Chapter 4. Broken
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“There are no rules in the infinite Void. Impossible becomes possible and you never know when everything will change. A firestorm can become an icy blizzard in a matter of seconds. Creatures you thought long gone, can rise from the dead and attack you with a ferocity never seen before. Truly, the Void is a place where horrors become real, but even then there is a certain beauty to it all.”

~ Into the Abyss by Lone Traveler


Silence and almost complete darkness surrounded Leo as his eyes snapped open, a gasp leaving his mouth. Even though his body ached all over, he still managed to pull himself into a sitting position and lean against the kitchen cupboard.

The red light, the doppelganger, even the weird System. Leo remembered it all with perfect clarity. A clarity that was never there after a dream, be it a lucid or a normal one.

It was all real.

No matter how much Leo wanted to deny it, he couldn’t. Not when ever since his consciousness came back, he felt like a completely new person.

The aches and bits of lingering pain may have remained, but Leo never felt better than in this exact moment. There was just something different about his body and as Leo tried to focus on this anomaly, he finally understood.

The power of the soul. Essence.

It coursed through all of Leo’s body like a raging river. The feeling of weightlessness and unlimited power it provided was so addictive that he almost drowned in it. Only when his instincts — which Leo didn’t even know he possessed — screamed, did he wake up from the haze that threatened to consume him.

Shit, Leo groaned and tried to wrestle the fiery inferno under control. The Essence fought back, trying to escape his hold, refusing to bend to his wishes. The doppelganger definitely didn’t tell him that Leo’s own life force would try to kill him.

It was only thanks to the emergence of Leo’s instinct that he somehow managed to push the Essence a bit deeper inside his body. Sweat forming everywhere, Leo pushed one more time, the flow of Essence finally calming down.

Groaning, Leo spit blobs of blood to his right. The power rush disappearing. His body was once again spent, feeling like it was run over by a herd of charging bulls for the second time in a few hours.

Here goes my hope of quick recovery…

A few quick breaths managed to slightly calm his still rampaging heart. Leo knew that this respite was only temporary, especially with the words hanging in front of his vision and the weird hollow stinging in his left arm.

Tainted status assimilated and dormant. Congratulations survivor, you managed to delay the taint from spreading any further. Be advised that to stop any future activation of this status an instant supply of pure Void Essence will be required.

Glad to know that this part is also real, Leo snarked as the notification faded into nothingness and once again left him in almost complete darkness. The faint red light coming through the window that barely illuminated the other part of the kitchen didn’t count in Leo’s opinion.

The world must have really gone to hell. Neither the sun nor the moon shone with that kind of light. Another good question was why the kitchen lamp wasn’t on. Leo was pretty sure it worked before he got dragged inside his soul.

“No matter,” he murmured, hands reaching towards the kitchen counter in hopes of providing enough force to stand up. Time to get up and figure out what the hell is really going on.

At least that was the plan. A plan that immediately flew out of the window once Leo's left hand gripped the counter. The grip was all wrong, almost crushing the wood in its grasp. Even worse was the soft crimson glow coming from underneath the sleeve. How Leo didn’t notice it earlier baffled him.

Gulping, Leo quickly stood up and positioned himself before the window, the only place providing a decent source of light. Here it goes.

Taking a deep breath, Leo’s left hand rose.

It was wrong, inhuman, demonic. Grey jagged, uneven skin covered the deformed hand looking as if someone placed layers of thousands of scars upon the limb. There was no hair, no soft surface left. Even worse were the glowing crimson veins that decided to pierce the skin and intertwine some parts of the hand.

Slowly Leo’s gaze strayed to his fingers and at this moment he knew that this was one of those moments that remained with you forever.

Longer than humanly possible, the grey bony fingers were finished with pitch-black claws, ready to tear apart anything that stepped in their way. Connecting the claws and the rest of the hand were the same glowing veins, though at least this time they decided to stay underneath the skin.

Truly a horrendous sight that might break any lesser man, but not Leo. No, this experience couldn’t compare to the sight of his mother’s half-crushed body. Nothing could compare.

Stop, Leo shook his head and grabbed the sleeve covering the rest of the demonic limb. This was no time for drowning in the past long gone.

Inch by inch the sleeve came down, uncovering more and more disfigured skin and glowing veins. Even the elbow wasn’t saved from the taint and for a moment Leo thought that his entire arm was already consumed.

As the bicep came into view, Leo sighed when he noticed the grey giving way to naturally slightly tanned skin.

Could be worse, Leo grimaced and flexed the inhuman arm. It didn’t feel any different from his normal limb, only now he had claws instead of normal fingers. How nice…

The feeling of normality remained only for so long. Upon touch, Leo almost instantly snapped his other — human — hand away from the grey mass.

Cold, as if he touched a corpse, not a living, breathing human. The texture of the skin wasn’t much better. Stone hard, possessing none of the softness normal skin should have.

Leo didn’t even dare to touch the crimson veins. He had enough surprises to last a lifetime… Or at least the next hour. Not that Leo thought it possible to avoid any further shocks, especially not after he took a peek through the window.

“You’re kidding, right?” He murmured, taking notice of the red sun happily hanging high in the sky. It mocked him as it bathed the entire neighborhood in a shallow blood-red shine. It was as if someone decided to paint the entire world in the shades of red with a few other colors added in the mix.

Honestly if not for the Sun’s position Leo would have thought that the day was either at its beginning or end. Hell, even the rest of the sky looked like a crimson carpet instead of the usual blue hidden behind an endless expanse of rain clouds.

Probably for the first time in his life Leo missed England’s shitty weather. Even the grass — Which definitely wasn’t that long when I last looked — and trees in the distance lacked their usual sway. Instead, they stood completely rigid, as if someone froze the entire world.

Focu...

Whatever thoughts Leo had, instantly vanished when a loud crash echoed through the entire house. Similar to the grass he stood there almost frozen as something his mind forgot in the face of the entire world changing became obvious.

Edward!

With a strength his body lacked just a second ago, Leo dashed back into the living room. “Edward!” He almost shouted, voice piercing the veil of silence, but getting nothing in response.

No, no, no, no, no!

The darkness of the corridor, only illuminated by Leo’s deformed hand, didn’t stop him from sprinting towards the bathroom door. Nor did it stop him from furiously banging at the wooden barrier.

“Come on! Open the fucking door!”

No words came back. Instead, a bone-chilling screech answered Leo’s call. No. Fists clenched, they both flew at the wooden door. Only the demonic hand left any dent.

“I’m coming in, Father!” A lone tear flowed down Leo’s cheek, “You hear me!”

Empty words. Deep inside he knew that only pain awaited him behind the door. It didn’t stop him though. Not when a member of his family was on the line.

Claws grabbed the lock, twisting, almost ripping it out. Maybe if Leo wasn’t so drunk on emotions, he would be surprised by the strength of the deformed limb. But no, only the click registered in Leo’s mind as he grabbed the door handle.

Any decency that a normal human should have when barging into an occupied bathroom was left forgotten as Leo swung the door open with a bang. Only to freeze at the sight before him, eyes widening.

A lone figure stood in front of a mirror with its ruby glare already pointed at the intruder. As dark as the room was, it didn’t stop Leo from seeing what he feared the most.

No… Father.

Nothing except the familiar chiseled face and scraps of clothes remained of Edward. The grey, almost black skin melded perfectly with what was left of his hair. Unlike Leo’s inhuman arm, his father’s only disfiguration was the hundreds of cracks spilling all over his body. Cracks that glowed from within with the infuriating scarlet light.

Leo backed off a step, “Father.”

Razor-sharp teeth barred for all of the world to see. Edward — Your father is gone — stalked forward, another high-pitched screech leaving his throat.

Now almost touching the wall, Leo shouted, “Father stop! Listen to me!”

The creature jumped.

Instinctively Leo sidestepped, wincing when the creature's fingernails cut through his shoulder skin like it was butter. Apparently, Leo wasn't the only one granted a gift of a perfect butcher's tool instead of fingers.

He bolted through the corridor as the creature attempted to stand up, and rushed back to the living room.

He had to hide, wait out the monster or maybe trap it. What else could he do? Leo wasn’t afraid of fighting back, but he didn’t know if he had the mental strength to do it. No matter how hard his mind tried to reason that this creature wasn’t Edward, Leo’s heart refused to listen.

Not even his deep resentment towards Edward could stop Leo from acknowledging the man as family. And family helped each other no matter what.

Not that the monster had any plans of giving Leo a break. It barged into the living room like a bloodhound seeking its prey. Leo didn’t even have a second to formulate a plan when Edward’s body crashed into him.

They barreled on the floor, engaged in a wrestling match as Leo tried to push the creature off him, while his opponent did everything in its strength to remain on top.

As the creature’s jaw neared his throat, Leo’s instincts punched through whatever blockade his heart created and let the mind take over.

Get off! Holding nothing back, Leo pushed as every vein in his body burned with a crimson glow.

The monster sailed through the room and crashed into the opposite wall. It howled, in anger or pain, Leo didn’t care which as he stalked forward, a familiar ability activating as he gazed at the creature.

Cursed Human (Voidling) | Rank: F-

LVL: 1

You’re not my father, but I will get him back. No matter what, I will find a way.

Leo’s human hand shot to the monster’s neck and dragged it to eye level. The creature wailed like a banshee, flinging its arms at the offending limb.

Blood dripped, skin burned as more and more scratches appeared on Leo’s arm. Once again he didn’t care, he only had eyes for the creature that stole his last biological parent.

“You’re not my father,” Leo whispered as more tears stained his cheeks, “You’re not him.”

Pitch black claws sailed forward, burying deep inside the monster’s chest.

The screech it released was like none other. Loud and primal.

Even when its volume threatened to burst Leo’s eardrums, he stood there, watching as the light slowly left the monster’s eyes. Not even the increased glow of his demonic arm and the sudden darkening of the creature’s skin brought Leo out of his trance.

Only when the monster became still like a statue, did he notice the changes. Gone was the soft glow of the Monster’s cracked skin and the two angry suns that threatened to drill a hole in Leo with their glare lost their light. Now in his hand, Leo held a pitch-black husk of a man, drained of life.

Cursed Human (LVL: 1) slain | Experience awarded | 1 Ether gained

Reinforcement learned.

Your taint is now fully satiated. Benefits gained for the next 8 hours.

Fully aware of the notifications, Leo left them unanswered, gasping for breath as the body of his father disintegrated before his eyes. From the stab wounds left by Leo’s claws, a steady river of dust seeped out, leaving a bigger and bigger hole. In a matter of seconds, nothing remained in Leo’s grasp and only a pile of ashen dust was left of Edward.

“I’m sorry,” He muttered, collapsing to the ground. Whatever additional strength Leo gained, disappeared along with the glow in the not-tainted part of his body.

Tears fell freely, Leo doing nothing to stop them. He couldn’t, not after the reality of the last few minutes fully caught up to him.

He just sat there, kneeling as he wept for another member of his family lost. First, the mother who meant everything to him, taken away by the idiocy of humanity. And now Edward who despite all of his faults did almost everything to repair their relationship.

If only…

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Leo gritted out, fist clenching, ignoring the blood drenching his torn shirt.

Leo wasn’t even sure who was the recipient of his question. They both were at fault, be it his stubbornness or Edward’s cowardice. But deep inside Leo knew that he could have been the bigger man and end their dispute. But now…

… Now, none of it mattered anymore.

They would never get another chance to talk, to finally bury the ax between them. Edward died thinking that his only son resented him, while Leo had to forever live with the guilt of not forgiving his father.

And this was only the beginning.

No.

Leo stood up, wiping the tears with the bloody sleeve as his tainted arm clutched the wounded shoulder.

“No more.”

Mother, father, and who else of his family. They all might be gone, but Leo couldn’t give up now. He had to find them all, be it dead or alive. He had to know if anyone survived.

And if anyone did?

Then Leo would fight for them, move mountains if he had to. No matter what, he had to protect them from this new twisted world until his last breath. They were the only chance he had left.

After all, what was the sense of living without a purpose?

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