Story by Drake_The_Traveller on SoFurry

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Starfox: Liberation Chapter 8: Abyss If you stare too long into the abyss...it stares back... -Anonymous Alaric twisted the coupling of wires and sparks flew as the door light flashed from green to red. Satisfied, he pulled back from the console and watched as it slid open effortlessly to reveal a long corridor shrouded in darkness. Alaric was disquieted by the continuous stream of dark corridors and absence of any signs of life. They should have stumbled upon somebody by now. There was no feasible way that after more than an hour of wandering, that they had not discovered anyone. Back in the war, he had developed a kind of sixth sense for imminent danger. It manifested as a tingling in the back of his head. And at that moment it felt more like a dagger jammed into the back of his skull. Krystal stuck as close to him as she could, pressed tightly up to his glowing RIG's spine as he walked. She refused to distance herself any more than what was absolutely necessary, and Alaric could understand why. It was a damn ghost ship, and an unsettling one at that. Alaric was starting to believe that the entire ship was deserted. But that wouldn't make any sense. The starliner was not the broken ship, there was no visible damage and most of the power still surged through its systems. He thought that maybe the humans might have tried to overpower the vessel, but that was far down the list of plausibility. It was statistically impossible for a group of less than fifty humans to take over a ship of this magnitude. Krystal suddenly yipped and threw herself against him, clinging desperately to his back and whining softly. Alaric brought his left hand backwards to hold her protectively to him and raised his rifle in the other to scan the darkened corridor. "What is it?" He whispered. The blue holographic sight from his rifle skimmed around them in a search for targets. "I-I t-thought I heard s-something." She replied with a frightened whimper as her muzzle sat on his shoulder and gazed out from behind him. Her triangular ears swiveled around atop her furred head and her emerald green eyes held genuine terror in them. Alaric didn't see anything out of place and sighed, lowering his head. "There's nothing here, let's keep moving. We have to make it to the bridge and find out what's wrong here." "I-I know I heard something!" She yipped defensively and pointed towards a closed door. "It came from over there." Alaric rolled his eyes and pushed her away. Krystal's imagination was probably making her hear things. He had seen it in soldiers before. Whenever there was a situation like this, there was always someone who began to hear and see things that weren't there. Still, he would amuse her. "Fine, I'll go check." "No!" She barked and clutched him to her chest fiercely. "Stay here!" "You said you heard something. Therefore I have to debunk your theory." Alaric retorted as he pulled her off and walked towards the closed door. Krystal whimpered and watched him go, clutching herself to her chest and glancing around the corridor fretfully. "D-don't." Alaric shook his head and stepped in front of the door and activated the holographic interface. The light flashed green and the door slid open. Alaric stepped inside and used the light on his gun to look around. "Damn dark in here." He muttered to himself as he strode farther inside. Krystal meaped when the door slid shut behind him and she was left in the dark hallway. Alone, the corridor took on a far more menacing aura and it seemed to become dimmer. Her eyes strained to see in the darkness and she was certain she saw shapes flickering in the shadows. It's just in your head. She told herself mentally as she began to fitfully stand in place. Her sandaled paws dragged across the deck and she picked up a faint noise in the distance. It sounded like many pairs of claws scuttling across the floor at a rapid pace.  The sound was getting louder and she whimpered, scrunching her eyes closed and squeezing herself tighter. In my head, in my head, it's all in my head. She intoned repeatedly and shook her muzzle. The scurrying noise increased in volume before suddenly going silent. The vixen sat in silence and couldn't force herself to open her eyes, fearing what she might see when she did. He heart was hammering inside her chest and threating to burst as her body shook in terror. Krystal felt something cold latch onto her shoulder and she yipped piercingly, trying to tear herself away from whatever monster managed to get a hold of her. "Get away!" She screamed, clawing at her attacker with all her might, eyes still tightly shut. She felt her claws tug against flesh and a warm trickle of liquid ran down her arm. A second appendage roughly grabbed hold of her she felt herself get pressed against something cold and hard as the two limbs wrapped around her chest as she thrashed and desperately tried to escape her confinement. "Goddamnit Krystal, calm the hell down!" A familiar voice barked in frustration. Immediately her thrashing ceased and she slowly lifted her eyelids open, taking in the unamused marred and bleeding face of Alaric scant inches from her own. The human had deep ragged lacerations on his cheek where crimson blood leaked from four almost identical grooves in his flesh. Alaric was staring at her in disbelief, still holding her arms to her side in case she freaked out again. "What the hell was that about?" "I-I...." She began to tear up and buried her muzzle roughly into his uninjured cheek, tears streaming from her eyes. 'I-I there was....it...I..." She hiccupped unintelligibly and sobbed loudly. "Jesus Christ!" Alaric muttered in shock as he held the bawling vixen in his arms and looked down upon her. "I was gone for less than five minutes. What happened?" She reluctantly pulled away from her distressed and tearful nuzzling and looked up to his face. Krystal had calmed down by then and noticed the gashes on his cheek. Immediately, guilt seeped into her as she realized that she had been striking him and not the monster she had perceived him to be in her fright. "I thought there was something with me." She explained meekly. "Well, I can confidently tell you that it is just the two of us. That room was empty." His furious expression was slowly replaced with concern. "There's nothing here Krystal, not that I can see. The hall is empty." She nodded weakly and whimpered as she looked upon his bleeding visage. "Your face..." "I'll be fine." He shrugged off. "I've taken worse wounds in my time. I just hope that next time you look before you start clawing at someone." He chuckled dryly. "At least let me clean you up." She pleaded repentantly. "How are you going to do that?" Alaric questioned. In response, she shifted her muzzle up to his cheek and began to gently bathe the wounds with her tongue, lapping the blood away and staunching its gentle flow. She knew that her saliva had healing effects, transferring over from her feral ancestors long ago. It should staunch his bleeding and promote healing. There wouldn't even be a scar. The vixen tried to ignore the unsettling coppery tang of his blood and focused on her task, finishing in under a minute. Alaric looked down at her in confusion, startled at her method of helping him. It was certainly nothing he had ever experienced before. The damp tickling of her tongue and whiskers sent a shiver down his spine, and he was unsure as to whether it was of revulsion or something else altogether. The vixen pulled her muzzle away, smiling as she looked up at him. "There, all better." Alaric lifted a gauntlet and pressed it against the wounds, noticing that they no longer bled and even most of the pain had faded. "So it is." He marveled. That was a pretty handy ability to have, if a little unorthodox. "What's the plan now?" "Now..." Alaric stated as he turned back to the corridor. "We resume our journey to the bridge. We need to find a terminal of some kind. Then I should be able to get the schematics for the ship." She nodded at that and moved past him, heading to the branching corridor ahead of them. She wanted to give a little distance for now until she felt that she could look at him without feeling guilty at her embarrassing actions earlier. Alaric moved to follower her and stepped on something brittle that crumbled under his boot. Curious, he moved his boot and crouched down. A strange little object sat semi-flattened on the deck. He picked it up in his gauntlet and lifted it up to his face to study it. The thing looked like a shard of bone, but it was off. It looked like some sort of claw or perhaps a hooked talon. One thing Alaric knew for certain was that it had not been sitting there when he left her unaccompanied. The man dropped the strange bone-like object and grasped his weapon resolutely, increasing his pace to stand beside Krystal. It would not be wise to leave her alone again. "Stay close." He ordered firmly as he took the left turn. She nodded and placed a paw on his shoulder. Alaric didn't want Krystal to worry so he left out the new discovery.

Fox paced the bridge restlessly as he studied the deep blue glow of shockspace just outside the viewport. The human's certainly had useful technology. Before they came along his people had been forced to use hyperdrives. And they were not as fast as these shockspace rings, it made travel through the system and abroad more efficient and convenient for everyone. But that was not what was on his mind. He was worried about Krystal. She was always so reckless and headstrong. Fox would have liked if she gave him more warning next time before she decided to jump the gun. He was still her boss after all. At least she could take care of herself if need be. She was a little soft, always trying to find a solution without fighting. That was admirable sure, but there were situations where words would not suffice. At least she had her staff with her. Fox could attest to its power, having used it for a brief time some time ago. The vulpine was also concerned about the human she ran off with. This, Alaric, had been somewhat polite in his brief conversation with him. Fox just hoped he would remain that way. He was a rough individual and Fox could tell that he was not a man without his demons. That human had been hiding something from them, something of importance no doubt. He just wondered how important. That should be answered soon enough. They were following after Krystal's comms beacon and were a day from the source of the signal. It seemed the human was heading towards Katina, where the lost human vessel was. So at least that part of his story had been true. The question however, was if the rest of his tale is as authentic. Fox decided that safe was better than sorry. He would talk with Slip and make sure that their gear was in top form before they arrived. Whatever it was that was happening, they would be ready for it.

Alaric and Krystal entered a small room. They had been walking the ship for hours with no one in sight. Their trek had been plagued with strange noises and both felt as if they were being hunted by someone or something. Krystal was having a hard time remaining calm. The empty ship with its dim lights and foreboding atmosphere was starting to wear her thin. Even Alaric had to admit that he was starting to get a little paranoid. "Let's stop here." He suggested as they walked into the room. It had been someone's quarters but the fate of its original occupants was unknown. Most likely they were where all the others were, wherever that was. Krystal meandered away from his side and delved further in. Alaric decided she could use some time alone and occupied himself with exploring the main room. The human was looking for any clues that may hint as to what happened to the ship and the place's previous tenants. The stateroom itself looked to be in pristine condition, there was no sign of a struggle or rush to vacate it. Whoever was using had left their clothes and personal effects behind, which could either, mean they were not in the cabin when whatever happened went down, or they were in such a hurry that they did not take anything with them and just bolted. The latter scenario did not bode well. Alaric spotted a small device at the side of the bed in the room further back and walked over. It was a silvery chip about seven centimeters in circumference. Curious, he picked it up and examined it in greater detail. The metal was smooth and he could see a visible depression in the alloy where he guessed one placed their finger into. Testing his theory, he placed his thumb into the groove and a holographic projection buzzed forth. The picture was of a family of four, two parents and two children. They were all huskies, and the pups looked to be around seven or eight years in age, maybe ten. It was hard for him to tell. They all had wide grins in the picture and Alaric felt a pang of reluctant envy. He never had that...family life. Neither would he ever get the chance to experience it. The Sovereign Colonies had taken that much away from him, as they had his innocence. Having a family of his own was impossible. No one would ever fall in love with a monster. There was no fairy tale ending for a man like him. He would be lucky if he managed to live a peaceful life of exile on a backwater world at the edge of the known galaxy. He would always be hunted by his past. There were plenty of people that would love to put a bullet between his eyes. The only place he would truly be safe was in the Lylat system, where he was already considered an outside purely for the reason that he was of a different species. Yeah.... There was nothing for him. Alaric sighed and shut off the small device, placing it gently back down where he found it. He should check on Krystal. That vixen was his responsibility, as was her safety. He was a little unimpressed with how she was handling all of this so far. Alaric felt the injured side of his face with a gloved hand. She was supposed to be a mercenary. He thought that would have instilled some backbone into her. He shrugged. Maybe lylatian mercenaries were not as tough as the ones he had known back in the day. Yet she seemed to have been alright before all of this. She certainly had guts, running off with some stranger she didn't know. Perhaps the blame lied with their location. Alaric had to admit the ghost ship was testing his mettle. Where the hell was everybody? The starliner was large enough to accommodate thousands of tourists and crewmembers. There was no way that they could have all disappeared, at least none that he could fathom. There were faint signs of a panic though. Every once in a while they had stumbled across the random piece of abandoned luggage or clothing. Something had obviously happened, but what? Alaric stifled his thoughts. He had left Krystal alone for quite a while. It was time to go find her. Alaric crossed the cabin and towards where he had last seen her past a door by his left. He opened it with a wave of his gauntlet and passed through. "Krystal? It's time to get moving." He called out as he searched the area with his eyes. "...Krystal?" A hint of worry infected his tone when he did not immediately see her cerulean furred body. The room was deserted, not a single sign that anyone had been there. It was a duplicate cabin just like the other, although he saw a second door leading to the corridor. He stomach churned uneasily as he rushed towards the door and opened it. He sprinted out into the hallway and scanned it with growing panic. "KRYSTAL!" The corridor, like the stateroom, was empty. "Son of a bitch!" He growled, slamming a fist into the adjacent wall. The last thing he needed was to lose her in this huge ship. At that moment he was cursing himself for not making sure to have the number for her comms device. He hadn't even thought to put a tracker on her! "Alright calm down, Alaric...think." He whispered aloud. Where would she go? If she got lost it was most likely she would try and backtrack to where his ship was. That was the best guess he had so he slung his rifle onto his back and legged it back to his freighter. He didn't want to leave her alone a second more than necessary. "Damn vixen's going to be the death of me." Alaric muttered to himself as he started to jog.

Krystal saw Alaric searching the cabin and decided to check the rest of it. Maybe there was someone here? She desperately hoped so. If there was they might have an answer as to why the ship was like this. Leaving Alaric to his own devices, she saw a door leading off to the next room and opened it, stepping inside. The cabin looked virtually identical to the other, and just like the other one it was barren of life. The vixen sighed and started to look around. 'What happened to all of these people?' Indeed, where had they all gone? Was there some sort of accident? Maybe a hull breach or some sort of gas leak? She didn't know! What she did know was that something had made the ship the way it was. It might be possible that the human ship was responsible for this but she doubted it. If for some crazy reason they wanted to do something bad, they wouldn't have had enough manpower to get it done. No. There was something she and Alaric were missing. She recalled what happened earlier and what she felt when she stepped aboard the ship. Her senses had never lied to her before. There was something strange happening here, something she had not encountered in her lifetime. The very air of the starliner reeked of rancid fear and heart wrenching terror. But why did it? What could have such an effect? Krystal did not know nor did she want to.   She had reached out with her powers before and did not sense any other souls aboard, but she did sense...evil. That was the best way she could describe it. There was a malevolent presence, and it only wished ill on everyone.  Krystal chuffed. 'Or maybe I'm just going crazy.' She had to confess that it could all be in her head and indeed she hoped that was true. But deep down, she had a feeling she was right. The vixen froze, ears swiveling towards the far door. She heard a faint scuffling just on the outside like shoes scuffing against deck plating. Someone was moving around out there.. She was suddenly torn with indecision. Should she open the door and find out who it was? Or should she grab Alaric first? She had to act fast, whoever was there would not stick around for long and they might be the answer she was looking for. Krystal took a deep breath. 'I'm a mercenary for spirits' sake! I need to act like one!' The vixen marched determinedly towards the door and grabbed the handle in her padded palm. She pulled the handgrip and tugged the door open, poking her muzzle out. The corridor was empty.

Confused, she stepped out and looked around. As she rotated her muzzle, she spied a moving shadow just to her left. Instantly she barked in surprise and stumbled backwards and the shadow leapt towards her.

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