The Eden team was divided into four teams of ten. Blood Sword — who was the overall manager of the Eden Hunters — and S ranked Healer were in charge of their own teams. Tyson Walker was in charge of team three and walked away with President Price and his people. Even though Kesstel was the highest rank on team four, he refused to be the leader.
Team four’s leader was a fire Mage named Charlie Moon. Even though she was a Mage, she wore as much black leather armor as I did. A deep red cape cascaded down her back and bunched around her neck so that if she tilted her head down enough, half of her face could be hidden. Her black hair was cut short and spiked up.
She stood in front of our team of ten and looked around. “Alright,” her voice was crisp and clear. “You all know what we have to do, right? We have one day to clear out our section. The sooner it’s done, the sooner we can call it a day. I, for one, hate working at night. So let’s get this over with as soon as possible, shall we?”
Her eyes landed on me. Her lips slightly dipped down. That fraction of a second that her expression changed, I could tell she was frustrated about me. Obviously, she wanted to get the job done, but she probably felt obligated to baby me. Her eyes flicked over to the two Hunters standing behind me whose names I’d already forgotten, then rested on Kesstel at my side.
Charlie hesitated for a second, uncertainty flickering on her face. Then she motioned to the building behind us. “Let’s go.”
I turned around. Across a parking lot was a battered two-story apartment building. The colors were bland and faded, there were big gaps in the tiled roof, and sand had collected in pools around the structure. It was just the first building, the beginning of a deserted city. Endless buildings spread out behind, as faded and battered as the apartment in front of us.
And we were going to check all of them out.
“We aren’t going to use a set formation today,” Charlie said. “Grab a buddy and stick together. If we spread out, we can cover more ground faster. Keep a watch on your surroundings. It’s mostly weak monsters on the outside of the city, but we never know when that’s going to change. If you get in over your head, fall back and regroup with the rest of the people. Don’t be a hero, they die too fast.” She pointed to the single Healer, a man in navy blue robes, in the group. “He’s with me. We’ll stay in the middle of our area, clearing things out there. If you need healing, find us or send a distress flare.”
People in the group glanced at each other and left in pairs, spreading out in all directions. Just as I glanced at Kesstel, I heard my name called.
I looked at Charlie. Two Hunters in black armor stood at her side. She motioned to the tall, thin man with dyed red hair visible under his helmet. “This is Alex Mann.” Then she motioned to a sturdy woman with a broad nose and brown eyes. Her puff of curly black hair was tied at the back of her head, exploding out of the bottom of her helmet. “This Mona Keliki. They are your partners during this expedition, Ms. Devhro.”
My lips twitched. I’d been around Bethany enough that I recognized the style of their armor at a glance. These two were obviously Wilks employees — AKA, my babysitters. Annoyance tightened in my throat. “I thought he was my partner.” I glanced at Kesstel. “Since I’m, you know, his emotional support person.”
Kesstel folded his arms over his chest. “I was under that impression too.”
Charlie shifted nervously. The two Hunters at her side looked away, obviously uncomfortable under his stare.
“With your capabilities, Noble, I thought it would be best for you to work alone. That way, you can freely move as much as you need,” Charlie said.
No, it was Mr. Wilks. He wouldn’t have put bodyguards on the team otherwise and poor Charlie was going to take the fall. Still they weren’t wrong. It would be better for Kesstel to work alone, since he was much faster than me. Hell, he was strong enough, he might already know where it was.
I looked at him. “Can you feel the Portal right now?”
His lips thinned and he shook his head. “There’s interference.” He didn’t elaborate, probably because of the people right in front of us. “It would be easier to just destroy the city.”
“That’s not even funny,” I muttered, thinking. If Kesstel couldn’t feel it, did that mean the parasitic planet was purposefully hiding it from him? If it was hidden like that, did that mean that it was important? Could it be the one that would lead to the parasitic planet?
A System notice flashed in front of my eyes. [Daily Task: Kill 5 Dust Mephits]
I blinked at the task, completely distracted. There was more talking around me, but it was all background noise. The System hadn’t given me a Daily Task in the last three days — ever since it told me to find it. Since then, it had been strangely quiet. Now it was talking to me again.
Kesstel put his hand on my back, instantly drawing me out of my thoughts. He waited for me to look up. “What is it?” He glanced at my screen even though he couldn’t read the words.
I put away the screen. “It’s nothing.”
What was a Dust Mephit? There was no telling how many of these things there were. If there were only ten in the area, I couldn’t afford to let anyone else kill them. Which meant that it would be best if I didn’t have partners at all. And it wasn’t exactly abandoning the mission either, I reasoned with myself. I was still killing monsters, and I’d be looking for the Portal at the same time. I’d just be doing it with a very specific goal in mind.
I nudged Kesstel with my elbow. “We’re here on a mission so that everyone can be safer. You have the ability and I’ll only hold you back. We’ll split up here, and meet back up tonight.”
His eyes narrowed. A wisp of oppressive aura danced around our feet. “You are under no obligation to listen to anyone’s orders.”
The faces of the people across from us went white. Alex even took an unsteady step back. Charlie and Mona stood their ground on trembling knees.
I smiled at Kesstel, appeasing him. “No, it’s fine. This is my choice.”
His aura pulled back and he slowly nodded. “Very well. I’ll keep an eye on you. If you need anything, send a PM.”
Given how far Kesstel’s search ability was, he would probably know exactly where I was no matter where I went during this mission. He might not know my exact situation, but he’d know my location. I nodded.
His fingers softly slid through the hair at the end of my ponytail. “See you soon.”
I smiled at him. “Yep.”
He took a second to flick a dissatisfied glance at Alex and Mona, making both of them lose what color they had gotten back in their faces, before he turned. He disappeared, leaving behind a small puff of dust where he had been standing.
Charlie let out a breath. “I didn’t know he was that temperamental.”
I snorted. “You have no idea.” Admittedly, I only saw him act like that when it involved me. A soft smile touched my mouth, just thinking about it.
“We should head out,” Mona prompted. As soon as Kesstel was gone, the polite look on her face faded a bit.
I glanced at her and nodded slowly. I could already hear the sound of fighting in the distance. Dust drifted in the air from between several buildings a block to the south. Alex and Mona walked in the other direction, away from that fight. Charlie joined the Healer and they disappeared around the building.
I followed after them, wondering what to do now. As we walked around the apartment building, I paused and looked towards it. It obviously hadn’t been a great place to live, just good enough to fill out the basic needs. In other words, it was a type of building I was very familiar with. Doors and windows were either left or smashed open, leaving random gaping black holes through the sand covered building. It appeared empty. I couldn’t hear or see movement inside, but there was something …
I frowned and walked toward the apartment.
“Miss Devhro?” Alex asked.
I glanced at him. “Don’t you think that building is odd?” I motioned to it.
He glanced at it then shook his head. “There’s nothing in there.”
I shook my head. “I think we should check it out.”
What little politeness that was left in Mona’s expression was quickly fading. “No one else stopped at the building, Miss Devhro. There’s obviously nothing in it.”
It’s true, the other Hunters — including Kesstel — went right past this apartment. And I couldn’t feel anything inside. Still, there was something about it that just seemed … wrong.
“I’m going to check it out,” I said and kept walking.
“Miss Devhro, we need to hurry up and do our part,” Mona said, her polite voice strained.
I glanced at her, completely seeing through to the look that she was trying to hide. Annoyance. It looked like she wasn’t as willing to babysit me as I thought.
“You don’t need to worry about searching,” Alex jumped into the conversation. “Just leave the messy stuff to us.” He gave a forced, lopsided smile.
They thought I was useless. I wasn’t surprised. I was titled an E and the only reason I was here was because Kesstel made it that way. Judging from the way people looked at me last night at the party and today, it was obvious what people thought of me. I was a ‘pet’ that Kesstel was appeasing.
I sighed, annoyed even though I understood why. They could think whatever they wanted. I had a job to do, and as long as they were here, that wasn’t going to happen. Frustrated, I marched up to the ground floor door labeled 101 and kicked it open. The aged door frame splintered and the whole door fell back. The door landed on the ground and sent up a dusty cloud.
Coughing, I went inside. Barely two steps in, Alex appeared at my side. He grabbed my arm and pulled me back behind him. I jerked my arm out of his hold and stepped to the side.
Inside should have been a small apartment — one bedroom, small kitchenette, roughly 700 square feet — but not anymore. A monster had ripped through the walls between at least three apartments and there was a giant hole in the ceiling, connecting to the apartments above too. The light from the broken windows illuminated the inside enough to see sandy leftovers from the last owner’s hoarding, thrown everywhere with several partial skeletons in the middle of it all. The cabinets were torn off the walls in the kitchenette,and nearly every piece of furniture was shredded. I bet the rest of the apartments looked the same.
“There’s nothing here,” Alex said. He gave me an accusing glance.
As soon as he turned his head, the wall moved just behind him. No, something camouflaged on the off-white wall moved. More than one ‘something.’
I swung my arm up, grabbed Alex’s head and bent over, taking the surprised man with me, as whatever it was opened its mouth and spit a gush of liquid. The liquid shot right where Alex’s head used to be, over our bodies, and landed on the ground where Mona had been standing a second ago. The concrete turned green where the liquid touched.
“Camouflage?” Mona hissed. She grabbed my arm and threw me out of the apartment. “Stay there!” she ordered as a pair of knives appeared in her hands. “We’ll be back after we deal with this.”
Alex spun back as he stood up, his arm swinging out. A sword materialized in his hand and smashed where the barely visible things were. Black blood splattered on the wall, marring the skin on whatever was on the wall. The wall cracked then crumbled all together, filling the air with a brown cloud of dust and particles. From the pile of rubble, several huge spiders easily over a foot across crawled out. By the way the far wall was rippling, there were at least a dozen in this apartment alone.
Mona slipped around Alex with his move and dove into the room, knives slashing.
I stood outside the door, just like they told me to, and watched. Hopefully Alex had something smaller than a sword, because that area was too tight for a long weapon. The building was already so run-down, if he took out too many more walls the whole building might come down on him.
Mona was like a mad woman, flashing her blades every which way, dropping the level 23 spiders to the ground one after another. The biggest problem for her was, as soon as one spider was killed, another one took its place, spitting yet another jet of liquid that she dodged. There had to be a nest or something somewhere in the hole between the apartments.
I pursed my lips and rocked back on my heels. Well, they were going to be busy for a while with that, and I had a checklist to cross off. Alone. I didn’t have a time limit for finding the Portal, other than soon, but the Daily Task had to be done today. I seriously couldn’t afford to be stripped of my stats tomorrow, not here.
I activated Stealth and walked away. If two A Ranked Hunters couldn’t handle that by themselves, they didn’t deserve to be bodyguards. As soon as I got around the building, I looked around, taking in the abandoned buildings and listening to the sounds of fighting. Then I picked a spot where I couldn’t hear anything and ran in that direction.
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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.
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