The next morning, I walked up to a large group of Stone Mace Guild Hunters converging in front of the Gate. I frowned at them. Was it just me, or were there less than yesterday? Did some teams fail so badly, they didn’t even come back? It didn’t matter, really. I was just glad they congregated here again, it meant no one had found the giant crystal yesterday and I had a second chance to complete my task.
“Jyn!” Emma waved at me from the left side of the mass.
The corner of my mouth kicked up in a smile and I trotted over to her. “Morning.”
I glanced around her team. It had obviously been a hard night for all of them, from the dark circles and puffy red eyes on each team member’s face. Even so, they were all here to finish the job. And that’s what it meant to be a Hunter. People died every day, but the world kept turning and monsters still needed to be killed.
Kip and Morgan attempted wan smiles at me, and Axe Guy jerked his chin in a sharp greeting. Billy didn’t even acknowledge my presence, which was typical and normally I wasn’t too bothered by it. But remembering his anguish from yesterday caused unwarranted guilt to flutter in my gut.
No. Not my fault. I did my best. I swallowed hard.
“Good morning!” Emma smiled brightly at me all though her eyes were bloodshot and puffy.
Mason, standing beside her, nodded. “Morning.” He looked as tired as the rest of the team, but he was putting on obvious airs, as if he wasn’t mourning like the rest of them. “Now that we’re all here, I want to introduce you to Trace.” He motioned to a melee Hunter that stood just to the left of the team. “He was part of the team that disappeared in Feng Jungle yesterday. Since we have an ...” Mason’s voice faded out as grief passed over his face.
Billy scowled at the ground, his fists opening and closing.
Mason cleared his throat and smoothed his features. “Anyway, Trace is gonna join us for the rest of the mission.”
Trace turned towards us and I finally got a look at his face. He wasn’t handsome or ugly, just a normal face with brown hair barely visible under his steel helm. But there was something about him … Ah! Wasn’t he one of the two guys that glared at me so obviously yesterday outside the Gate? Even now, he kept glancing at me then away, only to glance back. What was his deal?
Mason went on, oblivious. “The energy crystal wasn’t found yesterday. There were some sections in Feng Jungle that didn’t even get touched, like our northeast area.” Mason cleared his throat. “It’s still ours to explore. Each team is charged with scouring their section over and over again until the crystal is found.” He paused. “A lot of unexpected things happened yesterday. But we have a job to do. Let’s do it and show everyone that we deserve to be number seven in the Guild.”
Several teams separated from the milling, massive crowd and walked towards the Gate to vanish in its blackhole.
Mason checked his guide. “Well, it’s time. President Price should already be at Feng Jungle, so let's go.” He turned to Trace and started to talk to him in a low voice as they walked to the Gate.
I never had a chance to hear what they were talking about. Strong fingers gripped my arm and pulled me around.
Billy glared down at me. “Don’t even think for a second that you can take Reina’s spot in the team,” he hissed under his breath. “An E like you will never join our team. So don’t get any ideas. As soon as this mission is over and your contract ends, you’re gone. Understand?”
I met his glare with a steady gaze. “Believe me, I never once thought about joining your team.” I jerked my arm from his grip. “I’m grateful for the care that you’ve given Emma. When I first met her, I was worried that her sweetness would be smothered in Eden. I’m glad she found a good team. But I knew from the beginning this would never be a place for me.”
He stared at me, his mouth opening and closing like he didn’t know what to say. Did he think I was going to argue with him over joining? That my “next move” would be to using my connection with Emma and become a permanent member? I had no ulterior motive to become a part of them, only to destroy the crystal I hoped they’d find today.
I dismissed Billy and walked to Emma who was waiting at the entrance with a worried expression. Standing off to the side, Trace stared at me, eyes narrow and mouth slashed down. Hang on, he didn’t think I was competition for a spot on the team, did he? I’d avoided drama for years, now suddenly it was coming at me left and right like thick, rancid pies. I was so over this.
Inside Gate Vale, Emma took my arm and walked me a short distance away from the group. Unlike with Billy, I didn’t feel repulsion at her soft touch. “Um, Jyn, I just wanted to apologize.”
I blinked down at her. “Why?” Really, I was the one that needed to apologize to her.
She took a breath. “I promised that I would keep you safe, but in the end you protected us.” Then she took a breath and gave me a determined look. “This time I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.”
Images of her nannying me yesterday came to mind. Please tell me she wasn’t going to up her antics. “Really, Emma. I’m okay. I can hold my own.”
She nodded. “I know. You’re so awesome. But Feng Jungle is a lot more dangerous than I thought it would be …” She trailed off, tears in her eyes.
I smiled and tapped her on the forehead, trying to distract her from crying. “Hey, hey. It’s all good. Come on, Mason is waiting for us.” I jerked my chin and took a couple steps towards the group. “So are you and Mason official yet?”
Emma gasped and caught up to me. “W-What?” Her face turned bright red. “What makes you think that we …” Her voice got smaller and smaller until she stopped talking entirely.
I grinned at her. Aliya never talked about boys — she was too much like me in that way. Too busy for romance. Who knew that teasing someone about it could be so fun? I held my hand up and whispered in her ear. “Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t you just kiss him and see what happens?”
Her knees buckled and she almost flopped right on the ground. “Jyn!” she wailed, her face bright red.
I laughed. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t tease her right now, but at least she didn’t look like she was going to cry anymore.
Emma’s expression cleared up and she peaked at Mason, with a sad smile. “I’ve been wondering what I should do. It just seems like nothing is permanent, you know? Everyone dies so easily.”
I took a breath and looked down at her, thinking about my life. How it was before I got the System and how it’s changed. The giant threat on the other side of Gate Vale. “Life is so short. You never know what’s going to happen. But don’t die with regrets.” My lashes lowered as I remembered my time with the Orcs, my desperate thoughts as I was dying, the gut wrenching guilt towards my family. “You will never get anything in Eden if you don’t fight for it. Be it love or your life. Figure out what you want, and go after it with everything you have.” I didn’t expect a happy ending for me, but it didn’t have to be that way for Emma. I smiled at her. “That’s my opinion.”
She nodded slowly. “Yeah.”
I tapped her shoulder and we walked to her team. By then, all the other teams had already gone through the magic circle. We quickly lined up and sailed across Gate Vale to the Jungle. Mason put us in the same formation as yesterday, with Trace in place of Reina.
I looked at him. “I can fight too. You don’t have to worry about me.”
Behind me, Billy snorted in contempt.
Mason looked worried but took a breath. “Okay,” he said slowly. “Jyn, today you’ll work with Emma and Trace. Watch out for Emma’s arrows, they come in fast and hard.” He glanced at Trace. “And you use daggers, right?”
I nodded too. “That should be fine. I use short swords and I know what I’m doing.” Working as a team was going to be new, but I had enough spatial awareness that I could keep out of the way. Not to mention, I wanted to know if I actually got EXP if I joined in their fights.
Emma tapped her chest. “It’ll be okay.”
Mason smiled at her and nodded. “Then let's go.”
I ended up being placed in the corner position between Trace and Axe Guy, but still slightly in the middle. But at least I wasn’t squished between Emma and Morgan, completely unable to move. I followed along, keeping as vigilant as the rest of the team as we moved down the path that cut through the middle of the jungle. Since we were the last team to enter the jungle, it was a quiet walk with only a couple monsters that popped out on Billy’s and Mason’s side.
We branched off of the trail to head to the Northeast corner and I couldn’t help but look around. Any damage that Blake’s team did previously had vanished, leaving the jungle in its silvery-green glory. Suddenly, I became aware of something thirty feet to our left.
A split second later, Mason lifted his hand and looked to the left. The team stopped, Trace a step slower than everyone else.
Emma notched an arrow at the ready.
While they weren’t paying attention to me, I Mirrored my kindjal. Whatever was coming at us was big and strong.
Emma drew back her bow, ready to shoot.
Alarm shot down my back as I suddenly felt a threat on our right. How did it get so close without us noticing? “Right!” I gasped as Emma released her arrow.
The bush in front of Trace exploded and a huge, silvergreen snake head, bigger than I was tall, emerged. Its red mouth was wide, long white fangs bigger than my arm gleaming. Emma’s arrow thudded right into its open maw, nailing its whip-like tongue to its lower jaw. It shreaked and jerked to the side, barely missing Trace. Forty feet of long, thick body coiled as the level 49 Serpent arched back at us.
At the same time, a wide tree right by Billy cracked. With a groan, it tipped towards our party, ready to flatten us. Billy yelled and jumped, swinging his claymore. His blade hit the trunk. He grunted and powered the tree to the side. Its branches smashed into surrounding trees, raining down pieces of silvery wood until the heavy truck thudded on the ground, several feet from Axe Guy. From where the tree had been, a second Serpent lunged at the team. Unlike the first Serpent, this one’s skin was a solid green color.
Kip thrust out her arm and launched a fireball at the green Serpent as it aimed for Billy, who was still in the air. The green Serpent jerked to the side, avoiding the fireball and Billy at the same time. Smooth as butter, it slid across the ground, and crossed behind the silvery Serpent, their long tails blending until they almost looked like a two-headed Hydra.
“Billy, Nick, and Kip, you take the green Serpent. Everyone else with me on the silver one,” Mason commanded. He lunged forward with his long sword, trying to separate the two.
I couldn’t help but pause. These monsters were 30 levels higher than me. How was I going to help? If I used Mist — which I didn’t want to do in front of people yet — the rest of the team would be as blind as the monsters. Not helpful. It took me only a second to reject the idea before I gripped my kindjals and ran forward to join Mason and Trace.
Mason swung his sword and slashed at the silver Serpent’s neck. Sparks flashed as the blade hit the scales. A cut was left, but it wasn’t as deep as his attack should have been. It snapped at Mason, fast as lightning, apparently not caring about the arrow stub still in its mouth or the slight trail of black blood that leaked from its jaw. Mason jumped back and the Serpent missed him by inches.
I lunged at its head, aiming for its large red eye. The snake jerked and smashed against my body with the side of its triangle head. Half my Hp evaporated just like that. I groaned in pain as I was flung through the air. An alarm went off in my head and I turned my head to look behind. The green Serpent turned its head and opened its mouth wide, ready to snatch me out of the air.
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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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