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Maveric looked up when I entered his shop. “Hey, there’s a friendly face.”

“Morning.” I walked up to the counter.

Maveric met me on the other side. “Just barely.” He pointedly looked at the glass and steel clock hanging on the white wall beside the counter. The long hand was just centimeters shy of noon.

“Perfect timing then.” I tapped on the glass counter between us. A silver canister holding a dead Aeru-Teuthida appeared on it. “And that makes two,” I said with satisfaction.

The events of yesterday had scared everyone away from the Josu Rainforest — that, and I think Hunters had given up trying to recruit me. Thank god. It made looking for the second flying squid a million times easier. I could use Mist to help search and didn’t have to hide from people — like Beak Nose and Mage Buddy, who I hadn’t seen in a while anyway. Still, it made it a heck of a lot easier when I wasn’t being hunted down for various reasons.

“Yes.” Maveric picked up the canister and looked closely through the small window on the side, inspecting the carcass. “You didn’t take out the crystal again,” he commented and glanced at me.

I spread my hands in a hopeless manner and shrugged. “It’s not my forte. I didn’t want to ruin it.”

He nodded. “Right. Give me a minute.” He took the canister into the back. Five minutes later, he returned with an energy crystal. He set it on the counter. “Alright. The deal was two Aero-Teuthida for five hundred, right?” He flicked his hand in the air and a blue guide screen popped up in front of him.

“Yep.” I covered the energy crystal with a hanky and slipped it into my hip satchel.

He watched me handle the crystal and lifted an eyebrow. “You don’t have to treat them so carefully, you know. They can’t be broken or even scratched without special tools.”

I smiled at him. “I know.” Like the sword in my Items Bag.

He shook his head and tapped on his blue screen. A moment later, my System popped up and showed me the details of the contract. I looked it over, grateful that it was straightforward. I just wanted to give him the monsters and get the money. Luckily, the contract was as clear cut as that. I used my finger and signed the line at the bottom of the screen.

“Did you hear what happened at the Portal Burst?” Maveric said, making small talk. “Given where it was, I was worried that you got caught in it. I’m glad to see you safe and sound. Especially since an S god disappeared during it.”

I paused, my finger still on the screen. Honestly, I could have gotten back to Maveric a hour earlier, but I spent time looking for Kesstel. I didn’t find him. “Oh yeah?” I said lightly, like my chest didn’t feel heavy. The contract disappeared and I got a notice that five hundred dollars was added to my account.

“Yeah. Can you believe it? The S Hunters are the big guns, you know. Not a single one has died since the Gates opened. That’s why they sent one, the Noble, in to handle the Portal Burst and he just disappeared. I hear the Association’s been looking everywhere for him. But no one knows anything about him anyway. Hell, I don’t even know what he looks like, and I maintain his armor.” Maveric sighed. “That was my best work. And it’s gone.”

I looked up at him. “You made his armor? I’ve seen — ah, pictures of it. It looked really good. You did a great job on his crest.”

Maveric snorted. “Yeah, well, that was a nightmare job. Blood Sword, you know him? He was easy. He just wanted a red sword, didn't really care what it looked like. Easy. The Noble was very picky about what his crest should look like. I think I redid it about five times before he let me off the hook. It’s not easy changing the design on crystal infused metal, let me tell you.” Despite his words, he couldn’t look more proud.

I smiled softly. “Really?”

I bet Kesstel’s family crest was important to him. His world was gone, but that didn’t mean that his memories were. I couldn’t even imagine what I’d do if I was in his shoes. Would I be able to go on, knowing that I was the only one left? No. That’s why it was so important to get strong enough to protect Earth.

I tapped my finger on the glass and cut off the thought before I let it run away on me. “Oh, I have some other things to sell too,” I commented.

Maveric’s eyes lit up. “Alright. Let’s see what you got.”

A half an hour later, I left Maveric’s shop and got some lunch. After my stomach was full, I headed back to Gate Vale. There was still seven hours before I had to get ready for tonight. Plenty of time to get EXP and look for Kesstel.

*****

My shoes were noiseless on the pavement as I walked through E District to where the note told me to meet. The nighttime darkness seeped into the concrete and asphalt. So close to the outer wall of Eden, the streets were unkept and most of the lampposts were missing bulbs. Even the moon was dark, hiding it’s newness in the black void above.

I’d say that it was quiet, but that would be a lie. The streets appeared deserted, but that was just because the Hunters were hiding in the alleys and doorways. I felt disgusting eyes on me and turned my head. With my stats, the night wasn’t as dark as it should be. The E’s around me might have trouble seeing, but it was like walking through a dimly lit room. Dark, but I could still see the blurry-eyed man peeking out at me from a doorway, staring at my body. I scowled and released my Hunter aura — another trick I’d learned from Kesstel. It wouldn’t have done a thing for most people that I was frequently around, but it sure made this drunken E and the other rats hiding scurry away.

I let out a silent sigh. I hated this part of Eden. Seriously, there was nothing good here. It was where all the horrible Hunters that didn’t warrant getting thrown into The Holding Place yet collected. The Association knew they were here and came to ‘clean up’ this section every once in a while from what I heard. But it hadn’t happened since I came to Eden.

It wasn’t just the street noise that I could hear. On the other side of this particular section of the twenty-foot red brick Wall was the outside. Eden was shaped like a circle, off-centered inside the oval shaped Garden City. Eden was set up like a pie, each of the districts in alphabetical order, but there was a reason why E District was put where it was. If the monsters in the barren land on the other side of the city broke through, the lowly Es should serve as a big enough stumbling block that the rest of the city could mobilize and defeat the monsters. It was best to sacrifice the weak, so the strong could handle the problem. As for the dead Es, well it was less money the government had to pay to house and feed.

And everyone in this part of the city knew it.

Still, it was eerie hearing the crying and screeches of monsters on the other side of the Wall while being surrounded by Eden’s buildings. Was this how the people felt when the Gates first opened? Hiding in their homes, while listening to demons from another world hungrily prowl just feet away? My own parents, aunt and uncle lived through that when they were younger than me.

I stopped outside of a door. There was nothing interesting about the door at all. It was a door on a short brick building. But this is where the note said to go. My bare fingers rubbed together, suddenly missing the feel of my kindjal, as I glanced at the surrounding street signs to double check. This should be it. Then again, this was a cult hiding from the Hunter’s Association. What was I expecting? A giant sign that flashed ‘Cult is meeting right here!’? Yeah, no.

I walked up to the door and knocked on it.

A moment later, a peephole just like in the movies slid open. A man — I assumed from the narrow eyes and bushy brows — assessed me with a glare. “You don’t look the type. Scram!” he yelled.

Well, that was inviting. No wonder there’s such small numbers in the cult. What with intoxicating their people to death and the unfriendly greetings, I was surprised it was still running.

I held up the note that had been left at my door. “Someone told me to come here.” Then I paused. Ah, that didn’t sound very encouraging. What would someone say if they wanted to get in? “Um, I wanted to know more about … it.” I finally finished, feeling a little lame. Since they were hiding, I’m sure they wouldn’t want someone to scream out what was going on on the other side of the door.

The man looked at the note. The door to the peephole slammed shut without another word from him.

I stared at the peeling paint. Seriously? Did I just get rejected?

Suddenly, the door swung open revealing a small foyer. On the other side was a woman wearing a brown monk-like robe that totally washed out her skin. She gave a small smile, her pale face gentle as dew. “Welcome seeker.” She bowed at the waist and motioned me inside.

“Oh, okay.” I stepped in and was barely out of the way before the door slammed shut with a dense thud, closing me in a small, bare room.

The peephole guy stood next to the door, a perma-scowl on his face. He wore a matching brown robe, the hood pulled low over his brow. But the most eye catching thing about him was that he was a human. The woman was an E, but this man was unmistakably a human. In Eden.

Visiting hours ended over six hours ago. It was illegal for a human to be in Eden after 5 PM and each entry was strictly recorded. If a human hadn’t left in time, there was literally a manhunt to expel that human. But this guy, though grumpy, was obviously not worried about being found. So how did he get in here?

The Huntress motioned to the side with her arm. “Follow me and all your questions will be answered.” She turned and walked to a narrow hallway in the back right corner of the small room.

I doubt it, I thought and trailed after her. My hands were itching for my kindjal more than ever, but I had a feeling it wouldn’t go over well if I took it out.

The hall was short, barely four feet long, and barren. There were no pictures on the tan walls, with only a simple mushroom light on the ceiling. The hall veered left and ended at the top of a staircase. She stopped and motioned down it with her hand.

The long stairway was perfectly lit, revealing white walls and dark wooden stairs. Despite the creepy welcome crew and the faint earthy smell that lingered in the air, the staircase came across as perfectly safe.

The woman waved her hands like she was performing a magic trick, twisting her fingers and swishing her wide sleeves. With one final flick of her hand, a plain white masquerade mask appeared in her palm. She offered it to me. “Dr. E is waiting for you. Follow the stairs and be enlightened.” She smiled, her gentle eyes like brown glass.

“Thank you,” I whispered, and took the mask from her. I fitted it to my face and stepped down to the first stair.

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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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