Published at 2nd of April 2024 01:27:19 PM

Chapter 128

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The guards stepped aside, and the one who had previously spoken even breathed a sigh of relief. Leo would have laughed if it hadn't been for the new trio rushing towards him. There was no need to make this situation even weirder than it already was.

"Holden, Frank," he nodded to the two men who came to a stop just at the barrier's edge. "Clara. Not gonna lie, it's good to see you all."

"What the fuck, Hale?" Frank took the lead before anyone else could act. "I saw what happened at ReachHope. How are you even alive? There were so many bloody corpses, and you've been missing for over a day!"

Leo grimaced. Of course, the Fallen would go straight for the throat. "I can explain," he glanced around, noticing more and more people gathering around them. "Though maybe we should take this somewhere more private?"

Holden cut in before Frank could open his mouth again. "You're right. Follow me. We don't need everybody to hear this. The morales are already low enough..."

Nodding, he stepped past the golden barrier. He waited for the usual blanket of warmth and safety to embrace him, but for some reason, it never came. He felt the same as he did a moment ago, as if the safe zone didn't acknowledge his existence or didn't think he needed its assistance.

Weird as hell. Leo commented with a light shake of his head, following the trio toward the small office building attached to the warehouse.

As they walked, he took the silence as an opportunity to study the people around him. Knowing how the survivors took to the recent loss could be useful in the coming conversation.

The few civilians they passed didn't seem to act much differently than before. They still refused to look in his direction and often huddled in the corners, trying to disappear from view.

As for those who fought? Who still tried to adapt to the new world?

The tenseness of their shoulders was the first thing that caught Leo's attention, with the heavy bags under their eyes coming as a close second. Holden and the other two shared this tiredness, this fear, but they at least tried to hide it. Not that it really worked, as it took him barely a minute to notice all the signs.

I don't know why I expected anything else. The civilians might not care as much because, in the end, they are still alive. But the others?

He sighed, pushing those thoughts away. None of them would achieve anything but create even more guilt. He didn't need it, at all.

"Through here," Holden called out and took a sharp left into a large cleared-out room.

Only a simple makeshift table stood in the middle while a few Ether torches decorated the walls. They weren't active, but considering that the sun was out and they didn't have time to secure the windows yet, there was no need for them.

At least they are still working on this place and not wallowing in misery. Good for them.

They all took a position around the table, and Leo didn't have to wait long for someone to speak up.

"So Hale…" Frank looked him in the eyes, the Fallen's patience not lasting even a few seconds. "Fuck! You told me something was wrong at the old site and ran off. What the hell happened?"

He glanced at the others, but no one seemed interested in adding anything. After taking a deep breath, he decided to just get this over with. He really didn't want to talk about this longer than absolutely necessary.

"When I gave Adam," Leo didn't even have to fake the grimace, "some of my Essence, the process created a weak connection between us. I have no idea how it exactly happened, but my current race must be at least partially responsible..."

All of this was a big lie, but if he wanted to hide his godson's involvement in the massacre, there was no other way. Besides, they didn't need to know the whole truth; it wouldn't change anything for them. In the end, the Void was responsible for everything.

"Anyway... Normally, the connection remained silent. Hell, I was barely even aware of it… Maybe it would stay that way for a bit longer, but then the storm came," he continued, shutting his eyes for a moment. "This connection screamed at me, echoing in my head. Again, I didn’t know why, but I couldn't stay put."

"That doesn't explain how you’re not a rotting corpse, Leo!" Clara threw her hands up. "You walked into a Nightmare-infested city and lived. And let's not even mention what must have happened at ReachHope! We saw the bodies, dozens of them. Collectors, Scouters, fucking everything!"

"Clara!" Holden growled, cowing the woman. "Give him a chance to explain. It's obvious he isn't done yet."

Leo nodded with a sigh. "Right you are," he muttered. "You all saw the System's message. All Nightmares were thirty percent weaker during the storm. With this, my speed was enough to at least let me stay a bit ahead of the chase after they finally found me. I'm not saying it was easy because it wasn't. But I managed to get to ReachHope with only a few bruises and broken bones to show it."

As he finished this part of the explanation, the silence lasted only for a short moment.

"So the building and barrier still stood when you got there?" Holden questioned.

"Yeah," Leo dropped his gaze to the table, memories of slaughtered bodies flashing in front of his eyes. "It didn't matter though. I was too late."

Clara stuttered. "But the barrier!"

He chuckled bitterly. "It must have been too weak to hold them all back at that point. Fucking hell, it broke a few minutes later. I'm not even surprised that a single Collector managed to somehow slip inside."

Here was where he changed the most crucial part of the story. Instead of making Adam the villain, he transferred the blame onto a random Nightmare. He didn't even feel bad about the manipulation; he couldn't.

"A Collector? But..." The only woman among them muttered, hands over her mouth.

"It slaughtered everyone inside," he continued, refusing to meet anyone's eyes. "By what I saw, they were in the process of moving towards the basement. They were just a bit too late. Nobody survived. Your people. Ava. Adam..."

Leo gritted his teeth, fists clenching as anger coursed through his veins. Even if he was giving them half-truths, those memories, those feelings were still raw in his mind. He didn't even have to try to fake them.

"I know you probably don't want to hear it, but I'm sorry for your loss," Holden broke the silence first, his voice coming out softer than ever before. "Maybe if I tried harder, lead everyone better..."

"Pretty much what he said, mate," Frank added, his tone somber. "None of these people should have suffered like that, and especially not a young kid. I might have called some of them useless, but at the end of the day, they trusted us to keep them safe. And we failed... Now, all that's left is to move on. Learn from our mistakes and survive. Adapt."

Clara didn't even try to follow up with another speech and instead offered him a sad smile. A smile he most likely didn't deserve for the manipulation of the truth.

It doesn't matter. I did what was necessary.

"Thanks," Leo offered them all a light smile, even if it didn't look particularly good on his unique face. "Still, I guess you all would like to know how I'm even here, hmm?"

"If you don't mind, then yes, please," Holden nodded.

He shrugged. "Sure... Though I'm gonna disappoint you, I don't know much about what happened. My rage took over when I found the bodies, and my unique racial skill activated... I blacked out and awoke sometime later, kneeling in the middle of dead Voidlings."

"So that was you. Bloody hell," Frank muttered. "You really don't know how you killed them all? What about that skill of yours? Does it explain anything?"

"No," Leo shook his head, going for another half-truth. "I gained it not that long ago, and its description isn't too forthcoming. I wish I could tell you more, but I just can't. All I know is that I killed a shit tone of Voidlings and got the experience for it."

"Not what I wanted to hear, but beggars can't be choosers. At least it explains why I can't Identify you. You are likely too bloody strong for that," Frank noted before narrowing his eyes. "And where were you yesterday?"

You ain't gonna believe this.

"Sleeping. My body pretty much shut down a bit after I found a place to rest. I awoke like not even an hour ago."

"You slept for over a day?" Clara gaped.

"Sure looks like it," Leo said. "Trust me, I was just as surprised as you are. Although, I'm more thankful that nothing found me when I was out."

"Lucky indeed," Holden shook his head. "So what's your plan now, Hale? If I may be blunt, our deal didn't cover such a situation."

The atmosphere in the room suddenly grew tense. Even Clara and Frank, who were always more easy-going, felt it, their shoulders squared and ready to jump into action if necessary. They were worried, scared even, and Leo couldn't blame them for that.

Despite coming to like the trio before him, he didn't care about anyone else in the group. They didn't matter in the long run and couldn't offer him anything.

Except maybe for Dylan, the older man was always good company...

Alright, then. Leo sighed. Let's put your worries to the rest. After all, even if I don't care about the people, this place can still be useful.


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