When I opened my eyes the next day, I was immediately notified of my new tasks.
[Daily Task: Destroy 5 Energy Crystals.]
[Daily Task: Cultivate for 45 Minutes.]
[Task: Collect 3 Cyan-Agarics.]
I stared at the last one, trying to make heads or tails of it. What was a Cyan-Agaric? I rolled off my bed and took a second to stretch while I opened my Monster Guide and flipped through it. By the time I was done stretching, I came to the conclusion that, whatever it was,they weren’t in the Monster Guide. Frowning, I piled up my laundry and headed to the first floor. It was early enough in the morning that I should be able to get a washer and dryer. In theory.
As early as it was, Henry was already in the kitchen, wearing a blue apron and humming off tune under his breath. The air was thick with bacon, eggs and spiced oatmeal. He looked up. “Morning, Jyn girl. Come eat.” He pointed at the plate with his metal spatula.
I bobbed my head and smiled. “Morning. I’ll be there in a minute.”
There was only one other person in the room, a man in a hoodie and sweatpants at the far dining table, he leaned over his food, obviously more asleep than he was awake. I walked past the dining room tables and into the long living room area. It was big enough to fit a couple lengthy L-shaped couches that surrounded a mounted TV. I’d walked through this room countless times, but I think I’d sat on the community couches only four times since I came to the hostel. Like most tenants here, I preferred to hang out in my room instead.
On the right wall was a door that led to the laundry room. Ten washing and mounted drying machines lined the walls of the narrow, white room, five on each side. A long wooden slat bench was in the middle of the room. There was a basket of rumpled clothes still on the bench, a flaming pink bra very visible on top. Three of the machines had laundry in them, left over from the night before from the looks of it, with empty or half empty baskets on their lids. Other than that, I had my pick of the machines.
Habit directed me to the right wall and I started to stuff my things into the machine. Henry’s bedroom was on the other side of the left wall. I knew he was used to it, but I always felt that the laundry machines were unreasonably loud and I hoped dryers running at night didn’t disturb him.
When I picked up the jeans that I wore yesterday, I took a second to spray some stain fighter solution on the sauce spots. Then I pushed my hands into my jean pockets for a last minute check and felt five thin plastic cards in there. I yelped in surprise and nearly jumped out of my skin. The pants slipped from my fingers and plopped onto the worn cream and white linoleum. Five shiny restaurant gift cards slid from the pocket and scattered across the floor. No way. How? When? I clearly put those in Kesstel’s hands. What were they doing in my pocket?
“Jyn?” Henry’s voice came through the open doorway. “Everything okay?”
I jumped again, suddenly feeling like a thief. I just couldn’t handle this. I was seriously going to die from a heart attack. I grabbed the cards and stuffed them into my Items Bag. I mean, what would anyone think if they saw an E rank with hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards for a swanky restaurant?
“Ah, yeah,” I shouted over my shoulder at the door. “I just—” died “—slipped.”
The more pressing matter was, how was I going to give these gift cards back to Kesstel? I didn’t have any way to contact him. The only times we had talked was when he took the initiative to seek me out. I mean, what did an S do all day? They were in charge of sweeping out all the overbearing monsters in the Gate before the other Hunters went in, but what about after that? And I guess until yesterday, Kesstel would have spent his days being Bethany Wilks’s bodyguard. But what did he do now?
It’s not like I had all day to look for him. I had laundry, my daily tasks and non-daily tasks.
I also needed to go to Maveric Armoury to sell all the loot that was still in my Items Bag from yesterday. Because of grinding and looking for ingredients for the Sleeper cure, I’d forgotten I hadn’t sold my drop items until the armory was already closed. A morning trip there would take up time to get to the Gate and potentially lose needed kills. But I’d hate to leave drop items behind because I couldn’t fit them in my Items Bag.
Besides, I didn’t even know what a Cyan-Agaric was yet.
I finished putting my laundry in the machine, added soap, and turned it on. While that washed, I headed out to breakfast.
Henry handed me a loaded plate and I sat down on the corner of the table closest to him. I ate a couple bites before I looked at him. “Can I use your computer? I need to look something up.”
Using a pair of tongs, he began flipping over sizzling bacon while he dodged the splattering grease. “What are you looking for?”
I swallowed a big bite of bacon, trying to not feel guilty. He’d never let me help him with his chores. They were his job security, he always said. As long as they needed to be done, he had a living. As soon as his jobs were taken away and he became obsolete, he was done for.
“Do you know what a Cyan-Agaric is? All I know is that it’s somewhere in Gate Vale.” I didn’t really expect Henry to know. It has been nearly ten years since he last stepped inside the Gate. But there was always a possibility.
He placed a steel mesh covering over the pan to keep the grease from popping out and shook his head with a sigh. “Ah, Jyn girl, I’ve never heard of that. Is it a monster?”
I chewed slowly, thinking, then swallowed. “I don’t know. It might be, but it’s not in the Monster Guide. But it could be a plant, I guess?” I doubted the System would send me out there to collect a bunch of dirt … maybe.
“If you don’t even know that, how do you know what it’s name is?” Henry asked incredulously.
I paused. What should I say? I really hated lying to Henry.
The Hunter on the other side of the dining room gave a loud snore. His chin slipped off his palm and he face-planted into the table rattling his mostly empty plate. He jumped awake, snorting and gasping in shock.
I bit my fork to keep from laughing out loud.
Henry guffawed. “Hey, Marco, go back to bed or stay awake and get moving. Either way, don’t break my table with your head.”
The man’s face burned red. He inhaled his food as fast as possible and hurried from the room.
Henry watching him go, hands on his hips and shaking his head. When Marco was gone, Henry turned back to the stove, apparently forgetting all about his question.
I laughed under my breath and finished my meal. I walked the plate over the sink and washed it off before Henry could notice. Since he was still playing with the eggs, I took the time to clean Marco’s plate and put in on the drying rack next to mine.
Henry took the eggs off the burner and looked at me. He glanced at the plates on the rack and scowled. He sniffed and lifted his nose in the air in mock anger. “Well, since you’re done, I’ll go unlock the office for you.” He turned and walked down the hall.
I followed him to the office and waited as he touched the fingerprint sensor with his thumb. The lock clicked and Henry swung the door open for me. “When you’re done, just shut the door,” he instructed, then hurried back to finish making breakfast for twenty-two more people. From the sounds of the ceiling starting to creak over head, the morning rush was going to start soon.
I walked around the L-shaped honey oak desk and sat down before I turned on the computer. While the computer booted up, my attention was drawn to a picture on the far corner of the desk. Age had worn the quality of the photo paper, but it couldn’t diminish the joy of the faces in the frame. A much younger Henry sat holding hands with a round faced, smiling woman. Behind Henry was a black-haired young man arm-in-arm with a pretty young woman and holding a plump baby in a frilly pink dress. Behind Henry’s wife was another young man, his arm resting on his mother’s shoulder and grinning so wide that his eyes narrowed just like Henry’s.
My gaze traced the frame, noting the faded spots the size of fingers on the tarnished wood. Even after more than fifteen years, how often did Henry stop and hold this picture?
The computer played a tune, drawing my attention as the login screen appeared. I signed in as a guest and opened the internet. From there, I typed in the name and hit enter.
The first result popped up a drawing beside a small body of text.
I stared at the picture, memorizing the slender off-white stem under the perfectly curved umbrella-shaped top dotted with three bright white circles.
“It’s a … mushroom?” I muttered under my breath, surprised. How hard could this task be? I scanned the text.
The Cyan-Agaric is found in the Josu Rainforest. It is estimated that only one emerges a day, if at all, and the location is never the same. The Cyan-Agaric is extremely toxic if consumed, and there is no known antidote. Never attempt to handle without the proper equipment.
It's confirmed — the System is obsessed with sending me after stupidly dangerous stuff.
Maveric looked up when I walked into his shop. A surprised smile spread over his kind face. “Well, good morning, Miss Jyn. I think this is the first time I’ve ever said that to you.” He finished fastening a piece of paper to a cork board on the wall behind the display counter then walked along the counter till he was in front of me. “I was a little surprised that you didn’t come in last night.”
It’s true, I’d seen Maveric nearly every night since I started leveling up to sell my drop items. It had gotten to the point that we didn’t even haggle that much anymore. He knew that he’d get a good quality item and I knew that I’d get a fair — and more often than not, generous — price.
I smiled at him. “Good morning. Things were a little hectic last night, so I’m here now.”
He looked over my armor and sighed with appreciation. His gaze could have been considered completely inappropriate, but I knew him well enough to not be offended. “Are you ever going to tell me who makes your armor? I’d love to pick his or her brain.”
I shook my head. “Nope. And I still don’t know what kind of material it is.”
He gave another exaggerated, forlorn sigh then brightened up and rubbed his hands together. “Alright. What do you have for me this time?”
I emptied all the drop items out of my Items Bag. Thirty minutes later, I accepted the last transfer payment and watched as Maveric put the large piece of Treant lumber into his Items Bag. My eyes drifted over the cork board yet again. I couldn’t fully see what was written on the paper, but there were two words that had caught my attention as we talked money. Josu Rainforest.
Now that business was complete, I couldn’t help but wander over to get a better look.
Wanted: Two Aero-Teuthida from Josu Rainforest.
I pointed to the paper. “What’s this?”
Maveric walked over. “Ah, a client wanted something specific for his armor and I need two Aero-Teuthida for it. I’m too busy to go into the Gate anymore, so I thought I’d post a reward for someone to get it for me. It should cover the cost of getting it and pay for the price of the Aero-Teuthida. Granted that they don’t ruin it while bringing it back. They need to be handled very carefully because they fall apart easily. Even inside an Items Bag.”
It took me all of a second to make a decision. “I’ll take the bill.”
He blinked at me. “What?”
I bobbed my head to the side. “I’m going there anyway. I’ll take the bill.”
Maveric frowned. “Is that where your team is going today? The Josu Rainforest?”
The fact that I was an ‘E’ couldn’t be more obvious to anyone who looked at the title bar over my head. But now that I was bringing in harder monsters, I’d had to come up with a reason why. As far as Maveric knew, a little after I met him I joined a team of Hunters. It wasn’t all that uncommon for Es to join higher teams and do all the grunt work for a living.
I nodded. “There’s a couple things they want to find there. What’s one more item on the list?”
He still frowned at me. “The Josu Rainforest is no casual matter, Miss Jyn. Especially for an E, even with a party. It might be a C ranked location, but there’s a reason why most of the Hunters that enter it are higher ranked. It’s nearly impossible to stay on the ground. The Velociorhea there hunt in packs and they are very fast. And you can’t evade them on foot — tree roots pose a huge problem. They latch onto living things and don’t let go until they’ve sucked all the moisture out of the body.”
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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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