Lethen sat up and looked around.
It was dark in the warehouse, but streaks of light pierced the gloom where the building needed repairs. No one cared whether an abandoned building had holes. Where the sun’s rays hit, there wasn’t much to see. It was a large, mostly empty space with a few smaller rooms off to the side. There were random tools and some gardening equipment, but nothing to suggest other occupants.
“I heard movement,” Renala whispered. “I think it came from the office.”
Lethen focused on listening rather than looking but came up empty. “I don’t hear anything.”
“I know I heard something.”
Lethen looked at his teammate and smiled. “Let’s go check it out then.”
“Shouldn’t we wake the others?”
“No need to alarm them. We’ll just take a look and report back. If it’s anything too crazy, we can always scream and they’ll come running.” Lethen stood up, grabbed his light, and led her toward the doorway into the first of the rooms.
They slid themselves along the wall until they were at the edge of the portal. Lethen looked at Renala before poking his head quickly around to get a peek.
There was nothing there.
Lethen led the way into the small office. So far he hadn’t seen or heard anything unusual. In fact, he was starting to wonder if Renala’s mind hadn’t gotten the better of her. When he’d been on watch the previous day, he’d had to stop himself several times from jumping at shadows. With the days they’d had since not-quite-sneaking their way into Russia, he wouldn’t blame her at all for being overly cautious. It was better to be too jumpy than not jumpy enough.
As they came into the room Lethen turned his flashlight on.
There. He thought he heard something. Something coming from one of the other two rooms. Not a big noise, maybe just the dying wails of a condemned building slowly giving in to the ravages of time. It might have been nothing at all.
He looked at Renala as they approached the door into the second office. Once they were against the edges he nodded, getting a similar response from her. He eased the door open and peered inside, leading the way with his flashlight.
As he scanned the room, two things caught his attention.
The first was the bizarre assortment of tools scattered around the room. There was a cattle prod, several heavy nets, and various gardening implements. Most could be explained by local farmers. He hadn’t seen any cattle around, but it was night when they’d arrived. The nets were a mystery. They were obviously used for something large and strong.
The second thing that struck him was the noise coming from the other room. Since they’d come it, it had gotten louder. It was definitely in the third office, and it sounded like a wild animal trying to escape. There was scratching and even a low growl. It was probably just a cat that got locked in somehow when the farmers had deposited their tools. Lethen was about to open the much heavier door when he felt Renala’s hand on his forearm.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?” She asked. “We have no idea what’s in there. What if it’s something big? You see those nets and prods, they wouldn’t need that kind of stuff for small game. What if they locked it up for a reason. It might be rabid or something.”
“If it was rabid they’d just shoot it, but you’re right. I’ll just have a quick peek and close the door. We wouldn’t want to wake up sensei just for a cat.” Lethen handed her his light. “I’m just gonna open it a crack while you shine that in. It’ll be a split second and not wide enough for anything to bolt out past us. I’ll go on the count of three.”
Renala looked conflicted but nodded.
“One, two, three.” He popped the door open less than an inch and the noise from inside amplified immediately. He closed the door and thought about what he’d seen. He hadn’t caught sight of the creature, but he’d seen blood. A lot of blood. Either the animal was seriously hurt, or it had done that to something else. Whichever the case was, it was time to go get Angus.
* * * * *
“You opened the door?” Angus wasn’t terribly happy with Lethen’s report of what they’d been up to. Renala had wisely chosen to stay quiet. “You knew there was something in there and you didn’t come to get me first? What is wrong with you two? One day you’ll be fully fledged daemon knights that can take risks, but for right now you are my charges and it’s my job to take care of you. This is your first mission. Don’t be so ready to get yourselves killed.”
Renala spoke at last. “We just wanted to have something to report. If we woke you up every time there was an odd noise or movement, you’d never sleep.”
Angus fixed her with an icy glare. “Let me worry about that. I know that Lethen is rash and impulsive, but you’re supposed to be the one that keeps the others out of trouble. Not only are you the most methodical of this group, but you’re also the only one that can physically stop any of the others if you need to. There will come a time when you have to use that gift.”
Renala was stunned. The idea of having to face off against her teammates didn’t sit very well with her.
Angus surveyed the team. “Well we’re all up now anyway, so lets go see what’s behind door number three.”
He led the team through the warehouse and into the offices. Once he was in the second, he looked at the various devices he’d been told about. The two amateur sleuths may not have known what all those things added up to, but he did. Given the location, this would make an ideal way station for illegally bred daemons. He took a deep breath. This was about to get interesting.
“Angel,” he whispered. “I want you ready with the biggest shot you can handle. I’m going to open this door. If something jumps at me, I want you ready to blast it against the back wall. Chances are you won’t be able to kill it, but the blast should at least let me get the upper hand. Everyone else, form a semicircle behind me in case it tried to make a break for it. If it gets around me you are authorized to use any and all force necessary to stop it.”
He waited for the various nods and grunts of understanding before taking the knob in hand and turning it. He shoved it open and jumped back a step. He trusted his team to try everything in their power to stop the beast, he just wasn’t sure if they would be successful.
The daemon reared up on it’s hind legs and made threatening noises, but didn’t charge them. Once he was able to assimilate the whole scene, he understood why. There was a large iron collar on it’s neck that was attached to a chain that fed into a pulley on the wall. At that moment, they were in no danger of being mauled.
The creature was a wolf, but due to a few differences in size and shape to it’s normal cousins, it was obviously a daemonic one. It had probably been magnificent to behold at some point in the past, but now it was a mangy, half mad canine that looked to be about a week away from dying of starvation. The color of it’s fur was impossible to tell given the way it was matted to it’s body and the number of scars and wounds that covered it. Angus guessed that some of the blood coating the floor and walls had belonged to it, but the few bones lying around the room meant not all of it. Whoever was keeping this sad specimen here wasn’t at all kind about it. This was a tortured animal.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Marnie said. “If they were raising these these daemons to be sold, they’d have to keep them in better conditions than this. Why would anyone do this to any kind of animal, much less a daemon that could be sold for huge sums of money?”
Angus considered the question as he finished his survey of the room. The door was solid and had no handle on the inside. The pulley securing the chain suggested that the length of the creature’s tether could be adjusted. There were times when it had free reign of the room. This daemon wasn’t going to be sold. Not ever. It would be trapped in here for as long as it’s captors could physically restrain it, then it would be put down. This room wasn’t simply here to keep the daemon contained. It was also a garbage disposal.
“This is not a good place for us to stay. I don’t want to travel during the day, but we have no choice. Come. Now.”
The emphasis that was placed on the last word wasn’t lost on any of them. They all shuffled out of the room and it was locked. They could recognize a terrible scene when they spotted one, but they didn’t fully understand what was going on.
They began quickly packing their things when Marnie’s whisper broke the silence. “What is it sensei? What did you see that we didn’t?”
Angus related his observations to the team. “This place is owned by Silva or someone in his same business. The daemon trapped in there is how they get rid of problems. They lock you in there and let out the chain.”
The team stopped in their preparations, each of them imagining themselves being put into that situation.
Angus knew exactly what was going through their minds. “The fact that they keep it near starvation and chained up means I doubt they have to wait long for the screaming to stop. I know daemons are created as beings of evil, but what they’ve done to that thing is beyond cruel. It makes me wonder if humans are even more evil than daemons.”
Angus watched as Renala got up and moved toward the offices. “What are you doing?”
“We have to help it somehow. I want to see if I can release it.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. How is it going to know that you’re not one of it’s captors? I’m sure by this point, it sees all humans as the enemy and anything moving as food. And besides that, what about this town? What about the people that live here? There are innocent lives that would be lost if we released that monster.”
“That daemon is the victim!”
Angus held up his palms in deference. “I’m not arguing with you, but that’s what they’ve turned it into. A monster. It would destroy this village and everyone in it. It might eventually get to the bastard that locked it up, but not before destroying some of southern Russia.”
“There must be something we can do.”
Angus nodded and handed her a bag of beef jerky. “Feed it. It’s the best I can do. And Lethen, go with her.”
They went back into the room and Renala threw some of the some of the dried meat on the floor within reach of it and they watched the beast devour it.
Renala was reaching into the bag for more when the door was slammed and locked behind them.
* * * * *