Chapter 22. May we meet again
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“Evolutions, classes, skills, and much more. The System offers us so much and yet nothing is as important as Ether. Remember, without it none of this would be possible. For us survivors, Ether is the promised light at the end of the tunnel and nothing will ever change that.”

~ Central Academy, Ger


In a flash, Leo dashed behind the back of a lone truck trailer. The notification only mentioned nearing a nest but one could never be too careful in this twisted world. Besides the oppressing aura stuck to him like glue, constantly pressing against the power of true stealth.

Instinctively Leo pushed more Essence into the skill and kept a firm hold on the energy. He really didn’t want stealth to fail just because he couldn’t hold it against the first potential danger to his masking ability. Leo might have also sent Essence all over his body, letting reinforcement activate. Just in case.

Now I can take a look.

Leaning over the side of the trailer, Leo scanned the quite small white building that connected to a similarly sized warehouse. The entire area looked like it was untouched by the Outbreak. The warehouse could be as well built yesterday, lacking the usual cracks or missing parts of walls or roof. Only the entrance seemed wrong with its doors knocked off the hinges, lying at the side.

No other Voidlings and it’s too quiet. Leo frowned as even the constant whistling of the wind left him. The steel gate to the building’s yard was wide open and yet no Voidling dared to enter, leaving the entire area empty.

Returning behind his cover, Leo rummaged through his memory for any information about the company that possessed this warehouse. It was certainly one of the smaller ones in Wolford and the logo hanging over the building's entrance was the first one for him. The company must have been new to the area as not that long ago, Leo and a few of his co-workers had to do some research about all of the corporations here.

And you just had to give the company a completely random name. Not helpful at all...

While the information about the company didn’t seem important in this new world, Leo already learned that having some knowledge about the potential hostile area could be very useful. Who knew, maybe the creatures inside the nest had a reason to choose this particular place as their territory.

Not that Leo had to go any closer to the nest. Hell, probably the best idea was to take another jump over the fence and never look back. But just like with the Void Gate, Leo understood the importance of this place. This was yet another threat to the continued survival of the lucky ones and it couldn’t be just ignored. Especially when the System once again refused to give more information about Nests in general.

A small look is all I need. This place is only ranked F+ and I reached F a long time ago. I should be somewhat close to the breakthrough, at least I hope so…

Just to give himself some peace of mind and maybe find confirmation of his thoughts, Leo pulled up his status page.

Name: Leo Hale

Title: Adaptable

Evolution Stage: I - Tainted Human

Class: Assassin | LVL. 6

Job: Hunter

Rank: F

Health: 100%

Essence: 81%

Strength: 8 (+3)

Dexterity: 18

Constitution: 11 (+3)

Perception: 13

Mind: 14

Soul: 9 (+3)

Ether: 52

Traits: Assassin’s Grace (Common), Tainted (Uncommon)

Racial Skills: Universal Linguist (Unique), Identify (Unique), Essence Control (Uncommon), Drain (Uncommon)

General Skills: Dagger Mastery (Common), True Stealth (Uncommon), Vital Strike (Common), Reinforcement (Uncommon), Kiss of Death (Uncommon)

The ten and five percent to Soul and Dexterity are finally showing. Leo noted when he noticed the one additional point in both of those attributes. The five percent from Assassin’s Grace might have not been much, but with seventeen normal points, it was finally showing.

Still F though. Leo massaged his temple, a scowl painted on his face. Whatever, I don’t plan to fight anyway. Shadow Tail doesn’t sound normal at all.

Leo unsheathed the bowie knife and waved the status window away before sprinting to the side of the building where a lone metal ladder waited. It didn’t move an inch when he gave the ladder a sharp tug, who knew if the Outbreak and the two nights didn’t destroy the metal from within.

With a last look behind him, Leo climbed to the top of the building and instantly crouched low. Stealth blocked sound, smell, and Essence, but barely helped with visual detection, and thanks to the new height, Leo noticed plenty of Voidlings in the distance. One turn was all they needed to catch a glimpse of his body.

Step after step Leo moved to the connection between the main building and the warehouse. Here the roof shifted from the flat gray surface to a slight slope made of metal sheets. It was also Leo’s target as the sloped surface possessed a few rows of small windows that should give him a bit of insight inside the warehouse.

Just like with the ladder, Leo performed a small pressure test on the metal sheet before crawling onto the thin surface and moving towards the nearest window.

Nothing can be simple after this fucking Outbreak. Leo narrowed his eyes as he scanned the area.

The usual rows of warehouse racks filled the large hall underneath Leo, but it was far from the only thing he saw. Even with the limited lighting flowing through the numerous windows, Leo couldn’t miss the dozens of small cat-like creatures moving inside. Or the racks and walls being covered in a black substance with thousands of red glowing lines. It looked like a less refined material of the Void Gate.

Hell, the far-off part of the warehouse was completely shielded from Leo’s sight by a huge wall of this dark material. He scurried to the windows that should let him see beyond the wall, only to be blocked by the same substance. A substance that twitched as it stayed glued to the glass of the window. The red lines pulsed and Leo backed off, identify activating.

Vetilim (Uncommon):

A living matter. Fed by the Essence of the creatures of the Void. It is used to claim territories by Vodilings. It can grow into various constructs and even evolve to form gates to unique dimensions inside the Void. The seed of Vetilim possesses various properties used in a wide array of Jobs.

Leo let out a long-suffering sigh. An alien living matter creating the nest of dozens of weird cat creatures. And it can create even more portals. At least this thing didn’t say anything about requiring A+ users to destroy this shit.

Shaking his head, Leo moved to another window which once again gave him a view of the numerous creatures either walking or sleeping inside. At first glance, the creature looked like a normal cat with fur black as the night. But the moment Leo squinted a bit and shifted his gaze to the tail, something became obvious very fast.

Shadowy mist flowed out of the monster's body creating an imitation of fur while the tail was entirely made of a long shadow. Shadow Tail, fitting.

Race: Voidling | Subspecies: Shadow Tail

Average rank: F- to F+

Weapon of choice: Claws, Jaws, Shadows

Known weaknesses: Overall defense

One of the feline Void evolutions. With speed and agility outclassing most of the low-ranked Voidlings, they scour the world in search of the perfect prey. Being one of the few F ranked Voidlings attuned to an element, they possess abilities capable of surprising even stronger opponents. They hunt alone, yet in most cases work for the betterment of their nests.

So not something I should fight that close to a nest. Got it. Leo nodded and closed the bestiary before crawling back to the ladder. Maybe in the future, for now, I have something more important to do.

Gazing in the direction of the city, Leo let the weak reinforcement fade away. Not even a slight ache surfaced from the skill as he rolled his shoulders. The improved Essence control and low power definitely helped here.

And so Leo once again began his trek through the jungle of warehouses, killing and avoiding Voidlings at the same time. The further he got into the city, the more and more Voidlings he encountered. Hounds, Cursed variants, or other evolved animals. Two times Leo had to take a detour to steer clear of large groups that traversed the streets of Wolford.

Growls and screeches became a constant company, but with every step closer it became clear that Leo wasn’t as alone as he feared. Gunshots and human screams joined the symphony of the new world. Some close by, while others barely reached Leo’s ears.

Those sounds, no matter how horrific some of the screams were, pushed Leo forward, staining his clothes with more and more of the black blood. It wasn’t long before he entered another residential area full of semi-detached houses and small blocks of flats.

After only two nights, the world reminded Leo more and more of all the apocalyptic movies he watched in the past. Wherever he looked, cars laid at the side of the road or stood crushed by the walls of the various houses. Evolved wildlife consumed more of the area, growing bigger and bigger with every minute. While Voidlings filled more and more space, leaving Leo crouching inside bushes or sitting within trees to wait for the right moment to run.


Cursed Human (LVL: 4) slain | Experience awarded | 1 Ether gained

Level 7 reached. Class attributes added. Please assign your 2 free attributes.

Hunt: Cursed Humans (Completed) | Rewards: 20 Ether

Give me a second. Leo grunted as he dragged the corpse inside the garden shed in the backyard of one of the many houses in the area. In the distance, he could already see the small block where Nick’s flat was. I’m almost there, even if it probably took me more than an hour to get through this one fucking neighborhood.

The door of the shed shut and at once Leo sent the command to the System as he took a few calming breaths. One to both Constitution and Soul, I need more energy. And the evolution menu. Let’s see it.

Fallen (Stage: II)

You embraced the taint of the Void upon your soul and made it your strength. This new path might have taken another part of your humanity away, but you know what is necessary to survive. Go forth and embrace the first steps of the Akirian evolution path.

Effects:

Tainted trait evolution. Physical evolution involved. +5% to All Attributes. +4 Free Attribute points per class level. Mutations: Unlocked.

That’s… a lot better than Risen and this one is related to my current status. Leo’s gaze dropped to his tainted arm, a grimace forming on his face. More physical changes. This race isn’t even called human.

Leaning against the cool wood of the shed, Leo closed his eyes. It was almost a no-brainer. One evolution took away Leo’s curse and gave almost nothing in return. While the other provided him with a much stronger boost to all attributes and an evolved trait that might take away the drawback and give even more benefits.

Only the humanity part and the fact that he was so close to his family kept Leo from accepting this evolution straight away. It can wait a bit longer. First, Nick’s family, then evolutions.

Nodding, Leo stood up and left the shed. With a knife at the ready, he vaulted over a fence after fence, passing every backyard of the long row of the terraced houses. It was the last straight, with Nick’s block waiting for Leo at the end of the street.

Just a bit more. He repeated, the body of a level two Hound collapsing to the ground with a quiet whine. Not that Leo cared about the sound, not with the almost constant shooting and thunderous growls filling the air.

Whatever the Voidlings and Humans were doing, it couldn’t be a bother for anyone in Leo’s vicinity as none of the monsters even gave the shooting a sliver of attention. They just kept scouting their streets, searching for meals close by.

They never found any human flesh, but Leo did. During his long trip through this area, he spotted at least four humans just peeking through the windows of their houses, never showing more than half of their faces. Remembering what happened last time, Leo gave those houses a wide berth and focused on his objective.

The closed-door to the staircase of Nick’s block. It just waited for Leo on the other side of the street and the other survivors could go fuck themselves. For now, he had a family to find.

Like a bolt, Leo shot across the street. The Cursed Human in his path falling to the ground, headless. More Essence stirred within him as he silenced the door and yanked it open after crushing the lock. And in! He shouted, sliding inside, the door shutting behind him.

Not for the first time, darkness, only stopped by the glow of Leo’s taint, threatened to consume the entire staircase. In response, Essence filled his entire taint, layering it with an aura of pure crimson light.

The hallway lit up, leaving nothing hidden within the shadows. Leo moved, dagger held high as he passed the remains of Voidlings and humans. He never stopped to check the corpses, his fist going white as he forced himself to go higher and higher.

They are fine! They are fine! Leo repeated like a mantra, his eyes scanning the bloodied door of Nick’s flat. Please.

He knocked once, then twice, the sound echoing through the entire staircase. Please.

Leo’s eyes shot up to the lock as a click came from the other side. Then another followed and slowly the door slid open, revealing a posture of a blond-haired woman. Leo’s and her eyes widened in a second and yet none of them moved.

Leo froze in his place and the woman stood stiff like a board, her green, swollen eyes scanning him from top to bottom. The grip on the wooden staff turned her fists completely white.

And then, just like that, the dam broke and the woman rushed forward, the staff falling from her hands, thudding against the ground. Leo didn’t try to defend himself, he couldn’t. Not now.

“Leo!” The short woman shouted, her arms almost crushing Leo in a hug.

“Ava,” Leo whispered, slowly returning the hug. “You’re alive. You’re alive. Adam? Nick? Please tell me they are alright.” His voice almost broke when he felt her body stiffen in his grasp. “Please.”

A moment passed before another sob shook Ava’s body, then another followed, and soon it was like a downpour as Leo held the broken woman. “Please Ava. I need to know.”

The sobbing didn’t stop, a weak stutter leaving the woman’s lips. “M-my little boy. He is still with me… B-but he is not the same, something happened to him, Leo, and I don’t know what to do.”

No.

Ava’s entire body shook, “Nick, my Nick,” she bawled. “He never came back, Leo! He never came back,” she finished in a whisper.

No!

VOLUME 1. End


AN: Thank you all for reading. Here we come to the end of the first volume. In another week or two I will begin posting Vol.2 but in the time being I invite you to my discord, fanfiction profile (I have 4 stories there) or if anyone would like, to my Patreon. You can find all of those in my linktree. https://linktr.ee/Chaos65

Thank you again and see ya soon.

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