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I gaped at Kesstel. “The … Florida peninsula sank?”

It technically wasn’t that big a deal. There hadn’t been people living in that area for two decades. When the Gates first opened, one opened on the southeast corner of Alabama and the monsters quickly overpowered the humans stranded on that part of land.

In the government’s panic to get rid of the Gate, and since all the known humans were already dead, they dropped an H-Bomb on the Alabama Gate. The burn scar contaminated the southern half of the East Coast. Animals, any possible remaining humans, vegetation, it was all destroyed. The land had already had such a high level of water saturation that a lot of the land around that area sank, leaving a weird landbridge to the Florida peninsula.

The monsters and Gate were just fine, completely immune to the bomb that devastated Southeastern America. The area was so toxic that humans couldn’t touch it, but the monsters were still there. The biggest problem was the ground under the Gate actually sank, submerging the whole Gate in the Mexican Gulf. Monsters still come out of it today, giving the few remaining communities around the Southern Burn Scar daily trouble.

But to hear that the rest of a landmass that big sank into the ocean, it boggled my mind. “Like, it’s all the way gone?” I asked. “How is it your fault?”

“I had to rip my way into Eden’s Gate to come back, and Earth is already unstable. I’m ninety-five percent sure the Portal opening up is a direct response to my actions.” He pulled out his phone and tapped on the screen a couple times then handed it to me. “As for the peninsula, the government is keeping it under wraps for now. Because they don’t want people to panic.”

My eyes were wide as I swiped through picture after picture of a bird’s-eye view of what should be land, only it was nothing but a raging wave dotted with huge rocks that were still slowly sinking into the water. The photos ended with a three-minute long video of the muddy soil bubbling and water slowly spreading over the brown ground. Then there was a deep, thundering sound that the recording couldn’t fully process. The ground shattered like glass and, starting from the outside and working its way in, started to sink into the water in large chunks. Then the camera zoomed back, revealing the whole huge section of land disappearing into the water.

I gaped at the video, barely able to believe what I was seeing.

“At the time, a helicopter was over the area, trying to scope out the amount of monsters in the area. They were able to record the peninsula collapsing as it happened,” Kesstel supplied.

“How did this happen?” I asked quietly and looked up into his face. “You said a Portal opened in the LAs Vegas waste? Don’t you mean a Gate?”

He shook his head. “No. It's a Portal, not a Gate. Since there’s no one living there, they don’t know exactly how big it is or even its exact location. It’s hidden somewhere in the building rubble. The government was able to track the direction of the earthquake and used a plane to fly over with a detector to figure out it was a Portal. Now that area is covered with monsters.”

“How do you know this?” I handed him back the phone.

He turned off the screen and slid it into the back pocket of his designer jeans. “From the Hunter’s Association. I’ve been in a meeting with them most of today.”

I guess it makes sense that they would make sure that the strongest Hunters were aware of the situation. Especially because we were the closest Hunter city to Las Vegas. There were other Hunters living in settlements across America, but Eden was the largest hub.

Thinking, I spread out the empty snack bag over my thigh until it was flat. Then I started to fold it smaller and smaller. “There aren’t any people in that location anymore. There are people in the New Mexican No-Man’s-Land, but I don’t know how many,” I thought out loud. “That was one of the locations that rebelled and created their own pseudo-country when the Gates appeared. Really, there’s no unity, just a bunch of scrambling for resources in the desert heat,” I reminded him.

He nodded slowly. “Yes. I know. That was also talked about this afternoon.” He took the wad of plastic from me and put it in his Items Bag.

His action made me smile. “What is the government going to do with the Portal? I assume you know, since you were in the meeting?”

Kesstel nodded. “Even though I didn’t want to go, they insisted on me attending.” He shifted until he could rest his ankle on his knee and leaned back on the bench. “Since I came back a couple days ago, they got the impression that I knew more about the Portals than they did. They spent most of the afternoon pestering me for information on the Portals then arguing if I was right or not.” His eyes narrowed and flashed blue light as he scowled. “Annoying.”

Angry aura pulsed out of Kesstel. Goosebumps lifted all over my body, but I was used to it enough that I wasn’t bothered. A Hunter walking by was smacked with it mid-step. He reacted like a spooked cat and leapt into the air and five feet away. His weapon was out before he fully landed and he looked at Kesstel, eyes wide in fright.

Kesstel didn’t even fully glance at the guy.

I almost felt bad for him. Being struck with Kesstel’s aura — a Boss’s aura — while walking down a peaceful street would freak anyone out. I waved my hand and drew the man’s attention. I pressed my lips into a smile. “Sorry.”

The man shot Kesstel a worried and confused look before he hurried away.

Kesstel’s attention locked onto my wrist and the Fanged Snapper bracelet that was making a soothing Sh Sh sound with my movement. He reached out and touched the red scales on the bracelet, his finger slowly moving them around on my wrist, sometimes his skin brushing mine. Each time it did, I felt a warm thrill down my arm. His expression relaxed and the heavy atmosphere evaporated.

I stayed still and let him play. “What did they decide?”

“They want to close the Portal,” he concluded, softly clicking the scales against each other. “In two days, a large team of the best American Hunters are going to be sent to Las Vegas to clear out the monsters and locate the Portal. Then they’re tasked to close the Portal. They didn’t believe me when I explained what was really going on, but they did accept that fact that there’s a Boss inside the Portal. When the Boss is killed, the Portal will close.”

“Are you going?” After all, I was pretty sure Kesstel was the strongest Hunter in America, and most likely the world.

He hummed under his breath in a noncommittal sound. “They want me to. If I go, I should be able to keep the Portal open long enough for any Hunter to get out before it shuts. That way no one gets lost in the void between worlds. Of course, they don’t know that, but it could be done.”

I frowned. “You aren’t going to get lost again, are you?”

The side of his mouth cocked up and he glanced at me. “Worried?”

I mimicked the tone of his hum and didn’t say anything definite. But honestly, yes. I was. I didn’t want him to disappear again. Even with grinding levels and Bethany and Emma, I was … lonely. I missed Kesstel. Even when I was angry with him for leaving me hanging like that.

“I’m currently planning on joining the party.” Kesstel shrugged a shoulder. “I think it’s a good place to search.”

I also thought the same thing. There was an opportunity with this Portal. We knew there was no portal that led to the parasitic planet in Eden’s Gate. But this was a new Portal. A new tunnel.

Even if this isn’t the path to the parasitic planet, it might be the Portal to the System.

I looked up and opened my mouth.

“Can I go?” / “Come with me.” We spoke at the same time.

I paused after and smiled. “Ah, it sounds like we had the same thought.”

He nodded. “This could be the Portal we need. After all, it’s so unusual.” He paused. “Either way, I still want you to go with me.” He dropped his foot to the ground then leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. “This world is so unstable. It could collapse at any second. I want you to stay with me, so if that happens, we won’t be separated.”

I swallowed hard, suddenly nervous. If that was the case, I didn’t really want to leave my family either. But I couldn’t save them if I stayed here in Eden. If I wanted any chance of preventing Earth from collapsing at all, I had to leave.

“Are there any strings we could pull to get an E Ranked Hunter on that team?” I asked.

This rank was starting to get annoying. I mean, I’ve always hated it because of the discrimiation that I suffered from. Now, it prevented me from doing things that I could do, now that I wasn’t weak. Unfortunately, if I got retested and lost the E Rank, I’d have to start paying rent and I doubted I’d be able to afford a down payment for a good place to live in when Aliya graduated.

Kesstel glanced at me and smirked. “I already did. It was part of the deal I struck with them to go. If they wanted me there, I had to bring you too. You are officially my emotional therapy —”

“If you say dog, I’ll make you bleed,” I threatened.

“— Person,” Kesstel said without missing a beat. Whether or not that was what he was going to say or not, he smoothly sailed through a crisis.

My eyes narrowed as I looked at him, trying to see through his perfect face. He didn’t seem the kind of person to play a prank like that, still … “That’s the oddest thing I’ve ever heard.” I paused and added, “In the last couple months.” Seriously, I really do hear a lot of odd things. If you think about it, this whole experience I’ve had since I got the System is odd.

He smirked, as if remembering something. “They thought it was odd too, until they remembered what happened when I came out of the Gate. Then they agreed really fast. They want all your paperwork in tonight and it will be approved in the morning. As of tomorrow, you won’t be tied to Eden. You could go wherever you want, even to Siberia. After you get a passport.”

I shook my head. That was probably the fastest leave approval the Hunter’s Association had ever given. It did make sense that he’d want to keep me close, since I helped purify the energy in his body. I wouldn’t want to lose control and be an emotionless robot either. I glanced up at Kesstel and asked what I’d been wondering for a while. “So, why were you going crazy when you came out of the Gate?”

He frowned and tilted his head to the side. “I don’t exactly remember. By the time I made it back to Eden, my memory was starting to slip and my vision was hazy. I didn’t even fully remember why I needed to go to Eden at the time. I just knew I needed to find someone. I was enough under the control of the parasitic planet that the order to kill was in the back of my mind, but I was trying to repress it. When Blood Sword stopped me and he wasn’t the one I wanted to find, that order kicked in. The more they resisted, the stronger that command was in my mind.” He paused and turned his face to lock me in his bright blue gaze. “Until I heard your voice. It was like a clear bell in a hazy mess of noise.”

My face became uncomfortably hot. I pursed my lips and looked away. “Oh.” I didn’t know what else to say. After a second of desperately thinking, I said, “So if you go into the Portal to close it and lose control, you think I can stop you again?”

He nodded. “I’m counting on it.”

I nodded. “Deal.” I gave him a half smile. “But ‘emotional support person’ is a really odd title.”

He shrugged and mirrored my half smile. “We could just be partners. That doesn’t sound so bad.”

I paused. “True. It doesn’t.” If there was anyone I wanted to partner with, anyone I knew I could trust my life and back to, it was Kesstel. I held out my hand. “Partners?”

He grinned and gently but firmly placed his hand in mine. “Partners.”

*****

 

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A note from MichelleRReid

Fun Fact! 

There are currently 331 million people in America right now. In Mists of Redemption, there are less than 132.4 million left. Most of southern California is a wasteland, and obviously I nixed Vegas and the East Coast. Most of the Northeast Coast is ruined too, but cities are slowly being rebuilt in that area.


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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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