Things had gone to hell very quickly within the compound. While Lev was an excellent warrior and a fair tactician when it came to things like battle, he wasn’t the smartest person in the world. He had led most of the men out into the courtyard when the music had started and once it stopped, he hadn’t taken them back in. They currently milled about the area, several of them in front of the large doors that covered the entrance.
“Has anyone figured out where that noise was coming from?” He yelled.
“It was obviously something to do with those intruders who escaped us earlier,” another man answered. “It certainly wasn’t Russian music.” The man had been standing next to Lev for most of their time outdoors, marking him to be a lieutenant or something similar. “They must have been playing it for a reason.”
They found out the reason just a few seconds later.
The flimsy gate exploded inward, blasting bodies from the area. Some were likely already dead, and a few others were groaning on the ground with bruises and bits of wood poking from various parts of their bodies. All told, there were a dozen men who were either permanently or temporarily out of action.
It seemed that their enemies were getting the better of them at every turn. They had already killed Nestor, whom Lev had been a supporter of, and taken the data that had been traded for. They had made fools of the group and their only saving grace was that when it came time to report to the bosses, Lev could blame the entire fiasco on Nestor, claiming that it all went down while he was in charge. There would be questions, but as long as he could clean this up even slightly, they would have no problem with his assumed leadership. For someone who prided himself on preparedness, Nestor had left him with a fine mess.
The smoke and dust from the explosion was settling now and Lev knew things were going to get worse before they got better. Through the drifting cloud of wall and gate particles, he could see the small herd of daemons that were just beyond the portal. They had fallen back when the bomb went off, but now that they could see in, they would advance. They were kept slightly hungry at all times so they would learn to appreciate their masters. Now that didn’t seem like such a good idea.
“Fall back to the building. Now!” The leader shouted. He knew the men were capable of handling daemons, but they didn’t have any of their equipment and usually they did so one or two at a time. Having fifteen or so daemons coming at you all at once was an untenable position. Whoever didn’t make it back inside would be dead very soon.
The men scattered to the nearest doorways, some tripping over each other or the wounded in their haste. One man stopped to help a fallen friend and it proved to be his undoing. Daemons will eat dead flesh, but they much prefer a fresh kill. The biggest of the beasts attacked the wounded that were still moving, while the others dragged the dead beyond the walls.
The doors were slammed shut and the men watched from the windows. Though it wasn’t as bad as being mauled by a daemon, watching your friends being shredded and hearing their short-lived screams was still unpleasant. One man fainted and a few others threw up violently while the massacre outside continued.
Lev had seen enough. He fell into a chair, pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and lit one. He took a deep drag and blew the smoke out with a heavy sigh. “This isn’t going to be easy to fix. We have the equipment we need to put the monsters back into their cages, but we’ll have to wait until they wander off and now we’re short on men.”
The lieutenant was one of the ones who’d made it back inside, and as ever, he was hovering not far from Lev’s right elbow. “They should wander off once they can no longer see prey. Speaking of which, we should probably stay away from the windows for a little while. I doubt they would try to break through, but in their current state, I wouldn’t bet my life on it.”
The men at the windows looked at each other and quickly drew the curtains.
“Now we can’t see what they’re doing. How can we know when it’s safe to start rounding them up?”
“Quick peeks probably won’t be too dangerous, just try to stay as hidden as possible. If they spot you, there might be a ball of teeth and claws coming through in short order. We may also want to consider trapping some of them inside here.”
“Are you mad?” Another man called out. Many of the others nodded in their agreement, though they didn’t share the man’s courage enough to speak up.
Lev knew where the thought was leading though. This was more his speed. Divide and conquer. “We do have a lot of empty rooms now and if we can start trapping the daemons within them, we may be able to force the encounters into being better for us. I’d much rather have four men with stun rods and nets open a door with a single daemon inside than go out there and try to face them all at once.”
The men were skeptical, but wise enough not to be too open about it. Like it or not, Lev was their leader now and none of them had any better ideas.
“Alright guys, go get your stuff, we’re gonna need to start rounding up these bastards or we’ll run out of supplies in here. If you see an opportunity to get a daemon into an empty room, do so. Then lock the door and put a mark on it to show it’s occupied. We’ve already lost enough people today. Don’t take one of these things on unless you are confident you have enough men and skill.”
The men filed out, obviously not happy, but Lev didn’t really expect them to be. They had just watched a decent chunk of their comrades ripped apart by the beasts that Lev himself had ordered released. The time may well be coming when Lev would have to make a few examples to cement his authority or he’d wind up on a stake just as Silva had.
The thought of the old boss made Lev peek out the window. Silva’s body was still up where it had been, but the more easily reached head had already been snatched up as a meal. He peered around and saw what looked like a large dingo gnawing on the ex-leader’s skull. Lev shuddered.
He looked over at his lieutenant who had stayed nearby in case he was needed. “I don’t yet know how, but once I get everything in order here, I am going to make those little bastards pay for what they’ve done. The first on that list is Gregor, the traitor who led them here. Then we will tear the rest of them apart, piece by piece.”
* * * * *
Angus watched the owl as it floated along behind them, seemingly with almost no effort. It wasn’t attacking, but that could change in an instant. Normal owls were incredible hunters, and this one was not only larger, but would possess some gift that none of them were aware of. If it decided to attack while they were on the water, it would almost certainly be a disaster. Fighting a daemon is hard on land, where you can use footwork and mobility to escape the raking talons. In a boat where a dodge to the side would capsize them, it would be virtually impossible.
The trip itself was actually proceeding quite smoothly. Renala’s enormous halberd, with it’s long handle and wide, flat blade, made an exceptional oar, though it was a shame the smallest of them all had to be the one to paddle. Angus guessed the daemon itself was helping some as the small girl didn’t seem to be tiring as quickly as he would’ve expected. Also, Lethen’s shovel made a pretty fair rudder. If not for the ever present threat looming behind them, it might’ve been quite a pleasant little journey.
Angus set Prolier to watch the owl so he could get down to something he’d been meaning to do since they met Nestor. Once he’d found out about the memory chip, he’d been curious about what was on it. It must be something pretty important to warrant the delivery method.
He got the chip from Lethen and slid it into his phone, waiting while the software took care of trying to access it. It didn’t take long before Angus saw a little screen popping up that told him that it had a password protecting it. He probably should’ve guessed that. If it was as sensitive as he imagined it was, chances were strong that not only was it encrypted, but if you didn’t know the password, it would destroy it self, either physically or by dumping the data. Angus couldn’t afford either of those scenarios. That little chip was their ticket to being absolved of failing the mission.
With a sad sigh, he removed the card and put it into his pocket. He noticed Gregor watching him, but since the two couldn’t communicate, he just smiled. The man smiled back before shifting slightly to be more comfy, sending the boat rocking slightly, though not enough to dislodge any of the occupants.
They made it to shore more rapidly than Angus would have guessed and still the owl was hovering off behind them, neither attacking, nor leaving. Angus wondered about that, and thought maybe the creature was waiting until they were no longer paying attention to it. Well it would have to wait a long time for that.
They made good time heading south, then southwest, following roads whenever possible. They wanted to meet up the train tracks and follow them south. The only one of them who knew much about the area couldn’t tell them anything so they wanted to get back to where they knew. It would drag them through daemon farming territory, but Yuri had told them that it was kept a ways back from the tracks themselves, as not to be spotted but normal freight or passengers that used the thoroughfare.
It took a surprisingly short amount of time to reach the tracks, and luckily, they reached them without incident. Their luck wasn’t to hold though.
They were a couple miles north of Temnik when they heard a growl from off to the west. They stopped and formed a defensive circle around Gregor, the only member of the party incapable of combat.
Slowly, a fox the size of a German Shepherd sauntered toward them. It obviously considered them more of a meal than a threat because it didn’t even attempt to conceal it’s approach. It stopped about thirty feet in front of them and the circle rotated to put Renala and Angus closest to it. The beast eyed them and their weapons and took another step forward.
A screech sounded from above them and Angus cursed. They had been so intent on this new threat that they’d taking their attention from the one that literally hung over their heads.
Whether it had been waiting for backup or for them to become distracted, it choose that moment to dive toward them.
* * * * *