It was odd going back into the Gate. After the red nightmare from last night, the bright blue sky and perfect weather was a little jarring. The segments of Vale locations spread out, green where it needs to be, golden or off white when it wasn’t. So peaceful, it was like last night’s portal bursts and the giant eight-armed dragon never happened. I was so used to this scene before me, I had no clue what it was like after nightfall. And I couldn’t even think about what Gate Vale must be like when Kesstel and the rest of the high leveled Hunters enter several hours before the rest of us.
This time I ran to the Fogmire and cultivated first. I even took the time to track down some monsters and destroyed my daily quota of crystals. Since I was in a hurry, I wasn’t picky and just went after the closest monster. From there, I turned and started walking towards the Association's transportation area. As soon as I was in line, someone called out to me.
I turned at the sound of Emma’s voice and saw her walking with the rest of her group out of the path that led to the transport area. She looked as sprite as ever, a happy hop in her step and her brown ponytail swishing behind her. Emma walked up to me and caught me in a hug. “It’s been so long!” She leaned back and smiled.
I smiled too. “It has been. Good morning,” I said and nodded at her group.
They greeted me back as they got in line behind me. Their body language was relaxed and friendly, but obviously not as excited to see me as Emma was. There was a new person in the group, a young man in light armor. He must be the one that filled the hole that Reina left. I couldn’t help but glance at Billy. He didn’t look agitated.
Emma glanced over my shoulder at the pale purple circles. “Are you with another party today? Where are you headed?”
She wasn’t going to invite me to go with her group, was she? At least she gave me a way out. I quickly glanced around me to make sure that I couldn’t see anyone that I didn’t want to overhear me. Such as a spoiled brat and her hitmen guards, or the two assassins she’d sent after me. Since it was safe, I answered Emma. “I’m going to Josu Rainforest today.”
The whole team looked at me in surprise.
Billy let out a low whistle. “Do all E’s like to go to dangerous places like you? Even with a team, that’s a rough region.”
It took everything I had to not roll my eyes at him. “It pays the bills.” And for new equipment, I thought as I brushed my hand lightly over the new hip satchel buckled around my waist. At least I got a five percent discount since I was trading in one that was only a month old. Unfortunately, that benefit was a one-time deal. The next time, I’d have to pay full price.
“Wow,” Emma’s brows scrunched up together in worry. “You’re really going to go there? What if you meet the Josu Ghost?”
I moved up with the line then turned back to her. “Josu Ghost? What’s that?” Now that I was interested in killing one of each monster, I’d looked up every monster in the area. As far as I knew, there wasn’t a ghost in the rainforest. Monsters like that were usually found in the bog on the other side of the Vale. Or was there a new monster I hadn’t heard about yet?
Emma bobbed her head. “Yes. The forums have been going crazy all morning about a new monster someone reported in the Josu Rainforest. It’s a cloud that moves around under the canopy erratically and can shrink and grow without warning. It doesn’t seem to have a solid body and they don’t know what to classify it as.”
The muscles were completely frozen in a shallow smile on my face. Well, except for the ones that were twitching like mad with shock. Okay … I really didn’t think I’d get labeled as a ghost. I mean, a cloud under the canopy that can grow and shrink? That could only be me. Although it wasn’t really a cloud, that wasn’t important.
What it meant was I had to be careful using my Mist in Josu Rainforest until people forgot about it. There were a lot of Hunters out there that changed up the monotony of going in the Gate daily by hunting rare and new monsters.
The impulse to crouch down, bury my face in my hands and laugh my guts out was so strong, I almost dropped right there. Since I didn’t want to come across as a crazy person to one of my few friends, I resisted the action. Sure, what was a couple hundred more Hunters aiming at me? Bring it on. I smiled and tipped my head back while I let out a huge sigh.
“You’re acting weird,” Billy pointed out.
“Yep,” I muttered then focused on Emma and Mason. “Where are you going?”
“We’re going back to the Feng Jungle,” Emma said.
“We thought it was a good place to work out any kinks with our team work.” Mason spoke up. “It’s not too hard, but challenging enough that we can see what needs to be worked on.” Then he motioned to the new young man with brown hair and pleasant face hanging out in the back of the group. “This is Russel, but the way. Russel, this is Jyn.”
Russel looked at me, his gaze flicking to where my title bar would be over my head. Even though he looked puzzled, he still waved at me.
I nodded back, not offended at all. There weren’t many teams that would talk to a lone E like this. The line moved up, leaving only a couple more people in front of me.
“Jyn,” Mason caught my attention. He held out his hand and a white envelope appeared on his palm. “President Price wanted me to pass this onto you. He’s hoping that you’ll take the time to come talk with him.”
Now the new guy, Russel, looked downright confused. The rest of the team shifted, looking a little tense.
Emma frowned. “President Price has been paying a lot of attention to us lately and asking about you. I haven’t told him much.” She gave a bitter smile. “I … don’t know much about you.” She peaked at me. “I’d like to learn more, but at the same time, maybe that’s a good thing right now. At least until you, um, decide?”
“I already gave my answer.” I really didn’t want to take the letter, but I didn’t want the failure of delivering it to fall on Mason’s head. Who knew how petty President Price might be? I took the letter and pinched the smooth paper in my fingers, almost bending it in half. Before I could damage it anymore, I put it away in my Item’s Bag. Throwing a letter away from their president right under their nose would be too rude to Emma and her party.
It’s funny. Price offered me a deal because he thought I was friends with Kesstel. I turned it down then because I wasn’t — and I didn’t want to be within a hundred feet of Blake. Now that I was friends with Kesstel, I still didn’t have any inclination to join. Mostly because I still didn’t want to be within a hundred feet of Blake. It was a little distressing, knowing that Price hadn’t backed off yet. How many more things were going to get piled on my plate before it tipped over?
I came to the front of the line. Emma gave me another quick hug and I stepped into the transportation circle.
As soon as my feet touched the ground, I took a couple running steps and jumped up into the trees. I didn’t want to give the Velociorheas a chance to find me so early in the game. My yesterday didn’t go so well, but that was different now. Unlike yesterday, I knew where to look for one of my targets — as long as the rainbow team didn’t find the Cyan-Agaric while I was out of commission, anyway.
I Feather Stepped at a sprint and shot through the rainforest treetops, my toes barely touching the wet branches as I went. I was going fast enough that I wasn’t assaulted by obnoxious flowers as I went. Vines twisted around the branches reached for me as I got closer, but I slipped out of their reach.
And that was the goal: Go fast enough that I could get the Cyan-Agaric before I was injured or attracted the attention of the Velociorheas. From what I could tell, they were drawn by the smell of blood. So, if I wasn’t bleeding, they’d be more likely to overlook me.
The Josu Rainforest was just like yesterday, muggy air and a constant drizzle, full of slithering vines and the interlocking branches. What was different was the amount of Hunters in the area. More than once I was forced to jump to the neighboring branch to go around a group of Hunters walking single file along the treetops. I didn’t have to wonder for long why there were so many people, a single line from a conversation I overheard as I ran by answered the question.
“So, where’s the Josu Ghost again?”
Crud. Hunters really were out here hunting for the Josu Ghost. So any time I used Mist as a cover, I’d be targeted by nearly every Hunter who had a visual of me.
I huffed a breath in annoyance and kept running. It wasn’t just Hunters that I found more of, but Velociorheas. Any time there was a group of injured Hunters, there was a group of expecting monsters below begging for a free meal. Luckily, they were more interested in the other Hunters than me.
I finally came to a resting spot and took out my paper map from yesterday. The paper was crinkly and weather worn but the ink was still legible. I looked at the notes I made then glanced around. That was the branch I’d tried to rest on yesterday, although it was covered in biting flowers and Assassin Vines again. Then up and to the right should be the Hell’s Pitfall. I shifted then looked up around the thick tree trunk. Sure enough, there was a seven foot tall monster plant with a cross shaped tear on the side of the pitcher-flower. Vines dangled down from the base, several of them severed at different lengths. Frankly, I was impressed that it hadn’t been eaten by other monsters overnight.
But it was a good thing too. It meant that I had a chance to even the score today. But first, I had to get my mushroom.
Based on my fuzzy memory, my eyes followed the line of there I would have fallen out of the Hell’s Pitfall plant. My gaze stopped roughly twenty feet from the ground, where I landed on solid mist and broke my nose. From that angle, I had looked to the side and saw the Cyan-Agaric in the nook of a tree. I think it was the tree I was standing on. On the ground.
My stomach twisted painfully, as my mind unhelpfully replayed the scene of the guy getting eaten by Velociorheas. I closed my eyes and put all my attention into the feeling for anything moving around me. There was a group of six Hunters to my left, but I couldn’t tell if they were being trailed below.
Ah, and an Assassin Vine on my right. Just as a vine shot at my ankle I stepped to the side and slashed down. The tip of the vine fell to the rainforest floor and the rest of the vine retracted.
At the same time I heard a familiar shout. “Damn flowers!”
I glanced over to see the rainbow group from yesterday walking along the branches towards me. Green scowled and shook his leg, obviously still smarting from a sting.
“It could be worse, they could be poisonous,” Yellow said, her lips curled up in silent glee. She brushed her wet yellow and brown hair out of her face.
“But why do they only go after me?” Green whined. A black arrow appeared in his hand and he started to swing it, aiming at all the small plants at his feet. “The rest of you aren’t getting bitten.”
“IQ?” Purple piped up.
Blue, in the front of the line, sighed. “It’s just that we aren’t making that big of a deal about it. Don’t be a baby. Let’s go and keep your eyes peeled.” He motioned with his sword ahead of him.
That was when they noticed me.
“Ah,” I muttered. Were they still looking for the mushroom? That was the only thing that made sense to me. So the one I saw yesterday as most likely there … only now my competitors were going to watch me get it. Oh, what the hell? I wasn’t going to walk away just because of them. It just meant that I needed to grab it without them knowing.
I glanced around the ground one more time, then stepped off the branch. Through the wind in my ears, I heard the pink healer gasp.
I kicked off the side of the tree trunk next to me, trying to use that as a shield between me and the party. Once I was comfortable, I created a small, one foot block of mist halfway between me and the ground. Because of High Jump, I knew that I could land safely from a fall of thirty feet, but I had no guarantees on sixty feet — better safe than sorry. I tapped on the block to control my fall, then dropped the rest of the way. As I fell, I pooled the mist around my left hand. Hopefully, it was small and light enough that no one would notice unless they looked really hard.
I landed on the ground. My stomach churned painfully the second my boots touched down. An instant alarm went off in my head, screaming that I needed to get off the ground. Now.
I couldn’t, not yet. I stilled my body and raging heart, trying to sense my surroundings. I couldn’t sense that anything was moving around me. Slowly, I turned around and faced the tree behind me and looked towards a small hole that had eroded away between the thick roots where wet wood met wet dirt. Even from this angle, I couldn’t see inside. As silent as possible, I walked up to it and knelt down.
A slight blue glow emitted from inside the dark hole. No, it wasn’t the cyan color that was glowing, but the three white perfectly circular scales on the blue cap. In the dark hole, it reflected off the cap and cast faint blue onto the white moss that pooled around the Cyan-Agaric’s creamy stem. For a five inch tall mushroom, it gave off quite the pretty picture. The drawn images I saw online definitely didn’t do it justice.
I glanced around my surroundings one more time then reached into the hole. I took a cloth handkerchief out of my Items Bag. According to all the information I read, I couldn’t touch the Cyan-Agaric because it was extremely toxic. But I had to touch it if I wanted to put it in my Item’s Bag because I didn’t own it yet. Once it was in, I could take it in and out without handling it. I had a feeling I wouldn’t get the chance to do that though. Since the System wanted me to collect it, I bet it would ‘disappear’ as soon as I collected it. Just like the Essence of Nothing and the Pearl Duku — another poisonous plant the System had me get.
The question was if I would get poisoned before I could slot the Cyan-Agaric. After yesterday, I really didn’t want to do that again. I just hoped that the hanky would shield me enough. I covered the mushroom with the material then carefully touched the back of my knuckle where my leather gloves covered my skin to it. With a single thought, the handkerchief and mushroom disappeared altogether into my Items Bag.
[Task: Collect 3 Cyan-Agarics (1/3)]
I breathed out a long sigh of relief, the tension leaking from my body.
From inside the hole, something wrapped around my hand so tight that my fingers instantly went numb.
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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.
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