Chapter 13. It’s just the beginning
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“We fought for years. At first only exchanging spiteful words that hurt us both more than we could have ever expected. Then our mistakes led to even bigger mistakes. The war of mortals, as if a squabble between mere followers could resolve anything. Then we involved our siblings and that was the biggest mistake we had ever made. Destruction followed even more destruction. In the end, I and my allies were winning, but Nikra just couldn't accept it. And so she used the power she never wanted and the first gates appeared.”

~ Geron, one of the Old Ones, ages ago

Maybe another ten seconds passed. The screeches of the Voidlings became barely a whisper carried that far by the wind, while the growls of the Runner sent chills through Leo’s spine.

A quick peek over his shoulder confirmed that Leo’s burst of speed didn’t do much apart from draining even more energy from him and leaving the horde in the dust. The Runner was still faster, easily matching and then pushing past Leo’s speed. As its name suggested, the monster was made for this exact situation.

And Leo already accepted that, using the fast few seconds of pursuit to find anything to make this fight quick and painless. There was only one such thing in Leo’s arsenal. A skill that before advancing to level four evaded him at every chance, refusing to form. But now with two more points in Mind, there was a chance.

Please, work.

With only a small part of Leo’s consciousness focused on running, he again touched his small reserves of Essence. The response was much more welcoming than just an hour before. The energy didn’t try to escape Leo’s grasp and instead just poked his phantom hand as if checking if it was safe to follow.

Thanks to this newfound control, Leo grabbed his Essence and mimicked what he felt during his fight against Edward’s husk.

With a snail’s pace Essence followed Leo’s command, spreading through his body, entering every possible muscle, bone, or organ it could find. On the outside, his body lit up like a Christmas tree, power spreading through his veins.

And then, just when the Reinforcement almost settled down, the glow disappeared. The Essence escaped from Leo’s grasp as he tumbled to the ground, the Runner flying just above him.

Shit. Almost. Leo scowled as he pushed himself off the ground and instantly had to block an incoming swipe of sharp fingernails. The monster didn’t even waste a second after its initial attack and jumped forward, saliva flying from its lipless mouth.

Metal and inhuman nails met in a struggle without a winner. Leo tried to push the monster away, but the Runner held strong, never giving up. Evenly matched in strength. Noted.

Both attached to the shaft of the shovel, they kept on pushing, neither wanting to give the other any ground at the beginning of this battle. Though Leo mostly did that to try and activate Reinforcement once again as for now he didn’t have to concentrate too much on fighting.

The Voidling growled as if feeling that something was wrong and released the shovel. Leo cursed, almost barreling forward as he used his weapon to stay upright and jerk away from a clawed foot that flew towards his exposed side.

Okay, so you’re smarter than your friends and know how to throw a kick. Just great.

The Runner never stopped its offensive and attacked with everything it had. Hands. clawed feet. Hell, the Voidling even tried to bite Leo’s hand when it got particularly close.

After every attack, Leo tried to throw a counter or gain some advantage, but the monster just wouldn’t let him. Not even the occasional silvery glow on its body could grant Leo a lead in this battle.

The creature’s strength might have been at Leo’s level, but even with all the points he had in dexterity, the Voidling was still a bit faster. Always recovering a second quicker. Always jumping away when Leo’s shovel got a bit too close for its comfort.

And so Leo blocked or dodged, watching as with every strike the metal on the shovel’s shaft was chipped away, piece by piece. The tool served Leo well, but he knew it couldn’t last through more abuse.

Then another kick came and even though Leo could dodge it, he blocked, the shovel snapping in half. The Runner snarled, trying to follow with another swipe, only to be stopped by the handle of the shovel flying at its face.

Sweat running down his brow, Leo smirked as he heard the monster hiss and jump away just in time to avoid the projectile. With the sliver of time bought, Leo pushed the remaining part of the shovel into the ground and dug out a handful of wheat connected to a block of dirt.

The Runner howled and jumped at Leo, who smirked even wider and once again threw the shovel along with all of its contents at the monster. The block spread in the air, creating a wide wave of dirt and pieces of wheat flying straight at the Voidling.

Take that.

And the monster indeed took it straight in the face. The Runner howled, crying tears of blood as it began to claw at the eyes that consumed a handful of dirt. Not as smart as I thought. Leo mused as the broken dagger slipped into his fingers

The Voidling didn’t try to dodge or attack as Leo neared. It just continued to thrash around in the same place, almost collapsing to the ground. And Leo took the first opening in minutes without a question.

His claws sunk into the monster’s neck, while the dagger entered its brain through the back of its skull. The Voidling stilled and Leo yanked his hands back, the dead body dropping to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Cursed Runner (LVL: 3) slain | Experience awarded | 2 Ether gained

The doubled amount of Ether just confirms that this isn’t your normal Voidling. Good to know for the future. Leo scowled as he sat down on the bed of wheat a few feet away from the body. His back burned with renewed intensity and his breathing became labored halfway through the run. Some time to rest couldn’t hurt considering that the horde was nowhere in sight.

Leo threw his backpack to the side and removed his blood-drenched shirt. Even with the wounds on Leo’s back, the piece of clothing didn’t have any place that wasn’t wet, be it from blood or sweat.

“I really have enough of this shit,” Leo mumbled, the shirt sailing into the fields of wheat as he took a brief look over his shoulder.

The bandage covering the upper half of his body didn’t have any white surface left. For a moment Leo considered changing it for a new one, only to discard the idea instantly, knowing that at this point it was just a waste.

Taking a few calming breaths, Leo slowly laid down, the wheat softening the ground just enough to stop his back from aching even more. He really needed a moment to slow down after the fight and his adventure on the road.

“Everything was going so good, until…” Leo sighed, the image of the dead girl curled in the trunk once again coming to the forefront of his mind. Probably even a worse way to die than being killed by Vodilings.

The girl most likely hid there as soon as she awoke after the Outbreak or was there even before that. Leo didn’t know which option was worse. Don’t think about it. Nothing good will come out of that.

Leo nodded. He really had to get used to sights like this one or suffer the consequences, both mental and physical. After all, he almost died today because he couldn’t handle the sight of a dead child.

As I shouldn’t. Nobody should.

Leo shook his head. So many things to adapt to if he even wanted a tiny chance at survival. Killing, blood, fighting, death and so much more. With every minute Leo felt less and less lucky to survive the outbreak. And it was just the beginning.

Whatever. He thought, trying to force his—

“Fuck!” Leo hissed as pain spread from his right forearm.

Acting on instinct, Leo’s claws stabbed the ground next to his arm, a high-pitched shriek following soon after. A notification flashed into existence in front of Leo and his eyes widened, seeking what the hell he just killed.

Scavenger (LVL: 1) slain | Experience awarded | No Ether gained

Hanging from Leo’s claws was a mouse or rather something resembling an overgrown mouse. It had almost no fur, only grey smooth skin without any cracks or glowing parts. The fur that was left looked like it was replaced by a hedgehog’s spines, thin and sharp. The rest of the Scavenger’s body wasn’t much different from a mouse, though Leo could bet that its teeth were sharper than they should.

“Bloody rodent,” Leo growled, glancing at the small chunk of skin missing from his forearm. “Another one to the collection.”

Switching his glare to the new Voidling, Leo consumed its Essence in seconds, not even batting an eye when the timer only added a few minutes. No reason to be even more annoyed than he already was.

“I guess that’s a sign that I should move if even something so weak thought it could eat me,” Leo mumbled, moving to the corpse of the Runner.

Like always, Leo’s claws entered the dead body, transferring the Essence he needed to survive. Unlike any other corpse, Leo stood there for more than a minute as he watched the body collapse into dust. And then when only the last parts of its chest remained, Leo’s eyebrow raised when a soft glow came from within the dust.

“Again? But the body didn’t give out any light after death.”

Leo reached into the pile of dust and removed a familiar ruby crystal. Even if the shape was a bit different, Identify told him that just like the crystal in his pocket, this one was also an Unattuned Small Crystalized Essence.

I guess common is common. Leo shrugged, putting the crystal inside another pocket. If it continued like that then soon he would need a better method of carrying his things.

Sighing, Leo reached for his bag and took a quick look around to both find the correct path and check if nothing was trying to follow him.

Only seas of wheat surrounded him and from what Leo noticed, he still had more than half of the day to find another shelter.

Just please, no more surprises today.

There were no new surprises for another ten or so minutes. At least there wasn’t if Leo didn’t count the appearance of a Voidling that probably evolved from a deer. It was too far to Identify and the thing ran away as soon as it noticed Leo, but he at least managed to get a glimpse at its antlers that decided to transform into a nice tree of very sharp bony blades.

After that short encounter, nothing spectacular happened as Leo trekked up a small slope. Sometimes a rare squeak traveled through the wheat, but Leo never even caught a glimpse of another Scavenger.

But now as Leo finally reached the end of the slope and took a look at the remaining farmlands, he had to rub his eyes just to make sure his vision was working correctly.

It is just one thing after another. Leo sighed, scanning the large structure a few hundreds of feet away from him.

To put it simply, it was a square gate made out of black material Leo had never seen before. As it had no doors, Leo could take a truck and drive through the gate with plenty of space left. Hell, even the wheat and ground around the structure wasn’t spared and instead was turned into the same black material, creating a perfect circular platform with the gate in the center.

Just check what it is and then get the hell away from here. Leo nodded and covered himself in stealth. Feeling the imperfections in the skill, Leo vowed to work on them after he investigated the gate.

And so he walked for another few minutes, only to stop a few steps away from the gate’s platform. Now being closer than ever, Leo could see that the material wasn’t purely black.

Hundreds of dark violet lines spread through the platform and the gate, pulsing with an almost unnoticeable glow. The lines crossed in multiple places, creating images impossible to understand.

“What the hell are you?” Leo muttered and used the one ability that could give him an answer.

Planetary Gateway of the Void:

Or simply called Void Gate by the population of the Void and the survivors. Planetary Gateways are used to travel between the planets of the same Universe, while Dimensional Gateways can be used to journey into one of the almost infinite dimensions inside the Void.

During every Outbreak, thousands of Gateways grow on every planet of the Universe. Made out of a living material from the Void, it cannot be destroyed by anything weaker than an A+ User. Upon destruction, a Gateway will attempt to grow back in another place.

Current Status:

This Gateway is still charging and won’t activate for another: 27 days 12 hours and 37 minutes.

Leo just stood there, frozen as he read the description again and again. After every reading, more and more questions appeared inside his mind.

The population of the Void? It is talking about Voidlings, right? And you can travel to the Void? Just what the fuck is happening!? Leo screamed internally, his heart rate picking up.

The doppelganger always talked about the entire Universe, not only Leo’s planet. And now the confirmation of the clone’s words stood right in front of him. Humanity really wasn’t as alone as some thought.

No, no, no. That’s not even that important. Focus Leo! Those things can bring even more Voidlings here. More monsters to fight, to ravage the world as I search for my family.

Leo took a few deep breaths as the last thought repeated in his mind. No matter how outrageous it sounded, he had to calm down and try to accept the information for what it was.

Another motivation to push on and a warning that now Leo wasn’t fighting just the new horrors of the world. No, now also had to battle against time, as who knew what else would come out of those gates apart from the Voidlings.

I have to go.