Chapter 116. Listen or die
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Despite their agreement to rest for the night, Leo just couldn't fall asleep, not when his mind was full of buzzing thoughts. His eyes stayed open even when Nyx's form became almost still, the constant stream of emotions from her side of the link dying out. How she dozed off so fast, he had no clue.

As time flew by, he kept his blank gaze glued to the opposite wall, trying to sort the mess in his head. It didn't work, at all. And so, spent and bored to the core, he summoned pure Essence outside his body and began to shape it, practicing his control.

While true that nowadays he mostly used shadows to fight, he probably shouldn't neglect the potential of regular Essence. It was still responsible for the majority of his skills, and sooner or later, he would have to evolve them somehow.

Kiss of Death and Reinforcement were the first two on his list to improve, as he used them almost every hour. However, one particular ability always caught his eye when he looked at his status window.

Vital Strike. Also known as the last skill of common quality in his arsenal.

More than once, Leo had the passing thought about this ability and how to make it better. With other skills, it wasn't that hard. He just had to practice and study how his Essence acted when they formed. From there, it was just a matter of time until he figured something out.

With Vital Strike — no matter how much he wanted the opposite to be true — nothing was so simple.

For one, the System never gave him any additional knowledge about this skill. It was as if the mysterious entity did all the work for him and left it at that. Hell, Leo never even felt the slightest bits of Essence used when the ability activated after scoring a hit. Or at least that was what he thought.

And so, without a single clue on how to continue, he just left the ability alone in the past. It still helped him from time to time so it wasn't all bad after all. Besides, maybe, just maybe, once Adam and Ava were evacuated to the new Safe Zone, he could spend a bit of time studying in detail how Vital Strike even activated.

Who knew? He just might have missed something in the heat of battle.

Leo sighed, watching as a snake of crimson Essence wrapped around his arm. I could really use a day or two of downtime. Doubt it's gonna happen anytime soon. At least not before we do something about Adam's condition...

Slowly, the construct around his limb faded into specks of light, letting the usual darkness crawl over the room. He closed his eyes as a dark fog settled over his mind, finally lulling him to sleep.

Hopefully soon though... Hopefully...

A weak nudge brought Leo back to the land of the living, and his eyes snapped open, claws raising. Only when he spotted Nyx's looming figure did he relax, falling against the wall behind him.

"Now that's a way to wake up," he muttered, looking up at the feline. "Did you really have to stand above me like that?"

Nyx tilted her head. 'Hmm? I apologize if I scared you, but the night has passed. I thought you wouldn't want to waste more time than necessary for sleeping.'

"It's fine," Leo yawned, standing up and stretching his half-asleep body. "Come on, let's catch some breakfast. If I don't devour something soon, I will fall asleep standing..."

The feline nodded and headed out through the door. 'Agree. Although a feast similar to the one yesterday might not be the best idea this early in the day."

Leo chuckled with a weak shake of his head. "Then control yourself. No need to eat everything in sight."

Nyx huffed, leaving him alone without another word. Still laughing quietly, he followed after her, True Stealth already settling over his skin. At this point, it was second nature to use this skill, so why not...

As planned, the duo descended upon the nearest Voidlings like hungry wolves, tearing the beast to shreds. Devour did the rest of the job for Leo, while Consume — a slightly worse skill — helped Nyx.

It wasn't long before the leftover tiredness and aches faded away from their bodies. Instead, their respective skills filled them to the brim with energy, just waiting to be used through the day...

"It got worse during the night," he commented as they both settled upon a random roof. "You can barely see the sky now..."

Dark as-night clouds hung high in the air, almost blocking all of the sunlight. For now, Leo's night vision didn't activate and probably wouldn't. However, considering how dark the days were already, losing any more visibility could be problematic for other survivors.

'The wind is picking up too,' Nyx added, her tails lazily swishing behind her. 'I can see why you're worried. Even my own instincts are starting to notice that something is wrong. They are quiet, but I can hear their whispers now. Whatever is coming, it's not that far away.'

Told you... Leo lay down, his eyes on the dark sky. A bit over a week ago I barely paid any attention to stuff like this. After years of living here, you get used to shitty weather... Well, look at me now.

'So what's the plan, Leo? What are we going to do?'

A single eyebrow shot up as he turned to look at the feline.

Plan? I don't have any. Not sure about you, but I'm definitely not strong enough to stop a force of nature. If that's what's even coming for us. He shook his head. No. We proceed as Holden told us and respond appropriately when shit hits the fan. And trust me, it will; I just hope not today.

'Understood,' Nyx bowed before falling silent for just a moment. 'Leo... I wanted to ask. Once your family is safe and the little human returns to normal, what will you do next?'

Leo closed his eyes, a certain conversation with Ava fresh on his mind. I don't want to leave them. I really don't, but at the same time... Lily, I need to find out what happened to her. I will never forgive myself if I don't at least try.

'Your sister... I see…' The feline muttered, rising to her feet. 'Know then that I shall assist you all the way. Even if I was born yesterday, remember, you can count on me.'

Also standing up, Leo gave Nyx the best smile he could muster. Thanks... Now, I think it's time for me to head out and meet the others.

She nodded and burst into a cloud of shadows, diving off the roof. 'I shall attend to my task too.'

Sliding to the ground using the nearby tree, he called out. Remember to leave enough Voidlings so they won't suspect anything. Only get rid of the dangerous stuff. Good luck.

'You too, Leo. I will contact you soon.'

When he arrived at ReachHope, Leo didn't have to wait long for someone to greet him at the door. To his surprise, it wasn't anyone he knew, but the dark-skinned man still welcomed him with a smile and gave him all the info he needed.

Once inside, he quickly made his way through the crowd. Really, with all of them running around with boxes and other kinds of stuff, nobody even spared him a glance. Not a problem for him as it made sneaking into Adam's room quite easy.

"Leo?" Ava muttered, her brow furrowed as she rose from the mattress. "What are you doing here? Is it already time?"

Ignoring the child-sized missile that once more wrapped around his waist, he shrugged. "Thought I would stop by before the other group arrives. How are you two doing? Ready to finally get out?"

Adam's excitement couldn't be quelled as the child exploded into chatter. Ava barely got any word in between, but it didn't seem like the woman minded. After all that happened, she was likely just happy to see her kid acting like someone his age should.

Nevertheless, even though Leo smiled and held the energetic boy on the outside, his mind was in a completely different place.

Already level nine... He was still at eight when I left yesterday. My Essence is really speeding up the process. I need a fi-

A loud knock on the door stopped his musing, shifting his attention. Slowly, he put Adam back on the mattress and moved toward the entrance.

"You're here, Leo. Glad to see ya, lad," Dylan greeted the moment the door opened. "They told me to get you. Apparently, the others are close."

Giving the older man a nod, he turned to his family. "Well, I'm off then. I will stop by again when we come back for the second group. Be good till then, okay buddy?"

Adam's only answer was a broad grin followed by a giggle that had Ava shaking her head. Everyone in the room knew how saying stuff like that to a child ended.

With a chuckle, Leo left the room, bathing in the glare that Ava sent at his back. No matter the time, he would always enjoy getting under his sister-in-law's skin.

"Here they are," he muttered, just loud enough for the man next to him to hear it. "This is gonna be interesting."

A rope of new arrivals spilled into the warehouse, most dressed in police clothing and armed with firearms. A quick Identify also confirmed that none of those people were below level eight. Quite the feat, considering what he saw not long ago.

"I think we have a different definition of that word, mate," Dylan grumbled as they both observed from their place in the corner of the warehouse. "Ah bloody hell..."

Just a moment before those words left the older man's mouth, Frank and Holden arrived behind the new group. Gasps rang around the building while some people even backed off, hiding behind shelves and boxes.

Leo chuckled, knowing well something like this had to happen. Although, looking at the two leaders, he wasn't sure if the Fallen was the only one causing those reactions.

Ascended Human | LVL: 11

Guess someone finally listened to my advice. Good.

Despite the apparent evolution, Holden didn't look much different. Maybe he gained an inch or two, and his body seemed like it was shining, but apart from that, there was nothing new. No additional limbs, no spikes, zero claws, and hell, even his eyes didn't change except for the weak golden glow.

He is still a human after all. Not a monster like me.

Once more, any further pondering was stopped when Frank jumped onto a large box. A few more gasps filled the air, but the man didn't seem to care as he spread his arms.

Uh, oh.

"Gather round, maggots. We have a long day ahead of us, so I will keep it short," the Fallen shouted, ignoring Holden's growl and glare. "Name's Frank. Some of ya know me, others don't... It doesn't matter if you like me or fear me; I really don't care. What matters is that ya all listen to me and Tony when we go out there."

Frank paused for a moment, sweeping his eyes over the gathered crowd. "There are no second chances beyond this place. If you fuck up, you die. So listen! Nobody will risk their lives because you can't follow simple orders. Capiche?"

Some people gave resolute nods, while others? Not so much.

"Better than nothing at all, I guess," Frank scowled. "Alright then. Group one, gather your shit! We move out in five. Oh, and Hale! Lose that bloody cloak of yours. Let those idiots see who is saving their fat arses."

Leo froze, and next to him, Dylan wasn't faring much better. But, the shock didn't last long as a snort left his throat, followed by a louder chuckle.

I fucking knew this would be interesting…

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Total of 20 chapters ahead of SH:

Discord: Land of Chaos