“They say that ninety-five percent of the population dies during the outbreak and initially that’s the truth. But how many of those five percent remaining, survive the awakening? The first Night? It all really depends on the survivors' luck and their will to survive. After that? Well, they either adapt or die. There is no place for weaklings in the Void, or at least that was once the case.”
~ Lone Traveler, 31st Outbreak
Cursed Human (LVL: 2) slain | Experience awarded | 1 Ether gained
Cursed Human (LVL: 3) slain | Experience awarded | 1 Ether gained
Level three. Of course, it was somehow level three already. Leo groaned, his chest still heaving up and down. Though the shovel really came in handy. Long-range weapons are pretty useful if I can take them by surprise.
The bloodied shovel was still held tightly by his left hand. Reminding Leo what he had done just a minute ago and ready to rise at any moment as he tried to recover his strength after a fight he probably shouldn’t have survived.
A confrontation with one Voidling could prove deadly and Leo just went straight ahead and fought two. His only saving grace was the fact that he didn’t have to battle the two monsters at the same time.
Leo sighed, dismissing the notifications as he forced himself to look at the two dead Voidlings. As much as he didn’t want to know who he killed, the knowledge of where they came from was too important.
The one with the dagger still plunged into its brain Leo recognized almost instantly, even when some of the monster’s body already turned to dust. It was another elderly man, who lived alone in the house just a few steps away from the entrance to the forest.
Not good. Leo gulped as he stood up and approached the headless body. This thing grew more monstrous just after one day and already reached level three. Was this what the doppelganger meant by saying that Voidlings grew stronger with each day?
Isn’t that a bit too fast? I already fought four of those things and only reached level two after killing the second one... No, this one must have killed someone before the night even begun, just like Mr. Gibson.
Leo grimaced, not liking the sound of his thoughts one bit. If he was right then another survivor died before they could have even tried to fight back. Just how many had died because they were unlucky?
And just like that Leo’s already bad mood worsened even more. He had been lucky that Edward was in another room during the Outbreak, but what about large families or other gatherings in public places? Any survivor there would have been attacked the moment they woke up.
A shiver ran down Leo’s spine as the images of people awakening to hordes of Voidlings flashed in his mind. What a shitty fate. Be lucky to survive the Outbreak, only to wake up as food to monsters who just a few minutes ago were your family or friends…
Leo closed his eyes monetarily and pushed those thoughts away. He was still in the open and he had enough depressing thoughts to last a lifetime, he didn’t need more. Better to focus on something that could help Leo survive.
With another look at the headless body, Leo flexed his claws and buried them in the corpse, feeling the Essence travel through his arm. He did the same thing to the other half drained Voidling and nodded when the System informed him that the taint was sated for another seven hours.
The process of draining the bodies of his neighbors always left Leo in a mixed state. On the one hand, he had to do this to survive and the boost in power, after hitting level two, provided him with another safety net. But on the other hand, Leo felt like he took everything away from those people when their bodies collapsed to dust.
It was stupid, Leo knew. They were dead, taken away from this world by the Outbreak and Leo’s actions didn’t change a thing.
I’m doing what I have to survive. He chanted internally, leaving the piles of dust and blood stained ground behind him as he followed the fence to its edge. Morals regarding dead bodies of monsters should be the least of his worries right now.
Leo peeked around the end of the fence, his gaze scanning the entire neighborhood. No more Voidlings were in sight, but from the muffled growls and the broken windows in some of the houses, Leo knew that sooner or later more monsters would come out.
Activating stealth, Leo sprinted across the street, dashing right towards his home.
Leo had two goals. To survive and find out the fate of his family no matter what.
The first one he could somehow manage in his neighborhood where only a few houses stood including some empty ones thanks to the summer holidays. The nights might offer more danger than a normal Voidling, but they were possible to survive when he lived in such a low populated area.
The problem laid in Leo’s second goal.
To find Nick’s family, Leo had to travel deep into the maw of the lion, a city full of monsters and for all his bravado he didn't fancy his chances against hordes of Voidlings. At least not yet.
As such Leo needed another plan. A plan that gave him a chance to prepare without dying, but also brought him closer to Nick’s home. The answer to this problem was surprisingly easy, even if a lot of things could go wrong.
His brother lived on the completely opposite side of the city, just a few streets away from the town square. The fastest way there would be to go straight through the town, but Leo could also go around the city’s periphery and then enter it from the industrial side that should have fewer Cursed Humans active there.
It didn’t solve all of Leo’s problems as he would still need to make his way through some Voidling infested streets, but the risk was much lower and it also gave him a chance to prepare.
He could kill any lone Voidling on his way there and hopefully grow strong enough to survive long enough to reach his family. Maybe not the best thought out plan, but Leo just couldn't stay in his house any longer.
Not, when they might need my help. Leo thought, stopping the flow of water from the tap and leaving his bathroom. At least the water was still there as long as the water towers weren’t emptied or broken.
Walking into the living room, Leo grabbed the change of clothes. Simple cargo pants he found deep in his wardrobe and a shirt along with a black hoodie to offer some warmth just in case the weather decided to flip.
Fully clothed, Leo approached the table where all of the supplies waited and put what he needed into his bigger bag. His father’s handgun once again found its place at Leo’s belt while the rusty dagger was placed in a makeshift sheath made from scraps of clothes.
Dressed for war, Leo swung the bag over his shoulders and grabbed the now straight shovel. A heavy silence fell upon the entire house as Leo scanned the room once again.
This might as well be the last time that Leo saw this place. He had no reason to ever come back here beyond resupplying and even then it probably wouldn’t be worth the trip back. Besides, living so close to a city full of Cursed Humans and Collectors just asked for trouble.
Sighing, Leo approached the small dresser in the corner and grabbed the lone photo of him and his mother. This was one of the things Leo just couldn’t leave without.
He opened the frame and put the now free picture into one of the many pockets on his pants. A deep breath, followed by a loud exhale led Leo towards the door.
Without looking back, Leo stepped outside, the door snapping shut behind him.
It’s time to go.
With the sun behind him, Leo stalked towards the forest, Essence once again encompassing him in a protective blanket. The day just began so Leo had more than ten hours for a trip that normally shouldn’t take longer than an hour on foot.
For some reason, Leo doubted that those ten hours would be enough.
The forest near Leo’s house extended for at least two or three kilometers in the direction he was going. Usually, Leo did a quick run near its edges, but in the complete opposite way. Oh, he knew where the forest led from this side, but it was far from being familiar with the way.
As soon as Leo entered the blood-red woods, his shoulders tensed while his eyes darted in every direction, scanning every single tree and bush in sight. He really hoped he made the right decision when he decided to go through the forest at the beginning.
At first, it seemed like a good idea. Leo always loved to spend time in nature, but now, this transformed forest didn’t inspire any positive feelings in him. The song of birds and the soft breeze that always accompanied him during the daily runs was gone as if someone killed everything here.
Only the crouching of forest soil and occasional branches stuck with Leo. Sometimes a gut-wrenching screech or scream would add some weight onto Leo’s nerves, but beyond that the forest was empty. Too empty even for a place that never possessed too many animals due to its closeness to the city...
All throughout the way, the shovel in Leo’s hands always remained raised, ready to intercept an attack that just might come from some creature of nightmares.
Leo weaved between trees and bushes for at least another few minutes. For now, he just stuck near a well-trodden path created by a forester’s truck that Leo sometimes saw entering the forest.
From what he knew, the path should lead him to the exit at the other end of the woods that connected to a road leading straight to London or back to Wolford. From there Leo would follow the road until he reached a small residential area at the edge of the city and take some time to rest and maybe get rid of a few straggling Voidlings.
Just a few more minutes and I should see…
Thoughts forgotten, Leo’s gaze snapped to his left as a loud, human scream reverberated through the forest. It was close, closer than any other Leo heard before.
He hesitated, whether to follow the scream or just ignore it and leave the forest as quickly as he could.
Cursing his curiosity, Leo ran towards the scream, reaching speeds never available to him before. The Essence barrier around him thickened as Leo attempted to cloak his presence even further.
For a few minutes, the mad dash towards the scream continued, only stopping when Leo noticed a familiar shed standing in a clearing ahead, connected to another forest path.
Leo dodged behind a tree, trying to figure out what could have happened there before he went any closer.
A few years back, the shed was used by a local forester, but then some homeless people decided to make the shed their new place of residence. Leo heard about it in the local news and wasn’t surprised that no one cared enough to try and kick those people out.
So now it should be full of Voidlings, not screaming people. Leo mused, peaking around the corner to get a better look at the area.
Nothing seemed out of place. No Voidlings walked around the shed and after the one scream, Leo heard nothing else.
Frowning, Leo crouched and walked towards the shed’s side, where it had a small window.
Halfway there, Leo stopped as his ears finally registered a sound. Something between groaning and sobbing. It seemed human, but Leo watched enough horror movies during his life to know that sound like this never led to good things.
Still crouching, Leo hugged the wall and raised himself just enough to take a look through the window.
With the limited lightning, Leo barely managed to spot two bodies inside. Both Voidlings, lying in pools of their own blood. A heavy metal shelf probably crushed the first one, judging from its position, while the second Voidling, even if dead, seemed quite alright from this point of view.
Leo tried to peek deeper into the room, but the window was just too damn small. He sighed, knowing what was coming next.
Shovel in hand, Leo walked to the front of the house and with the help of his tool, opened the door wide. The hinges creaked and Leo froze when a raspy voice came from the inside.
“H-hello? P-please help.”
Gulping, Leo glanced inside and immediately flinched at the sight.
In the back corner of the shed a man laid against the wall. The scrapes of his clothes all turned red at this point as blood flowed freely from the numerous wounds in his body.
The skin on his left arm was a mangled mess as if someone tried to skin the man alive. A broken metal pipe stuck out from his right shoulder as the arm connected to it laid motionless on the floor.
Even then the worst was the man’s chest.
Lacking any clothes, lines of scratches covered it from top to bottom. Some of them barely a flesh wound, while the others dug deeper, cutting through muscles and the insides beneath them.
How is he even alive? At this point, he is just waiting for death. Leo grimaced as his gaze shifted to the last Voidling he didn’t see through the window.
The monster’s features were just as strong as the level three Voidling Leo killed a few hours back. The cause of its death was easy to make out from the rusty short sword sticking out of its neck.
Leo sighed, crouching before the man. His bag fell to the floor as he tried to find anything to help this poor fella.
“D-don’t,” The man’s voice came out in coughs, his sunken cheeks, and bloodshot eyes only adding to the horrendous image.
Leo didn’t stop his search, refusing to allow the first human to die on his watch. Not after just finding him.
“Don’t speak, sir. Save your strength. You asked for help and I will do my best,” He gritted out.
Another sob escaped from the man’s throat as his mangled arm raised shakily and touched Leo’s searching hand. “N-not like that,” He spoke, spitting blood with every word, “P-please, kill me. I can’t take it any longer.”
Leo’s frame froze as the man's fingers fell to the ground, their strength probably drained from their previous action.
Kill him? What?
“Sir?” Leo almost stuttered out, his mind refusing to believe what he just heard, “Did you just say, kill me?”
The man gave a shaky nod, his bloodied teeth forming into a monstrous smile. “P-please.”
Leo gulped, wanting to turn away, walk as far from here as possible, and hope to forget this encounter. Why couldn’t the man ask for normal help or just for Leo to stay with him until he died? That Leo could do, but to kill him?
He knew that at this point it was a mercy kill, but it still went against anything Leo ever learned as a human being. This apocalypse already made him kill the remnants of his family and friends.
Leo shook his head, “I ca...”
“Please,” The man interrupted as if knowing what Leo wanted to say.
Leo gritted his teeth, eyes closing as his hand touched the dagger at his belt. Just leave, I don’t owe the man anything. I don’t even know him and he will die in a few hours anyway.
Fuck! The dagger fell in Leo’s hand as his eyes opened.
The half-dead man’s smile widened ever so slightly as his gaze fell on the weapon in Leo’s arm. For a moment, Leo’s own eyes darted from his dagger to the man’s gaze, still not sure what the hell he was even doing here. A faint voice in his mind still telling him to leave.
He brought the tip of the dagger closer to the back of the man's head and when two last words left his lips, Leo plunged the dagger.
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