Angus watched as Vitaly impaled Yuri, then dropped him to the floor. Angus shouted and stepped forward, his staff already on the move. A sideways swipe aimed at Vitaly’s head was deflected at the last second by Andrei’s tonfa.
“It won’t be so easy this time,” Andrei said in heavily accented English. “We will not hold back, and we will not pretend to be knocked out. Now you are in our land. I have been looking forward to this.”
Weapons clashed between them as the duo advanced on Angus. He was being forced back toward the door, but that was fine with him. He would rather face them outside where his team could back him up. He was assuming they were weaker than Silva as they were under him, but that wasn’t always the case. A strong leader can call to his side even those with more might. In many cases might made right, but sometimes brains could trump that. Angus did not think that was the case with Silva.
As Angus backed through the door, he focused on defending. The passage was only wide enough and Andrei was the first through it. The sounds of wood pounding against wood caused the curtains to be parted in some of the nearest windows. Wary eyes peered out, wondering which way the battle would go.
No strategy had been discussed, but the team was growing accustomed to their various roles. Renala came in to draw attacks from Angus, while Angel fell back and charged his rifle. The others fanned out, waiting for more room. If they all crowded in together, they would get in each other’s way.
Vitaly squeezed out through the gap as soon as there was space. He looked at the team and smiled. “Ah the half-breed with the shovel. It’s a shame that such a silly form was chosen for such a powerful daemon, but I suppose it will make it easier to take it from you.”
“Don’t kill him,” Andrei said as he fended off attacks from Angus and Renala. “I’m pretty sure Silva wants to finish that one himself. No one forces our boss to submit and survives for very much longer. He was planning to come for you at some point, but now he won’t have to.”
Lethen stepped forward to engage Vitaly. He wasn’t planning to go down without a fight.
“Be careful Lethen,” Angus warned, “he’s trying to goad you into attacking without thinking.”
Lethen smiled as he continued his advance. “Then he clearly doesn’t remember what happened to the last guy who made me angry enough to lose control. I’m already mad about what they did to Yuri and I don’t see myself calming any time soon.”
The look that passed between the two Russians showed that they did in fact remember, and they were considering the wisdom of engaging the team. During their previous encounter they watched as an enraged Lethen almost beat their boss to death, and that was before the boy had trained.
Their moment of hesitation proved to be their undoing. When they glanced at each other, Angus wrapped his whip around Andrei’s neck and jerked him in for a headbutt that splattered the man’s nose across his face. Stunned as he was by this, he didn’t have a chance to dodge Renala’s swing at his legs. The halberd bit into the calf of his left leg and didn’t stop, severing it just below the knee. A scream tore from his throat but didn’t last long as he went into shock and passed out.
“Andrei!” Vitaly shouted as he saw his friend fall. He should’ve been watching Lethen. The shovel came down on his upper arm, cleanly snapping the bone and causing the man’s blade to drop to the ground. A kick to the back of the knee from Marnie laid him out on his back.
Lethen stared down at the terrified man with a wicked grin on his face. “Do you know why they want this weapon so bad?”
Vitaly shook his head.
“Let me show you.” Lethen reached out for the Russian’s functioning arm and pressed it down into the earth, pinning him in place. He then did the same with both legs. “You will tell us everything you know about Silva’s operation. His setup, his patrols, his favorite pair of underwear. If you can make me believe that you’ve told me everything, I might leave your head above the dirt. Maybe.”
“I’ll tell you all I know.”
Lethen’s grin widened. “You’d better.”
* * * * *
While Lethen and the others questioned Vitaly, Angus went to see if he could save Yuri. It didn’t look good. He was still alive, but there was blood pooling around him and his breath was nothing more than a series of wet coughs, each one sending a small spray of red mist into the air.
“Hold on there,” Angus said, “I’m gonna see if I can patch you up.”
Yuri actually smiled a little. “I am done my friend. Please, just make sure my family is safe.”
“Don’t say that, I might be able to stop the bleeding.”
“The bleeding inside me? I don’t think so. Promise me you will help them escape. Promise me.”
Angus looked at the wound. Yuri was right. Even if he could bandage the external wounds, it would take major surgery to shore up his punctured lung, and with the amount of blood he’d already lost, he wouldn’t survive long enough.
Angus nodded. “I promise. I will see that they get away from here before we leave, and I will make sure that Silva can’t harm anyone ever again. You have my word.”
“Thank you. You are a good man and I am glad to have met you. I’m happy I could finally do something good with my life. When you finally join me in the afterlife, I will have a bottle of the best vodka on ice waiting for you.”
Angus took Yuri’s hand. “I look forward to it.”
Yuri’s body shook as he coughed up another stream of dark liquid before going still.
Angus reached down and closed the man’s eyes. He walked over and felt Andrei’s neck for a pulse. It was there but very weak. He was losing blood quickly from his severed leg and wouldn’t last more than another few minutes. The thought of staunching the injury crossed his mind, but only for a second. The sensei stepped over the dying man and headed straight for Vitaly.
“You killed him. He was a better man than you’ll ever be, and you killed him. He was no threat to you. Why did you do it?”
Vitaly looked up with tears in his eyes. “That is how Silva wants things done in his towns. Anyone who crosses him is to be killed. I was just acting on orders.”
Angus spat on the man before continuing over to Gregor who was still sobbing on the floor. “Get up you coward.”
Gregor’s sobs slowed as he looked up at Angus. He said something angry in Russian, but Angus ignored him and dragged him over to Vitaly.
“Translate for me. If I think for a moment that you’re saying anything other that what I tell you, I will end you right now. I want you to tell him to go wake the town. They need to evacuate. And I want him to bring Yuri’s widow here. She deserves to know why her husband died and face the man who killed him. It’s also up to her what happens to the body. I would like to give him a proper burial before we go take care of your boss, but she may wish to take the body with her.”
Vitaly spoke quickly.
Gregor looked like he was about to argue, but nodded and ran, shouting as he dashed through the streets. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. Lights were coming on in every house he went past. It wasn’t long before the he returned with a teary eyed lady in tow.
“Do you speak English?”
“I am deeply sorry for what happened to your husband and the fact that our presence here caused this. He was a brave man who helped me save two of my students from being eaten by the thing that Silva’s men keep locked up here. The man who killed him is right over there.” He pointed to the partially buried Vitaly. “I believe it is your right to do as you choose with him.”
She didn’t even hesitate. “Kill him.”
Angus nodded. “I also wanted to ask you what your wishes are for Yuri. We will stay long enough to bury him for you if you wish. That is how we pay our respects to the dead, but I don’t know what your customs are here.”
“I will take him with us. He cannot be buried until the third day after his death and his body must be prepared. I will wash him and dress him for his return to the earth while we travel.”
“As you wish. Please get yourself and the rest of the town to safety. I fear that this place will not be safe for some time. We will deal with his killer and make sure that the man who sent him pays for his crimes. This I swear to you, and again I am sorry that our arrival caused this. If there is anything we can do to help you escape, we will.”
“We have been planning to leave for some time. This place has been slowly dying since Silva came into the area several years ago. I thank you for your offer, but we will be fine. The only thing I ask is that you make them all suffer for what they have done.”
“That they will.”
She spoke a few words to Gregor in Russian. He hurried off. When he returned, he was carrying a stretcher and three others accompanied him. They loaded Yuri onto it and slowly walked him up the street.
Yuri’s widow walked over to Vitaly and kicked him. “What will you do with this garbage?”
Angus smiled at her. “Since we can’t help you bury your husband tonight, I guess we’ll have to bury him instead, but I think we’ll do it while he’s still breathing.”
“That is a satisfactory punishment. He will burn in hell for what he has done to my Yuri. It seems only appropriate that he gets a little closer to there before he dies. Would you like me to get some shovels?”
Angus looked at Lethen. “That won’t be necessary. How much do you know about Silva and his men?”
“Do you mean the magic?”
“Yes. Although we are his enemies, we also carry weapons that give us certain abilities. One of my students will handle the burial. You are welcome to watch if you’d like.”
Angus walked her over to where the group sat watch over Vitaly. “This is Lethen. Lethen, this is Yuri’s wife. As his widow, she has the final say about Vitaly’s fate. She wishes for him to be put under the earth. Alive.”
Lethen looked at her. “After what he did to Yuri, it will be my pleasure.”
“You can’t do this,” Vitaly protested. “I told you all I know.”
Lethen stood on the man’s chest and slowly pressed him down into the dirt. The widow’s eyes widened as she watched, but there was a hint of a smile there as she heard his screams silenced.
“Thank you,” was all she said before turning and walking away.
Angus addressed the group. “The time for subtlety is over. We are going to cut our way through Silva and his forces. This started as a recon mission. Now it is war.”
* * * * *