“Not funny, Prolier!” Lethen shouted at the door. Assuming it was a prank meant to scare him was the only way Lethen could keep his cool. If it wasn’t one of their teammates, they were probably about to die.
There was no response from outside the door.
A small bulb on the roof lit. Lethen hammered on the door, but it wouldn’t budge. After a few moments he gave up. If anyone was going to hear him, they would have already. If anyone was coming they were already on their way.
Lethen was leaning his head against the door when he heard a creak behind him.
“I don’t think it was Prolier that locked us in,” Renala said. Her voice was barely a whisper and was dripping with terror. “Look.”
Lethen turned to see where she was pointing at and saw what he most dreaded. The pulley was slowly turning, letting the beast’s restraining chain out an inch at a time.
* * * * *
Angus heard the door slam and assumed that it meant Renala and Lethen were on their way back. He felt bad about shooting Renala down, but he was right. As much as he’d love to be able to free the daemon, the damage it would do was unacceptable. He loved the idea of caging it and releasing it inside Silva’s house, but they had no cage, nor any way to transport it.
When he heard Lethen’s muffled shouting and pounding, he knew something was wrong.
He bolted into the office area, closely followed by the rest of the team. He made it to the door and saw no one. There was something out of place, but he had no time to investigate. He twisted the lock and heard the bolt fall back, but the door still wouldn’t open. There was something else securing it. It must be some kind of magnetic lock. That would explain why he hadn’t spotted the additional security. What it didn’t explain was who triggered it.
When they’d first come in, he’d thought it was nothing more than an old abandoned warehouse. He hadn’t even seen any power lines connected to it. Even when he’d seen the room with the wolf daemon, he’d thought they’d just made use of an old building. Clearly he was wrong on both counts. It had to have power if it used magnetic locks, and it certainly wasn’t abandoned. The more he thought about it, the more he believed it was just meant to look that way to blend in with the rustic setting. He scraped at the rust on the door and found that it was just painted to look weathered.
“Lethen, Renala, can you hear me?”
“Yeah,” Lethen called back. “What’s going on out there?”
“I don’t know yet. I can’t get the door open. I’m gonna have to find a way to kill the power.”
“Any chance you could hurry? It’s not gonna take too long until this thing’s chain is out enough that we won’t be able to avoid it.”
The brought Angus up short. He knew they were locked in there, but not that someone was letting the chain out. “Just keep yourself against the wall. I’ll have you out soon.”
“No you won’t.”
Angus spun around to see two armed men had sneaked in behind them while they were trying to open the door. This was not the best time for a delay. Angus cursed.
* * * * *
Lethen heard a voice he didn’t recognize. “Is everything alright out there?”
“Just hold tight.” Came Angus’s less-than-encouraging reply.
Lethen looked at Renala and saw the fear in her eyes. Fear that he felt too, but had spent a lifetime learning not to show. He’d been terrorized by many people in his life due to his unique heritage and he’d be damned if he let them know they’d gotten to him. But this situation wasn’t like that. The ass holes from his past were just trying to be mean. Here, he faced a far grimmer fate.
It’s not that he was all that afraid of dying. There had been a few times when his tormentors had taken things a bit too far and he’d thought it was the end. He’d come to terms with the idea that he wasn’t going to live forever, but this was different. This time Renala was with him, and she was quickly becoming one of his favorite teammates.
“Lethen,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry.”
“For what? You didn’t lock us in here.”
“If I hadn’t insisted on coming back in here, we wouldn’t be in this situation. I’m going to get us both killed.”
“Stop it. Neither of us is dying today. Either Angus will figure something out or we will. And don’t you ever feel the least bit ashamed of caring. Your heart makes you a great daemon knight even more than your defense. You’re probably the first person that’s shown this beast kindness in a very long time. Possibly ever.”
Renala smiled, but it was obvious that she didn’t share his optimism. “Lethen, we might not make it out of this, so there’s something I need you to know.”
Lethen pasted on his most convincing smile, which wasn’t saying much given the situation. “Tell me when we get out of here.” He looked down at her hand, which was shaking. “Is there still some of that jerky left?”
Renala stared at him for a moment before dropping her eyes to the bag. “Yeah, I only gave him about half of it. Are you really thinking about food at a time like this?”
“Yes, but only because I think it’s probably on the top of that thing’s priority list. We might be able to use it to buy us some time. I think whoever locked us in here is out there with Angus and the others. Every second is probably gonna count. If it comes to it, we might be able to keep it occupied long enough to get free.”
As Lethen watched the beast strain against it’s leash, he tried desperately to think of something that might be able to save them. He was going back through his short time as a daemon knight trainee when something popped into his head. Something Cheyenne had said to him when he and Angus had gone to see her. He didn’t know if it would work, but trying something was better than waiting to become a daemon’s lunch.
“Would you say that your daemon likes you?”
Renala looked at him, confusion all over her face. “I suppose so. I mean, I doubt he’d protect me if he didn’t. Why would that matter?”
“Just something I remember from before the trials. Change him to his shield form. I have an idea.”
* * * * *
“Why are you here?” The man on the left asked. He was the shorter of the two but had the bearing of someone in charge. They were both wearing normal civilian clothes, but they were armed with what looked like automatic rifles. Angus had spent his life around daemon weapons, not bothering to study conventional ones too closely, but he did recognize the smell of gunmetal. The only thing that was clear was that these men were not daemon wielders.
“We are on a survival exercise,” Angus said, falling back on his previous cover story. “I train the teenage children of obscenely rich parents to survive in the wild. We found this place and decided to camp here. Somehow two of my students got trapped in there.”
“I know you’re lying,” the man said. “You are all armed and not with the weapons of normal people. You carry daemon weapons. We are familiar with your kind. Who do you work for? Is this a test?”
A test? Angus wasn’t sure what to make of it. Why would these people be tested and by whom? These men were familiar with daemons and those who carried them as weapons. Who were they?
“No answer? The only people who come here are those who trapped that monster within our town and their enemies. Either way, you are no friends to us.”
Finally Angus understood. These men were affiliated with Silva and his lot only through fear. “We are not your enemies. While it is true that we carry daemonic weapons, we are not with the men who put that thing in there. We are daemon knights. Our mission is to gather intel on the ones you speak of. Perhaps we can help each other.”
“Nyet. We will not help you. You are not the first to come here with promises of liberating us from these animals. My brother once tried to help others like you. He was fed to the creature in that room, much as your little friends are right now. You all will face that fate for the lies of those that came before you, and I will be rewarded for handing over your weapons. Six daemon weapons should get me enough money to move my family out of here. I would tell you that I would spare your lives if you hand them over, but I know that you never will.”
“How do you ever expect to be free if you refuse help when it’s offered? Do you really believe they will just let you walk away? I’ve encountered these men before, and so have you. They are not the type to let people get away from them. This you know is true.”
The man didn’t respond immediately. When he spoke, it was in hushed tones to the man beside him. The taller one didn’t sound pleased. It was several seconds before he addressed Angus again. “I’m sorry. I wish I could help you, but I have a family to take care of. If they ever discovered my treason, there would be no one to provide for my wife and children. I wish things were otherwise. You seem an honorable man.”
Angus nodded. “I understand friend. I wish it were otherwise too, but you have to put family first. I also wish I could tell you that I would go down without a fight, but that would be a lie. I will try not to kill you, but I can’t guarantee it.”
The man hesitated again, unsettled by Angus’s confidence. He whispered with his friend again. “If you go now, we will let you leave unhindered, but you must go now.”
“I’m not leaving without the two you trapped.”
“Once the system starts, it cannot be stopped. When you press the button, the door locks for thirty minutes and the chain rolls out. There is nothing you can do for them now. By the time that door opens again, they will both be dead.”
“If they die, you die.”
The man looked once again to his friend. It was two against four and he’d seen some of the fantastical things that daemon wielders could do. After several seconds of thinking it over he lowered his gun. “There is no way of opening the door, but we may be able to jam the machine that lets out the chain. We have to move quickly, they only have a few minutes before it will reach them.”
Angus watched as he walked into the first of the three offices. He pulled on a rusty pipe and a section of the wall swung open silently. “So that’s how you got behind us.”
The man smiled as he led them outside.
His taller friend was not smiling as he watched them file out. He waited for the rest to leave before he stepped out and secured the door. It was just as well hidden from this side. He watched as the group turned and started walking toward the shed attached to the corner of the building. He waited until they all had their backs to him as he slowly raised his gun.
* * * * *