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My eyes widened and my heart stopped. Even though I didn’t want to see them, those horrible memories crashed through my mind like a wrecking ball. The pain of losing layer after layer of skin and muscle. The smell of my own blood dripping from my body. The desperation to live. The oppressive knowledge that I wasn’t going to. The derisive laughter of the Orcs. Fear for me. Fear for my family. Fear of the unbeatable terror that treated me like a toy.

The memory threatened to overtake my being. My breath came short and fast as I leaned back, away from the sword. My trembling hands fell useless to my sides and the left kindjal winked out of existence.

A blast of sand brushed past my face, tugging at the hankie. I blinked, pushing the memory back down into the dark hole in my mind. Somewhere I’d never let it escape from again. Slowly, the dim room filled with green fire faded away, until the sandy, deserted city came back.

I took a breath, finally getting air in my lungs. No, I wasn’t going to fall apart. I wasn’t a weakling anymore. I would not be a victim anymore.

The chaotic waves in my mind settled down to a perfect clarity. It was like there was no more flying sand distracting me, no more grit getting into my ears, no sting of tiny particles on my skin. The double threats of the dust devils lessened. As soon as I defeated one, there would only be one left. I could do that.

My hands tightened around my right kindjal. I lunged around the southern corner and sprinted to the smaller funnel. I closed in on the dust devil in seconds. Just before I got there, I activated Mist and Mist Blade at the same time. A small, tightly controlled ball of mist formed at the edge of my crystal-steel blade. As I swung across my chest, the mist lengthened out around the blade, turning my 17-inch blade into a ten-foot-long sword. The translucent blade slashed through the funnel. In its wake, I forced in a puff of mist to keep the hole open.

My toes tapped on the ground and I leapt through the hole before the wind could rip apart the clearing I created. As soon as I got through the outer, spinning part, the air calmed down enough that I could finally breathe a decent amount of air with each breath. I landed in the middle of the dust devil. Because there wasn’t enough room, the tip of my Mist Blade was still in the fury of the wind. The dust tore at my mist, but I forced it to stay in place.

I stepped to the side and swung as I felt a monster come at me. The long blade was light as a feather and whipped around in a silvery blur. The Dust Mephit crackled in alarm and beat its wings furiously backwards. My blade missed by centimeters as the monster was swallowed in the dust devil. Its body dissolved in dust, then merged with the spinning sand.

A second later, the Dust Mephit shot out of the funnel from behind. I dodged and swung my Mist Blade. The quick monster dodged to the side, but I still managed to cut off the corner of its pointed ear. The monster dove back into the sand to hide.

I Mirrored my kindjal again, and ended up with a normal kindjal and a long blade. From there, I waited for the monster to materialize and come at me again. The funnel wasn’t still either, forcing me to constantly move to stay in the middle of it while me and the monster played a deadly peek-a-boo game. Sometimes I hit the Dust Mephit, other times I was the one that took damage.

The Dust Mephit popped out of the sand right above my head. I whipped my Mist Blade up. This time, instead of slashing at the monster, I morphed the mist around it. My blade became a block that latched onto the monster’s wing. I gritted my teeth and used all my will to force the block of mist to the ground.

The Dust Mephit crackled as I yanked it to the ground by its wing. It landed with a psh of sand hitting the ground, and the monster lost half of its shape. My kindjal flashed down, stabbing down where the energy crystal was. The monster dissolved and two Drop orbs appeared.

[+325 EXP]

[Daily Task: 2/5 Dust Mephit]

“Three to go,” I whispered, my voice muffled by the hankie. I touched the Drop Item orbs, absorbing them into my Items Bag.

The dust devil disappeared around me … revealing the first, larger one advancing at a steady pace. Maybe I should have been glad that these weren’t as fast as natural dust devils, but damn they were slow …

I threw my kindjal to the side, right at the window of the building. The window shattered and I quickly dove in after my sword. A gust of sandy wind followed me in, but I dodged to the side. I paused, finally realizing that I’d been fighting around a bank building this whole time. The furniture was in disarray, desks and chairs overturned, and dead plants lay on the ground. There was dried blood on the teller’s windows. I didn’t take time to look any more.

I sprinted to the other side of the building and broke another window. I jumped out of it, then leapt up to the ceiling and ran to the tip top of it. The dust devil spun right next to the building, as if confused on what to do. I took a deep breath and jumped up to where the wind was weaker. My high jump took me right over the rim of the funnel, and I fell down the middle of the funnel.

Two Dust Mephits hovered in the funnel down below, one at full health and the other with depleted health — obviously the one that I hit before. I aimed for the injured one and activated Mist Blade one more time. Both monsters looked up just as I slashed down with all my might on the injured Dust Mephit. It didn’t even have time to move before I cut it in half from the crown of the head to its toes. The monster dissolved, leaving two Drop orbs, and the energy crystal clattered to the ground ten feet below.

[+325 EXP]

[Daily Task: 3/5 Dust Mephit]

The other monster crackled in agitation and merged with the swirling sandy wall around me. I landed on the ground and turned, watching out of the hiding monster. With a jerk of my wrist, I destroyed the energy crystal at my feet.

With a threatening crackle, the level 53 Dust Mephit popped out and attacked me. I dodged to the side, clearing its vicious claws. As it burst out of the funnel, it brought out a blast of sand. It hit me right on the side, hard enough to cause the soles of my boots to skid across the gritty cement. Pain seared through me, but I held my stance. Foot by foot, I was pushed closer to the side of the funnel. From the vicious speed of sand in the dust devil, I bet they would feel like little bullets if I was caught inside.

I sank my Mist Blade into the cement and stopped the sliding motion. Now that I wasn’t moving with the air, the energy of the sand pelting me increased painfully, but it was better than being in the side of the funnel. The Dust Mephit came at me again. One of my hands was preoccupied with anchoring myself to the ground, while my other blocked and parried the monster’s attack with my kindjal. We slowly hacked at each other, and continued to drop HP.

The sun was starting to lower, and the building cast long shadows on the ground. I needed to wrap this up. I still had one more Dust Mephit to look for and my HP was already in the yellow.

The Dust Mephit popped out of the wall above my head. I braced my hand on the blade anchored to the ground and used that to kick and spin at the same time. My ankle caught its wing and I hooked my foot around the back of its head. With the momentum, I smashed the monster to the ground. A second later, I stabbed it through the head and it disappeared along with the dust devil.

[+365 EXP]

[Daily Task: 4/5 Dust Mephit]

I was breathing heavily, and my body ached all over as I leaned down to pick up the Drop orbs. Then I hurried over to where I killed the first Dust Mephit and picked up those Drop orbs too. For the first time, I had enough time to read the names of Drop Items, a Floating Eye and a vial of Mephit Sand. My System didn’t react to these items. Meaning they didn’t have anything to do with the cure for Sleepers.

I sighed in disappointment then chugged a water bottle and ate a granola bar. It wasn’t a meal, but it was enough to hold me over till I got to a safe place. When I was ready, I trekked back to where the bank was, now several blocks away.

From around the corner of the building ahead, I saw a wisp of sand dance in the air. Instantly, I flattened myself against the building and turned on Stealth. That was the exact same thing the other Dust Mephits did before they attacked me. Now that I’d fought the monsters multiple times, I could think of several different ways to fight them. Honestly, the easiest way I could think of was if I surprise attacked it first.

I sent my senses out, just a quick flicker around me. I wasn’t surprised that I couldn’t completely sense a monster, but what I could see was a large cluster of sand that moved in a very specific way. And it was just five feet away, coming in my direction.

I leapt out from my hiding spot, facing the monster.

The Dust Mephit jerked in surprise, but before it could do anything, I encased it in a large ball of poison mist and solidified the edges. The monster’s wings were hindered as they beat against the solid sides. Its claws slashed against the sides, but every time a little cut was formed, I fixed it.

Slowly, I shrank the ball of mist, forcing the monster into a tighter and tighter spot. I could tell by the way that its HP started to slowly go down that it was poisoned by my mist. The Dust Mephit waved its arms wildly, obviously trying to create sandy wind magic, but it was completely cut off from the outside world because of my mist. Even that the sand of its body was sluggish, the sand clumping together inside the moist ball, rather than morphing and changing as it usually did.

I didn’t wait too long before I took out my kindjal — it was a higher level than me, so it was only a matter of time before it broke out of the mist barrier. I activated Mist Blade, ignoring my flashing red MP, and killed the monster.

[+355 EXP]

[Daily Task Complete! +200 EXP]

Breathing hard, I pulled the goggles and hankie off my face then rested my hands on my knees and bent over. I was so tired. I couldn’t tell what hurt more, my head or my body. I straightened and looked at the red streaks in the sky. I hoped the camp wasn’t too far away. I’d totally lost track of where I was.

But first, there was something else I had to do. I turned and finally went back to where the Orc sword was. It was still there, laying on the dirty ground. Unlike everything around it, it only had a very light layer of dust on it, as if it was new to the environment.

I reached down for it. My hand paused an inch from the handle. Painful memories threatened to flood my mind again, but I forced them back before they overtook me. The thought of touching this sword nauseated my already empty stomach. Still, I forced my fingers to lower and grasp the rough handle. The last time I’d touched a sword like this, I could barely lift it. Now, not only could I lift it, but it was easy to swing even with how unbalanced it was.

Now that my mind was clear, I could see the bit of black blood, caked with sand, that clung to the dark, crooked blade. That had to be fresh — well, fresher than two decades ago.

Did that mean the Las Vegas Portal was the one I was looking for? The Portal the System was in?

*****

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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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