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“Are you sure you’re okay?” Emma asked for the millionth time in the last five hours. A pink burn from the scorching sun we just left colored her cheeks and forehead. It was so close to the color of her armor, that she was like a rosy-pink doll with brunette hair.

I nodded and waved my hand. “Yes. I’m fine.”

Okay, that was a lie. I was reeling inside and didn’t have any way to let out the energy. I was burning from the Warrior of Mist thing with Kesstel, first.

Then there was that message from the System. Only, I didn’t know how to find the Portal with the Red Orcs. It was a Portal Burst in Glenn Holt months ago and it was gone by the time I woke up after that experience. If it was a permanent Portal on the edge of Gate Vale, I could go there now and save the System. But how would I find a Portal that didn’t stay in one place — especially when I was stuck in one place?

If something happened to the System, what would happen to me? Would I lose everything and revert back to the weakest Hunter in history? A chill went down my back. God, no. Please no. My life was finally in order. My family was finally stable for the moment and optimistic about moving into a better place. I didn’t want that to fall apart.

Emma grabbed my arm. “You just went as white as a sheet. Are you really okay?”

I blinked down at her. It took me a second to answer her. “Yes. I’m okay.” I would be. And so would the System. I couldn’t afford for either of us to not be.

Luckily, I could get answers to both of the problems plaguing me from the same person.

Emma and I walked out of the Gate into the square in Eden. The orange sun was low in the sky, causing the buildings to cast long, dark shadows. Street lamps lit the square and small groups of Hunters lingered around the space, talking about the lack of monsters in the Gate.

Emma grinned at me. “Thanks for letting me come and play. It’s probably the only time I’ll ever get to go into that desert. It was a fun, new experience. And that oasis was amazing. So tropical and green, just like in the movies. I can’t believe something like that actually exists in real life.”

I smiled back. “Same.”

She sighed. “The only downer is that we couldn’t take pictures. It kinda makes having a phone frustrating, you know? You can have it all the time, and keep it tucked safely in your Items Bag, but as soon as you take it out — Puff!” She gestured an explosion with her hands.

“Having it, but not being able to use it. Is that what you mean?”

She nodded. Her phone appeared in her hand. Instantly, it dinged a dozen times. Emma glanced at the screen. “Oh, whoops. I told Mason I was going to be back an hour ago. He’s a worrywart.” But she beamed with pleasure anyway.

I laughed and rested a hand on her shoulder. “I actually need to go too.” I had to hunt a man down.

She gave me a goodbye hug and hurried off towards the Guild District.

The smile slipped from my face as she disappeared from view. I took my own phone out and jumped when it started to ding. And keep dinging. Walking slowly towards A District, I flipped it open. The first was a message from my real estate agent letting me know that the offer I put in on the condo in Garden City was accepted. Now she was just waiting on the inspector and then it was time to sign the papers.

I nodded and made a mental note to call my family and tell them the good news later.

The next message was a little hard to think about what to do with. It was Bethany. [Jyn! What the hell happened today? I mean, there were pictures and recordings of Kesstel walking out of the Gate like a zombie. Then he kidnapped you? Are you okay?]

The next message was from her too. [Jyn, answer me! Are you okay? And what did you say to my dad? He’s always thought it was great that I was showing charity to weaker Hunters by hanging out with you. (Jerk.) He thought you were a good influence on me and my image. (Double jerk.) But now he’s telling me to find another person to fill in that role? The hell? What’s going on!?]

What followed was another half dozen texts and calls from her.

Well, at least she’s feeling energetic, I thought and texted back. [I’m fine, but I can’t talk right now. I’ll call you later.] Even if I called at one in the morning, it wouldn’t be a problem.

The last message from an unknown number was two simple words. [It’s Kesstel.]

I scowled just seeing his name. Usually I didn’t hang on to burning anger long. Usually, I let it simmer down to cool rage that was easy to think through and gave enough of a push when I needed it. Hot emotions led to mistakes. Mistakes led to a short life. But I was feeling irrational right now.

[Where are you?] I texted him back.

He had sent me a text and Bethany had spoken to her father, so Kesstel wasn’t still in a meeting with Hunter Council, was he?

I was halfway through A District's shopping street when my phone dinged. Instead of telling me, Kesstel simply shared his location — a park about a mile away, on the West side of A District's residential area. Not too far from his house. I set out at a jog, following the path that my phone set.

A couple minutes later, the park came into view. It was more of a garden than a park, with winding paths between lots and lots of flowers. Well, flowering plants. The chill in the air was wilting the flowers, so only the resilient ones were still in full bloom. In the back, illuminated by several strings of light, was a pretty gazebo over a set of table and chairs. Trees grew in just the right places, their branches stretching out to give privacy in several different locations. It was an amazing park, even with the dying flowers. Hopefully I’d get to see it in full bloom someday.

I entered the park and headed towards Kesstel’s presence located next the gazebo.

He was staring off into the distance, his eyes blank and obviously lost in thought. The low light from the gazebo lights highlighted half his face, while the other half was left in the dying light. Just like everything else about him. Half illuminated in light, while a long dark unknown history hid behind that glowing perfection.

When I came closer, he looked up and a welcoming light entered his eyes. “Evening.”

I walked up to him. Without a word, I reached out. My hand gripped his navy shirt while my foot shot out and hooked his knee. His knee buckled and I shoved him down the ground. In the same movement, I planted a knee on his chest and scowled down at him.

He looked up at me, his brow wrinkled in confusion and amusement. Obviously, he could have easily stopped me, but he didn’t. Instead he just lay there and asked, “Is this where I deny any involvement or where I plead for mercy?”

“Oh, you bet you were involved,” I snarled. “And this time you aren’t going to get out of explaining it to me.”

He put his hands up in surrender. “I just got back. I honestly can’t think of a single thing that I could have done to make you this mad in the last seven or eight hours.”

“The Warriors of Mist,” I snarled. “You can’t just dump a bomb like that and then disappear.”

I felt a barrier settle over us and all the world went silent. I was familiar enough with his barriers that I didn’t have to ask to know that no one could hear our conversation now. “Oh, that,” Kesstel said in a heavy voice.

“Yes, that. I’ve been looking for information about the Warriors of Mist for months. Ever since I became one, and you’ve been holding out on me this whole time.” My hand tightened on his shirt as a new wave of boiling anger surged in. “Not only that, I find out that the guy I finally learned to trust has been thinking of killing me this whole time?” There was a faint ripping sound as the material in my fingers gave way. I was too mad to care right now about how much I was going to have to pay to replace this shirt.

Kesstel glanced down at my hand. “How about you let go so we can sit down and have a proper conversation?”

It felt kind of nice to subdue this overpowered Boss. But I was trying to be a good example for my sister, even if she wasn’t here at the moment. That included being a civilized person. I huffed a breath and got up. Five clear holes were torn into Kesstel’s designer shirt and it was obviously ruined.

He rolled to his feet in a smooth, predator-like move. He glanced down at the holes. “I normally don’t change this much in a day.” Without pausing, he pulled his shirt off over his head and it disappeared.

My eyes widened and I instinctively looked away. It wasn't the first time I’d seen his chest today, but his moves were so sudden, it shocked me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a black shirt appear in his hand and he pulled it on. He brushed off his light colored pants. “Shall we?” He motioned to the gazebo. Without waiting, he walked to the table and tapped on it. A familiar pink pastry box appeared on the table, spreading the smell of sweets and sugar into the air.

My lips twitched. “Bribing me with sweets still?” Still, I couldn’t resist staring at the box. I knew it was full of heaven just by looking at it.

“It worked last time.” Kesstel shrugged. “Besides, it took a lot of time to get you to a healthy weight. I don’t appreciate that you lost it all again while I was gone.” He pulled a chair out and motioned for me to sit.

I gaped at him. “A healthy weight? What?”

When I didn’t sit down, he walked to the next chair and sat down, leaving my chair open for me. “Yes. You were underweight when we met and I didn’t like it. It baffled me that I could even feel that emotion at the time, enough to draw my attention. When I first gave you food, it was to let you relax enough to stop running from me. When I decided to take care of you, it became a habit so that you’d finally be healthy.” He paused. “If you hadn’t noticed, not everything I gave you was just sugar. There was protein and whatnot included. It’s a little ridiculous the percentage of snacks I have in my Items Bag right now.”

I gaped at him. Really? That’s what all the food was about? I mean, I really enjoyed the snacks, even if it was an odd thing to bond over. I shook my head. “I’m so confused. Don’t you hate the Warriors of Mist? Why else would you kill them off like that? What did they ever do to you?”

He pointedly glanced at my chair then opened the box. The faint smell of chocolate came out in all its glory. He reached inside and took out a small chocolate bundt cake topped with raspberries and chocolate shavings. He set it in front of my chair. Then he locked his pale blue eyes on mine. “They annihilated nearly every living thing on my planet, which led to Kathar’s collapse.”

*****

 

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A note from MichelleRReid

So, now we have the food thing more fully explained. Yes, he was trying to coax her over at first, but then he got used to the idea of taking care of her and liked it. It isn’t in his nature to half-ass things. So when he decided that he was going to be friends with her, that included making sure that she was mentally and physically healthy. So he got her subconsciously used to accepting snacks from him to give her an extra boost of calories everyday. Silly, but he thinks it fun.


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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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