what I’m telling you.” But even I didn’t believe my words. Any number of monsters could kill a Hunter. I left the lizard skin there, but how was that supposed to prove anything either?

Maybe I should have carried her body and the lizard skin out, but it was too late to regret that now. Even then, what would it prove? The monster that Miles turned into wasn’t named, so the guide didn’t recognize it. How would they be able to prove that the woman died from that monster? A monster that didn’t even exist anymore.

The receptionist took a breath and she looked at me long and hard. Her incredulous look softened into a gentle smile. “Miss, there are some plants inside the Gate that can release strong pollen that can cause hallucinations or delusions.” Her words were slow as if she was talking to somebody who wasn’t right in the head. “Why don’t you go get an exam at the hospital first, and then come back and we’ll talk again?“

I stared at her. This really wasn’t going anywhere, was it? She actually thought that I was crazy. “No, I’m serious.” I thumped my fists on the wooden counter, just hard enough to cause the people next to me the look over, but not enough to damage anything. “The energy crystals are dangerous. They can turn Hunters into monsters. And people need to know about it.” If they weren’t dangerous, the System wouldn’t have warned me against them.

The woman leaned back away from the computer and took her hands off the keyboard.

With a frustrated sound, I shoved away from the counter and strode out of the building. What should I do now? Was there anyone that would actually believe me? I kept my head down and didn’t even look at the S Ranked Hunter that followed me outside.

The door had barely shut before he spoke, his voice low and smooth. “You’re not wrong.“

My eyes widened and I turned. “You know what I’m talking about?”

Kesstel frowned at me for a moment, as if debating on something. Then he sighed and nodded his head to the right, towards a small, green park. “Why don’t we go sit down?”

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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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