Chapter 7. Night
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“If there is one thing to fear, it is the darkness that comes after day. Hide as fast as you can, because if you don’t, Nightmares will come. To tear you apart and harvest the Essence you have left. Some are brave to fight them, risking their lives to advance faster. But is it really worth it?”

~Thoughts of a warrior, 13th Outbreak


“What the hell is that supposed to mean? Nightmares?” Leo growled out as the message faded away, “Just another of those threats the doppelganger couldn’t explain, eh?”

Just great.

Fist clenched, Leo left the hall and moved into a large living room, his shovel for now abandoned. A quick walk around proved that nothing was missing since his last visit when he came here to water the plants. At least some good news.

Leo placed his backpack on the table in the middle of the room and approached one of the windows, curious about what was happening.

The red sun still shone upon the ground, bathing this side of the world with its last rays as it tried to hide behind the horizon. The wind that just a moment ago rustled through the bushes and leaves, now picked up the pace, the trees in the distance dancing to its tune.

Something definitely is coming.

The weather just didn’t change like that without a reason. And with the System’s notification, Leo had to be mad to ignore the possibility of the incoming danger. No matter how hard he wanted to scream at the weird Interface for the lack of proper explanation, until now all of its information proved true.

As such, Leo took a step back, grabbed the curtains, and with one tug the window lost its insight into the house. He did the same thing to the other two windows, plunging the living room into complete darkness. Once again this didn’t stop Leo as he dashed around the entire house pulling the curtains over the last sources of light.

He returned to the living room, breathing heavily as he sat by the table. Just like the notification said, Leo found his shelter and made it as secure as possible. Apart from the curtains, he blocked both the front and back door with a wardrobe and a small bookshelf respectively.

His meager strength made the task almost impossible and as he now gulped down another bottle of water, Leo promised himself to add at least one point to his weakest attribute when an occasion appeared. It wouldn’t be the last time when he had to do some rearrangements, of that Leo was sure.

Throwing the bottle back into his backpack, Leo moved silently through the house, back to his old room upstairs.

The window inside was blocked just like any other, but Leo still noticed a single ray of sun entering through a small hole he left in between the curtains. He wanted to know when the sun disappeared completely and the Earth was conquered by darkness.

Leo sighed, locking the door behind him, and sat on the empty single-person bed lying in the corner. He knew his “secure shelter” wasn’t the best, but he had no other good option. A basement could be a nice alternative if he knew where to find one in the next five minutes.

Leo almost wanted to laugh. Hour after hour this day was becoming more and more impossible. First, he awakened with abilities that a week ago were reserved for movies. Then he had to kill the remnants of his own father and a man he knew for over ten years.

And now Leo might die in the coming hours as who knew what counted as secure shelter in System’s definition. By hiding inside this closed and empty house, Leo might as well be signing his own death sentence. And the less said about the other survivors who thought about using the same idea, the better.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Leo screamed internally, punching the bed’s mattress.

This damned Outbreak just had to happen in Leo’s Universe. Destroying his life. Destroying the lives of his family…

Stop. Leo once again tried to push those thoughts away. Thinking like that won’t help anyone.

It wasn't healthy, Leo knew. Pushing problems away like that only hurt a person in the long run. But what else could he do? Break down and cry because life once again decided to shit on him? To wallow in pity and let the world swallow him?

He couldn't. Not after Leo almost wasted his life away by raging at the world for the loss of his mother and Edward's disappearance. When the Hales helped him recover, Leo promised himself to never again fall that low. And yet here he was, on the edge of breaking that promise when he still had family left to find.

Taking a few deep breaths, Leo fell back on the bed, eyes closed. He would deal with all of this pain and anger one day. Just not now…

He just continued lying there, mind empty of any thoughts as he gave all his focus to the winds howling outside. Then as if someone flipped a switch, the world around him became silent. Even the rare screams and screeches of Voidlings died out.

Eyes snapping open, Leo sat up, his gaze going to the window.

Darkness. No light entered the room through the small hole, only Leo’s own arm offered any kind of lighting. Even then his veins seemed to dim a bit. Cursing internally, Leo moved to stand.

Boom!

The entire world shook. Wind like no other crashed into the house. The building groaned, almost shaking as Leo fell back on the bed. The pressure in the air thickened and even he could feel the Essence floating around him, weighing down onto his shoulders.

“What the...” Leo muttered, dragging himself towards the window.

The wind was relentless, howling and pushing against anything that stood in its way. The roof and walls of the house continued to scream in protest. Leo’s heart thundered in his chest. Hoping that his adoptive parent’s house was as sturdy as it looked.

Then human screams and guttural screeches pierced the air, joining in with the wind to create a sound that pierced straight through Leo’s soul as he settled into a corner and shielded his ears.

Night Is here. Good luck.

The words echoed through Leo’s mind as he shut his eyes and tried to focus on something different than the situation outside. For minutes he just sat there, working on slowing down his heart that threatened to burst from his chest.

Leo gasped when the pressure lessened and the groaning of the house stopped. He could still feel the Essence in the air and hear the howling of the wind, but they no longer seemed like a threat to his life.

A chuckle left Leo's lips, his head leaning against the wall as a single word that perfectly summed up this situation escaped him, “Shit.”

Even the screams quieted down. Now only the screeches remained, still sending chills down Leo’s spine. Those sounds weren't normal and definitely didn’t belong to Cursed Humans. There must be something different, stronger outside, traversing the area of the city as the darkness consumed the world.

Leo shuddered. He almost didn’t want to know what made those sounds, but as they say “knowledge is power”.

Pulling himself to a crouch, Leo once again approached the window and peeked through the small hole. His eyes widened, mouth opening as instead of pure darkness a much different sight lay before his eyes.

While most of the world was still consumed by the dark, the grass, leaves of bushes and trees, which Leo previously noticed absorbed the color of the sun, now illuminated the entire neighborhood with dim crimson.

The grass along with the fallen leaves created carpets of red upon the ground, while the forest in the distance could make Christmas lights seethe in hatred. As unnatural as it was, the sight was one of the most beautiful things Leo ever saw in his life.

Though Leo had to wonder if all of the world would sooner or later look like this. The entire Earth, covered in glowing flora. For now, only a small part of the plants changed their properties, but in a week or two? It was an interesting picture and it also gave Leo some hope that maybe the darkness of the Night would at least have some light to guide the lost survivors.

Not that he had any plans to walk outside during the night in the near future. He wasn’t suicidal, at least not yet.

Leo shook his head as his thoughts began to wander. Focus. Once again his gaze fell on the glowing grass and his eyebrow raised as an idea popped into his head.

Why not.

Voidful Grass (Common):

A variant of grass naturally found in the Void realms. This type of grass transformed under the radiation of Cursed Star. Often used as a basic ingredient in alchemy, smithing, and enchanting. Can be used in upgrades.

Leo’s eyebrows rose higher the more he read. He expected the System to give him some bullshit explanation on how useless a red grass was, and yet he received something more.

While the description provided Leo with a lot of terms he didn’t understand at all, he hoped that with time — and more Identified objects — he would be able to finally learn more about this new world.

His dagger already mentioned upgrades and anyone who ever read some fantasy, knew what alchemy and enchanting were. At least to some degree. The system might as well have something completely different in mind when mentioning those two things.

At least you can’t mess up smith… What is this?!

Any thoughts about the red grass flew out of Leo’s mind when some movement caught his attention.

It appeared at the end of the street, coming from the direction of the city. From that far, Leo only saw a smudge of deep violet glow, moving in the direction of the houses. He didn’t move as his heartbeat quickened once again. His eyes barely had enough field of view to follow the weird glow’s movement, but Leo didn’t dare to move the curtain, not when it shielded him from whatever the glow was.

The Essence in his body came alive as Leo wrestled it under control in record time. The familiar blanket settled over his skin and he allowed himself to release a short sigh.

Minutes dragged on as the creature neared closer to Leo’s position. With every step, he could make out more and more of the now identified monster.

Collector (Nightmare Voidling) | Rank: E+

LVL: ?

Leo shuddered. He might have broken into rank F himself after the advancement to level two, but this creature had more than an entire rank over him. Hell, Leo couldn’t even identify its level. And its body… He almost wished that the purple glow of its skin and the red grass wasn’t there. To save Leo another heart attack.

I’m dead if it finds me.

A pack of muscles, with deformed skin similar to Leo’s tainted arm. Like a Cursed Human, the Collector's skin was covered in cracks, from which the deep violet glow came. Seemingly humanoid in build, though probably more than a half bigger than a normal adult human. Any other special features remained hidden as even the glow of plants and its body didn’t provide enough light.

Leo watched with bated breath as the monster traversed on all four and stopped before the Gibson household. It raised its head, bald and ugly as if it was searching for something.

The protective barrier around his body tightened and Leo let out a sigh when the creature jumped inside Gibson’s house, the shattering of the window barely reaching Leo’s ears.

He still didn’t move, wanting to know why the creature entered Gibson’s home. Maybe something it did would give Leo a clue on how to avoid it. He really didn’t want to meet this colossal monster anytime in the future. Not when an F ranked Cursed Human gave him a workout.

More minutes passed before the creature jumped out through the same window. But this time it wasn’t alone. No, now the massacred body of Mrs. Gibson was slung over its shoulders.

Leo gulped, his breathing only resuming when the creature disappeared into the night, going back towards the city. Now he partially understood why the monster was named Collector. Though the question remained, did it only collect dead bodies or actively hunt those alive too.

Leo hoped to never find out.

Slumping, he leaned against the wall, Leo’s mind still trying to process what it witnessed. Another type of Voidlings. Much stronger than the two Cursed Humans according to the rank system.

How anyone is supposed to survive that.

Death awaited survivors that met this creature face to face. Especially when only a day passed since this entire bullshit began. Leo doubted anyone already reached E- rank, not to mention E+.

“Only the strong survive indeed,” Leo snorted, a bitter smile finding its way on his face.

Everything the doppelganger said was true, only very understated. Although, no words could prepare anyone for this new reality. You had to experience it to understand the true dangers that lurked around every corner now.

Leo shook his head, standing up. He took the backpack from the bed and sat by the simple working desk he used for so many years in the past. His finger ran along the wooden surface and Leo grimaced at the dust it gathered.

Whatever.

A single swipe of Leo’s sleeve solved the problem and reached into his backpack, taking out a few candy bars. Not the best type of food to last the apocalypse, but there was no place for complaining.

As Leo consumed the first candy, he opened one of the drawers in the desk, checking if maybe he left something useful inside. His claws touched a stack of books and Leo tilted his head, delicately grabbing the papers.

The veins of his arm bathed the two books in light and Leo’s eyes widened a fracture as he recognized the one lying on top. Hard to forget the first and only journal he had ever written, especially when he didn’t even want to start it…

Leo covered the rest of the candy bar and placed it back in the bag as he flipped the old leather journal open. The uneven scrawl of his younger self greeted him and in spite of his current situation, Leo smiled lightly.

How the times had changed.

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