As Lethen went under, he felt Angel fighting against him. It was a natural reaction from Angel’s point of view, but Lethen knew that staying hidden was vital. He felt bad, but what could he do? He could see the water to his right brightening and pointed Angel toward it. It didn’t take long for Angel to understand what was going on and settle down.
Lethen had pulled them deep enough that they hopefully wouldn’t be spotted, but there was no disguising the rippling water. The beam zeroed in on it and began darting about the lake. They knew something was there and Lethen prayed they would decide it was a fish.
He felt himself moving downriver and had to think for a moment to remember which way that was. It was difficult to get his bearings under the water, but he remembered that the river flowed north, the way toward their objective. He poked Angel to get his attention and pointed. Angel nodded and they slowly swam that way.
It didn’t take long before the light was directly over them again. Lethen went still, and saw that Angel had done the same. Lethen could see the pain in his teammate’s face. Angel didn’t have too much longer in him. If Lethen was being honest with himself, he didn’t either. This was going to be decided very soon, one way or the other.
* * * * *
Marnie had turned just after Lethen. She watched as he ran toward Angel, knowing what he hadn’t yet realized: they wouldn’t make it.
She wanted to run after him, but she knew it was no use. If there was a struggle, she’d be more use if they men in the chopper didn’t know about her. She turned and followed Angus into the rough vegetation. She didn’t even get to see the tandem dive.
“Where did they go?” She asked.
“The only place they could,” Angus said.
The river. It was as genius as it was idiotic. It might let them remain hidden, but for how long? If they were spotted, they would be nearly helpless. Up to your neck in water was no way to fight.
“How can we help them?” Renala asked. “There must be something we can do.”
“I could shoot at them,” Angus said, “but that would just bring additional attention. Right now, they think they saw something. If we take this to the next level, they’ll be sure. Best case, they call for backup. Worst case, they crash and it becomes an international event. The main part of our job is discretion.”
Marnie was shocked. As soon as she felt it she understood how silly it was. That was the job, from the moment you stepped foot on the Hikari campus. The mission comes before you. If you get captured, you reveal nothing. You can tell them anything but the truth. Certainly nothing about the unusual nature of your weapon.
The world as a whole still didn’t know about the daemon knights. Most people wouldn’t believe it if they were told the truth, but they weren’t the problem. Problems arose when the believers tried to wield a daemon weapon. With the proper genetics, it was dangerous; without, it was suicidal. The daemon would tear through your mind and you would become it’s weapon rather than the other way around. That’s why applicants were tested before they are ever allowed to even touch a daemon weapon. It’s not an immediate takeover in most cases, but prolonged exposure isn’t good.
“So we do nothing.”
“We watch and react,” Angus said. “There’s no way they’ll try to pull them out of the water from the air. They’ll have to land or set something up further north. When we know what they’re gonna do, we decide the best thing for us to do. Until then, we remain hidden and try to place ourselves in a position to react.”
He took off to the north. Marnie trotted after him, constantly keeping one eye on the chopper. It was hovering, spotlight focused on where the duo went in. The men had seen something and it was no big jump to guess what it was. The group had just managed to reunite and now they were being split again. She didn’t like it.
Angus didn’t go far before he stopped to watch, likely coming to the same conclusion she had.
“We have to do something,” she said under her breath. “I don’t like just standing here watching. What if they get captured?”
Angus looked her in the eyes. “I don’t like it either, but it’s the way it has to be. What if they do get captured? Do you think we’ll be any use in handcuffs right next to them? Who will rescue them if we get caught here too? In this business nothing is ever easy. If we have the opportunity to take these guys out quietly we will. If we can do that without killing them, we will. If they get away with our teammates and we have to go after them, we will.”
Marnie wasn’t satisfied with the answer, but she couldn’t refute the logic. Making sense didn’t make it suck any less.
* * * * *
Lethen’s lungs were ready to burst and he knew that Angel felt the same. If they surfaced now they would be spotted. It wasn’t a question, the light was diffusing through the water above them. He had hoped that they would be deep enough to avoid detection, but that was looking doubtful now.
He looked over at Angel and caught his eye. He pointed up to the surface and Angel shook his head, then thought better of it and nodded. They would surface and take their chances with the men in the helicopter. A chance at beating them was better than a certainty of drowning.
Just as Lethen turned his head back toward the surface, the light moved. It wasn’t going fast, but it was moving upriver. They hadn’t been seen, but they still could be if they came up too soon. They were still going up, but they’d try to be quiet about it.
He broke the surface, trying not to flap too much lest the ripples betray his position. The few that he had made were catching up to the spotlight with alarming speed, but they were small and fading fast into the gentle chop of the flowing waters. Taking a refreshingly deep breath, he saw that the light was still moving away. He hadn’t been seen.
It was then that he noticed that Angel hadn’t come back up.
Lethen took one more deep breath and dove back into the water. He knew roughly were Angel was a moment ago, so he had a good starting point, but it still took longer than Lethen liked to catch sight of his friend. Angel had finally reached the surface, but something was wrong.
* * * * *
The rest of the team watched as the chopper slowly crept south. As one they heaved a sigh of relief. Somehow, Lethen’s desperate ploy had worked. The chopper was off their scent and now they could go get their soggy comrades. This would quickly fade from near panic, to an amusing anecdote. The time they hid in the river to avoid detection. That would get some chuckles for sure.
The dry portion of the team melted out of the trees, careful to stay back and move slowly. The chopper was moving away, but not in a hurry. They were still on alert from the disruption in the river. Things were looking good but they weren’t out of the water yet, literally or figuratively. They still needed to get their amateur divers onto dry land and warmed up. Angus wasn’t kidding when he said that Russia got cold. Hypothermia wasn’t anything to laugh at.
They approached the edge where the chopper had been hovering and didn’t see anything. It was Prolier who spotted them first, further downriver than they’d expected.
“What the hell are they doing?” Angus asked.
No one answered. They weren’t quite sure what to call the strange, aquatic, Heimlich maneuver looking thing that was going on in the water.
They raced toward to get closer to the bobbing duo and it was then that they realized that Angel wasn’t moving.
“Watch out!” Angus shouted to clear the area. He pulled a rope from his bag and started spinning it over his head. “Lethen, catch,” he said as he cast the line out.
Lethen ceased his frantic squeezing long enough to paddle toward them and reach out for the lifeline. It took him a few tries but he managed to get it.
Angus almost yanked the rope from Lethen’s hand. He was pulling like a machine, hands flying back and forth like pistons. The two bodies were actually making a small wake behind them. He dragged them up onto the beach and pulled Angel from Lethen’s arms.
He pulled the broken pack away, dumped the boy on the ground and started CPR. Lucky for Angel, the sensei knew what he was doing. It only took a few tries before Angel was coughing up the water he’d inhaled. Angus backed up, “Give him some room.” It took several breaths before Angel could do anything besides curl up into a ball and splutter.
“That was a bold move half-breed,” Angus said once Angel had gone quiet. “A move that almost got your teammate killed. What was going through your head?”
“Stay hidden.” Lethen was croaking. “Not being seen is much better than trying to explain why you’re there.”
“Be careful with water. It can go from best friend to worst enemy in a very short span of time. You took a grave risk and you got lucky. Don’t rely on that. Luck can change even faster than water.”
“Wasn’t his fault.” If Lethen’s voice had been a croak, Angel’s was like a frog with a sinus infection. The noises coming from him were barely words. “He wanted to surface. I tried to stay down. I went too far. Not his fault.”
Angus looked at the kid, who was sitting up now. He was shivering in his wet clothes. Both of them needed to be warmed up. A fire was too dangerous, especially with them already being hunted. They would just have to dress in dry stuff and huddle together. Part of him wanted to get them back into cover before getting dry, but he let them go ahead. The helicopter could barely be heard in the distance. They just survived a harrowing experience. The least he could do is let them get situated before asking them to move.
Lethen had changed quickly, obviously less severely affected by the plunge. Happily, the Hikari packs are made to keep the contents dry. Sadly, it’s more for rain than total submersion, so some water had seeped in through the zippers, forcing them to unpack their bags and set things out to dry. If they stayed put for the day, that should be enough time for the worst of the damp to be gone.
Angel was taking longer to get himself together. Not surprising considering he wasn’t breathing about ten minutes before. Angus felt like he should have more sympathy for them, but he knew that it wouldn’t help. They didn’t need to feel safe, they needed to realize that they most definitely were not. They needed to be scared, on edge. It would keep them alive.
Angel was just in the process of getting his pants to his ankles when Angus and Prolier both looked up and to the south. The helicopter was making another pass.
* * * * *