“So what’s your plan?” Renala asked, staring at the wolf daemon inching toward them. “I estimate only a few minutes before he can reach us.”
“I want you to talk to your daemon,” Lethen said.
Saliva was dripping from the creature’s maw; it knew what lunch-time looked like. It strained against it’s collar so hard it was reopening old wounds. Blood dripped freely from it’s throat.
With the door now closed, it was impossible not to notice the stench of the place. With the door open it had been tolerable. Now it was near overwhelming.
“Why in the world would I do that?” Renala asked.
“Cheyenne told me that daemons communicate telepathically. Maybe your shield can tell that thing that we mean it no harm.”
“Will you stop calling him that? The wolf is a he and if they can understand us at all, I’m sure he doesn’t like being called ‘it’ or ‘that thing.’”
Lethen stopped. He hadn’t thought about it like that. He was treating the wild daemon exactly how people had treated him in the past. In fact, he had been called ‘it’ and ‘that thing’ many times in his life. “I apologize. If your daemon can tell him that we mean him no harm, that would be wonderful. Make sure he understands that if we have to, we will defend ourselves.”
“I’ll try, but what do we do if it doesn’t work?”
“Let’s find out if it’ll work first, all the other options I can think of involve either us or him dying.”
* * * * *
Angus wasn’t going to be taken unawares a second time. Now that he knew the men were there, he was watching them. He didn’t much like what he was seeing from the guy behind. The man hadn’t been happy about helping the team, so Angus had half expected something like this. When the man’s gun was about three quarters of the way up, Angus spun around, shifting his daemon to it’s bow form and drawing the string. Immediately there was a glowing, arrow shaped bolt of energy aimed at the man’s face. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
The man stopped with his gun aimed somewhere in the region of Angus’s knees. His face had gone from hostility to fear. He shouted something in Russian at his friend.
“What’s he saying?” Angus asked.
“He says that we will both die if we tamper with the machine. He didn’t want to let you go at all, but he was willing to for the two in the room.”
“Tell him no deal. He has ten seconds to make up his mind or he won’t have one left. Let him know that this isn’t a bullet. It’s an energy bolt and mine flies much faster. If he so much as twitches in a way that offends me, he will be dead before he can get his trigger half pulled.”
More Russian was spoken and the conversation went back and forth for a few moments, growing more heated by the second. “He won’t let you damage the machine. He says that if we allow this, we’re as good as dead. When they come back, they’ll kill us and they’re less likely to make it quick than you.”
Angus stared at the resistant man. His arrow was growing steadily brighter as he pushed more energy into it. “I don’t want to kill you, but I will if it means I can save the two you trapped. We may not exactly be on survival exercises, but I wasn’t lying when I said that they’re my students. They are in my care and I will protect them.” Angus let the man translate before he started counting. “One. Two. Three.”
The man was shaking. Angus hoped the man didn’t pull the trigger accidentally.
The gun was lowered a little, but still not enough for Angus to feel comfortable.
The man dropped his arms to his sides, letting the gun flop to the ground.
Angus let the glowing arrow dissipate and switched his daemon back to its staff form. “Thank you. We will try to do this without damaging the machine and no one will ever know. Where is it?”
They continued their walk to the small shed, this time with both men in front of them, and with Marnie carrying one of the guns.
* * * * *
Renala backed up against Lethen, shield held between them and the wolf, as they moved further into the corner. “So how am I supposed to do this?”
“I guess just talk to him. Cheyenne can communicate with her daemon mentally, but that’s her gift.”
Renala looked a little silly talking to her shield, but she did it anyway. She begged for him to tell the wolf that they would be peaceful as long as they weren’t attacked.
The beast just kept coming. If anything, with its leash growing longer, it was straining harder.
“How do you tell him to change forms?” Lethen asked.
“I just imagine the other form in my mind and he does the rest I guess. I’ve often wondered exactly how it works, but I’ve never found out.”
“Try imagining the wolf sitting down and us peacefully feeding it the jerky. Maybe the daemons can’t understand our language, but they can see into our minds. If you can imagine it visually, maybe he’ll see it and understand.”
She moved back a little more and closed her eyes. They were getting very close to the point of no return. If they let it push them back too far, they wouldn’t have enough room to swing their weapons. If this didn’t work, it would be time to defend themselves.
The wolf stopped tugging as hard at his chain. There was still no slack in the line, but the collar wasn’t pressed quite so hard against his neck.
“I think it’s working,” Lethen said. “Give me the jerky.”
She motioned roughly in his direction, her eyes still shut tight in her attempt to picture a peaceful scene. It was difficult for her to maintain the image without it shifting because it seemed so absurd. A room full of blood and bones with them playing nice-puppy was a little farfetched for her mind to hold onto.
Lethen pulled a few pieces of jerky from the bag and held it in front of them. That certainly got the daemon’s attention. Lethen waved the meat back and forth. He threw a piece down and watched it be devoured. For the first time since they walked into the room, the chain actually had a small curve to it, a hint of slack.
Lethen continued to throw pieces down as each was gobbled up. The slack in the chain grew as the wolf ceased its advance to feed.
“Good boy,” Lethen said as he put the last piece down. “You leave us alone and we’ll leave you alone. We don’t want any trouble.”
The daemon ate the last piece and sat watching Lethen, waiting for more. When Lethen showed him the empty bag, he started growling.
“Sorry buddy, that’s all we have. If there was more to eat you’d be welcome to it.”
The wolf leaped at Lethen.
Lethen took a swing, planning to connect with his target in midair, but his arc stopped short about halfway through. His daemon was fighting him again.
Renala’s shield caught the beast’s snout just before it could lock its jaws around Lethen’s throat.
“What the hell was that?” She asked as her daemon went on auto-pilot, stopping the slavering mouth with loud thuds each time.
“We have a problem. That was the strongest my daemon has resisted me since I got him. I guess he’s not willing to be used against his own kind.”
“Are you serious? You mean you can’t help me fight?”
“I could punch it or kick it I suppose,” Lethen said, “but I don’t know how useful that would be.”
* * * * *
Angus entered the shed behind the natives. He could hear a machine, but it was barely a hum and it was hidden. Given the position of the shed in relation to the interior of the building, he knew which wall, but he couldn’t see how to open it. That end of the room had three large, plywood rectangles secured to the wall. It had hooks screwed into the wood with tools hanging from them.
The shorter of the two men stepped forward and reached for a hammer on the right edge of the central panel. With a quick twist, he had it open to reveal a small electric motor slowly feeding the chain through a slit in the wall.
Angus could hear the daemon’s snarls and the thuds of the fight. “It sounds like it’s already gotten to them. We need to hurry.” He looked at the chain, then at everything around him. He needed something thin, but strong. Something that could fit in one of the links, but not break. “Prolier, come in here.”
Prolier rushed in.
“Put your claw into the chain.”
Prolier looked at the machine. “It won’t damage it will it?”
“Does it matter? Put it in there. We have to save them.”
Prolier looked for another second before jamming his weapon into the closest link to the wall. It immediately caught and the chain between the claw and the motor began to sag. He watched for a moment and turned back to Angus. His sensei didn’t look pleased.
“I can’t believe you would even ask that when there are lives at stake!”
“I’m sorry sensei, I am just used to considering my weapon a part of me.”
Angus nodded. “ I understand, but even it’s safety is secondary to the lives of the team. A daemon can be replaced. A friend can’t.” Angus let that sink in. “But, in answer to your question, no. It shouldn’t damage your weapon. Your claw isn’t ordinary metal, it’s much harder. That’s why I called you in here. If I’d used one of those regular tools, it might’ve bent or broken. That’s a daemon tugging on that chain. It’s not gonna play nice.”
Prolier looked over at the chain and wondered if they’d gotten it stopped in time.
Angus poked his head through the door. “Marnie, I want you to go back to the office and see if they’re okay. I haven’t heard any screams yet, but we should make sure. Angel, I want you on over-watch. Make sure no one disturbs us until we get them out.”
They both nodded and got to their jobs. Angel charging up his gun, while Marnie scampered back through the hidden door and disappeared.
* * * * *
Lethen and Renala were virtually entwined in the corner of the room with her shield in front of them. They saw that the chain had stopped, meaning they weren’t going to get eaten right away, but it certainly wasn’t comfortable. The shield was at her chest height and was the only thing between them and a pair of daemonically powerful jaws. It couldn’t get to them, but they couldn’t really move either.
“Are you guys still with us?” Marnie said through the door.
“Yeah,” Lethen said, “just a bundle of laughs. Thanks for getting the chain stopped. Just a few more inches and we’d be making entirely different noises.”
“Hold tight, they said it takes half an hour for the machine to finish it’s cycle. The door won’t open until it’s done.”
Lethen looked down at Renala. Their bodies were jammed together in the small triangle of space created by the shield. “You gonna make it that long?”
She looked up at him with tears in her eyes before looking down between them. “I don’t know.”
When he shifted his view to where she was looking he saw that in the cramped quarters the tip of his shovel was jammed into her ribs. Every time the wolf slammed against the shield it dug a little deeper.