"We'll leave at sunset," Orn said after the meal had been finished.
"Wouldn't it be better to go now, while the heat isn't as intense?" asked Xala.
"The thermal sensors would pick us up if we moved into scanning territory through the night," Orn answered. "During the heat of the day, we won't be detected."
Mills shot a grave look at Anaxis.
"How far are we from anywhere?" Anaxis asked.
"Four days' travel, if you all can keep up," Orn answered.
"Are we going to have enough water?" asked Xala.
"We should be able to salvage the condenser from the ship," Orn answered. "And we really shouldn't be talking so loudly. If at all. Yutas."
"What's a Yuta?" asked Mills.
"What did I just say?" Orn said curtly.
Mills held out his hands in apology and turned his head down in rejection.
There a was the noise of sliding gravel from a nearby slope. Orn frowned and cursed under his breath. He motioned for the others to get behind him, and slowly drew a quickfire from his belt.
A purring, chirping noise came from somewhere in the darkness. Orn gripped his weapon tighter as he searched the shadows.
Clouds that had been obscuring the moons moved out of the way of their radiance and the desert landscape grew brighter. Barely discernible in the new light were three black forms, moving from the rocky slope nearby toward the frightened crash survivors. They were barely defined, but moonlight would occasionally sparkle in the eyes of the creatures, and glisten off their bared teeth.
Mills started a soft whine, for which Orn gave him a scolding look of reprove. Xala reached out and grabbed Mills and Anaxis by their arms, and pulled them closer in a show of protection.
The creatures in the dark, which had been moving slowly before, without a noise broke into a sprint. Their heads back, their hungry eyes glowed from their silhouettes as they made great speed across the sand. The clouds passing overhead once again blocked the moonlight, and the beasts fell into shadow.
"Run?" Mills whispered. "Shouldn't we run?"
"Hold steady," Orn whispered back.
The swift, whooshing noise of the otherwise silent creatures in the dark came closer and closer still.
"I'm going to run," Mills whispered more quietly, his voice trembling.
"I said, hold steady," Orn whisper-barked.
The effort the shadowy creatures were making in their run started to make them breathe heavily. The raspy breaths grew louder as they came closer.
"We've got to run," Anaxis plead to Orn.
"Hold!" Orn yelped, his voice raised from a whisper.
The clouds moved out of the way of the moonlight again and the three creatures were revealed to be mere steps away. Hungry, nasty sneers were on their wulf-like faces. Before one of them could reach Orn, who stood out in front of Xala, Mills, and Anaxis, Orn pulled the trigger on his quickfire. The darkness was illuminated by the blast from the weapon for a brief second, lighting the charging creatures as they put their hairy arms up in front of their faces. The one in front must have taken a direct hit, as it didn't try to defend itself, but instead dropped and remained down.
The other two Yuta broke from one another, to make arcs and continue toward the crash survivors from either side.
"Stay tight!" Orn ordered, moving closer to the other three. "We're ruined if we split up!"
The moonlight dimmed again. There was the loud noise of the Yutas grunting as they leapt into the air to pounce on their prey.
"Duck down!" Orn ordered.
Xala pulled Anaxis and Mills down with her as Orn kneeled beside them. He hesitated as to which shot to take, alternating between Yutas twice, then settled on the one to his right and shot. He whipped to the left and then shot at the second.
Neither of the shots hit. The creatures landed on the huddle of prey and each other. One of the claws from their hairy feet tore down Anaxis's cheek. Orn pushed up through the confusion of bodies, throwing the creatures back off into the sand. He fired again twice more at where he thought one had fallen, but must have missed, as the noise of the two Yutas scrambling up in the sand became audible. Then, suddenly, their noise stopped.
All that could be heard was the heavy, panicked breathing of the four trespassers to the Yutas territory.
"Where'd they go?" Xala whispered.
"Shhh..." said Orn.
There came a grunt in the darkness. Then another, from somewhere across the way. Then another, and another. The creatures were circling, fast. Their location couldn't be determined.
"What are we going to do?" Mills whined.
"I..." Orn started, at a loss for an answer.
The noise of the Yutas came closer as they wound a tighter circle around their prey. Orn fired, then again, then again, randomly into the darkness, hoping he might get a hit. He was unsuccessful.
"Tighter," Orn said, pressing back into the other three. "Just stay tight and fight like hell when they get here."
The four were pressed as close as they could be, awaiting their fate, when a bright light suddenly burst out in the distance. The Yutas stopped and stood up straight to see what it was, before being blasted from where they stood to fall dead onto the desert floor.
"Are you all okay?" came a voice from where the light was shining.
"Laquin!" Orn said, half laughing in relief. "Laquin, what took you so long?"