As the three of them moved in a cautiously systematic circuit of the streets they each gratefully made note of an increased emptiness therein. At first they could each detect a handful of people occasionally rushing to return indoors from whatever task had kept them out. But with each passing breath such sights grew more and more rare. Within barely the first hour of their patrol everything had changed to make the pathways of Gallu resemble something dead.
It was the kind of environment that could make even the bravest hearted of men falter in fear. Imagination easily lent itself to the growing gloom to run amuck with mischief. Oliver couldn’t understand how both Gabriel and Vedia could seem so cool right now. The craftsman seemed to be carrying himself like it was just another day on the job for him. And Vedia herself seemed oddly distant, almost like she was so focused on matters that he couldn’t be certain she knew they were even with her.
Passing by a particularly foul smelling waste receptacle a strange sound caught at their attention and Vedia held her hand high to call for a halt. “Cover me,” she commanded quietly with her weapon drawn and trained on the odorous object. “I don’t think the beast we seek would be found skulking in the trash, it couldn’t fit in there,” Gabriel objected openly. But Vedia continued her approach with calculated careful steps. “We investigate everything,” she countered grimly.
Oliver once more asked himself inwardly why he had found himself in this position as he shakily drew his own weapon. The noise seemed to him to be likening to a scraping or scrabbling sound that didn’t ease his nerves in the least. As Vedia reached with her open hand to ease the lid up he found his breath held tightly in his chest and his pulse beginning to drum in his head.
Everything slowed to crawl for Oliver, Vedia held the lid aloft for what seemed like forever before she craned her neck to look inside. At first he hadn’t realized the sound from inside the bulging bin had ceased. But then the world around him exploded with motion. Something flew out from the opened lid like lightning to race past Vedia and Gabriel both. It cut close enough by Oliver that he thought he felt something fuzzy brush his pants leg to disappear behind him.
Panic grabbed at him like a leash and his mind quickly called up parts of what Gabriel had described before they had walked out to confront the night. The phantasm of a furry monster somewhere behind him was the entire imagined image he needed to completely shatter what little courage he had mustered. With his head spinning his fear seized him and drove him into a full run that led him at random to seek some manner of safety. In his flight he found a street lamp that still burned at the back corner of an alleyway. Panting he held his gun out to search for a target and tried desperately to recover his senses.
“What am I doing,” Oliver whimpered to himself in the shelter of the lamp light. “I just ran away from the rest of my squad and for what? Some stray pet? By all the stars in the sky I am a coward!” As Oliver wrestled with his own guilt Vedia and Gabriel had already set themselves to find their jumpy companion.
“Let’s locate the fool quickly,” Vedia remarked as she turned from the now silent storage unit. “It isn’t wise for us to separate our forces out here. We need to consolidate our power to ensure our own safety and the success of our mission.” Gabriel stepped forward to take the lead and after sniffing the wind motioned towards an alleyway in the distance. “I think he went that way,” he offered. “Aren’t you worried about the poor boy though,” he had to ask as they started to pursue their peer.
“I mean this can’t exactly be easy for anyone, let alone someone fresh to the force.” Vedia followed Gabriel’s lead with a peculiar sense of curiosity at how he seemed to know precisely which direction Oliver had gone when neither of them had seen his exit. She could care less about the scared scrap’s feelings; if he jeopardized the squad again they could all be dead or worse, reprimanded. Vedia could never live with a blemish like that on her record.
“There is the little guy,” Gabriel pointed out the trembling figure of Oliver standing at the rear of the alleyway. “Don’t be too hard on him Officer Corvan, before we are through it could be any one of us in his shoes.” Oliver lowered his weapon at the sight of his fellow squad members approaching and started to hang his head in shame. “I’m so sorry,” he instantly began to plead.
But when he rose his head to look up once more there was something faint moving behind his companions. It had to be his imagination again; he couldn’t let it keep tricking him he decided. And yet as Gabriel closed to stand before him with Vedia right behind the lamps light cast the thing in the dim edge of its illumination. It was no fur covered beast but instead moved like some horrid semblance of a man. A sickening wave of nausea was carried to him by the night time breeze that quickly made him realize this was anything but his imagination.
“Look out!” Oliver advised as he steadied his aim and loosed a blast from his firearm. The shot was carried past the others to slam home perfectly into the things shoulder with a wet crunch. Still the creature continued to come towards them. As it passed into the light he could make out clearer now that this was no living person, but instead looked more like something dead. Its skin had the stretched and pallor of something decayed parts of its flesh even absent.
Gabriel spun to face the foul presence and immediately found the Doc’s warning understood. This must be what she had meant by other nightmarish things that could be unleashed if nobody acted to stop the creature. He could feel his own anger rising as Vedia took aim and fired off a volley as well to no effect. The results of her offensive puzzled her as she tried to make sense of how the thing still moved after being shot.
The thought of being seen by the others never even crossed his mind as Gabriel fed on his inner fury and allowed it to sweep through him. He was not about to stand by and watch as they fell victim to some foul monster. With a mighty roar he declared his defiant challenge to the thing and stepped forward.
“Stay behind me,” Gabriel suggested with a snarl. “This could get ugly.” As they watched on a beast of reddish brown fur and shinning metal stepped forward in the moonlight to confront the oncoming horror.