The rain plinked out a chaotic melody on Hatchet's helmet as he trudged through the city's streets. Luckily, the helmet was designed to keep most of the water off of him, funneling it past his neck to dribble onto his oiled rain slicker. From there it snaked along in runnels until finally dripping off to join the dirty puddles his boots were splashing through. He paused, now and again, to peer into one darkened alley or another. The streetlights were dim tonight, it seemed. Shadows were everywhere. The situation probably wasn't helped by the rain, which either came down in torrents so you couldn't see five feet in front of you, or else sort of settled into place as a heavy omnipresent mist. Which, of course, also made it difficult to see.
It also made it damnable hard to hold his weapon properly, covered in a sheen of water as everything was. "Bloody ridiculous," Hatchet grumbled. "Who in their right mind is going to do crime in weather like this?" Splash.
"That sort of attitude is just what they're counting on," Hatchet's companion said. "They figure they can out-tough us, and go about doing crime... listen to yourself. Doing crime? People don't do crime, Hatch. They commit crimes. Individually, like."
"Bugger off, Byrd." Splash, splash. "Guilds do crime. There's people making livings off of doing crime, wholesale."
"Anyway, what I'm saying is if we weren't out here they would be."
"Yeah? And how do we know they aren't out here anyway?" Ker-splosh. "They could be right around the bloody corner and we wouldn't know any different in this godsdamned weather until we tripped over 'em." Hatchet avoided a particularly large puddle. It had something small and dark floating on top of it. He stomped more energetically into the next one to make up for it.
"Well, when we trip over 'em we can arrest 'em," Byrd said with a chuckle. "Hey, there's a tea place just down the street here, isn't there? Those places are open all night long. Let's go get some."
Hatchet thought this over for a moment. He didn't much care for tea. Boil some dirty leaves in water and drink it? Blech. He'd stick to beer thankyouverymuch. On the other hand, the tea place would be warm. More, it would be dry. This appealed to him on a basic level. "Yeah," he said. "Sure."
As Byrd had suspected, the tea place was in fact open. It didn't seem to matter what time of day it was. If you found a tea place, it would be open and there would be people in it. Drinking tea, assuredly, but also discussing whatever the news of the day (or night) was. And, just as invariably, there would be the one odd bugger with the ink stained fingers furiously scribbling something down on a stack of paper.
The place quieted down as Byrd and Hatchet sloshed in through the door, shedding rain slickers and placing helmets firmly underarm. Byrd set his rifle against the wall by the door and shuffled up to get himself some dirty leaf water. Hatchet stayed by the door, rifle slung casually over one shoulder, one hand resting on the pommel of his sword. The other hand had a thumb hooked into his belt, close by the small leather pouch that contained his crystal. Say what you would about the glories of technology, Hatchet thought, man still had yet to find a better way of communicating than by crystal. It rankled the inventors to no end, of course. No matter what method they came up with to replace crystals it just never seemed to catch on.
He slowly scanned the crowd as Byrd collected his tea. He had no reason to suspect that any of them would cause trouble, of course. But people often said he was naturally suspicious. Of course, they often said a lot of things, some of which ended in street brawls. "What's the look of things, Hatch?" Byrd asked as he sipped from his steaming cup.
"Boring," he replied honestly. "Not an interesting character in the place." Several people had met his gaze as he scanned the room. A few had even smiled or nodded politely. Nothing like a proper bar, he thought.
Byrd shrugged. "They can't all be dives, mate. Hey, you sure you don't want to try any of this? It's-"
Byrd's cup of tea shattered on the floor as a ear splitting shriek split the night. Half a second later his rifle was in hand and he was following Hatchet out into the rain. Neither had bothered to don their slickers first, though they had thrown on their helmets. Byrd noted Hatchet still had his rifle slung. It was his sword that was ready, dripping water like it was giving a demonstration of what would happen later with the real thing.
"South," Byrd said. He tilted his head to the side and listened hard. A scream like that you usually hear something afterward. More muted screaming, or shouts, or something. Though with this rain...
Sure enough, a second scream followed the first. The two watchmen closed in on it like a carrier pigeon returning home. They found themselves in a small square, aligned to the cardinal directions and with a road leading off in each. Shops lined the sides of the square, all closed at this late hour. Despite that, a small group of people had gathered in the center of the square, looking half drowned and terrified. They recoiled as Hatchet moved into the light of a nearby streetlamp. When they recognized him for what he was, and saw Byrd with his rifle right behind, they looked less terrified. There were three, one woman and two men.
"What's going on here?" Byrd demanded. Hatchet let him do the talking, focusing instead on the crumpled form lying in the shadows between two lamps.
"It came out of the shadows!" The woman said hysterically. "It killed..." she looked over at the body Hatchet was now standing over, then hid her face.
"Must have been some sort of wild animal," one of the men volunteered. "We were walking, and suddenly this thing came right out of nowhere. It was on her before we could do anything, and... and then it was gone, and she was... is she dead?"
"Yeah," Hatchet confirmed. He frowned at the body. From the looks of it, they were telling the truth. No human could have caused so much damage in so short a time. But then, he'd seen men go into a mad frenzy before. Hopped up on the right drugs, it might be possible.
"We'll have to take you in for questioning," Byrd told the group, eying the surrounding area for signs of a wild animal.
"It's still out there," The woman complained. "We saw it. You have to get it, before it kills somebody else!"
"Whatever it was, it's probably long gone by now," Hatchet told them. "We'll put out a notice to the Watch. If they see something that could do this they'll kill it. You can be damn sure of that." He glanced at the body again. "I guess Bones'll want to have a look, make sure there was no foul - FUCK!"
Hatchet threw himself wildly to one side as something came streaking in from the corner of his vision. He wasn't fast enough, and something heavy slammed into his sword arm. The impact sent him spinning to the ground. He tried to roll with the fall, and mostly succeeded, but still had most of the wind knocked out of his lungs. When he came to a stop he was face down, trying to get the world stop spinning so madly. He was aware of his sword skittering across the wet cobblestones, and of a burning pain in his right arm and side. While he tried to recover, he heard screams and the report of Byrd'ss rifle. That motivated him. He pushed to his feet and whirled to face the square. Something was on Byrd... it was hard to tell what. Whenever he looked too closely it seemed to shift and change shape, constantly growing and retracting extremities. It made his head hurt just looking at it...
Gods, Hatchet! Do something! The rifle had somehow remained with him. He swung it off his shoulder and down into firing position, aiming as he did so. He didn't aim very carefully - the shifting nature of the beast made that difficult. Instead, he aimed for the center of the black mass and pulled the trigger. The recoil against his already injured arm nearly made him pass out, and he shouted in pain.
The creature jerked, giving him hope that he'd hit it. He fumbled to reload, but it was already off, sprinting into the shadows at the edge of the square with a chittering hiss. In the blink of an eye it had disappeared. He stared after it for a second, then looked to Byrd. He was lying on the ground, torso and arms a bloody mess. But he was still alive. Hatchet didn't know how, but the other watchman was pulling himself into a sitting position. They looked at one another in shock. From somewhere deep in the city, another scream echoed through the night.
"Shit," Hatchet growled. His hand went to his belt pouch and came back up with the crystal. He barked out the command word and the crystal came to life, flashing bright crimson before settling into a muted red glow. "Watchman wounded, Marxton Square! Send a medic, and be on the lookout for... for..." What the hell had that thing been?
"Hatchet, that you?" A disembodied voice floated from the crystal. "What are you on about?"
"Yes its me," Hatchet snapped. "Just get the bloody medic out here! Byrd's down. Something attacked him, an animal or something." He decided it would be easier to go with that than try to explain what it was he'd actually seen. They could do that later.
"Medic en route," the voice assured him. With another command, the crystal's inner light died and he stuffed it back into it's pouch. He made Byrd lie back down so he wouldn't make his wounds worse, reloaded his rifle, and hunkered down to wait for the medic.