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We came into an L-shaped living space. A square dining table made of dark wood was set up in front of the French doors we’d just entered through. To the left was a large, white-on-off-white modern kitchen, complete with marble counter tops and top of the line appliances. Ahead was a big living room, with a navy blue sectional couch, dark wood furniture and a TV nearly as long as I was tall. Everything — the features, the furniture, the delicate decorations on the shelves, and the wood floor that covered the whole floor — screamed of money and wealth.

Given who he was, it didn’t shock me that he had such a nice house. What did surprise me was how empty it felt. It was like a model house that no one had ever lived in, just for show. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I already knew he considered Earth just another pitstop on his journey to find the path to the parasitic planet … the place where he wanted to die, hopefully taking the planet with him.

I glanced up at Kesstel, still covered in black blood and holding me like a lifeline. He turned his apathetic eyes in my direction and silently stared back. I sighed, my chest aching all the more.

“Let’s get you washed up,” I said softly. This place was so nice and clean, it felt wrong to talk too loud. It felt just as wrong to walk across the clean wood floors with our dirty shoes. I lifted my foot to take a step but couldn’t bring myself to put my foot down. Finally, I put my boots in my Items Bag.

Kesstel watched my actions then stared down at my white socks on the wood.

I frowned up at him. What was he right now? A robot? “You should take off your shoes too,” I suggested. My boots were dirty from walking in the city. Who knew what was on his boots? At the very least, there was a lot of blood. What had he stepped in that had already sloughed off?

His boots disappeared, leaving black socks. I’d bet a million bucks they were white before he disappeared. Thankfully, I didn’t have to say anything before they disappeared into his Item Bag too. But that left his very dirty feet.

I bit my lips to keep from scrunching my face in disgust. It had been a long while since he’d taken a shower, that was sure. “Is your room upstairs?” Given how nice his house was, there had to be a master suite in here.

He nodded.

“Come on,” I ordered and steered him around the furniture to the stairs on the right of the front door. It was odd. I was treating him like a drunk, telling him what to do and stuff, but he obviously wasn’t drunk. He was like a fleshy robot, only responding and acting when I told him what to do.

His large room was decorated in navy blues, pale grays, and deep black. Just like downstairs, it was model room perfection and not a place anyone had ever lived in. I pushed him into the bathroom on the other side of the master. At first, I thought he would drag me into the white bathroom with him, but I put on the brakes and wouldn’t willingly cross the threshold. “No, Kesstel. Let me go.”

He stared at me for a whole minute before he slowly released his hold.

I stepped back and pointed toward the shower. “Clean up and get dressed. I’ll meet you downstairs.” Then I shut the door on his blank face.

I hurried out of his room. I kept my eyes locked on the light gray carpet in front of my toes. As empty as it felt, it didn’t change the fact that this was my first time in a man’s bedroom. It wasn’t until I stepped into the hall and closed the door behind me that I relaxed.

With a sigh, I looked down at my body. After all of his hanging, I was just as covered in monster blood. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an easy clean up available for this stuff right now. When I was fighting monsters, as soon as I destroyed the energy crystal of a monster, all of its remains disappeared. Even the blood that was on me. It kept me relatively clean throughout the day. But I didn’t have access to the energy crystals that were tied to the blood on me. I just hoped that the armor’s nightly regeneration and cleaning also worked on third party messes. As someone who'd done it over three hundred times, I can’t say I enjoy cleaning blood off leather armor.

I walked down the hallway, opening doors as I went. I found another bedroom, a home office, a linen closet, and another bathroom. After snagging a fluffy, navy blue towel from the linen closet, I went into the bathroom and locked the door. Luckily, I now had the habit of carrying around a travel kit with me that included minute sized washing supplies.

Fifteen minutes later, I walked down the stairs to the living room with damp hair and wearing my street clothes. I hadn’t taken that long. There were some girls — cough, Aliya, cough — who could easily take an hour-long shower and still cry that they didn’t have enough time before the hot water ran out. Still, Kesstel was already seated on the couch.

He was like a statue, perfectly still and expressionless. He was perfectly clean, wearing navy sweats and a white tee with a small towel draped over his shoulders. It wasn’t until I was closer that I realized that his hair was still wet and plastered to his forehead.

“Honestly, you,” I whispered and walked up to him. Without asking, I took the towel and started to scrub the water out of his hair. Man, guys had it easy. In a minute, his hair was pretty much dry. I spent easily three times this much effort and my hair was still wetter than his.

Kesstel waited until I set the towel on the coffee table then he reached out and grabbed me again. He stayed seated as he pulled me to stand between his knees.

My eyes widened when he wrapped his arms around my waist and buried his face into my stomach. “Kesstel, what’s gotten into you? What are you doing?” I mean, he hadn’t let go of me since he saw me. I wasn’t uncomfortable, outside of the way that my heart hitched everytime he hugged me. In fact, it felt quite nice, and he smelled really good right now, but hanging on me like this wasn’t something that he’d normally do.

“Purifying …” he whispered slowly. His usually smooth voice was low and rough, as if he hadn’t used it in a long time. For that matter, this was the first time he’d actually said anything since he came out of the Gate.

“Purifying?” I echoed. I couldn’t resist resting my arms on his shoulders, consequently hugging him back. It wasn’t on purpose! I just didn’t know what to do with my arms, and this was the most comfortable position.

“I collected too much tainted energy,” he said haltingly, as if he had to think about each word before he could make it come out. With each word he said, his speech slowly evened out.

Energy … Purifying …

Suddenly, I remembered one of the last conversations we had before he disappeared in the Portal Burst two months ago. The one where he explained how every time I destroy an energy crystal, my kindjal absorbs the energy from it then returns a portion of that energy. But what I’m given is clean and purified.

My eyes widened and my hands tightened on his shoulders. “Are you okay?” Every single person I’d seen absorb the energy from the parasitic planet turned into a monster. I grabbed his head and tilted his head back. Frowning, I stared into his passive face, trying to find if there was anything out of normal. “Do you feel weird anywhere?”

“I don’t feel yet. Give me another minute,” he said softly and buried his head back into my stomach.

“No, this is serious!” I wiggled around but couldn’t get out of his grip or lift his face back up to me. “Everyone that absorbs the energy of an energy crystal turns into a monster. What if you turn into one too?”

He let out a dry laugh, the bitter sound eerie in my ears. “Too late.”

I froze, a chill running down my spine. “W-What?”

“I’ve been a monster for a very long time,” he whispered softly. “So long, I forgot what it felt like to be human until I met you.”

I put my hands on his shoulder and pressed against him. This time he slowly leaned back until I could see his face but still didn’t let me go. “Are you talking about your apathy?”

He shrugged a shoulder, for the first time moving in a way that I associated with his normal behavior. “That’s a part of it. Or, more like, a byproduct of it. I thought it was permanent until I met you and you slowly purified the energy in me. And I could finally feel emotion again.”

My eyes narrowed and I focused on him. Really focused on him, just like I do when I’m facing a monster and I want to find its weak point. There, on the lower left of his rib cage, was a faint white glow.

The same glow an energy crystal gave in a monster.

My eyes widened and my knees nearly gave out. My head felt a little dizzy as all the blood left my face. If it wasn’t for Kesstel holding me, I might have fallen back.

“Just being with you had that effect,” Kesstel kept talking, as if I hadn’t gone white as a sheet. “If I had known holding you greatly quickened the effect, I might have hugged you sooner. Then again, it might be related to your strength. You are a lot stronger than when I last saw you. Congratulations.”

“You … You have an energy crystal in you,” I whispered in horror and reached out to touch the glow.

My mind short circuited. No, that was impossible. He couldn’t have one. Only monsters had energy crystals, and I could see with my own eyes that he wasn’t a monster. My fingers pressed against his side. I could see the glow, but I couldn’t bring myself to believe it was there until I actually felt it with my hands. Then again, it was in him. There would only be one way to feel it. I’d have to cut it out of him.

Kesstel took my fingers away from the spot. “It’s always been there. You just weren’t strong enough to see it until now.”

I stared into his glassy blue eyes. “Why do you have an energy crystal in you?”

The corner of his lips hooked up in a smirk. “I’m the Boss of my world. Of course I’d have an energy crystal in me.”

*****

 

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A note from MichelleRReid

Surprise! Who guessed it?

You remember those monster caterpillar tunnels? And how every time Kesstel went in one, it would dissolve and disappear? This is why. Because he was already a monster and too strong for the little ‘trap’ that the Gate set. (And yes, they are still happening, Jyn just hasn’t encountered them recently.)


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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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