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I gaped at the System message, so shocked that I stopped cultivating. Serious? How was that possible? I wasn’t anywhere near the Gate right now. How could I have collected a Cyan-Agaric? Wait, I was cultivating the artificial fog, just like the System wanted me too. So the noxious contaminate that was poisoning everyone was derived from a Cyan-Agaric? Well, that made sense, since I already knew that the rainbow brigade was trying to find one for their client ‘Dr. E’ — in other words, Epson.

But my surprises weren’t over yet.

Ding! [Gained Ability: Poison Fog.]

Ding! [Gained: resistance to certain poisons.]

“Cool,” I mouthed, letting Epson’s words fade into the background as I focused for a minute on the notifications. I quickly opened my Ability menu in the Guide and looked at it. A wave of shock and satisfaction washed over me. Months ago, when I first collected a handful of Pearl Duku from Glenn Holt, an Ability slot had lit up with ‘???’. That slot was now labeled

[Poison Fog: Add Bleed and Poison to Mist. Some monsters might experience disorientation as well. Cost 25 MP.]

The man next to me collapsed in my direction, drawing my attention. I reached out and caught his bulky body just before he landed on my head. I grunted as I shifted him around and more or less dropped him on the ground next to me. At least I put him down softer than what a dead faint would have been to his head.

That was when I noticed that everyone in the crowd was on the ground. Some higher ranked Hunters were still conscious, but they were high as a kite, giggling and staring up the ceiling as if it was a movie screen, instead of a bunch of support beams. Most of the people were out cold.

The artificial fog stopped flowing from around the stage, but there was still a large pool of it that bubbled and flowed over the unconscious people. The laser show turned off, leaving the room dim and smokey.

Four people entered the stage from the wings and stood next to Epson. They wore bull-brown priest robes, just like the woman who led me to the stairs, but their faces were covered in full white masks. The craftsmanship on the newcomer’s masks weren’t as high quality as Epson’s, but still impressive.

The five people, three men and two women, looked down from above.

Then Epson tilted his head to the side. “Get going.” The lyrical, compelling tone on his voice was gone, leaving only a cold command.

My eyes narrowed, as my opinion of this whole thing dropped another notch.

One of the girls not far from me moaned and shifted. I glanced at her, then did a double take. She was curled on her side, a cell phone laying in her lax grip.

I cast Stealth and hurried to her side. I didn’t know much about phones, since I’d never owned one, but luckily the girl’s phone was an old model with cracks webbing across the screen. It was the same model that Marcie, my high school bestie, had. I swiped the screen and opened the camera without needing a password. Maybe because it wasn’t mine, but my Stealth didn’t work on the phone. The end result was a floating phone. Not optimal, but workable. I switched it over to video and hit record. Then I aimed it at the people on the stage and started to creep closer.

The four people in the brown robes jumped down to the slumping crowd. They split into pairs, the men going left and the women going right, and started to walk around the people on the ground.

A thin man dropped to his knee beside a human and felt around the downed man’s body. A second later, he stood up. “Found one.” He waved a wallet in the air.

The masked man, who was slightly smaller in size, came over and took out a tablet. “Give it here.” He flipped open the wallet and started to swipe every card.

My eyes widened as my opinion of them hit rock bottom. So they weren’t just anti-governmentalists, they were thieves too. Carefully, I crept closer and zoomed in the video. I didn’t know how good of a picture it was taking with all the residual fog floating between us, but hopefully it would be good enough.

The women were doing the same thing, searching the unconscious people on the ground for wallets and cards. Their search was limited to humans, because Hunters kept their money attached to their Guides, and their cards in their Items Bags. But out of the nearly three hundred people, almost half were human. There were still a lot of cards to pick from.

The taller man stood up with another wallet. Unlike the first one, this one was made out of fine leather. He flipped it open and fingered the cards inside. “I don’t know why we can only take fifteen dollars at a time,” he whined. “This fatty can handle it if we take more.” He nudged the unconscious man’s belly with his toe.

“Because any more than that is too noticeable, dumbass,” his partner snapped back. “We’ve been over this already.” He put the last card back into the wallet and stuck it back into the pocket of the person he took it from.

“Yeah, but just five more bucks a person. A measly five, and think of how much more we’d make,” the tall man persisted.

Epson, standing over them made a dismissive sound. “Think of how much we’d make if you actually got that mark like you said you would. Easy money, my ass. All you did was bring the police down on us with that stupid gunshot.”

The slight man jumped to his feet and glared up at Epson. “If you think putting a hit out on someone is so easy, why don’t you do it? You gave the okay, too. Go on, I think it’s time for you to get wet in that damn rainforest. You don’t know how hard it is trying to kill that little E bitch.”

My mouth opened in a silent gasp as something about their words clicked in my mind. Mark. Gunshot. Rainforest. Little E bitch. These people … were hunting me. At least two of them were.

The shorter women from the other pair stood up. “Let’s just focus on the task at hand. They won’t stay unconscious forever.”

Epson huffed. “Right, hurry it up.” He turned and started to walk off the stage.

I stood up. “Do you believe the words you said?” I called out. My voice carried through the quiet gym.

All five of them froze.

Epson whipped around on the stage, his white robe fluttering with his movements. “Who said that?” Then he must have noticed the phone floating in the air. “Who are you?”

I ended the video and put the phone into my Items Bag. Then I put my street clothes in there too, revealing the under armor suit that I wore underneath. I took out my leather chest plate and quickly strapped it on. “Do you believe the words that you were spewing all over the crowd? Do you think a new Earth is real? Or are you just sharing conspiracy theories from a rambling anti-governmentalist?”

“Where are you?” Epson looked around, trying to figure out where my voice was coming from. Luckily there was enough of an echo in the building that it semi-hid my location. Which was unfortunate for him, since I bet one reason he chose this location was for that dramatic echo.

The four Hunters on the ground started to stalk closer to me, every inch of their bodies were alert and ready.

I took out my thigh cuisses and strapped them on with well practiced hands. “It doesn't matter who I am, but I want to know what makes you think anything you said was true?”

The taller of the men, a C Hunter, moved within ten feet of me. I was dying to do something about him, but I wanted to finish my conversation with Epson. I slipped around the man and walked closer to the stage, while the rest of them moved towards the back of the gym.

Epson cocked his head. He opened his arms and slipped back into the persona he had while the show was going on. “What do you mean? Everything that I said was true. You can look up the facts yourself.”

I shook my head, even though he couldn’t see it. “No, the only facts that were true were the ones you said about Earth’s population. Everything else was a lie. There’s no paradise on the other side of a Portal.” I quickly strapped on my greaves.

The people behind me gasped as they realized that I slipped right through them and they had no idea. They spun around and started to walk back towards me.

He scoffed and folded his arms. “How do you know?”

I stared up at him as I put on my boots. Funny. He spoke about how unfair life was. How the weak were beaten down and stomped on by the strong. But this man, Epson, was a C Hunter. Unless he did something illegal, he should have had a cushy life. Either way, he sure as hell wasn’t oppressed like he said he was.

“Have you ever been to the other side of a Portal?” I asked. “Because I have. Let me tell you, it’s no heaven. In fact, I’d take hell over it.” I slipped to the right, and away from the woman getting closer to me. I looked up at him. “What do you know about the parasitic planet?”

The woman made an annoyed sound, obviously getting frustrated that she didn’t catch me.

Epson laughed. “Parasitic planet? What the hell is that?”

“It’s what’s on the other side of Portals. You’re right, Earth is dying.” I jumped up on the stage with him. Since it wasn’t my mist, the artificial fog rippled when I landed noiselessly by him.

The white robed man startled and turned. A long, serrated dagger appeared in his hand as he swung in my direction.

I reached out and caught his wrist, stopping the tip of his dagger inches from my cheek. I flung his hand to the side and reached for his mask. It annoyed me that I couldn’t see his face. A contradiction, I know, since I was invisible and still wore a mask, but hey …

My fingertips wrapped around the edge of his mask. With a hard yank, coupled with the momentum of his tipping body, the mask ripped right off his face.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t a pretty-boy face. Thin, coyishly tilted brown eyes, a narrow nose and full lips. I bet he was twice my age, but he didn’t really look it. If it wasn't for the lines around his eyes and mouth that were only noticeable at a close distance, I would have pegged him at thirty. His long, bleached hair only added to the youthful look.

He gasped and staggered back. I took advantage of it and swiped his feet out from under him. He yelped and landed on his backside, faint coils of fog washed over his head.

Inside the mask was a filter, obviously to fight against the poison he unleashed on his crowd just so he could make a couple bucks from people who could barely survive as is.

I scowled at him and flexed my hand. The mask in my grip cracked, the thick white paper-mache breaking like it was porcelain. I threw the mask to the floor. It shattered and the small air filter slid out of sight.

“Earth is dying,” I reiterated. “And you’re making it harder to save it.”

*****

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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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