In the dark streets of Centro, something is amiss. People are disappearing in the alleyways without a trace, and always in the dark hours of twilight. The city is isolated from the rest of civilization. No help can come. And escape is impossible.
But there is even more danger afoot. The secrets are waiting to be discovered, and when they are unveiled, the survival will begin.
And the only way out is death…
The tall spires shimmered and steamed in the half-light of the early morning. It was quiet, there was no noise at all. Not a sound.
Entenn walked down the sidewalk. He didn't like to be out at this time, it seemed too creepy. But if he wanted to get there on time, it had to be early. No matter what his feelings were, this had to get---
He heard something behind him. A rustling.
The Lutrian's paws began to sweat, but he kept walking. Probably just another Rizzak.
But the sound returned, and got louder. Like something was coming closer. Something big.
Nervous now, Entenn stopped, and, slowly, forced himself to turn around.
And then he ran.
Bolting away with all his strength, he could hear puffing behind him, breathing, screeching, and the clatter of footsteps. There was a door nearby, he could see it, if he darted in he would be safe, but it was fast, and he was not, but he continued on anyway.
And then there was a sharp, stabbing pain in his back, and he fell, wheezing. He was pinned to the ground, and there was nothing more he could do, but he forced himself to look toward his attacker, and then he saw the mouth, and then heard the crunch of bones, and then---
Peref hurriedly moved down the hall. Akteg had asked him to come to the office, and he was never one to be trifled with.
Of course, the cause of this matter was almost obvious. Hrios was a well-organized city, to be sure, but they all had their issues. Some more than others.
He opened the door to Akteg's office. He did not say anything; there was no need.
Looking up from his work, the Zyrothan addressed Peref. "I appreciate your coming on such short notice. But I think you already know what the matter of this meeting is. The disappearances."
"Simply put, they are getting more numerous. There's a specific pattern to it, they always happen at dawn or dusk. It never happens at night or in the day. Always in the crepuscular hours."
"What else is there?" Peref spoke for the first time.
"Not much else," Akteg said, flipping through the reports. "We need a proper investigation for any more information to be gathered." He paused for a moment, before adding: "We have some details about the latest incident though."
"Alright. An explanation?"
"This time it was a Lutrian. A few minutes before the disappearance, there was a Mordon sighted flying over the area."
"You think there's a connection?"
"Maybe. Let's not jump to conclusions just yet."
Peref thought that was odd. Mordons were almost strict scavengers, he'd never heard of one attacking somebody.
"In any case, we can't inform anyone else about this. You know how the city was isolated; it was our wish, to have a quiet, free city. Other than the mechanical supply boats that come every week or so, we have no contact with the outside world. If we want to solve this, we have to do it ourselves."
Peref sat down. "So, who's going to be in this investigation?"
"Well, so far we have an Atrenid under consideration, a few Vrah mercenaries, and, well, I was hoping you'd come along."
There was a silence.
"You've got the background for it. Your experience on planets like Aristotle is invaluable to us. Of all the Salsenes we could choose in this city, you were the obvious choice."
Peref hissed under his breath, and said, "OK."
Akteg smiled. "Alright then. Let's go meet your new friends."
What adjectives can you use in describing a sewer? Damp, dark, dirty, disgusting, depleted, and damn creepy. That was what Peref felt about the place right now.
He was walking through one right now, with the so-called "team". Laeon, the Atrenid, was searching intently. Peref didn't even know what they were searching for, honestly. "Evidence for the disappearances," that's what the briefing said. And that the sewer was the most likely place to find this evidence. It was annoying.
The troop of Vrah that were working for them were split in front and behind them, to ward off any attack they might encounter. They brought a couple of Skarg along with them, so at least that was comforting.
Peref gave in. "I don't know what the krag we're looking for in here. Why do they want us in a sewer?" he asked. "Unless they expect us to find giant mutated Rizzak that got flushed down the toilets."
"To be honest, I haven't got a clue," Laeon said. "I doubt anything would want to live down here." She peered down a side tunnel.
"All I want to do is shoot things and then get out of here," one of the Vrah said. "Stinks in here."
Droplets of water fell from the top of the sewer, dripping down into the sludge below. Every noise produced a lasting, distorted echo. It was eerie.
Peref pointed his flashlight towards the wall, aimlessly. He didn't want to think about what diseases were thriving in here. And the stench of whatever was decaying---
"Whatever's causing these disappearances," he barked, "it can't be down in here. If they're looking for one kidnapper, why are they saying he's a vicious animal? I just don't understand what the Hrios gov is playing."
Laeon nodded. "Nothing large could live down here. The resources just aren't there---"
Everyone looked toward the Vrah. His flashlight beam was focused further ahead in the sewer, pointing at the sludge.
They walked up, and then stopped. Even from farther away, the Vrah could clearly see what the pale shape was.
"What is it?" Laeon asked.
"It's a leg."
"Don't you see what this means? Someone, or something is killing people and dumping the bodies in the sewers. For all we know we've got a homicidal maniac loose on the streets!"
"Let's not jump to conclusions," Akteg said. "We should look into this notion further."
Peref and the team he led were standing inside the Zyrothan's office. The discovery of the leg in the sewers was a big one, and the problem needed a solution. Fast.
"There's no question about what's happening. People are getting killed!"
"I know it is quite a shock, and it's a prospect we'd all like to stop thinking about as well. But we have to determine more about the killer. Is it just someone's pet on the loose, or a sapient being?"
"I don't care who it is. We should have all of Hrios on full alert, we can't have this happen again."
Akteg furrowed his brow. "I understand that, and very clearly. But protection of the populace is my number one concern. If we tell them about all this, we can't be sure what could arise next. There could be panic in the streets, for all I know."
Peref glanced at the rest of the group. Judging by the looks on their faces, they could see that arguing with Akteg was getting them nowhere.
Laeon straightened. "Well, then. If that's the case, what do you want us to do?"
Akteg looked her in the eye. There was silence for a moment, before the Zyrothan sighed.
"I'll do the best I can to get a few more mercs," he said. "In the meantime, I'll let you stay away from the sewers. Just---look. Look for anyone, anything that seems suspicious in any way. Ask around if you have to. Just don't let on. Having the entire island panic is the last thing I want to happen."
"And if we do find something of immediate interest?" Laeon raised an eyeridge.
Akteg smiled. "You know who to call."
Night was falling. Centro's sun was dipping past the horizon, and few people remained on the streets. It looked perfectly normal, but there was a distinct sense of uneasiness floating around.
"Right," Peref said, "I have next to no idea what to do next. I shouldn't even be involved in this; this is hardly a job for my level of expertise. They say I'm an expert, but I think they just do that to make me feel better. Guys?"
One of the Vrah stepped forward. "A quick scan of the city should be in order. We don't want to overlook the obvious. If we split up we can cover more ground. Three of 'em should be enough, each with a couple of mercs in case anything nasty turns up. We have remote contact with us in case we need it, so relay should be quick."
"Yeah, what he said."
They quickly organized themselves, and Peref saw Laeon disappear around a corner with her group. He was left alone with two Vrah.
"...Let's go that way." He pointed towards a street heading east.
Peref led the Vrah down the road. There was no sign of anything important; a few pieces of garbage rested on the walkway and a Rizzak skittered across their path. That was it, really.
It was now mostly dark, and the forming clouds further obscured the light. Peref could see thunderheads rolling in the sky. It would rain soon, and he didn't want to be out in a downpour. Normally, he liked rain, but he could live without downpours, and the acidity of the water around here didn't help much either.
He started pulling up his hood when one of the Vrah stopped him. "Listen," it whispered.
Peref could hear nothing except distant thunder.
And then he did hear it: a scratching, scuffling sound. Light footsteps against the street surface.
Peref made his way quietly along the road. The Vrah flanked him and had their guns at the ready.
The scuffling was louder now, and very close. Secretly, Peref hoped it was just a big Rizzak, but he had his nagging doubts.
Very slowly, he peered around the corner into a dark alleyway.
In the dark, he could see the faint colors of a stack of shipping containers, but no more.
Peref loosened up and let out a deep sigh. He was about to ask a question when the Vrah quickly and silently yanked him back around the corner.
His mouth muffled, he started to flail in protest when one of the Vrah shushed him and pointed back towards the alleyway. They allowed Peref to look back in with one eye.
In the darkness he could make out a shape. An animalistic shape, standing on two legs. A small head and a long tail. With vicious-looking claws.