In the beginning, the anomaly had been a mere fluke; a smaller part in a grander quest across the cosmos. Quickly though, we had realised the potential, and even quicker, that potential no longer became ours to control. We had created life, but at what cost?
- The Elysian Gospel
He had already have thought to experience it once, and even if he hadn’t actually turned out to be dead, it was in no way a pleasant experience, so Brock was more than happy to avoid dying a second time. The prompt didn’t disappear, persisting throughout his inner thoughts and just kind of hanging there, as though it was waiting for its audience to discard it.
Ignoring that for the moment though, Brock levelled his gaze on the steadily ticking down numbers. It was now at 719:54:52, and it was enough to tell him that the time was measured in hours/minutes/seconds, meaning he had approximately… 30 days to collect the ‘Original Life’ from the ‘Source’, whatever either happened to mean.
Though he was aware that he should probably seek them out quick. A month... isn't a long time to have left to live...
Aside from all that, Brock still found himself wondering if this was truly all real. The city had been transformed into a jungle scape in what he assumed was a single night, his co-workers, and judging from the lack of noise outside the building too, everyone else, had disappeared, leaving him behind. Not to mention the void he had been transported to, and the texts that ceaselessly continued to invade his vision.
While it might really just be a fever dream thought up by his splattered mind, or something else entirely, Brock decided it was best if he just went through the day under the impression that it was in fact a world-shattering upheaval of the highest primordial order. In the end, if it ended up all being a dream, him acting like it was some sort of game wouldn’t affect him in the slightest when it ended. It didn’t bode well for being flipped the other way, however.
Scooping up the nearest beer bottle and shooting it into the bin on the other side of the room with perfect, pinpoint accuracy, Brock muttered ‘swish’ and gave the room a final look over, though like the rooftop, no one was there to be found.
Despite the lack of any sort of human-made sound from the outside, Brock concluded that searching for others was the best idea as of right now, seeing as nothing else presented some method to the madness for him to follow. If he was still here and not whisked away to wherever everyone else had gone, there might have been also others left behind like him, though he doubted the 'disposing' and 'error' prompts were part of the norm.
Still, it didn’t hurt to try anyway, and the presence of other people would only be a boon as he tackled the mysterious transformed world that awaited him. He wasn’t sure what all that mumbo jumbo about F Grade Wildlife or increased energy density meant, but he had a feeling it wouldn’t be good for him, even if the latter seemed to be responsible for the enrichment of the air to some degree.
He sucked in a breath, "it's... kinda nice."
Humming the tune of the first song that came to mind, Brock skipped down the remaining stairs as he attempted to dispel the ‘quest’ screen looming in front of him. He wasn’t well versed in the details of games as a whole, as he often found himself lacking the time to play them, even if he enjoyed doing so, but after trying a slew of different verbal commands, the screen flickered away at simply ‘close’.
It left Brock slightly embarrassed that it wasn’t his first choice.
Already on the path on System discovery, Brock went ahead with the other obvious choice he could see, and asked the System a question despite its previous outward display of unnecessary ignorance, “Hey System, mate… where’s the Source; the one in my... uh... quest?”
Brock raised a brow at the singular word hovering in front of him, “Can you be more… I dunno... specific?”
“Well, why the fuck not?" his voice echoed within the building.
Much to his annoyance, the System didn’t reply this time. Asshole.
Soured by the clear fact that the System was as much a dick as the magpie who had essentially got him into this whole predicament, Brock grumbled on his way out of the building, soon finding himself being forced to smash the glass sliding doors with a chair to escape when their signature sliding aspect seemed to function as no longer intended. He desperately hoped the security cams didn’t either.
Throwing chairs through windows was a good way to lose his job.
Carefully stepping over the sharded minefield he had created, Brock marvelled at the literal concrete jungle as it loomed far above his head, an unnaturally natural amalgamation of both man and nature, possessing the inherent beauties of each. Down here, while the air was a tad bit warmer, it also had the slightest tinge more of that strange enrichment that had been present since he had reappeared.
In either direction, the labyrinthine streets seemed to stretch on far into the horizon, the road he had travelled almost every day for an entire two years looking borderline unrecognisable to his eyes as he peered to the left and the right. As the prior indication the noise level had given him, the area was utterly devoid of human presence, making it appear akin to a wasteland of an ancient age long passed.
He even saw the rusting remains of lichen-covered cars parked along the footpaths, some even swerved off the road and embedded in storefronts, a side effect of abruptly finding no one behind the wheel. Brock would have attempted to use them to assist him in his traversal of the city while he searched for his own kind, but the lichens and vines upon the majority of the vehicles didn’t seem to be exclusive to the exterior.
In other terms, Brock didn’t trust them to refrain from exploding with him inside, let alone start in the first place.
"Guess I'm walking then, huh?" he grumbled.
He knew it was something the pudge around his belly would not particularly like the idea of, but regardless, Brock got on with it, idly fixing the cufflinks of the simple suit and tie he had worn to the party, though the back of it was now marred by some of the dust he had collected during his impromptu staircase landing.
It was nothing compared to the lovely yellow sundress Carrie had worn to the party, but it was still a nice suit nonetheless, if you asked him. She looked... pretty.
Strolling down the pavement and avoiding the bulk of the overgrowth as to not ruin the genuine leather shoes he had chosen to wear, Brock surveyed his surrounding with a childish wonder, trying and failing as he attempted to ponder the means with which the System managed to achieve all of this. If it was all even real.
The possibility of this being a fever dream was yet to fade from his mind.
Eventually, after walking a few blocks down and seeing absolutely no sign of lingering humanity among the roots and vines, Brock entered a nearby building, just a simple Subway chain restaurant. It was one he often went and got his lunch from during breaks. Carefully, he peered inside, “Hey, anyone here? Hello?”
The bell above the door made a ringing noise as Brock entered fully, gazing around, “Jamie? You here?”
Jamie. Ahhh, Jamie. The sweet boy. He was Brock’s favourite person out of all the workers here, often being able to be seen working most if not every day during the week. He was a real nice bloke, and it was common for him to just go and give Brock food on the house. Quietly, he had held out hope that he’d be here, but from the looks of it, the place was just as barren as everywhere else.
Like he was the only one in the entire city. The thought was... horrifying. Being alone definitely isn't my favourite thing in the world.
As he eyed the restaurant, Brock’s mind couldn't help but cling tightly to the possibility of that apparent loneliness extending to a worldly scale and leaving him as the sole human on the planet, not just city. He tried not to think about it as he vaulted over the counter and glanced around suspiciously, before proceeding to make his own breakfast. If there was anything that could get his mind off the darker thoughts in his head, it was a good feed.
"Nothing beats apocalypse food."
One cheesy meatball sub plus salads later and Brock was patting his bulging stomach and groaning with pleasure, the allure of Subway just too good for him to resist. Letting himself lean back over the backing of the seat he was resting in, Brock tried to recall what was required to bring up that ‘status’ menu he had seen in games and books alike, but ultimately made no breakthroughs.
If his brother James was here, he was sure the kid would be thriving and then some.
“What was it again? Menu? Stats?” Brock scratched his chin as he pondered, “Open Screen!”
He snorted, “I feel like a dickhead...”
Partially glad that there was not a single soul left around to hear him, a grown man, yell out game commands like he was twelve, Brock sunk further into his chair and sighed, “Status?”
This, much to Brock’s delight, finally elicited a reaction from the System, although it wasn’t the one he was expecting.
[Use a Shard of Awakening to be granted full access to the System.]
[Shard of Awakening used: 0/1]
Brock eyed over the prompt for a few seconds before dismissing it, using a mental command instead of a verbal one and smirking as it succeeded. He would have loathed going out in public and having to speak to himself to use the strange functions he had been provided with, not that he actually had any to use as of current.
Not until he used a so-called Shard of Awakening at least. Just one more mysterious 'fuck you' to go and find, I guess.
That still left him with the very sensible question of how to obtain one, and much like everything else that had been happening recently, he had no idea what to do next about it. And of course, the System didn’t deign to grant even a modicum of indication on the topic of how to acquire one such item.
Brock couldn't help but sigh.
Putting those matters aside, he soon found himself back on the road with a full belly and a slightly warm bottle of vanilla coke in hand, the fridge having had lost its cooling effect along with the electricity that fuelled it, something he desperately hoped didn’t affect the entirety of the city. Although looking back, the office hadn’t had any lights on either, despite the fact they had certainly been on the night before.
"Bloody hell," his day only seemed to get worse as soon as it got better.
Taking a swig of his coke and burping with pleasure as the bubbly drink slid down his throat and filled his mouth with its sweet sugary nectar, Brock froze while he was screwing the lid back onto the bottle. He swore he caught sight of movement in one of the buildings' front windows. Given a bit more time, he would have run forth and approached whatever was inside too, if not for the fact the dark figure exploded through said window in a shower of glass and midnight fur.
Brock halted mid-step as the strange creature regained its bearings and stood tall before him, easily reaching a height nearing his shoulders. With just a precursory glance, Brock could see it possessed a coat of matted black fur, as well as a terrifying maw populated by dual rows of dagger-like fangs. A second set of glowing red eyes were set further up in its forehead, and both pairs watched him predatorily.
The monstrous canine craned its head toward him, making Brock instinctively take a few steps back, grimacing as he looked at the thick strings of drool leaking from the beast’s maw. It almost looked like a wolf, but a far mutated cousin, maybe even one from another planet. A third cousin maybe? It wasn’t as horrifying as the silhouettes in the black, but certainly enough to make Brock want to shit himself and run.
"...what would it take for you to not kill me?"
An excerpt of text flickered into existence and floated above its head ominously.
[F] Pontiac (LVL 2)
The beast barely gave Brock enough time to read the words as it pounced forward, its monstrous gullet opening wide to unrealistic proportions, eager to snap closed and devour his neck in its entirety. Brock found himself lacking a safe amount of time to react, throwing himself out the way a second later and crashing painfully into a root slithering across the road, scuffing his suit further in the process.
While he was not able to admit he had fought a wolf before, he was certain they weren’t meant to move that fast.
Yeah. That’s definitely not a fucking Pontiac.
Hastily, Brock climbed back to his feet, only to find himself abruptly smashed to the ground as the beast continued its onslaught and leapt atop him. He had no time to muster a proper defence, merely a loose guard of crossed arms that barred the monster’s claws access to the soft flesh of his chest and neck beneath.
Unfortunately, the skin of his appendages were forced to endure in their place.
Brock bit back a blood-curdling scream as the claws tore into his extremities, carving through meat and gently scraping against bone. Agony flared down his limbs and bashed at his sanity. It coursed through him and threatened to render the world nothing more than a visage of mismatched whites. His own blood splattered over him as his wounds pumped out red.
Desperately, he regained his focus and slipped his head out the way of the beast’s dangerous maw as it snapped down over where his head had been seconds prior. It was an effort to keep his bleeding arms steadfast in the face of its bestial power, but Brock pushed his willpower to the limits, quickly tucking his legs up to his chest and kicking out with all the might he could muster, launching the beast off to the side.
The claws slopped out of his wounds, rewarding Brock with the cruel tickle of anguish, but he ignored it and gritted his teeth, fear driving him as he reached over and grasped a shard of glass in his hand. The adrenaline flooding throughout his body numbed the pain as the edges cut at his skin.
Meeting the eyes of his horrifying foe, Brock got up again and observed the Pontiac closely. It looked truly startled at the resistance he had managed to put up until now. Yeah. Fuck you.
Disrespected by the clear power disparity, the wolf creature snarled its fury and bounded forward, grey drool dribbling from its revealed fangs.
Panting heavily and overcome by pain from his slashed-up arms, Brock thumbed the flat part of his makeshift weapon for comfort and attempted to dodge the beast. Through the blood loss and terror, he moved far too late. Brock barely registered what had happened as he was thrown to the ground once more, smacking into the pavement hard enough to scramble his thoughts.
The man gasped for breath, left winded by the heavy collision. His eyes stared upward, frozen wide with terror as the beast loomed over him victoriously. Its mouth opened wider than anything that should be possible, thick strings of slobber falling out and splattering across the face of the human pinned beneath.
As its head reared back, Brock growled, and he swung.
The next moment, its eyes widened. Breathing shakily as he felt the shard puncture through the monster's temple, Brock gritted his teeth and pushed, forcing the impromptu weapon as far in as it would go, until finally, it cut into its brain, dribbling blood out onto his hands.
Its skull was weaker than he thought it'd be.
Its body shuddered and spasmed, the light slowly bleeding from its eyes, and Brock coughed as the heavy corpse collapsed atop him. Ignoring the twitching and the quiet, half-hearted death whines, he didn't even bother to roll the creature off of him. For now, he was just content to focus on making it through the torturous maelstrom of sensations assaulting either of his arms.
A quick glance was all Brock needed to see that they were a reddened mess of sloppily flayed flesh, blood spurting from the wounds freely and painting the asphalt a dark shade of crimson. Hurriedly, he did his best to remove his tie, and he tied it around one of his arms, stemming the blood flow somewhat.
Brock wasn’t exactly sure what he expected from all the changes the so-called ‘System’ had made, but human-sized mutant monsters with the names of old cars weren’t at all along the lines of what he was thinking. Although in hindsight, he definitely should have seen it coming. What was a game without an enemy to fight, after all?
Time seemed to freeze as a sudden thought turned Brock’s remaining blood to ice in his veins.
...Don’t wolves come in packs?