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When I opened my eyes, it took me a second to recognize the familiar white room. Through the white curtains hanging over the window, a sliver of late evening sun slashed through and left a splash of orange on the white wall across from me. I was laying on a hospital bed, bleach-white pulled up under me and the metal side rails up. At least this time I wasn’t hooked up to a bunch of machines.

Several months ago, I woke up in a room identical to this and my life changed forever. I didn’t feel as traumatized as the last time I was in an Eden hospital room, but I was disappointed in myself that I was in this bed. Disappointed that I let myself get that close to danger.

I sat up and looked at my hands and arms, grateful that they were back to normal, as if I never touched the Hell’s Pitfall acid to begin with. Then I touched my nose. It felt right, nothing out of the ordinary. My clothes had been changed into a hospital gown. My damaged armor was folded neatly on a chair against the wall. It pained my heart to see my awesome armor in that condition, but not as much as the sight of my beat-up looking hip satchel. The armor would auto-heal itself at midnight. But it was another matter for my Items Bag. I’d just barely bought it, using money that me and my family scraped together. Once I sold the items in it, I could buy a new one. But it wasn’t the one that my sister helped pay for. No matter what, the new one wouldn’t mean as much. With a miserable sigh, I dropped my face in my hands.

Someone stopped right outside my door, drawing my attention to the wooden door. That person knocked on the door then it opened.

Healer Jonovan stepped into the room and left the door open. A gentle smile graced his handsome face as he walked to my bedside. His long brown hair was tied over his right shoulder as usual and he wore black slacks and a white shirt under a deep blue Mage robe. “Good evening, Miss Jyn. I’m glad to see that you’re not dead.” He sat on the chair next to my bed and reached for my hand.

I held out my hand, palm up. “Hello, Mister Jonovan. Was I that close to dying?”

I glanced at the clock on the wall. It was six thirty. I only had an hour and a half left to finish my last task of cultivating. The task didn’t specify where. Maybe doing it here on the hospital bed would check it off? But I didn’t have to think hard to know that it wouldn’t do me any good. If push came to shove, I would. But I’d rather do it in the Gate, so it was actually beneficial.

Jonovan touched my wrist with his fingers and used his powers to check on the condition of my body. “Yes and no. You looked worse than what you actually were. But another hour covered in Hell’s Pitfall poison would have stopped your lungs.” He must have liked what he found because he sat back on the chair and crossed his arms over his chest, obviously getting comfortable for a chat.

I watched him, trying to not feel uneasy under his stare. It had been months since I’d seen him. Firstly, because with my Regen, I didn’t need a Healer for the most part — a ninety minute nap fixed any injuries I got. And secondly, I didn’t know the extent that he could sense the change in me. It’s not like I could actually tell him about the System.

“It’s been a long time since I last saw you, Miss Jyn,” he commented. “Usually when I stop seeing people, it’s because they’re dead. I have a bad habit of reading the weekly list of deceased Hunters. There are a few Hunters that I treated enough that I like to keep track of, you included. I was glad your name is never listed there, but it doesn’t explain why you stopped coming for free healing. I take it you’ve joined up with a group with a competent Healer?”

I bobbed my head, going along with the lie that I’d been telling Maveric for months. “Ah, yeah.”

“Hm.” Jonovan considered. “Where are they? Everyone that came out of the Josu Rainforest was questioned, but we couldn’t find anyone that was missing an E Huntress in their group. Are you the only survivor in your team?”

My lips pressed together and I gripped the blanket pooled around my waist. How big was I going to let this get? If I said that my team was dead, there was going to be a slew of paper work that needed to be done. I would have to report the incident and the Hunter Association would investigate the ‘dead people’ so they could compensate the families. With how strict the Association was registering the Hunters, I couldn’t just make up names and throw that out.

I bit my lips and tried to think of how I should answer without actually giving the real answer.

When I didn’t talk, Jonovan stepped in. “There isn’t a team, is there? You went to the Josu Rainforest, a rank C location, all by yourself. Didn’t you?”

“Ah…” I swallowed and tried to think through my panic to answer.

“That’s a yes or a no question.” Jonovan hummed like he was trying to help, his gentle smile strained.

“... Yes.” I stopped trying to avoid his eyes and met his gaze.

He stared at me for a moment, the smile sliding off as he studied me. “Well, I’m glad that I don’t have to report any deaths. It’s my least favorite thing about this job. Now, do you care to tell me why you were in an area that’s above your rank?”

“No,” I said without breaking eye contact.

He looked at me for a couple seconds then shifted forward to rest his elbow on his knees. “You’ve changed, Jyn. Since I was the one who first looked at your stats, I feel confident in saying that, outside of yourself, I’m the most aware of what your stats are. And I still remember them. It's hard to forget how sick I felt dashing a young girl’s dreams like I did.”

I looked down at the blanket and twisted my fingers in the material, frowning. I’d never forget that moment either. It changed my life forever.

He kept talking, his soothing voice drilling into my ears. “I can’t legally check your stats right now, not without your permission. And when Healers use their magic, we don’t see the exact number of a Hunter’s HP. Just a bar that goes from red, to yellow, to green as it gets filled up. Some Hunters are more susceptible than others to treatment. Which is why any other Healer wouldn’t think twice about healing you. They’d think that it took so long because you weren’t compatible with them.” He paused. “But I’ve healed you hundreds of times. I know what it should be like. And I know that when I healed you a couple hours ago, it was different. Your HP is different. Your body is different. Stronger. And … something else.” He shook his head as if confused. “What happened to you?”

I pressed my lips together tightly. I couldn’t answer him even if I tried.

He leaned his head to the side. “Does it have to do with you passing out in the Gate a couple months ago?”

My eyes narrowed. He hit that on the head, but I wasn’t going to let him know.

“Did you Reawaken?” Jonovan continued to press.

My mouth opened, then I paused and shut it again. Finally I said softly, “Not exactly. But I can’t tell you about it. It doesn’t matter how much you ask, I can’t tell you.”

He stared at me long enough to make me fidget. Then he sighed. “I thought you trusted me more than that.”

The smile that danced on my lips was shallow. “It’s not a matter of trust. I’m sorry.”

He leaned back against the chair. “Well, you have a clean bill of health. Healthier than the last time I saw you, in fact. You can go at any time.” He stood up.

“Healer Jonovan?” I looked up at him. “Can I ask you a question?”

He paused. “Yes.”

I licked my lips and tried to organize my thoughts. “How close are they to making a cure for Sleepers? Do you know?”

His eyes narrowed for a second then he slowly sat back down. “Is there someone you know that’s a Sleeper? A family member or friend?”

I nodded. “My mother.”

He frowned. “Does this have to do with why you were in Josu Rainforest?”

I smoothed the blanket out over my legs. “No,” I said honestly. In fact, I’d been honest this whole time. I think that’s why Jonovan wasn’t mad. He wasn’t yelling — he’s just not like that — but I could tell by his rigid posture. “But is there anyone I can talk to about the cure? I want to know what I can help with.”

Jonovan’s mouth twitched and he folded his arms across his chest again. “I would actually be the best contact for you about the cure. I am a Healer yes, but the other part of my job is assisting in creating the cure.”

My breath stopped for a second. “Really? Since when?”

“For the last ten months or so. More and more people are being inflicted with the disease, so they started bringing in the top Healers to come up with a solution.”

My brows furrowed as I thought. “But healing doesn’t actually help with Sleepers. It doesn’t even regress the damage that happens to bodies from being in a coma.”

Jonovan nodded in agreement. “Correct. They’re hoping that someone can create a new spell or combine the right components to create a vaccine for it. Thus far, nothing has worked.”

This was exactly what I wanted to know. Maybe with this knowledge, I could use my System to create a cure. “How close are they to making a cure or vaccine?”

“As for a vaccine, it’s just a pipe dream. They don’t even know why certain people fall unconscious and others don’t. There seems to be no rhythm or reason. Until they do, the research has nowhere to go.” His words weren’t new. It was something that everyone knew. “As for the cure, I have a colleague that swears that he’s close to completing a prototype, but he’s missing something. Ironically, he thinks that the something he needs is the reason why people are afflicted with the disease to begin with.”

I nodded slowly. “Can I talk with him?”

“No,” Jonovan denied me without mercy. “You might somehow be stronger and I don’t know why, but you are not strong enough to do anything about this subject. I don’t want to see you running recklessly into danger, for something that might or might not help. You’d be risking your life for no reason.”

I frowned at him. “I think it’s worth it.”

He stood up and walked towards the door. “I have nothing else to add to this conversation.”

“Jonovan,” I called after him.

He paused at the door and frowned at me. “Yes, Miss Jyn?”

I smiled at him. He was this mad, yet he still turned around for me. “Thank you. Really. Thank you for helping me, healing me and caring for what happens to me. I really do appreciate it.”

He paused then nodded.

“And…” My voice died as I thought about what came to my mind. Would he actually accept it? “If I told you there was … a something or someone … behind the Gates that wanted to destroy Earth, would you believe me?” I wanted his expression closely, ready to take in any reaction he had.

As it was, I didn’t have to watch that closely. Jonovan looked like he was struck by lightning, his eyes widened and he lay a fist on the door. “What did you say?” Before I could answer, he thumped his hand on the wood. “Damnit, Jyn, don’t you dare listen to that cult!”

My mouth dropped open. A … cult? There was a cult about the parasite?

Jonovan went on, looking like he was the one that lost his marbles. “Is that what this is about? You got brainwashed by that crazy cult and now you’re running around in dangerous places for them? What the hell are they thinking, sending a young girl like you into a place like the Josu Rainforest?” He stalked toward me and stood over me, glaring down. “Where are they meeting? By god, I’ll get their asses arrested for conspiracy and inciting panic so fast, they wouldn’t be able to brainwash anyone else.”

I gaped at him. “Wait, Jonovan! There’s no cult. Or at least, I didn’t know there was. Is there one? But seriously, calm down! I was just asking a question … about a theory I heard once. That’s all.” I didn’t know if I wanted to laugh or cry at his explosive reaction.

I was just telling the truth. I thought that out of anyone in Eden, he’d be the most likely to believe me. I didn’t expect him to react like this.

Jonovan pinched his brow and let out a long breath. “Sorry, Miss Jyn. It’s just … that damn cult is horrible. Like a pack of rabid rats that keep slipping through official’s fingers. They secretly lure people to their meetings and fill their heads with nonsense while releasing into the air a vaporized drug produced by components that are found in the Gate. It causes a high and adds to the hysteria. It’s addicting and sometimes instantly deadly for humans. Hunters handle the effects better, but not by much.” He scowled and dropped his hand. “Apparently there was a meeting just last night. By the time the police got there, the cult had cleared out, leaving several dead bodies in their wake. It’s been a mess how they mix dangerous Gate plants or monster parts to create drugs and give out doses to the human population. We have the Wall and stick to regulations for a reason, you know.”

“I … didn’t even know that was happening,” I admitted with a sinking feeling.

It was going to be a million times harder to convince anyone of the danger Earth was in if there was a cult running around, killing people like that. Was that why no one would believe me?

Jonovan nodded in relief, the anger draining from his body. “I’m glad. I don’t want you anywhere near them. They’re dangerous and their favorite people to entice are humans and E ranked Hunters.”

“How long has this cult been around?” I asked.

He shook his head. “Not long. I don’t even know exactly since the authorities only started putting their activities together recently.” He looked into my eyes. “Promise that you won’t ever talk to them. Please?”

He was so serious, I could only nod in agreement.

But honestly, I was dying to know more about them.

*****

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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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