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Kesstel stilled, his blue eyes brightened with surprise. Then his face darkened, like the night that was falling around us. “There's not enough money in this world or any other world that would tempt me enough to take you into the Gate all night.”

I was just as surprised by his words. “Is it really such a big deal? You really couldn’t do it?”

He shook his head. “It’s not a matter of not being able to do it — I absolutely refuse to do it.” I’d gotten so used to the way that his tone softened around me, it was a shock to hear the hard edge in his voice directed at me. “There is no reason for you to be in the Gate at night. You just saw what it’s like. I personally saw how you were affected. And if you try to stay overnight, I will personally go in and haul you out.”

So I’m just going to have to get strong enough myself. After all, there isn’t anyone else I believed in enough to ask to help. Okay, I didn’t know any other S’s and I doubted an A would have the ability too.

“Why the hell would you want to spend a whole night in there, anyway?”

I swallowed and picked my words carefully. “It’s been twenty years since the Sleeper disease appeared and the doctors still haven’t come up with a cure. I think what’s needed for it is in one of the monsters that only come out in the Gate at night. It’s the only place that hasn’t been searched through yet. I have … something that can help me figure what that missing component is.” I looked up into his face. “That’s why I want to go into the Gate at night. I want to help find a cure for Sleepers — help find a cure for my mom.”

His lips pressed into a hard line, not sympathetic at all. “There is no cure for Sleepers. There never will be. Not as long as the parasite is attached to Earth, and it won’t let go until this world collapses. Then the last thing you’ll need to worry about is the Sleepers.”

A jolt of shock and fear stung my heart. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard there was no cure and to not expect a miracle. But hearing Kesstel say was completely different. I mean, he was who I considered the expert on anything related to the parasite. My throat was so tight that I had to swallow a couple times before I could force out any words. “Why? What does that parasite have to do with Sleepers?”

Although there was no way to prove it, most people believed that the disease was tied to the Gates. Hearing Kesstel say it cemented the fact in my mind.

He leaned against the back of the bench, staring off into the distance across Gate Square. With his stats, I’m sure that he could still ‘see’ perfectly fine. Even I was aware of what was going on within forty feet of me. “It’s like a weeding out system from the parasite. The parasite is flooding this world with its magic. Those who are compatible with it turn into Hunters. The ones who aren’t susceptible stay human. The people whose bodies reject the magic in the air fall into a coma — or as humans call it, become Sleepers.” He frowned and glanced at me out of the corner of his eyes. “When this world collapses, the only ones who might survive it are the compatible ones. Anyone else will dissolve and be eaten with the planet when the parasite collapses the planet and adds the remains to its collection of ‘stars’ you saw in the Gate’s red sky.”

My breathing stopped and all I could do was stare at him. Every word was like a hammer striking deeper and deeper into my chest.

There was no mercy in his face as he laid out the facts at my feet. “Like I said, there is no cure for Sleepers. There never will be, not unless the parasite lets go of Earth. And that won’t happen.” He paused. “If you can accept that now, it will save a lot of heartache later.”

I looked down at my lap and finally noticed that my fingers were clenched together. They were so tight, my hands were shaking. Silence settled over us, as heavy as the weight in my heart.

My family was everything. The whole reason I was still breathing right now — the reason why I accepted the System to begin with — was because of my family, was for their welfare. Now Kesstel was telling me that they were all going to die just like that? That I’d have to watch Mom slowly die in a coma first. Then be helpless as the rest of my family vanished in front of my eyes?

… No. No, I wasn’t going to let that happen.

“I …” My voice cracked the silence. “I don’t believe that there’s no cure.” I was aware that Kesstel looked down at me, frowning, but I continued to stare at my clenched hands. “There is a cure. I know there is. And I’m going to find it.” I had to believe that. If I didn’t, I'd collapse.

He sighed. “You’re setting yourself up for disappointment and pain.” There wasn’t any glee in his tone at all, just a resolute honesty in the face of my stubborn wishful thinking.

“Maybe.” I said. “But I believe that I can find a cure.” I looked up at him, full of determination, a determination that might very well walk me right into a bad situation. “And I’m not going to let the parasite destroy Earth.”

Pity bled into his expression. “Now you’re just thinking the impossible.”

“Why can’t I?” I challenged. “There has to be something, somewhere that will make the parasite let go.”

Even I knew that I was talking big now. It was a whole planet and I was just an eighteen year old girl. But I wasn’t going to lay down and die. I’d never been able to before, not when my family was on the line. I’m not about to start now.

Kesstel shook his head. “After so much work, do you really think the paratie is going to just let go when its prey is so close to falling? Honestly, Earth just needs another couple major events and it will collapse.”

Another couple major events? Like a couple more big energy crystals or Gate Surges? I guess I really needed to prevent those as much as I could. Unfortunately, I had no ability to affect the other Gates around the world. What if all the other big energy crystals appeared in, say, Germany or Japan? I wouldn’t even know about it.

There had to be another way. Instead of waiting for the parasite to act, was there a way to attack it? I frowned, thinking. “Kesstel, is there any way to get to the parasite planet?” What if we just nuked it? That always worked in the movies. Ah, wait. Nukes didn’t work on monsters, would they really work on the parasite planet? I doubted it.

Now that the conversation had slipped away from me going into the Gate at night, the tension was slowly easing out of his body and his features were softening. “It’s on the other side of a portal. The Gates are like veins, connecting the parasite to Earth, remember?” he said, referring to one of the first times we’d talked and he drew a picture in the dirt. “And the portals ring the Gate Vales like a pearl necklace? The Gate itself isn’t the vein or path to the parasite — it’s one of the portals. Only finding that exact portal is harder than you’d think. I’ve never been able to find the right one.” He leaned forward and rested his elbow on his knees. “I think it might be one of the ‘stars’ in the red night sky. The only way to make those worlds come down is by collapsing the portals around the Vale.” His eyes narrowed. “Then one of those ‘stars’ will take the place of the collapsed portal.”

My eyes widened. “The last time a portal collapsed, there was a world-wide Gate Surge.”

Kesstel sighed. “Yes. That’s why I don’t do it very often.”

So he’d caused that last Gate Surge. Tens of thousands of people were killed from it. In fact, there are still some areas that weren’t completely under control yet. “How often have you done it?” I knew there were more, but the only ones that came to mind was the most recent one and then one over five years ago, but I couldn’t remember the exact date.

“One happened when I came out of the portal to Earth,” Kesstel shrugged. “The only other time I caused it on Earth was a couple months ago. Although I caused quite a few of them in the last world I was in. That’s how I figured out how the portals worked.” He tapped his fingers together. “I wanted to find the parasite as fast as possible.”

That’s right, he’d mentioned that before. “What will you do when you find it?”

His eyes narrowed and a mean smile curled his lip. “It gave me this power. I thought I’d give it back. And take it down with me.” Wisps of his power danced on bricks around our feet.

I sat up straight and stared at him with wide eyes. “What? You … you’re talking about killing yourself.”

He shrugged. “My world and everything I love is gone. What else do I have to live for? The only reason why I made it this far was because I refused to die if the parasite didn’t die with me.”

My hand fisted at my side. Before I even realized what I was doing, I swung out and bashed him up the side of the head … and instantly regretted it. It was like punching iron. My hand pulsed painfully and instantly swelled. I yelped and hugged my hand to my chest, blowing on it and glaring at him.

The blow that turned my hand purple barely made his head dip forward. He blinked and gave me a what are you doing? look.

I scowled at him. Who on Earth has a skull that thick? And I meant that in a couple different ways. Since I didn’t have any other advantages over him, I stood up until I was towering over him. “You can’t just ask to be my friend then say that you have nothing to live for,” I snarled at him. “Does my friendship really mean nothing to you?”

There was no way I thought lightly of him losing his family and home. I would be devastated if that happened to me. I understand the thought of just wanting to fade away if they weren’t there for me. But after all the effort he put in to make me lower my guard around him, when he talked like that, all I could think about was — what about me? It felt selfish, but I couldn’t deny the anger that rose when he implied that he was just going to throw me away.

He paused, obviously shocked. “Ah.”

I opened my mouth to let out a torrent of emotion, but he beat me to the punch.

“I’m sorry.”

I paused. Hang on, that wasn’t fair! I hadn’t even let out all my steam yet. Why was he jumping to the end and apologizing already? Where was the noble, unbending duke that made everyone quake in their boots? I thought I would be the loser here, but now I was left in no man’s land, without winning or losing.

A small apologetic smile curled his mouth. “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to disregard your feelings. I’m so used to being alone, I guess I haven’t changed my mentality yet.”

I drew in a deep breath and slowly let the pressure in my chest out with the air. With another huff, I dropped on the bench beside him. The feeling was coming back to my hand in the form of pins and needles. I scowled and shook my hand, willing it to go back to normal. “Damn, what is your skull made out of, anyway?”

He smirked. “My mother swore that it was granite.”

“Sure, sure. Throw in a joke to distract me.” I moaned and leaned against the bench.

Looking at the Gate was too depressing right now, so I tipped my head back and looked at the real stars in the sky. The light pollution from the city washed out most of their brilliance, but there was enough to appreciate still. I couldn’t help but think about how long it took for light from one galaxy to get to Earth. How many of those stars in the sky had already been winked out, but we just couldn’t tell yet? If so, how was the parasite able to move around so fast?

“Hey, Kesstel?” I whispered.

“Hm?” He tipped his head back, staring up at the stars too.

“I think you and I want the same thing.” I paused, collecting my thoughts. “You want to find the right portal to avenge your world, right?” I didn’t have to look at him to know that I was right. I still had issues with the idea of him going all kamikaze, but I didn’t want to bring that up again right now. “And I want to find the right portal to find a way to make the parasite let go of Earth. Which means that we both need to find the right portal. So why don’t we team up and find it together?”

He was quiet. Long enough that I finally tilted my head and looked at him. “I wouldn’t mind working together. The problem is you aren’t strong enough yet,” he answered. “Not mentioning any monster we might meet, if I go all out, the simple backlash of my attacks would injure you. The portals aren’t a place to fight halfheartedly.”

As depressing as it was, that was a simple fact. “But I won’t always be weak. You said so yourself.”

“That’s true,” he agreed. “Inside each portal is a Boss. A monster that is much stronger than all the others, like a king. They’re all S ranked. The existence of the portal is tied to the Boss — unless the portal loses enough energy and collapses by itself. The easier way to collapse a portal is to kill the Boss.”

A king Boss. Instantly my mind conjured up the image of the Orc king, sitting on the huge golden throne wearing a black robe and Orc females kneeling at his feet. The image of his chilly red eyes as he stared down in glee while I was sliced to death sent a shiver through my body.

My hands clenched tight. No, I ordered myself. Don’t think of it.

“I’m not going to give up on Earth. It’s my home. And I’m not going to give up on my family. They’re the reason why I fight. They used to be the only reason.” A small smile touched my mouth. “But lately I’ve been adding reasons. It's … different. I’m going to get stronger and find the portal to the parasite. While I get stronger, I’m going to keep looking for the cure for Sleepers. I know what you said, but I still believe there’s a cure out there.”

Kesstel laced his hands behind his head, still staring at the stars. “If it makes you feel better, then go ahead. Concentrate on getting stronger and I’ll examine the portals around the Vale again. Maybe I missed something. If I find anything, I’ll let you know.”

I tilted my head and grinned at him. “Deal.”

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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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