Angus and the team cleaned up the nets and prods and assembled outside the warehouse, keeping it between them and the train tracks. They pressed themselves against the wall when they heard the train’s brakes engage. The squeal of metal on metal was a physical sensation.
Once the locomotive stopped, Angus chanced a peek around the building. It was an old-fashioned steam engine, like it was created with the pictures from a monopoly board in mind. It looked ancient, but kept in fairly good shape. Two men came down out of it and Angus recognized both of them. They had been present at the school on the team’s first day. Definitely Silva’s men; definitely daemon weapon users.
“What’s going on?” Marnie whispered from his elbow.
“Two of Silva’s men.” Angus said “We should go.”
“We can’t just leave them there. They’ll kill them both.”
“But if we fight now, we lose our chance at surprising them. It will be a battle the rest of the way in.”
Marnie looked to the rest of the team. Lethen was the first to nod, but the others followed soon after. “So be it.”
Angus looked over and smiled. “I’d hoped you’d say that. For right now we will observe. Yuri might think of something, send them off on a wild goose chase. The holes on this building may be camouflage, but they are still holes. Watch, listen and stay put. If something goes wrong, we’ll be right here.”
* * * * *
Yuri swallowed as he waited for the men to enter. He didn’t know how they’d found out so quickly, but they were there now. He had a rough outline for an excuse in his head, but he’d have to improvise some. “Thank goodness you’re here,” he said in Russian. “I was just about to contact you. We had an intruder.”
The man in front was carrying a short sword, while his friend had a tonfa. They walked with a self important strut that irritated Yuri to no end. He wished they’d just leave the town alone.
“Had?” The first asked.
Yuri pointed at the locked door to the daemon’s room. “He jumped Gregor so I locked him in there. I doubt there’s anything left by now.”
“Haven’t you checked?”
“There’s a problem. Somehow he broke the creature’s chain during the struggle. If we open the door, it will eat us all.”
The two mercenaries looked at each other. “What do you think, Vitaly?” Tonfa asked.
“I’m not sure, Andrei.” Short sword replied, looking at Yuri. “I think I want to know how you found out about the broken chain.”
“It’s hanging loose in the control room,” Yuri said. “It looks like it was cut with something.”
“Gregor, is this the way it happened?” Vitaly asked.
Gregor looked at Yuri for a long second before nodding. “I was doing the rounds while Yuri was checking the machine. I saw the door was open and went to take a look. I saw a man with a staff inside. He must have heard me coming because as soon as I saw him, I got hit in the face. I just had time to shout to Yuri to start the machine before I blacked out.”
Andrei looked at Yuri. “So you were in the control room the whole time?”
“I started the machine, then came down to check on Gregor. He was out cold on the floor by the door. I heard growling and screams for a while, but then nothing.”
“Why didn’t you contact us?” It was an accusation more than a question.
“I was about to. It took some time for me to wake Gregor. I’m just glad I went back to check the machine before I opened the door. How did you know we needed help anyway?”
“When you press the button, it sends an alarm to the station at Temnik. If that goes off and we haven’t been told about it, we know you’ve had an emergency, or you’re up to something.”
Gregor blanched. “Up to something? We try to have as little contact with that beast as possible. Why would we turn the machine on unless there was someone in there. Someone who wasn’t supposed to be.”
“Alright,” Andrei said. “Keep your pants on.”
“Excuse him,” Yuri said, glaring at Gregor. “He is still a bit shaken by the experience. This is the first time we’ve had to deal with an unexpected guest since Kirill’s unfortunate mistake.”
Vitaly laughed. “Oh yes. What a chump. To think that he would side with such weaklings over us. At least if you’re going to rebel, make sure you have the firepower to back it up. The others ran off after he helped them and where were they when we got hold of him? Nowhere to be seen. If he’d shot them and been done with it, he’d still be alive today.”
Yuri bristled silently to hear his brother talked about in such a manner. He had always looked up to Kirill, who was two years older. He was one of the reasons he’d acted as he had today. He didn’t wish to die as his brother had, but rather live how he lived. He wanted to help those who were trying to do the right thing. Yuri didn’t know everything about Angus’s mission, but he knew him to be an honorable man who had done nothing more than try to save children in the time since they’d met. He hadn’t even killed Gregor when the girl got shot. If Yuri was forced to pick a side, he’d pick Angus over Silva any day of the week.
Vitaly could see that he was getting to Yuri. “Don’t get all pissy little man, he crossed the wrong people and paid for it. Anyway, let’s go see this chain. Maybe we can figure something out about this guy. If we know how he cut it, we might might have a clue as to who he is.”
Andrei led the way as they went through the secret passage toward the control room.
* * * * *
Angus watched them leave. “Okay guys, we’re not gonna be able to see inside that room, but if we loop around, we should be able to hear them.”
“Won’t they be able to hear us?” Renala asked.
“Not if we don’t make any noise they won’t. Anyone who doesn’t think they can do that should stay here.”
No one in the group was going to stay behind.
Angus led them around the building slowly, creeping closer to the small shed-like add-on that contained the machine. The Russians were all already inside when Angus got close enough to hear anything.
“Would you look at that,” Andrei said. “Cut clean through. Vitaly, what do you make of this?”
“Definitely not bolt cutters. Only one kind of blade cuts through solid steel like this. There’s no marks of being sawed, just a swift, outward cut to the link.”
“Outward?” Gregor said, a tremble in his voice.
“Yeah,” Vitaly said, “The blade was shoved into the link and pulled outward. This wasn’t just an accident during a fight. This was intentional and would’ve required a lot of strength. If the man inside did this, he did it because he wanted the beast free.”
Angus was impressed by how much Vitaly had gleaned just by looking at the cut. If he was brave enough to open the door, they would be sunk. The man knew about the daemon weapon, and not finding one would be a dead giveaway.
Angus wanted the men to just leave and accept that they should come back later with more men to recapture or kill the unleashed daemon. He prayed they didn’t think they could do it by themselves. If they freed it without being able to contain it, there would be blood, lots of blood.
Then again, maybe they could manage it. Angus knew vaguely of Silva and had met him a few times during initial testing, but that was it. He knew nothing of the men in Silva’s employ. Perhaps they were accomplished with their weapons. Perhaps this whole mission was a terrible idea for a group of first years. Perhaps he’d gotten in over his head again and couldn’t protect those in his care.
He shook his head to clear the thoughts. Doubt was a sure way to get them all killed. If he hesitated on any decision for even a second, it could mean the difference between life and death. Now it was time to listen, but when he needed to act, he would.
“Gregor,” Andrei said, “can you tell me what the guy looked like? Anything you can remember, height, weight, hair color, anything.”
“Um,” Gregor stumbled over his words. “About five foot ten, stocky, maybe two hundred pounds. His hair was dark, but not brown. Maybe a dirty blond or reddish. It was hard to tell. It was dark.”
“He went in there without turning the lights on first?”
“Then why are they on now?” Andrei asked, pointing to the sliver of illumination coming through the small hole that ordinarily housed the chain.
“Alright,” Andrei said. “Let me ask you something else. If you were on duty and investigating something unusual inside, why is your gun out here?”
Shit, Angus thought. He could picture the inside of the room. Marnie had left the gun against the wall when they had gone through to set up the nets. Yuri’s story was beginning to fall apart.
* * * * *
Yuri knew they were screwed. The two questioning him and Gregor obviously knew something wasn’t right. They may not know exactly what happened, but they knew they knew they were being lied to. The story was full of holes big enough for an elephant to fall into with no hope of escape. He looked over at his cousin.
Gregor was in tears. He had come to the same conclusion Yuri had. They were both about to die.
Andrei chose Gregor to concentrate on. He stepped in close to the crying man and looked into his eyes. “Now why don’t you tell us what’s really going on here? Only a daemon weapon could’ve cut the chain that cleanly, and we know that a team of them are headed this way. Did they pay you? Did they threaten you?”
Gregor couldn’t hold the stare further than the first sentence. His face fell to his hands and he wept openly. After getting his breathing partially under control, he raised a hand and pointed to Yuri. “He made me do it. We had two of them trapped. He helped them stop the machine and he let them go.” Gregor turned to face Yuri. “See what you did? I told you it was a bad idea. I told you to just feed them to the beast. Are their lives worth more than ours?”
With his tonfa against his forearm, Andrei slammed the short end of the weapon into Gregor’s gut, blasting the air from his lungs. “Weakling.”
His back against the wall, Yuri saw Angus come round the corner as Vitaly approached. He shook his head gently to tell the teacher to stay back.
“So we have another traitor,” Vitaly said, grabbing Yuri by the throat and pulling him close. Their noses were scant millimeters apart.“And from the same family too.”
Somewhere behind Angus there was a noise. One of the students.
Vitaly smiled. “And it seems your new friends have returned to witness your death.”
The short sword came up and slid between Yuri’s ribs. His eyes widened and his lungs began to fill with blood. He looked down as Vitaly pulled the blade free, the only plug that was slowing the flow of his life leaving him. He heard Angus shout as he fell to the ground.
* * * * *