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I paused, absorbing Maveric’s words of warning. But he also gave important information on how I could handle the Josu Rianforest. I didn’t know what a Velociorhea was yet, at least I knew where to look. If it was that common of knowledge, it definitely was in the Monster Guide. “Thanks for the information.”

He looked at me hard. “I take it you still want the post?”

I nodded.

Since I was going to be there anyway, I might as well do this and get some extra cash. I still had a long way to go before I could afford a house for when Aliya came to live in Eden. Ah, I guess that should be an if she came? I knew that it was still up in the air but in my mind it was a done deal. If I was ranked as a C, I would be in a Guild and have a salary on top of the loot income. As well as better designated housing. Granted, I could have that right now if I had accepted President Price’s offer, but I wasn’t stupid enough to make a deal with the devil when I knew I was going to be the one losing in the end.

Haha, scratch that. I already did make a deal with the devil without thinking about the consequences when I was dying under the Orc’s blade. I lucked out since the System ended up being a nicer ‘master’ — it obviously didn’t want to kill me … maybe? — but I knew right off the bat that Price wouldn’t be as lenient.

Maveric sighed loud, bringing my attention back to him. “Well, if you want it.” He pulled the paper off the pin and wrote my name on it. “You shouldn’t let your team pull you into too many dangerous situations, you know.” He opened a metal filing cabinet behind the counter that was so well designed and smooth with the wall, that I didn’t even know it was a cabinet until then. He leafed through the files inside then added the bill to a large group of papers. “I’ll need the Aero-Teuthida by the end of the week.” He lifted his hand and a blue screen appeared, much like the screen we used when I sold my loot. Only this one was a contract of services. It clearly laid out that I would exchange two Aero-Teathida by the end of the week for the agreed upon amount and he wasn’t going to give my post away to anyone else until the time was up.

I reached out and accepted the contract.

A teal colored System notice popped open. [Additional Task has been added.]

I nodded with satisfaction. “Alright. I’ll see you later.” I paused mid-turn. “Oh, I know this isn’t your area of expertise, but I don’t suppose you have any teleportation tokens to the Josu Rainforest, do you?” He gave me a blank stare. I shrugged. “It would save me time at the Transportation Office if I just bought it off you.”

He gave a disgusted grunt and ran a hand through his already messily spiked brown hair. “Ah, this team of yours! Not only do they make a young girl do all the grunt work, but they won’t even help you out by picking up a Transportation token while they’re at the office?” He turned and started to rummage through one metal filing cabinet after another. Man, was that whole wall a massive storage unit? I thought it was just a gray wall.

“Ah, here they are.” Maveric straightened, holding a blue cloth bag. “It’s been about eight years since I had to trek through the Gate myself for supplies. Now I just sit here and Hunters come to me, you know? I didn’t think I still had these.” He opened the bag and dumped nine circular copper tokens out onto the glass counter. “Nowadays they use energy crystals because the magic on them lasts longer than a week, but these should still work.” He pushed them around until he found one with a raindrop etched on it and picked it up. “You got lucky. I don’t know what the price is now, but I bought it for a hundred dollars. I’ll sell it to you for that much.” He created another blue screen and offered it to me.

I’d deal with a copper piece over an energy crystal any day. “You are surprisingly kind to Es,” I commented and accepted his offer. Even if I wasn’t an E in strength, it’s still what everyone thought I was. “It’s different.”

He handed me the token. “Well, there are quite a few of my clients that are Es. Even if the loot they bring in is from lower monsters, they aren’t that much different from the higher ranked Hunters. Everyone is just trying to live and make a living.” He scooped the tokens back into the bag. “Not to mention, my cousin was an E. Until he died some years ago. So, you know, I get it.” He smiled sadly. “His own team sacrificed him to save their own necks. As karma would have it, his whole team died a month later when they took on a monster they shouldn’t have.”

It was such a common story that I wasn’t shocked. But there was one detail that caught my attention. “You two didn’t work together?” Blood was thicker than water.

He gave a hapless smile and shook his head. “Nah. I offered, but I was still establishing a clientele and he kept saying that he didn’t want to drag me down.” Maveric pulled out a couple containers and explained how to put the Aero-Teuthida in them so that I didn’t damage the carcasses, then he handed them over. “Take care of yourself out there.”

I smiled at him. “Will do. See you later.”

*****

Inside the Gate I walked Southeast of the entrance to a small trail that led between a thicket of thin trees. There were several A ranked Hunters along the short path, one already looked bored out of his mind, while the other two paced up and down the path vigilantly. They each had a Hunter Association symbol on their chest, a deep red H atop a navy blue sword and axe all stitched with precision over a pale yellow circular flame. It made sense that the Association guarded this area, since they were the ones that manned it.

The path opened up to a small natural clearing in the trees where twenty transportation circles, arranged in two rows, hovered off the dirt ground. A good ten feet separated each glowing purple circle. An A or B ranked Mage stood by each circle, guiding the lines of Hunters and making sure that everything went smoothly. All but two magic circles had lines of Hunters in front of them. Before I could wonder why the two lonely ones were left with a single Mage standing guard, one of the purple circles flashed bright. A second later, an armored woman appeared in the circle and took a couple quick steps before she gained her balance. She turned and watched as another Hunter appeared after her.

Oh, those two were returning circles. According to the Guide, unlike the magic circle that I used when I was working with Emma, these specific transport circles weren’t tied to a specific location. The Hunter who entered went to wherever his token designated him to go. It would make sense that some circles would be for going and others for returning. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of them were used for going in the morning, but were changed to returning in the evening when Hunters were done with the day.

Given the cost of a transport token, it wasn’t surprising to see that nearly all of the Hunters lining up where C or higher. Well, it wasn’t just the cost. It was also the fact that the farther you are from the Gate, the stronger the monsters became. The ten or so lower ranked Hunters in the clearing were standing next to strong Hunters. Most of the weaker ones looked nervous and a little afraid, while a few were confident that their party would protect them.

Quite a few eyes glanced my way when I joined the shortest line. I was obviously alone and an E. A couple in the line next to me snorted and leaned into each other. They shared amusing glances, and made it apparent that they thought I was insane. I sighed, ignored all the looks, and retrieved a printed map of Josu Rainforest from my Items Bag.

The Guide in my System had a map of Gate Vale, something that all Hunters had access to. Only it was just a general overview. If a Hunter wanted a more detailed map of a certain location — like the one Mason showed of the Feng Jungle — they had to buy one. Or in my case, print it off the internet. It was a little more archaic and earned me even more looks of ridicule.

A Mage in line ahead of me turned around and shifted the tall metal staff in his hand. “Are you lost?”

I glanced up at him in surprise. “No.”

He glanced between the paper and my title bar. His brows rose so high on his forehead they disappeared under his baggy, brown fringe. “Oh.” He turned around, shot a couple looks at me over his shoulder then dismissed me entirely.

The couple Melee Hunters next to him nudged his shoulder and snickered.

I went back to my paper. I had no idea where the Cyan-Agaric would appear. All I knew was it was seven inches tall and only one grew a day somewhere in the rainforest — if one grew at all that day. On the ground … where I shouldn’t be because of predatory Velociorhea that traveled in packs and the human sucking roots. So the plan was to scout the entire rainforest from the treetops, every day, until I found three of the blue mushrooms. At least the Aero-Teuthida that Maveric wanted lived in the treetops. That was a bonus, I guess.

My line was quickly dwindling. Since there was a little bit more time, I opened my Monster Guide and looked up the Velociorhea. It was a C ranked monster that stood around five feet tall and looked like a mix between a short dinosaur and the bald, rainbow-headed ostrich. It didn’t have a beak, just a long snout full of pointed teeth below bright yellow eyes. While its head and long neck were bare, its oval body was covered in fine gray-brown feathers. It couldn’t fly, and there were very sharp claws at the end of its wings. Two strong, bald gray legs supported the body and ended in vicious looking talons as big as my fingers. These Velociorhea were fast, agile, and lived in packs of three to four.

To my left, one of the return circles lit up and a Hunter in cobalt gray armor and black under armor appeared. He stepped to the side and watched another Hunter come out in the exact same armor.

The group in the line ahead of me got to the front of the line and started to disappear into the transport circle.

Finally it was my turn. I closed my Guide just as another Hunter appeared out of the magic circle next to me.

Bethany Wilks took a couple quick steps attempting to regain her balance. Her tight, rich blue Mage robe shifted over her body, revealing her curves. She huffed a breath, a pout on her red lips as she smoothed her clothes down and walked forward, her eyes narrowed pensively. For once there was nothing coyish about her. More men in identical armor came out of the magic circle behind her, but she didn’t spare any of them a glance as she walked right past me.

Just as I turned my head to look at her go by, she glanced at me. Our gazes collided.

Ah, shit.

Her eyes flared in anger. “You!”

“Miss? It’s your turn.” The Mage at the front of the line prompted me forward.

Between staying with a woman who looked full of hellfire and following the mellow voice of the Associate Mage, I knew exactly where I was going. I turned my back on Bethany Wilks and quickly stepped forward.

“Please show me your token,” the middle-aged man directed.

The token appeared in my hand and I showed it to him.

“Ah, the Josu Rainforest.” The Mage nodded his head.

As soon as he said the name, I wanted to shake him. You didn’t have to say it out loud! That crazy chick is right behind me! She’s trying to kill me and now you told her exactly where I’m going!

He motioned with his hand towards the circle. “Be careful.”

My head was high and my back was straight like I wasn’t on edge, but I ducked around him before he was even fully out of my way.

“Hey, wait!” Bethany Wilks screeched behind me.

Without looking back, I stepped into the magic circle and let it take me away.

*****

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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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