Chapter 18. Madness
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“Tarak was our youngest sibling and as much as we all loved him, his domains sometimes made it hard to reason with him. The majority of my siblings were happy to just leave him be as long as Tarak didn’t mess something up, but I just couldn’t do it. I understood how hard it was to try to possess an unruly domain and so I tried to help him. Now that the end is coming, I wonder if that was a mistake…”

~Nikra, 1st Outbreak


Most of this I already know. Leo mused, scanning the bestiary entry from top to bottom. It confirmed most of the information he collected during his journey, but also added one very important fragment that pulled a grimace over Leo’s face. They can be commanded by a stronger variant. Not good, not good at all.

He had to wonder if it was the Runner variant that commanded the horde to chase after Leo, or maybe it was still too weak to take the lead over so many similarly leveled Voidlings. That's a really troubling thought.

Leo really didn’t want to think of the day when he would meet a stronger variant that could call dozens of Voidlings to its help. Hopefully, it only worked for Cursed monsters. Leo could do without hordes of Seekers, those weird deers, or any other transformed creatures chasing him in hundreds.

Sighing, Leo waved off the bestiary and walked to the front of the house, once again hiding behind an overgrown red bush.

This street, while still mostly empty and ruined, already had a few Cursed Humans walking around, minding their own business. They most likely came from the block of flats whose side was already visible at the end of the street or some of the houses that still seemed habitable.

Time to go. Leo thought and once again jumped over a fence, landing in the front yard of another ruined house. He dashed towards the nearest tree and almost hugged it as he took another peek.

One Voidling stood on the other side of the road, sniffing the air for another meal and Leo was happy to give it a chance to earn it. He grabbed a pebble and just like many times before he threw it at the sidewalk a few feet away from his position.

The small rock bounced off the concrete, clattering with every hit. The Voiding made a sharp turn, its eyes seeking the offender. Unlike the first time that Leo tried this trick, where the monster instantly zeroed on his location, now it just approached the sidewalk, a quiet growl leaving its throat.

The moment the Voidling turned its back to Leo, he jumped out of his hiding spot like a hungry tiger. He didn’t even draw his dagger and just grabbed the monster’s head in a tight grip before dragging his claws across its throat with all the power Leo had.

The monster fell, blood pooling around its head as the creature twitched for a few more seconds. At this point, Leo’s strength and the cutting power of his claws gave him the ability to rip throats apart while also almost cutting the head off.

A level three. It didn’t look like one. I really should start identifying everything I fight. Leo thought as he dashed across the street, the Voidlings in the distance not even turning in his direction.

A quick Hunter’s Pulse later left Leo vaulting over another fence as he once again found nothing of use. He knew that the skill probably couldn’t find everything, but as the houses stood empty for months or even years, Leo doubted that it was worth the time to search them by himself.

Ducking under a low brick fence that somehow survived the test of time, Leo scanned the house that stood almost at the end of the street. It lacked any boarded windows or doors and even the walls seemed to be in a better condition, though the many cracks in the paint might be proof of the opposite.

The two Voidlings walking around the house, as if searching for an entrance, only added to the uniqueness of the house. Somehow Leo doubted that the two monsters were doing this without a reason.

And so Leo made his way through more yards, killing three more Cursed Humans as he got closer to his target. The way might have been easy, but with every foot in that direction, he got closer to the block of flats that loomed over the neighborhood. Even with a limited vision of the block’s courtyard, Leo already noticed more Voidlings waiting there, their song of despair becoming louder with every step.

Dagger in hand, Leo gripped the top of the wooden fence that separated him from his target and jumped. The Voidling standing on the other side had no chance to react as Leo fell on its back. Bones cracked and the monster yowled as its head met the ground.

Leo followed with a stab to the back of its skull, ending the Voidling’s life as a ball of Essence already formed in his hand. The orb entered the ground and Leo closed his eyes, hoping to not miss a single thing from the feedback.

Something or someone is inside along with some food and weapons. And the other Cursed is still on the other side. Leo nodded as the corpse of the Voidling turned into dust.

Sneaking to the other side of the house, he peeked around the corner, frowning when he noticed the Cursed Human screeching at one of the windows. It lacked any glass yet was still covered by a curtain. Coincidence or is there really a human inside?

Not even wasting another moment, Leo dashed out of the corner, the Voidling immediately turning towards its new point of interest.

Leo ducked, scooping a handful of dirt into his empty hand. At the same time, the Cursed moved, spit flying from its lips as it growled. Not so loud you fucker. Leo grimaced as another screech answered from the other side of the fence.

Throwing the handful of dirt, Leo jumped to the side, letting the monster pass him as it lost its ability to see. He quickly followed after the beast, kicking it to the ground and impaling its head.

Leo didn’t even try to drain the beast and just jumped to his feet, dagger held tightly in his hand as he watched the front of the house. For a minute he just stood there, waiting for the Voidling from the other side to come, but it never did.

Frowning, Leo approached one of the holes on the fence and took a look. Holy shit.

From this spot, he had an almost perfect view of the courtyard of the block along with the tens of Voidlings walking or just standing there. Most of them belonged to the Cursed Human variant, but Leo already spotted two runners and a few other creatures that just like any other Voidling went through a monstrous transformation.

The first different type was another Cursed variant, Crawler. Walking on all four, their bodies were half that of a human, with heads slumped towards the ground as it sniffed and licked the grass, showing rows of jagged teeth. Their skin wasn’t any different from any other Cursed, just as cracked and dark.

The bestiary had not much to tell apart from Crawlers being one of the most dangerous Cursed variants. They fought like any other, but with ferocity and speed lacking in those Leo killed before, even the Runner. The only hope against them was their bone structure that registered as a weakness in the System.

And this thing can reach E- rank? Fuck me, thank god that it is only level two.

Switching his gaze to another new creature, Leo shuddered. Red blood dripped from its muzzle as it bit off another chunk of flesh from one of the dead bodies lying in the courtyard. Or at least from what remained of the corpses after hours of monsters chewing on them.

It was a hound straight from hell. Once a friendly dog, now turned into a harbinger of death. No matter what type of dog the creature was before, Leo didn't doubt that with its huge frame, that would easily reach Leo's waist, the Hound could trample any human of the old or new world. Or rip them apart with its sharp teeth and claws. The short dark crimson fur only added to the intimidation factor as it blended perfectly with the red sun.

Leo gulped and pulled out the bestiary of the level three Hound.

Race: Voidling | Subspecies: Hound

Average rank: F to F+

Weapon of choice: Claws, Jaws

Known weaknesses: Head, Tail

Hounds evolved from the various canines of the world, adapting to the new order. Their bodies are as intimidating as they can be, but in battle, they often lack the required speed to defend themself or finish their targets. Hounds usually form small packs to cover their weaknesses. In later stages of life, packs settle in one territory and defend it from any invader, by it a Voidling or a User.

Leo let out a deep sigh as he let his forehead rest against the fence. Could be a lot worse. As long as I don’t anger a pack, I should be fine… Now-

Any thought Leo had escaped his head as a gasp sounded from behind him. He immediately turned, watching as the curtain moved a bit as a human disappeared behind it.

“Hey, wait up,” Leo called out, keeping his voice low as he canceled stealth.

Only no one answered, the patter of feet barely reaching Leo’s ears. Shit. He dashed to the back of the house where two more windows and a backdoor waited. Approaching the door, Leo knocked gently a few times as another pulse went through the house.

 

They are close, very close. Leo’s hand drifted towards the gun at his waist, ready to pull it out just in case this surprise meeting went to shit. “Come on. I know you are there.” He tried again, his voice loud enough to at least go through the door.

“Go away.” A woman’s voice finally answered and Leo frowned at the command. “I saw everything. You’re a monster just like them.”

Oh, you have got to be fucking kidding me! Leo screamed internally, hand flying to his forehead. Of course, the woman just had to either see him kill the other Voidlings, or just his tainted arm alone. I forgot it could be a problem. He scowled looking down on his arm.

Taking a breath, Leo answered, his eyes flickering to every side, waiting for a Voidling to just pop out. “The hell are you talking about? Didn’t they explain to you what was happening?”

A not so sane chuckle came from the other side of the door. “Oh I know very well and you are just like them, only smarter, but you won’t fool me.”

Leo rolled his eyes, his patience waning. This woman must have gone mad. Or, he thought as his gaze went from the block to the house, she was mad long before this. After all, who would stay in a house like this when they offer you a new flat and money for just moving out.

“Ma'am, why the hell would I kill other Voidlings if I was one of them?” Leo tried one more time. The first human he found that wasn't dying and of course it had to be some nutjob who probably cracked under the pressure. My luck in a nutshell.

Another muffled bark of laughter reached Leo’s ears. “Why? To have me all for yourself. I saw the beasts near the block fight for the right to their meals. You aren’t any different, I have seen it with my own eyes.”

No matter how annoying this woman was, she at least gave Leo an important piece of information. They fight for food. Good to know. As for you bitch, one last chance.

“I’m a human, just like you. My arm might look bad, but it doesn’t change what I am.” Leo gritted out.

“I don’t care.” She shouted, eliciting another screech from a Voidling behind a fence. “If you try to come in I will kill you. Just like I killed the one that tried to enter through my window.”

How the fuck did you even survive that long with all of that shouting. Leo scowled as he pretty much flew over the fence that led deeper into the abandoned side of the neighborhood. He might have wanted to get some human contact, but no way in hell he was fighting against an army of Voidlings because the woman couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

Bitch.

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