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Josu Rainforest really was testing me, be it health, mental and physical endurance, or my abilities. The current issue, yet again, involved my limited Regen. When I got scratched by the Aero-Teuthida, I noticed almost right away that it didn’t scab over. It wasn’t until I caught the monster and rested that I realized that there was a problem. A quick check at my Status while adjusting my new Stat Points, confirmed what I was worried about.

The Aero-Teuthida had inflicted me with Bleed, which meant that my wounds wouldn’t stop bleeding and since it was a status ailment, my Regen wouldn’t fix it — not even if given enough time. And yet, the only reason why I hadn’t bled dry was because of my Regen. It healed just a pinch faster than Bleed drained my HP. Because of Bleed, I didn’t dare take the ice out of my shoulder either. Right now it stopped the blood from gushing. If the ice was gone, who knew how long it would take for me to pass out from blood loss? As painful as it was to move with a chunk of ice wedged between my shoulder bones and muscles, it proved that I was alive. That had to be good enough for now.

But I couldn’t be more excited to touch the ground on the other side of the teleportation circle clearing. In the late afternoon, there was hardly anyone around the purple circles besides the staff. Most people had already gone where they wanted to go and it was a little early for most Hunters to call it quits for the day. The few Hunters I saw as I walked back to the Gate were in the same condition I was — too battered to go on.

While I walked across the clearing to the Gate, a bright flash of light caught my attention. I paused mid-step and gaped.

Bethany Wilks was sitting on the grass that surrounded the Gate. Dressed in her full glory, she sat with her arms folded on her bent knees and her chin tucked into the rich material of her Mage robe’s sleeves. Her blonde hair shimmered in the sun, her bangs fell into her face, concealing her features.

My mouth wrinkled. If I stayed on course, I was going to walk right by her. I could swing to the right and loop around, but that felt a little cowardly. I took a breath and lifted my chin. Then I marched on.

Five feet away, Bethany raised her head a little.

I swallowed hard to keep from jumping. My hand stiffened, ready to summon my kindjal at any moment. She wouldn’t attack me here, would she?

She tilted her head and glared at me from beneath her bangs. Her eyes were red-rimmed and puffy. “Don’t get ahead of yourself,” she said, her voice nasally and hoarse, as if she was trying to not cry. The fact that her make-up wasn’t smeared at all was a testament to how high-end it was.

I stopped and looked at her. Like, really looked at her. Looked at the wet material on her sleeves where her face had rested. Looked at the way her fingers were trembling as she gripped her elbows tight enough to make her knuckles blanch. Looked at how flat the grass was around her, like she’d been there for a long time. From what Kesstel said, there were typically nine bodyguards that accompanied her. So where were they? Why was she sitting here alone?

For the first time, she didn’t come across as a stuck up princess. She looked … pathetic. Almost defeated. I admit, I didn’t like her. Maybe even hated her. After all, she had tried to kill me. I thought that I’d feel wonderful seeing her beaten down like this. I knew that if it was Blake, I’d be laughing and dancing on cloud nine. But for some reason, I didn’t feel that way when I saw Bethany here. I just … didn’t feel anything.

She jerked her chin in the air. “Soon enough Kesstel is going to come back. I mean, I’m prettier than you, richer than you, and more connected.” It was like those facts were a badge of honor for her. A clutch that she clung to to feel better.

My mouth twisted as I paused, trying to decide what to do. I should just walk away. The less drama I got tangled up in, the better my life would be. And Bethany was nothing but drama. Still I found myself saying, “You’re right.”

Her eyes widened in surprise and she looked me full in the face. “What?”

“You’re right.” I watched her closely, ready to move at a moment's notice in case she tried anything. Then again, with how battered I was, there wasn’t much I could do if she did attack. The thing I was banking on was that she wouldn’t hurt me in the open like this. “You are prettier, richer, and more connected than me. In fact, I couldn’t be more opposite than you if I tried. I don’t even know why Kesstel picked me to be friends with.”

Her hands loosened on her sleeves. “Friends?” The harsh lines on her face softened, leaving a lost look.

I nodded. “Yes. He and I are friends. Odd friends, if you ask me. I don’t think we have anything in common.” I paused. “But I’ve found that he’s nice to talk to.”

“And … he talks to you? A lot?” Bethany asked softly.

I nodded.

Her eyes narrowed and she tilted her head in an arrogant way. “Why would he talk to you and not me? What could you offer him that I can’t?”

I could only shake my head. “I can’t answer that, because I don’t know. I literally have nothing I could offer him. But he doesn't want anything from me. Just my friendship and some of my time. So just leave me alone, okay?” A jolt of pain went from my shoulder to the tip of my toes. I drew in a shallow breath to keep from hissing in pain. “I've got to go now. Bye.”

She didn’t respond, but I could feel her eyes on me until I disappeared through the Gate.

Jonovan wasn’t at the hospital when I stopped by to get healed, but right now that was a plus. I really did think of him like a friend, but I didn’t want to get guilt tripped right now. Especially since I was doing two things that would piss him off — going to Josu Rainforest without a team and trying to hunt down the cult that he hated so much.

Feeling a hundred percent, I headed for Maveric’s shop.

I opened the shop door and walked in. He glanced up and waved a hand in greeting before he turned back to the pair of Hunters at his counter.

I drifted to the side of the store, keeping my distance. I couldn’t do anything about overhearing their conversation as the pair sold their loot to Maveric, but I could at least give them some space while they bartered for a better price. Unfortunately for them, their quality of skinning wasn’t good enough to raise the price. In the end, they left huffing, but unable to really complain.

I watched them leave, grateful for my System. It made that whole process so easy for me. Too easy, but given all the dangerous crap it made me do, I personally thought I deserved it.

“Evening, Miss Jyn.” Maveric greeted me and put his hands on the counter, an excited grin on his face. “What do you have today?”

I unloaded my drop items onto his counter.

He nodded slowly, his eyes already assessing the items on his counter. “Good haul.”

“And this.” I waved my hand and set the container with the Aero-Teuthida on the glass top. The carcass floated in the frosted red glass tube like an alien. “It’s just one for now. I’ll bring you the other one by the end of the week. They aren’t the easiest thing to find, are they?”

Maveric picked up the container and turned it around in his hand, examining the body. “Perfect. Just like I expected from you.” He set it down and tapped on the lid. “Give my compliments to your team. With this, I can at least get started with my client’s armor.”

I nodded. Yep, because ‘they’ worked so hard. “Oh, they wanted to know if the Aero-Teuthida’s energy crystal was included in the price that you were paying, or if it was ours to keep?” I paused tactfully. “We never really talked about it before I took the post.”

Maveric paused. “Oh, we didn’t. I just need the body, not the energy crystal. I thought you’d take it out.” He picked up the container again and looked into it closely. “But it seems that you haven’t,” he muttered under his breath.

I shook my head. “We didn’t want to accidentally ruin the body.” Honestly, I had a hundred percent confidence that there’d be nothing left of the carcass if I tried to take the energy crystal out myself.

Maveric tapped on the container and looked at my loot on the counter, thinking. “Let’s exchange all this stuff first, then I’ll take out the energy crystal for you.”

I smiled and nodded. Perfect. One more step to payday plus I get to rid and the world of one more parasitic crystal. Then I paused. [System, if I destroy the energy crystal after he gives it to me, is it going to make the monster’s body disappear still?] I’d hate for it to disappear on him after all the work I went through to get it here.

I didn’t have to wait too long before the System responded. [No. But it is recommended that you don’t take up too many of these tasks. Introducing monster byproducts to Earth is also detrimental to the planet’s environment.]

Unlike the Hunters that were before me, Maveric and I negotiated the prices of my loot smoothly. Thirty minutes later, he took the Aero-Teuthida container into the back and I wandered over to marvel at the beautiful quality of the armor displayed in the corner of the shop. The first time I came in here, the displayed armor had a fish scale pattern weld over it. This new armor had faintly red tinted steel blended with the silvery steel, creating an overall flame-like pattern. Red magic stones adorned the armor in just the right places and two phoenix feathers arched out of the top of the helmet. God, Maveric’s ability left nothing wanting.

Maveric came back into the room. “Pretty isn’t it? I’m proud of how it turned out.” He held out the energy crystal.

I returned to him. “It is very pretty.” And pretty expensive. “The person who buys this is lucky.” A handkerchief appeared over my hand as I reached out and took the energy crystal from him. I carefully wrapped up the glowing blue crystal so that it didn’t touch my skin before I tucked it into the pouch of my hip satchel.

Maveric watched me, obviously puzzled but he didn’t comment. “Yeah. The project that the Aero-Teuthida is going towards is armor that helps the wearer weight less without compromising their attack. Frankly, my client wants to be lighter than air, but no one can walk on air.” He paused. “Oh, except for that one Huntress a month or so ago that people saw running on the air over Prine Lake. But no one knows anything about her. Or has seen her since.” He shrugged. “Either way, that’s the reason why I’m making this armor. My client thought it would be fun to run around on air. It’s impossible, but I’m getting paid to help anyway. And so are you.”

I paused and slowly nodded. First I was a ghost, now I was an inspiration for specialized armor? This was getting too weird.

Maveric’s words were on my mind as I went back to the hostel. After greeting Henry, I went up to my room. I needed to find a safe place to destroy the energy crystal. Sure, I would whip out my kindjal anywhere, but I didn’t want to deal with the drama of someone seeing me destroy a crystal. It felt like that damn thing was burning a hole in my hip satchel. Even though I couldn’t see or feel it, I knew it was there, like a disgusting stain that I wanted to wash clean as soon as possible.

Halfway down the girl’s hallway, I paused and focused on my door at the end of the hall. There was a small, square letter wedged between my handle and the door frame. That was weird. Aside from Henry, I didn’t have any friends in the hostel. And everyone’s mail was delivered to Henry, who personally handed it out to the Hunters at the end of the day. So who would leave a letter on my door? Who could leave a letter on my door? The people allowed down this hall where very few. To give it a number, just thirteen people — twelve women and a Henry.

I plucked out the letter. My brows wrinkled as I turned the envelope around, but there wasn’t anything written on the outside. My System didn’t send out an alarm that it was dangerous, so I carried it into my room with me before I closed and locked the door. I made quick work of destroying the energy crystal then I turned my attention to the letter.

With a quick slice, I cut it open and pulled a piece of white paper out. The message typed on it was simple:

Do you want to know the truth? Saturday, 11 p.m.

Under the message was an address. I stared at the words, trying to make sense of it. My brows rose high on my forehead as it clicked.

Ah. It looked like I didn’t have to search for the cult anymore. They’d found me.

*****

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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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