Lumen threw his back against the alley wall. His hands clenched tightly around the grip of his pistol, he straightened his arms downward. Breathing hard, his pulse thundering in his ears, Lumen moved slowly, quietly. As he drew up next to the corner, he stopped. He could feel the creature nearby. In his mind, there was no doubt that in a moment, when he swung around the corner he would come face to face with the horrible thing. His legs froze, and his eyes stared straight ahead, glazed over with fear.
He pictured it confidently striding toward him, as it had the last time he had encountered it. The image was crystal clear in his mind. Loathsome but graceful, something in the way it moved spoke of power. Not just power, but inevitability. As though it knew there was no escaping it. Lumen had relived that moment countless times since that night, both while awake and asleep. Not that he’d been able to sleep much. Ever since Venatio had dragged him half-conscious from that alley, he had been haunted by the feeling of helplessness, of fear. He couldn’t go on feeling this way.
“Get a grip, Hugo,” he whispered to himself.
He was certain that there was only one way to rid himself of those feelings. Only one way that he could ever feel safe again. Or ever rest again.
He had to rid the world of this creature.
He drew a deep breath, concentrating on slowing his pulse. He blinked his eyes to clear them and adjusted his grip on the pistol again.
“You’re going down you bastard monster.”
He repeated it in his mind, trying to convince himself of his boldness. With another deep breath, he swung around the corner. He screamed with all of his fear, anger and hate, adrenaline gushing through his body. His arms snapped up, levelling the gun at…
Nothing. He stared at the empty street.
He lowered the gun as his heartbeat began to slow. A smile began to form on his face, but vanished as a strong hand gripped his right shoulder, wrenching Lumen backwards into the alley. Lumen was spun around, and for a frozen instant in time, he stared straight into the eyes of the creature.
Its eyes were human, but its irises were nothing but a thin line around its enormously dilated pupils. Lumen had expected to see cruelty and malice in those eyes, but instead he saw nothing but anguish.
The moment ended.
Dolor raked its clawed hand against Lumen’s chest. The force of the strike knocked him off his feet, slamming him into the alley wall. As he struggled to breathe, Lumen slid down into a crumpled mess on the pavement. He felt a painful burning sensation spreading rapidly from his chest into the rest of his body. He struggled to rise, but his muscles seemed disconnected from his brain.
The creature leaned over the therapist’s prone form. Below its agonized eyes was a diminutive flattened nose and below that a pair of curled tendrils replaced its mouth. As Dolor leaned close, the proboscises unwound themselves. The monster grabbed Hugo’s head in its hand, tilting it backward. Its proboscises darted into Lumen’s nasal cavities. His whole body screamed in agony. Lumen lost all awareness of reality, spinning into an anguished blackness.
Almost immediately, he felt the tendrils ripped out of him. The pain diminished sharply, but a powerful burning ache remained. His senses began to return slowly. He heard three loud, sharp explosions. The noise sparked a searing migraine. Conscious of nothing but pain, his vision slowly began to clear. After another few moments, he could make out a prostrate form not far from where he lay.
He blinked, using the only muscles available to him. The pain was ebbing away, and he was regaining awareness of his surroundings. He could feel warm saliva covering his cheek, dripping from his mouth. With enormous effort, he managed to turn his head. There, a few feet away was a shadowed figure, its arm raised, holding a pistol. Thin tendrils of smoke seeped from the weapon’s barrel. The figure slowly lowered its arm and approached Lumen.
As he emerged from the shadow, Lumen recognized Venatio. A subdued sense of joy erupted somewhere near the back of Lumen’s dulled mind. Venatio stood over Lumen’s pathetic form. His facial features were twisted, not with elation, but pain. His breathing was shallow and rapid. He raised his pistol, aiming it at Hugo’s drool-covered face.
“No… no…” Lumen managed.
“It’s over, doc,” his voice was flat, hollow.
Lumen could only stare down the dark barrel of Venatio’s gun. He felt unsure of whether or not he wanted to die. His mind told him that dying was something terrible, but his body begged him for release.
Lumen watched Venatio’s contorted face, more with a sense of curiosity than dread. After a moment, Venatio lowered his gun, and let it drop to the pavement. He stepped over to the creature and knelt beside it, leaning over it.
After a tense period of silence, Venatio began to sob. His body shook as rivers of hot tears released years of suffering.
For several minutes, Lumen stared numbly as Venatio wept. Eventually, Lumen found some control of his muscles returning. Straining as hard as he could, he slowly raised himself into a sitting position, his back leaning against the cold brick wall.
Venatio quieted. The night was silent, perforated only by the sounds of traffic and the occasional sniffling.
Then, Venatio howled.
It began as a cathartic scream of frustration and anguish, but grew louder, more strained. It was almost inhuman. The screaming stopped, but Venatio was clearly still suffering. He doubled over suddenly, as if to vomit, but made no sound. He clawed at his face, then brought his hand sharply before his eyes. He was transfixed by it. Slowly, he rose and turned to face Lumen.
His fingers had somehow elongated, and ended in dully gleaming sharp claws that dripped yellow liquid. His nose had shrunk. His pupils were dilated. He leaned over Lumen and a pair of long, thin proboscises unfurled where his mouth used to be. They stabbed forward.