Chapter 11. Path to Survival
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“Maybe I went too far... My parents left me and that hurt, it still does. But does it justify my attitude towards Hales or really anyone who tries to talk to me? After my first entry here, I had a lot of time to rage and think about my actions. And Lily, as annoying as she is, maybe was right all along. Maybe I am really throwing my life away.”

~ Second entry, Leo’s journal


The three Seekers didn’t attack as Leo predicted. The moment he jumped behind a tree the blasted monsters just continued to fly in circles. The cawing stopped, leaving the rustling of leaves as the only constant sound in the forest.

Once again Leo took a few steps away from his hiding spot and just like before the fury of the monsters came back full force. They really didn’t like when Leo tried to run.

Nothing can be too easy right? He scowled, taking cover behind another thick tree. The song of death died instantly and Leo gritted his teeth as his gaze followed the three lurking figures above him.

Essence stirred within him and the familiar barrier formed, the last drops of his soul energy fighting to help its user. It didn’t stop the monsters from continuing their onslaught on Leo’s ears when he stepped a few feet away from the tree and so the skill collapsed just a few seconds later.

So being an assassin won’t help here. The scowl on his face became Leo’s permanent feature at this point. There is no way I can outrun them and I don’t plan on waiting for an entire army of monsters to show up. Just great.

For a moment his eyes sought the wooden shed, but just as quickly Leo averted his gaze, head shaking. This wasn't an option here.

Almost crushing the shovel’s shaft in his grip, Leo stepped a few feet away from the safety of his cover. His shoulders tensed as the birds acknowledged his challenge, a caw more resembling a screech piercing the air.

The smallest of the monsters dived, wings hugging its serpentine body as it neared Leo’s position.

Fast. Leo noted, jerking away as the monster missed his body by an inch. Goosebumps spread on Leo’s uncovered skin as the blast of air hit him. Another bird followed its predecessor’s action and left Leo with barely enough time to act.

His fingers slipped on the handle of his shovel, while the claws tightly gripped its shaft. The monster came closer with every millisecond and the moment Leo noticed the creature spreading its wings, he whipped the shovel upwards.

Leo’s entire frame shook as the shovel’s blade met the creature’s body. The force of Leo’s impact and the Voidling’s natural speed culminated as the Seeker let out a loud squeak, its body sailing through the air straight towards the ground.

Its wings twisted in ways they probably shouldn’t as the creature tried to flap the broken limbs. One Voidling down, two to go.

Leo moved to follow, hoping to finish the monster, only to jump out of the way as the two remaining Voidlings rejoined the fight, spearing the air where Leo’s head was just a second ago.

Narrowing his eyes, Leo watched as one of the birds — the largest one — put itself between him and the fallen Seeker, while the other flew higher to continue its hit and run tactic. A sound strategy if Leo wasn’t capable of dodging the attacks. The birds might be fast, but his increased dexterity gave Leo an edge. And it wasn’t like the Seekers tried to be stealthy with their constant cawing.

Bent shovel in hand, Leo rushed forward, the larger bird squawking as it avoided the wild swings of his weapon. Not once did the monster try to attack and only continued to dance around Leo, hoping to guide him away from its fallen comrade.

Smarter than it looks.

The third bird dived again, the caws letting Leo know when to throw his body to the side. He winced as he landed on a particularly sharp rock that tried to burrow itself in Leo’s kidney. It didn’t help that the backpack on his back only made him heavier.

A particularly loud caw forced Leo to push the pain away. He rolled along the ground as the largest monster took his sorry state as an invitation. Leo hissed, the forest floor once again wasn't helping.

Seeing Leo gain enough distance to stand, the bird backed off to its wounded kin that somehow already fixed one of its wings.

Oh no, you don’t. Leo growled, throwing his backpack on the ground as he sprinted towards the duo. He ducked under the larger bird, his shovel forcing it away. It cawed in protest, but Leo paid it no mind.

Claws ready, they sailed at the wounded bird, blood spilling on the forest floor as half of the wing fell to the ground. The four ruby eyes glared at him as the monster squeaked, trying to drag itself away from Leo with the other broken wing.

Maybe if it was bigger than an average crow and had more than two limbs, then stepping on its head would have been more of a problem. Instead, Leo pressed harder, loud cracking of bones coming from underneath his boot.

The small smirk that formed on Leo’s lips was quickly wiped off as the other two birds cawed their story of revenge, now both rushing at him with abandon. Their small beaks tried to clamp at any exposed skin and Leo was hard-pressed to knock them away or avoid their onslaught. Their small size had finally become useful in a grouped close-quarters attack.

Leo waved his shovel like a maniac as the damned birds managed to peel away a small bit of the tainted skin on his hand. He hissed, blood dripping on the ground. “Fuck it.”

When one of the birds came closer again, Leo didn’t just wave it away like before and instead chucked the metal shovel straight at the bird. A snort almost escaped his lips at the surprised squawk when the shaft of the shovel hit it right in the beak.

Got you. The Voidling flapped its wings, trying to regain its bearing, but it just wasn't fast enough. Leo jumped forward, his hand grabbing onto the bird's tail while his claws sunk into its body. The Seeker tried to struggle, to free itself from the hungry claws, only to fail as its wings turned into dust.

Leo hissed as the last bird decided to act. The Seeker jumped on his back, the claws on its wings sinking into his shoulder blades. When its beak tried to drill a hole in Leo’s neck, in the haze of pain he reached behind.

Claws gripped one of the wings and yanked, ripping the bird away. Leo almost fell to the ground and lost his grip as the claws tore his back open. Every single move ignited a fire in his muscles as his body screamed at Leo to stop.

He bit his lip, drawing blood. Not yet, Leo gritted his teeth as the bloody bird bit his hand, hoping to free itself from his grasp. Leo’s normal arm also came to help, fingers tightening where the bird’s neck should be.

The Seeker cawed, in pain or anger. Leo didn’t care and swung his arms towards the ground where a thick root pierced the skin of Earth. He smashed the bird once, then again and again and again. Black blood stained his hands and clothes as the bird became nothing more than a pile of gore.

When Leo finally let go, his bleeding back no longer able to support such action, he couldn’t even recognize the bird. The beak was missing, probably splattered somewhere on the root. Head and tail could be the same thing with the skin missing everywhere and rivers of blood flowing out. Eyes probably got crushed during the first swing and nothing more than bones were left of the bird’s wings.

Seeker (LVL: 2) X3 slain | Experience awarded | 3 Ether gained

“Fuck you,” Leo spat, a mix of blood and saliva.

He left the corpse there, dragging himself to the abandoned backpack as his back burned. The blood flowing down already soaked his shirt and hoodie and now even reached the waistline of his pants.

Need new clothes again. Leo snorted as he gradually lowered himself to the ground. With every move his face twisted, breathing becoming shallow. I’m killing every Seeker I find on my way. Of course, there had to be flying-type monsters.

His hand dived into the backpack, pulling out a bottle of water, some scraps of clothing, and a big roll of bandage. Alright now how to do this, Leo winced as he looked down on his hoodie. Fingers and claws gripped the hemp of the shirt beneath it and pulled up, the swift action spreading fire across his body.

“Shit!” Leo roared, his shirt and hoodie falling to the ground. He gasped as the weak breeze hit his unprotected back, soothing the pain ever so slightly.

Before moving on to his next task, Leo took a few calming breaths and he sent his gaze across the forest. What use was trying to bandage the wound if something decided to attack him in the next second?

His quick search located nothing and so Leo’s eyes fell on a large fragment of clothing and the bottle of water. He drenched the material with the whole liquid and slowly raised it to his back. Teeth gritted, Leo cleaned the two long gashes and one small stab wound, the cloth turning red with every move.

As expected blood didn’t stop sipping out even when Leo finished his job. It didn’t create oceans of red any longer, but it would take a bit to heal something like this. Hopefully not too long, Leo winced as he pretty much mummified the upper part of his back and chest, the entire roll of bandage gone.

Even when the movement hurt, Leo rolled his shoulders and nodded when he still could move his arms without too much discomfort. He just had to stay away from fighting large groups of Voidlings until the wounds recovered to some extent.

In no way did he think that he could avoid all of the Voidlings, the previous encounter proved as much. But for now, Leo would rather keep killing lone monsters in a way that his class should.

Let’s get out of here. Leo stood up and he threw a simple black shirt over his head. After taking the Essence. He added as an afterthought.

The mutilated bird lost its Essence first, the small creature barely giving him another hour of sated status. Scowling, Leo looked around the forest floor, searching for his first victim.

“What the…” The scowl turned into a frown when Leo noticed Seeker's dead body. The head remained crushed with the insides spilling out, but now, the corpse gave out an almost unnoticeable ruby glow.

Leo crouched next to the body and scanned it from head to tail, even flipping it over with his claws. The glow just didn’t make sense even if every Voidling Leo met before had similar light coming out of their cracked skin when they were alive. The other Seekers didn’t have it before or after death. So why was this one so different? Even Identify didn’t say a thing.

“Guess one way to find out,” Leo shrugged and let his claws do their work.

The frown on his face deepened as the body collapsed into dust the moment his claws pierced the skin. The small pile still glowed from within and Leo quickly dug into the dust. His hand almost instantly touched something hard.

“Huh.” Leo had no words as he uncovered a small ruby crystal. It pulsed with life and Leo snapped his hand away, not sure what he had discovered.

Alright Identify, be useful.

Unattuned Small Crystalized Essence (Common):

Upon the death of any creature in the Universe, the remaining Essence can try to retreat back inside the soul in a last attempt to survive. This process never works and instead, the overflow of energy forms a sturdy crystal, storing the last bits of Essence. It is used as a vital ingredient in a large number of crafts. This Essence was never attuned to any specific affinity.

Warning: When filled with too much foreign Essence, the crystal will destabilize, and shortly after, create an explosion larger than its size suggests.

That’s… a lot of information. Leo mused as he rolled the crystal between his fingers. The surface didn’t feel different from a normal rock lying on the ground, just as rough, unpolished, and cold to touch.

So it can act as a small grenade and an ingredient. A lot of uses for a common item. A useful, if a dangerous object from what Identify told Leo. Not that he knew how to even channel Essence into another object and he didn’t fancy trying it out on a crystal that could explode in his face. Maybe after he gained a bit more control.

Leo slipped the crystal into his pocket and picked up the backpack, for now carrying it in his hands. No need to strain his back when Leo needed it to heal as fast as it could. The flares of pain were still there, but with every movement of Leo’s shoulders, he grew a bit more accustomed to the aching.

Leo wasn't sure if that was a good or bad thing so he just kept on walking, trying to busy his mind with the scouting of the area around him. He didn’t fancy another fight against Seekers so soon.

For minutes Leo traversed the same path he came from before he finally reached the well-trodden road of the woods. Even with the constant pain, Leo let the small smile form on his lips as he once again trekked towards the end of the forest.


Leo hid behind one of the bushes as he scanned the long asphalt road and the vast farmlands behind it. He might have made a slight miscalculation when he chose this path. In particular, Leo forgot to think of all the cars driving through this road when the Outbreak happened.

Every dozen or so meters, a car laid at the side of the road. Some managed to drive into a tree while others fell into a ditch on the other side. There were also those who crashed into the car coming from the other line, ending up half crushed or even blackened from a fire that might have started after the crash.

Even if this sight was particularly hard on Leo’s memory, it didn’t make him hide behind a bush. No, this honor fell to the few Voidlings trapped inside the cars and even more of those creatures walking down the road. Their familiar screeches once again filled the air as the monsters went from car to car, probably hoping to find another meal.

Leo gulped. This can either end very well or in a total disaster.

 

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