Chapter 5. Embrace it
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“D-dad? I miss her, I miss her so much.”

“I do too, Leo, I do too. But we will get through this together.”

“You promise?”

“Of course kiddo, you’re all I have. I will never leave you.”

~ A broken promise, ten years ago.

“Argh!” Leo hissed as the mild antiseptic slipped onto the bloody shoulder. The wound bubbled wherever the chemical touched and Leo had half a mind to just bandage it and throw the antiseptic away. He wasn’t even sure if the injury required disinfecting with the whole System. The pain coming from the wound wasn’t even half as bad as he expected and the cuts already showed signs of healing.

Better to be safe than sorry, Leo grunted, covering his shoulder with layers of blood-stained bandage. With only one hand possessing normal fingers, it had been a pain in the ass to dress the wound. The half-torn bandage — Fucking claws — proved the point more than anything else.

Not that the lack of any good source of light helped. No lamps worked and Leo had to search for a first aid kit through his trashed bathroom with the light provided by the glowing arm and the dim rays of the red sun. Not an experience Leo wanted to repeat with a river of blood flowing down his shoulder.

Now as Leo leaned against the bathroom wall, he finally had a chance to think about everything that happened in the last hour or so. The introduction by the clone, awakening in the dark kitchen and confronting the husk of his father.

A father that he killed and consumed according to the increased glow of his tainted arm and the notifications after the fight. Leo grimaced. The shining veins became an eternal reminder of what happened today...

“And that was only a few minutes. What else is waiting out there?” Leo was almost afraid to know. Yet again, he couldn’t think like that. He still had a purpose to fulfill, probably the last thing keeping him from breaking apart.

Get a grip.

Name: Leo Hale (Brown)

Title: N/A

Evolution Stage: I - Tainted Human

Class: Assassin | LVL. 1

Job: N/A

Rank: F-

Health: 63%

Essence: 31%

Strength: 4 (+0)

Dexterity: 7 (+0)

Constitution: 5 (+0)

Perception: 5

Mind: 5

Soul: 6

Ether: 1

Traits: Assassin’s Grace (Common), Tainted (Uncommon)

Racial Skills: Universal Linguist (Unique), Identify (Unique), Essence Manipulation (Common), Drain (Uncommon)

General Skills: Dagger Mastery (Common), Stealth (Common), Vital Strike (Common), Reinforcement (Uncommon)

Could be worse, Leo mused, glancing at the health meter. He experienced no dizziness or any other negative symptoms from all of the blood loss so that was a good sign, or so he hoped. The dressing of his shoulder wound only proved his lack of medical knowledge.

Other than that, Essence remained almost as mysterious as it was when the clone described it. Though now, Leo understood that the faint tingling underneath his skin and the thrumming of power sleeping deep inside him belonged to this mystical energy. Saving him from getting his throat ripped apart made you aware of such things. At least he got something out of this entire mess...

Speaking of.

Reinforcement (Uncommon):
An ancient technique used to strengthen one’s body. By controlling and reinforcing the flow of Essence you become stronger, faster, and tougher. A skill with infinitely high potential and even higher risk.
Provides the ability to augment your physical attributes by even 50%. Be warned that overusing this skill might prove deadly.

Leo didn’t get the chance to try out this ability again, but he didn’t need to. He remembered well the flow of power as his veins shined with crimson light, or how he tossed the Voidling like a bag of potatoes.

Truly wonderful feeling, Leo sighed, climbing to his feet. He already wasted enough time and as much as his body wanted to rest, he had a lot to do. Like discovering more about this System and finding out why there was no light in the house.

Trudging through the hallway, Leo pulled up another skill.

Drain (Uncommon):
Butchered skill of every normal Voidling that depends on pure brute force. For you, it’s the only way to keep on surviving after the taint infected your soul.
Allows you to drain Voidlings of their Pure Void Essence. Requires the use of your taint. The efficiency of this skill is dependent on your Soul.

Of course, He scowled. Ability inherited from the very creatures that were supposed to hunt him. No other uses apart from keeping him alive…

Waving away the information, Leo once again flicked the lamp switch of his living room. The clicks echoed through the room, but no signs of light appeared. A lump formed in Leo’s throat as a thought entered his mind.

No way, He stalked towards the same table he and Edward sat by just some time ago and grabbed his phone. He tried to unlock it and when the device’s screen remained dark, his finger flew to the next button, pressing it with all his might.

A second, ten more, even a minute, nothing happened. The phone refused to give any signs of light.

Cursing, Leo dropped the broken device and dashed to the corner of the living room where a small TV sat. Just like before, his fingers pressed every button they found, but the outcome was the same.

“No way,” Leo repeated, his voice not even a whisper.

This damned outbreak took out even the electricity. And with it the access to media that could give him a chance to contact his remaining family or provide help during the search.

Just like that most of Leo’s plans flew outside the window. Crushed along with the TV that got introduced to his deformed fist. “Shit,” Leo growled and dropped on the couch just a few feet away.

Now what? I can’t call or contact them. Nick, I might be able to reach, after all, he lives near the town square, but Lily? Mom and Dad? One over a hundred kilometers away and the other two, over thousand...

Reaching them without any sort of automated transport could take days, weeks and that was without taking the new state of the world under consideration. The clone described the ninety-five percent of the population transformed into Voidlings as one of the threats of this new reality.

Who knew what other dangers lurked in the dark.

Leo shook his head. As much as he would love to never find out, he knew better. Once he went outside, he didn’t doubt that sooner or later those threats would show their hand. The question was, how to prepare for the inevitable.

Supplies first. Food, medications, some clothes, with a backpack to carry it all, Leo listed, his mind going a hundred miles per hour. Also, Eyes wandering to the tainted limb, I need weapons.

The claws might be able to cut through the flesh of those abominations, but Leo’s normal hand remained unarmed and pretty useless. Besides Leo knew that a few of his neighbors — his adoptive father included — had a firearm in their possession.

Now, Leo might have shot a gun only a few times in his life, but he would still take a pistol over bow any day. And while the sound of gunshots might be a problem, he didn’t plan to use firearms unless a situation became too heated.

Anything else? He mused, going over his short list again, Not really, though a map for the future could be useful.

Some of those items could be easily found in Leo’s home, but others? Not so much. Weapons? He didn’t have any, apart from kitchen knives. Medicine? None besides the now bloodied small first aid kit, Leo never bought anything else. Same with a physical map. Who needed those when the internet was a thing…

“Guess a trip to my neighbors is in order,” He murmured, grimacing ever so slightly. More houses meant more possible Voidling encounters. While Leo knew very well that there was no way to avoid further confrontations with those monsters, he could barely stomach the thought of seeing more people he recognized turned into those creatures.

Unfortunately, there was no other way. Leo needed those supplies if he ever wanted to survive out there. One Voidling almost managed to end his life and Leo watched enough zombie movies to know what awaited him inside the city.

Leo took a deep breath and stood up. He made a promise to find and protect his remaining family. Familiar faces or not, Leo had to push on.

In the end, Leo decided to first gather any useful item from his house and only then go out. It was the logical thing to do, but Leo knew better. As much as he wanted to find his family, the bone-chilling fear of the new reality remained. It screamed at him to hide and try to wait out this whole bullshit.

Leo didn’t listen and tried to focus on gathering supplies.

Any type of food that could last longer than a few days. Clothes that offered a wide array of movement and a bit of protection — which they didn’t according to the System’s Identify. And any sort of miscellaneous items that just might provide higher chances of survival.

All of those items went straight to an old backpack that Leo used during his years at University. It had enough space to carry the essentials, but not much more. Even then Leo didn’t want to overweight himself too much. Who knew when he would need to run.

And now only the matter of weapons remained.

Leo already scoured the entire house, going through boxes long forgotten or drawers that remained closed for years. Even then Leo found nothing apart from a few sharp kitchen knives and one item that definitely shouldn’t be in his house.

A dagger.

By Leo's estimation, the weapon was about a foot long including the rotten wood handle. The curved blade definitely saw better days. Chipped along the edges, with layers of coppery rust covering its entire length.

When he found it laying on the kitchen floor, Leo had to wonder if it was even worth it to take the weapon. What use was a dagger that looked like it would break any moment.

That was what Leo thought as he pressed the tip of the blade to his skin. It only required a bit of strength to draw blood and a hiss from him.

“Alright, not as useless as I thought,” Leo grumbled, wiping the blood with his shirt. Now the question remained, where did the blade even come from?

“Let’s see.”

Rusty Dagger (Broken):
A gift from the System, awarded upon class selection. This blade might not last long, but it still can inflict some damage if you try hard enough. Upgrades: Locked.

Should have done that from the start, Leo sighed, flipping the dagger in his hand. He didn’t rely on Identify too much as it refused to work on most of the items he collected. Seeing the description of the dagger, Leo reasoned that maybe there had to be something special about the item for skill to work. Definitely something to test along the way.

Looking towards the window on the other side of the living room, Leo narrowed his eyes. He already wasted over an hour or so collecting items in his house and if he wanted to loot the neighborhood before it got dark, he had to go now.

Leo gripped the dagger and moved towards the front door. It was high time to use what the System gave him.

Stealth (Common):
Move with the shadows, hide from the light. Let the silence and Essence guide you through those dangerous lands.
Simple ability capable of covering you in a faint layer of Essence to create a protective aura. When activated you become slightly less noticeable to everyone around you. The efficiency of this skill is dependent on your Mind and Dexterity.

Like with any other part of the System, the skill's activation and only activation came to him instinctively.

The moment his Essence moved, Leo had to grab it with all his focus unless he wanted the energy to disperse. Like a tug of war, they fought for control with Leo using the guidance of his instincts to properly form the skill.

In the end, Leo won with sweat drenching his forehead as the ability activated. For a moment every vein in his body lit up with a dim crimson glow as Essence settled against his skin, slowly enveloping his entire form in a thin layer of invisible barrier.

Leo shivered. While having Essence coursing through his body felt natural, the blanket covering his body was the opposite. And the less said about the time it took to activate the skill, the better.

Don’t I have some sort of ability to help with that? Here it is.

Essence Manipulation (Common):
For centuries beings all around the multiverse tried to utilize the mysterious energy slumbering deep inside their souls. Now, thanks to the System, your soul is fully awakened, opening the full potential of your body and mind.
This skill slightly improves the control over your Essence already granted by the Mind attribute. Additionally, it provides you with basic instinctive knowledge on how to utilize Essence. The efficiency of this skill is dependent on your Mind.

Basic and slightly indeed, Leo scowled. Though the new piece of information about the Mind attribute was very welcome.

Dismissing the window, Leo grabbed the handle of the front door. No more time to waste.

The hinges squeaked as he pushed the door ajar. Peaking through, Leo took the first glimpse of the new outside world without the protection of a window.

The red sun still hung in the sky, though now it neared the horizon with every second. The rest of the world also changed more than Leo initially noticed. While most of the neighborhood bathed in the sun’s rays, some — like grass, bushes, or trees — decided to absorb the hue and changed their coloring to a shade of scarlet.

Leo had to blink a few times to make sure that he wasn’t hallucinating. Hell, even the forest he used for runs was painted in blood thanks to this Void Outbreak. The lone sight sent chills down Leo’s spine.

Still crouched, he took a deep breath and trailed towards Mrs. Gibson's house. He had to get used to sights like this. This world changed forever and it wouldn’t be the last time something impossible happened.

And so Leo crossed the distance between the houses, his eyes darting in every possible direction, searching for any signs of otherworldly creatures. He found none and not for the first time Leo thanked his family for buying a house so far away from the center of the city.

Even then, any peace provided by the lack of Voidlings was crushed by the screams or howls that pierced the air every now and then. They were faint and distant, barely carried that far by the almost unnoticeable breeze.

Behind the walls of his house, they were only a distant thought, but now as Leo stood in front of the backdoor of Gibson’s house, it became a reality. What awaited him inside? Did he really want to know?

“Maybe I don’t, but I have to,” Leo murmured and twisted the handle.