The apocalypse was… real. It didn’t help me or anyone else to pretend that it wasn’t. That was just a fact in my head, obvious. The survivors from the library, however, clung to hope. Not for survival, but for a return to normalcy.
I didn’t know why I recoiled at that.
“It’s because I’ve been waiting for this.” Third said to me.
Fourth responded, three of us sitting around a small fire. “For something, for anything.”
I looked at them, mirrors of myself, covered in different dirt. Yet undoubtedly me. “If I could make it so none of this happened, I… would.”
“Would you?” I said to myself.
Down in the camp, surrounded by survivors. “Hey, you alright?” A voice sounded next to me.
I turned and found Jonathan, the person who had left the note. I’d thought that the group of survivors would have some kind of leader. It turned out that wasn’t the case. It was just a herd of people trying to decide what to do. Jonathan, like Nicholas, was just another one among them.
“Yeah.” I said lamely, torn away from the conversation with myself. I looked at the figures huddled around small fires. Wet and miserable. Hot during the day, cold during the night. “It’s just… I don’t think things are gonna go back to normal.”
Jonathan was a younger man. Put together enough that I couldn’t tell if it was all a farce. It probably was, considering everything that had happened. His presence was still comforting, despite my pessimism.
“Neither do I.” He said simply. “But some people need to cling to something. Even if it's hopeless. That’s how you get hope.”
I turned to look at him.
“A couple of us have been experimenting.” He began. “We’re sharing what we learned so far with anyone who bothers to listen. These… weird messages? This summary of ourselves? You’ve seen it, right?”
I nodded, interested. Had they learned something I hadn’t?
“Most of the survivors were given Skills. A few were given Classes. I’m not sure if you’ve realized it yet, and don’t be alarmed, but you’re under one my Skills.”
I froze, slightly. “What is it?”
“Relax, it’s nothing harmful. [Veil of Safety]. It’s enough to cover the group and, for the past couple of days, its managed to keep us out of trouble.” He said. “I’m a [Protector].”
I took a breath of relief. That explained what I’d been curious about. The swamp was full of danger. I’d been ranging it for the past week and I was surprised they’d never attracted more than a single wolf. The goblins and wolves were the most aggressive and they’d barely been bothered by them.
Nicholas found us talking, striding over to take a seat next to us. “I’ve been putting points into PER. Helps me spot anything dangerous before it can be a problem. A couple of others reported the same thing I felt when I placed those points. Incremental changes, just enough to be noticeable. All of my senses were minutely enhanced.”
Jonathan picked up. “Strength, Dexterity, all the rest are the same. It’s like a video game.” He said, sighing. “I hate to put it that way, but it’s the truth.”
Something was bugging me. “Why are you telling me this? I’m a stranger.” Not to mention I was younger than both of them. They shouldn’t be trusting me so easily.
They looked at each other. Nicholas sighed. “You’re one of the few who see it as we do.” He said bleakly. “One of the few actually preparing. You wouldn’t have made it here otherwise.”
And I understood, right then, what they meant. Everyone else was waiting to be saved. Nicholas, Jonathan? They were like me. Trying to save themselves.
At the same moment, I realized they didn’t have anything for me here. They gave me context for this whole disaster, sure, but my Class, my abilities, and Skill? It was just as the description said.
The [Solo] excels at what their name suggests. They are self-sufficient individuals who rely entirely on themselves. Their specialty lies in their capacity to act on their own. Their Skills have a wide range of applications and are not necessarily confined to any one field, only that whatever path chosen is walked alone.
I was better off alone, without others to drag me down. I couldn’t even argue the other side. It was clear as day. I was self-sufficient, able to traverse the terrain easily, I had an early warning system, I could take risks where others couldn’t. The list went on. Alone, I had every benefit.
I was a [Solo]. And I was better off just so.
Yet somehow I couldn’t stop staring at these people. The world had been a cruel place even before the apocalypse. I knew because I was one such victim of that cruelty. Weren’t these people the same? Thrust into this uncertain reality, they would sink or swim. Their lives were on the line and while naive to expect to be saved, could I really blame them?
The original me stood up as First did the same, a mirror to our movements across the distance between us. One nestled between roots, the other surrounded by strangers. A perfect reflection. Two choices before me, a path alone and one with others.
The answer… wasn’t hard. I had the freedom to choose both. To choose my own path.
To lend help and move independently.
The more I thought of it the more it felt right. They didn’t have anything here worth permanently tying myself to, true, but I never had to in the first place did I? A clone amongst a group of survivors wouldn’t be wasted. It was another stream of information, another pick against the mountain of mystery brought upon by this apocalypse. It would help. And, in turn, I would help.
On the other side of the coin, I could explore this new reality with open eyes. It was only a hunch, one that grew the past week in the swamp. Where colorful flowers and moss grew alongside dangerous predators and unfamiliar creatures.
That this… world brought just as much wonder as danger. That amidst all the shadows I had seen, there were rays of light between the storm.