Lethen slid the memory card into his pocket as he trailed the team toward the temple. Often they looked to him for leadership, but Angel had the best sense of direction and Renala had an almost eidetic memory, so the two of them led the way to the Tamchinskiy datsan. It wasn’t a long trek, but they meandered their way between the few abused buildings that were in their path, taking frequent short breaks to make sure they weren’t being followed. They weren’t.
Once they had made it to the temple, they knew they had to keep their guards up though. There had just been a fairly loud explosion and they had been watched by the town’s residents the entire way. It wouldn’t take long for their pursuers to find someone willing to tell where they’d holed up. Angus had told them to wait an hour for him, but they seriously doubted they’d have that long.
A monk greeted Gregor by name when they entered the temple, but while they spoke, he kept looking sadly at the team and their weapons. Obviously he knew what they were and wasn’t too happy about having them within the sacred space. After some discussion, he came over to see them. “Gregor has told me about your situation, and while I dislike having killing tools in my home, I am willing to shelter you. Gregor has always come to see me when he’s come to town and if you are friends of his, I will accept that you are decent people.”
They all held their weapons in ways to make them appear as unthreatening as possible.
“We truly appreciate your help, sir.” Marnie said. She was probably the most diplomatic of them, so she took charge here. “We will try to disrupt you as little as possible and we will be gone in an hour if you’ll allow us that long. We are waiting for our sensei who has tried to lead our pursuers away from us.”
The monk looked shocked. “Someone is actually teaching you these violent actions? Who would be irresponsible enough to teach ones so young the ways of killing? From living here, I know that there are those who carry weapons with extraordinary abilities, crafted from living creatures, but I wasn’t aware that they started out so early in life. This is truly troubling.”
“We are trained to defend against threats of people who use these gifts to do harm to others. Silva and his men have been doing many evil things and we came simply to observe, but once they attacked us, we defended ourselves. I don’t know if you’re aware, but they are farming daemons here to make more of these weapons.”
The monk nodded. “I am aware of what they’re doing, though I don’t claim to understand the methods used to turn an animal into a blade. I agree that what they are doing is evil, both because they are imprisoning a living being in another form and by what they are doing with these weapons once they’re created. Are you doing any different?”
That stopped Marnie short. While Hikari students didn’t personally bind their daemons, nor did they farm them, they did use these enslaved creatures and kill with them. “It’s different,” she started, stumbling a bit as she went, “We use our powers for good. We try to stop those who would sow discord in the world.”
The monk arched his eyebrow, an obvious sign that he’d seen an immediate flaw in her logic. “Let me ask you something. Is an evil deed against an evil man any less evil than an evil deed against a good man?”
“I don’t know the answer to that, but I’d like to think that my violent actions have served to prevent much more violence. If I can kill a man to save ten, I will do so.”
The monk lowered his head to concede the point. “Sadly you cannot predict the future. That man you killed could have a change of heart and go on to do great things with his life. Things that are now never going to happen. He will be reborn and have no idea of his past potential. Would it not be better to meet these people as a missionary and try to turn their thinking to more positive ends?”
“Undoubtedly, but that doesn’t always work, and that’s where we come in. There are missionaries and there are warriors who are ready when words fail. Are you a missionary here?”
“I am. I have been trying to resolve this situation peacefully for a number of years.”
“And how much success have you had?”
“I’ll admit that there are few who have turned their backs on that life, but each life that I save has been done without the expense of my own karma and without any bloodshed, can you say the same?”
Marnie shook her head. She knew he was right and she couldn’t win. They may believe that they were on the right side of things, but they were still the evil on that side. In a war, there are no winners amongst the warriors. They all bear a great weight on their souls to the end of their days. “I am no innocent and I hope for the day when the world is at peace and I can lay aside my weapon, but that day is not today. Today I will fight to my last breath to protect what I believe is right.”
The monk nodded once in acceptance of her words, but his eyes carried a great sadness as he did. Then he turned his back on the group to see to Gregor’s bandages and try to make the man more comfortable.
* * * * *
Angus knocked out the first few men who approached his position in the hole in the wall and the rest were much more cautious after that. He was switching between his whip and staff with regularity enough to show his foes that he was much more capable with his weapon than they were with theirs. It takes a lot of practice to form combinations with two different weapons and even more to shift between the two and do so proficiently.
He held his ground for five minutes before disappearing through the hole and moving north. The kids had gone east toward the temple and he absolutely wouldn’t lead them that way. He moved quickly, but not so quickly that they were likely to lose him.
He stopped and struck out a few times during his flight, mostly to keep them interested and not get too far away from his eventual goal. He didn’t really plan to meet the team at the temple. He wanted them out of town before he dropped his pursuers and linked back up with them. He only told them to wait for an hour so that he could lead everyone further away from their position.
He began to notice the group following him were slowing down and looking at their watches fairly often, which seemed like very strange behavior during a pursuit. Did they have somewhere better to be? Maybe they were in danger of missing whatever the Russian version of Pop Idol was. Something was off about this and he didn’t like it.
The feeling intensified when they broke off completely and headed back toward the compound. He had thought they were holding back because they feared him, but it now appeared that they were afraid of something else and it had to do with time. They had to be back before something happened and that something made Angus very nervous.
He trailed along behind them a bit. It was obvious where they were going but he wanted to make sure. Plus his destination was that direction as well, so why not?
He veered eastward once they had gotten out of sight and made a beeline for the temple. Whatever was about to happen had those men desperate to get behind that wall and Angus was fairly certain that meant something bad was going to happen outside of it. He had to get back to the team and get them out of town. He wasn’t sure what the Russians would do, but he had a very bad feeling about it in his gut.
* * * * *
When Angus arrived at the datsun, the monk had just finished changing Gregor’s bandages. Their new friend was still far from one hundred percent, but he was already looking better. He almost looked peaceful, and that likely had something to do with the surroundings. The temple wasn’t a huge building, but it was beautiful with its tiered roofs that flared up at the corners. The pictures he’d seen online while researching the area didn’t do it justice. He wished he had more time to enjoy the view, but he had work to do.
“Guys, we have to get moving. Something fishy is going on and I’d rather not be here to find out what it is.”
The team was startled but knew Angus well enough to start getting their things together. They hadn’t really unpacked much, but they had sat down to clean themselves up a bit while they waited. They were still pretty full from the meal Nestor had served them, so they didn’t bother with a snack.
“What’s going on?” Lethen asked. “We didn’t expect you to be here this quickly.”
“Neither did I, but Silva’s men broke off pursuit after only about ten minutes and hightailed it back to their base. I think they’re going to do something and want to be safely behind their wall when it happens.”
The monk’s head shot up at the words. “You say they went to hide in their compound? This can only mean one thing.” He dashed off and grabbed a large bell. He headed toward the door, but Angus stopped him before he got there.
“What are they planning?” The sensei asked.
“The last time they hunkered down within their base, after someone had escaped them, they released their pets. Many died. I’m going to warn the town. The beasts fear fences and walls as theirs are electrified. Anyone in the streets needs to come here or get indoors immediately..”
“Damn it all.” Angus shouted. He paced for a few moments while he worked out something in his head. “Damn it. Alright, do you have any more of those bells?”
“No, but just run through the streets yelling ‘monsters.’ The Russian word for it is similar enough that people will get the idea.”
“Okay. Everyone, leave everything but your weapons. Renala, Lethen, you head southeast. Prolier, Marnie, you head southwest. I’ll go straight south with Angel. We’ll meet at the southern end of town and work our way back with the refugees.” He turned to the monk. “That leaves you with the smaller northern area. Will you be safe with no weapons?”
“If I am, I am. If not, I’m not. I cannot see the future. The pens are a bit out of town though, so hopefully, we will have time to get people back before the beasts reach us. Good luck.”
“To you as well,” Angus said, shaking the monk’s hand. “Alright everyone, move out.”
* * * * *
The townsfolk apparently knew what to do, so the relocation went smoothly, but it was still close. The last few people had just made it within the temple before the quickest of the daemons began to come around the corners. As the doors were closed, the nearest ones were only a dozen or so yards away.
The howling and yelping of the various beasts could be heard outside and the few townsfolk who had been out of their houses got settled in. They stayed away from Angus and the team.
“Crap,” Angus said, “all we’ve done is trade one prison for another. We have to get out of here.”
* * * * *