When Angus took a step toward Marnie, she held up her hand to stop. “If you don’t hold the net, they won’t be able to open the door. I can stand long enough to get them out of there.”
In that moment, Angus was incredibly proud of her. “Are you sure?”
“If I don’t help Prolier zap that thing, we might all have problems.”
Click. The magnetic locks on the door disengaged.
The door didn’t open right away and that bothered Angus. Maybe they hadn’t heard the click in their battle with the daemon. “Lethen, Renala, if you can hear me, the door should be unlocked now. If you can get to it, you can get out.”
“We’re coming.” It was Lethen’s voice and it didn’t contain nearly as much tension as Angus expected. Not quite bored, but close to it.
The door opened slowly. Renala came out first, Lethen hobbling out behind. He casually turned and set the manual locks.
“Did you kill it?” Angus asked.
“Him,” Renala corrected. “And no we didn’t. Hurt him, but he’s alive.”
“Marnie,” Lethen said. “What happened? Are you okay?”
“Me? What about you guys?” She didn’t answer his question, but she did sit down with her left leg stretched out in front of her. “You were locked in a room with a wild daemon. How did you survive?”
“That’s a story for another time. Who’s that?” He asked, pointing at the standing Russian.
“My name is Yuri. The man on the floor is Gregor.”
Lethen narrowed his eyes. “Are you the ones that ambushed us?”
Angus wisely stepped between them. “They were, but then they helped us stop the chain. Gregor was a bit of a dick, but Yuri did what he could. Now is not the time to fight. We still have some hours of daylight left and I’d like to get those wounds dressed properly. I need to see what I’m dealing with.”
Renala blushed again. She knew what that meant.
“Renala,” Marnie said “don’t be so shy. At least you only have to take off your shirt. I have to drop my pants.”
“Boys,” Angus said, “go on in the other room. Prolier, Angel, pull Gregor with you. I’ll be out there as soon as I get done in here.”
They all shuffled out.
“Alright ladies,” Angus said once the door clicked shut, “what do we have here?”
The girls got partially undressed and showed Angus their wounds.
“Marnie, I’ll deal with yours first. That’s not bad work with the binding Lethen did. We’ll just leave it until I’m done here. It went straight through. Bad because there’s two holes, but good because we don’t have to dig it out. It’s gonna hurt for a long while, and you’ll be slower, but it’s not life threatening.”
Angus took out a roll of bandage. “What the hell happened in there?”
While he fixed them up, Renala told him the whole story.
* * * * *
“So your daemon still resists you?” Angel asked once Lethen had finished his tale.
“It hasn’t fought me at all since the trials, even against the border guards. I guess he didn’t like the idea of hurting a fellow daemon.”
“That could be a problem in the days ahead. We are crossing land where wild daemons are known to roam.”
“I know, I’ll have to find another way to fight. Even if it’s just being a distraction again.”
Prolier held up his hand. “Wait a second. Aren’t you more concerned with whatever plan your daemon has? Daemon weapons aren’t supposed to have their own plans.”
“Apparently mine does,” Lethen said. “I wish I had a way to know what it was. Hell, I wish I even knew if what I heard was similar to Kraxid or just sounded like it. I’m not sure if he even said anything about a plan.”
“Maybe it has to do with the weak binding.” Prolier said. “It can resist your will in fights. Doesn’t that imply it has a will of it’s own?”
“That’s a disturbing thought.” Angel said.
“Don’t they all?” Lethen asked. “Renala’s daemon defends for her. Yours help you strike harder. They don’t have to do that. They could fight back or just act totally inanimate. They are living creatures just like you and me. The difference is that you guys have daemons that agree with your viewpoint. Mine hates people, and for good reason. He especially despises me for wielding him. I can’t say that I really blame him. Would you like to be someone else’s tool?”
“Mmmmnnnnmm,” came from the floor.
“Speaking of tools,” Prolier said before sitting down on Gregor’s chest, pinning him to the floor. He sat with knees up, his arms rested atop them, hands in between. His wrist was bent, pointing the claw down. It’s points hung less than at inch above the Russian’s throat. “Yuri, you should probably tell him that he doesn’t want to move.”
Yuri stuttered, then dropped down beside his friend and spoke quickly. Angus had chosen not to kill them, but now he wasn’t here. Instead, one of the kids that he’d locked in with the daemon was here.
“Which one of you shot Marnie?” Lethen asked the Russians.
“Gregor grabbed the gun and tried to pull it away. I fought for it because I knew what he’d do with it, but I’m not sure who actually pulled the trigger. I may be to blame for that. I should have had the safety on. I am also the one who pressed the button on the machine that trapped you.”
Lethen stepped forward and lifted the man up to face him. “You almost killed us.”
The man looked down at the hand clutching his shirt and swallowed. “I am sorry. I did not know who you were. I was acting on orders. If you’re going to kill me, please do it quickly and let Gregor go. One of us will need to evacuate the town. When the others come again, they will not be pleased and we will likely be killed or fed to the beast. Our families too.”
Lethen realized that the fear he saw in the other man’s eyes wasn’t for himself. He wanted to save his kin. He knew his duty may require him to kill. Was Lethen any different? He let the man go. “Do you work for Silva?”
Yuri nodded. “How do you know that name?”
“I’ve faced him before. Do you know where he is? We have maps, but someone who knows the terrain would be very helpful. Landmarks and things to look out for. Help us. The daemon is loose. Someone is eventually gonna open that door. Do you wanna be here when that happens? You spoke of evacuating the town. I think you should do just that.”
“Gregor is my cousin. We have family on the outskirts of Ulan-Ude, to the north. They won’t like it, but if we say our town was attacked, they’ll believe it. It does sometimes happen near the border. We can disappear there. I have saved some money, just not as much as I’d hoped. It will have to do. Everyone here knows what is kept in there. If I tell them it’s loose, they will run.”
“Are there any others working for Silva here?” Angel asked.
“A few, but even they hate him. He keeps people afraid by leaving that thing here.”
“Fear is a powerful motivator,” Prolier said, looking down at Gregor. The man wasn’t resisting, but he certainly wasn’t comfortable. “Right now this man would do just about anything I asked if he could understand me. I know I wouldn’t hold something like this here without people watching the watchers. They probably don’t know anything yet, but if you march around telling people what happened here, they will.”
“I will not leave innocent people to die at their hands. These are my friends and family. I won’t let Silva or the daemon get to them.” Yuri spit.
“I’m not saying don’t evacuate, just give us a day or two head start before you raise the alarm. We’d rather not have to cut our way in.”
Yuri seemed to consider it. “I will talk with your teacher on this. As for how to get there, the most direct way is to follow the train tracks north. That will lead you directly into Gusinoye Ozero. That’s where his base is. He and his main lieutenants live in larger houses outside the city on their own daemon farms. I’ve never been up there, but I’d imagine his is the biggest. I’ve only met the man once and he didn’t strike me as a humble man.”
“And what about the daemon farms themselves?” Lethen asked. “Will that take us up through them?”
Yuri shook his head. “They keep the daemons away from the tracks. They may control most of the freight and passengers through here, but not all of it. The problem is that if you follow the tracks too closely, you will be out in the open. I would suggest staying to the shadows, but don’t stray too far from the rails. They keep their business away from public view, but not by much.”
Angel grunted. “Too close and we’ll be spotted, too far and we’ll be lunch.”
* * * * *
Angus finished up his first-aid work and brought the girls out to the boys. “Lethen, how’s your ankle?”
“It’s been better, but nothing seems to be broken. I’ll be fine.”
“Good. I don’t want to stay here any longer than necessary. Yuri, I’ve got a few questions.”
They discussed the matter and Angus approved of their plan. “How long do you think it will be before they come down again?”
“They come down about every three months to bring us more feed for it. That will happen again in about three weeks. But they also show up randomly. Anytime they have someone that won’t be missed. I wish I had a better answer.”
“So do I.” Angus had Lethen take off his boot so the ankle was visible. He knew Lethen was tough, and he didn’t want something cropping up later because a stubborn kid had decided to fight through the pain. The ankle wasn’t too bad, but the boot had seen better days. “You were lucky.”
“I know, but I had no other choice.”
“Renala told me. You are bound and determined to die on your first mission aren’t you? Between diving into the river and trying to feed yourself to a daemon I might have a squad of four earlier than expected.”
Yuri looked up. “The disturbance by the river was you?”
“Yes, but how do you know about it?”
“We monitor the radio frequency the border guards use. As I said, border raids aren’t common, but they’re not rare either. We take all the warning we can get. They were not happy you overwhelmed them. Last we heard, they were focusing their efforts around Dzhida. You should be clear of them if you don’t wait too long.”
“Thank you for your help,” Angus said. “I wish you luck in your new life and I promise that your whereabouts will be safe with us. Quietly start getting people ready and tomorrow you run. By then they should be busy with us.”
“A word of warning. They have a few men stationed in Temnik, which is about halfway to Gusinoye Ozero. Be careful. There will be no-” Yuri stopped to listen.
“What is it?” Angus asked.
“You need to leave now. There is a train coming, and there are no deliveries scheduled tonight. This can only mean that Silva’s men are here. If they find you, they will kill you.”
* * * * *