Renala didn’t know it was possible for an owl to glare at someone, but this one managed it. It was glaring at her and Lethen, its eyes darting back and forth between them as if trying to tell them something. She could see the intelligence behind its eyes, and not the sort of thing you attribute to a border collie or a dolphin or other animal that was considered smart, but real thoughts. Real expectations. She suspected that it now expected something of her and her half grizzard friend. She also thought she had an idea of what it was.
Angus watched the exchange, and came to a similar conclusion. “I think it can smell the wolf, or perhaps sense it some other way. I think it wants him released.”
Renala nodded slowly, her eyes never leaving the piecing gaze of the snowy owl. She knew he was right, but didn’t know how she knew. Perhaps it had something to do with how much closer she was to her daemon than the others were to theirs. Maybe her halberd was conversing with the owl and passing some of the information to her subconscious. “Why is she looking at me and Lethen though?”
It was Lethen who had figured it out. “She smelled him on us. That’s why she followed us in the first place and helped us with the fox daemon. She was hoping that we’d lead her back to the wolf.”
“She?” Marnie asked.
Renala looked at her and nodded again. “I’m not sure how I know, I just feel like she is a she. And I think we should do it.”
“What?” Prolier shouted. The astonished looks on the faces of some of the others mirrored his exclamation. “Are you out of your mind? Don’t you remember what that thing did to you? Don’t you remember being locked in there while it tried to eat you?”
“I do. I also know that it was being starved and starving animals do crazy things that they wouldn’t normally do. My dad once told me about one of his missions where he found a woman who had been killed in her house. The doors and windows had been closed and she had a small dog. Friendly, loyal little pup from what he told me. She had been an informant for him and he’d met them both before. She’d been dead for two weeks and the dog had started to eat her legs. It’s a matter of survival.”
“It’s not just animals,” Angus agreed. “People too. There have always been stories of people stranded by an avalanche or plane crash who have resorted to cannibalism when their hunger got severe enough. I’m not saying we should let it out, but I don’t blame the daemon at all for eating people the way it did. Apart from Lethen here perhaps, none of the rest of you have ever known true hunger. you’d likely do some pretty savage things in that circumstance. The most basic instinct of any living thing is survival.”
Prolier looked at the sensei. “What about you? Have you felt true hunger?”
Angus’s eyes darkened as he slowly turned his head toward the inquisitive teen. “Once, but it’s not something I’m willing to discuss right now. We need to get moving.”
“Not yet.” Renala said. “I’m releasing the wolf.”
Angus looked at her but said nothing immediately. He was torn. He could order her not to and possibly lose her respect and even lose her. If he gave a direct order and she disobeyed, he’d have no choice but to punish her. Insubordination was not something that was just given a slap on the wrist in Hikari. Especially when it was something that could endanger the team. Depending on the view of the council of three, she might even be executed. He didn’t want the wolf released, but he definitely didn’t want the possible alternative. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“No,” she admitted, “but if that’s the only thing keeping the owl friendly, I’d rather that than having to keep a watch out for silent death coming from the sky. I don’t think the wolf will hurt us, especially if we have some food to offer and Lethen goes in with me. Lethen’s daemon seems to scare the hell out of him.”
Angus shook his head. He didn’t like it, but he would back her play if she was insistent on going through with it. “Alright, you and Lethen go in and open the door. We will be out here, weapons raised, waiting for the wolf to come out. If they intend to attack us, we’ll be ready for them.”
The team spread out with Angel falling back a little further than the others, weapon aimed and charging. Gregor and his brother-in-law stood back even further, talking in Russian whispers. They didn’t look happy about this, especially Gregor, who knew that he’d been one of the beast’s jailors. If the thing wanted revenge, it would be hard for them to stop it before it took a sizable chunk out of his throat.
The duo of Lethen and Renala crept in through the hidden door that led into the room adjacent to the room where the heavy steel door was. They kept looking to each other for reassurance and finding none. Both of them vividly remembered being trapped with the howling monster. Lethen’s foot and Renala’s ribs still ached from their last meeting and now they were going to let it out.
“I hope you know what you’re doing.” Lethen whispered, not entirely comfortable with the situation she’d gotten them into. It’s not that he wanted her to go in alone. He was glad he could be there to back her up. He’d rather that neither of them were in there at all. Even if she felt pity for the wolf, he clearly recalled the only thing keeping it from killing them was when his daemon took over. That wasn’t the case now. He prayed the wolf remembered him. “How do you want to do this?”
“I’ll open the door,” she said, “you be ready with your shovel and the food held in front of you. Hopefully he won’t attack when he sees that not only are you the one from before, but that you bear treats.”
Lethen shook his head. They were about to face a deadly monster and she was acting like he was the neighbor’s pet puppy. “Alright. It’s your show, but if he eats me, I’m so coming back to haunt your ass.”
Renala smiled, but it wasn’t filled with much mirth. She was scared too. Lethen tried to keep that in mind. He wasn’t terribly happy with her dragging him into this, but she was being incredibly brave and selfless, properties he admired greatly. She was putting herself (and him) at risk to save a wounded and abused animal.
She slid the bolt back and eased the door ajar. It had only moved an inch before the wolf slammed into it, knocking her to the ground. He flew from the room and was immediately on top of her, slavering and gnashing it’s teeth inches from her nose. The only thing holding him back was her halberd across its throat. His claws were slashing at her midsection, tearing the fabric and drawing little lines of blood on her stomach.
After the initial shock wore off, Lethen leaped forward and dove onto the beast, wrapping his arms around it’s neck and rolling it off of her. He almost tried to smack it with his shovel, but remembered that wouldn’t work. He doubted that his daemon would care that Renala was being savaged.
The wolf pulled free and sank onto his back legs, ready to pounce once again when he saw the shovel and let out a little whine.
“Are you alright?” Lethen asked. “Can you get up?”
Renala had already rose to her feet with some difficulty. “Yeah, I don’t think he knew it was us at first. He stopped attacking once he saw your daemon. I think we’re safe now. Try giving him the food.”
Lethen looked down and realized he still had a fistful of dried meat. He threw all but one piece down in front of the wolf who paused to look at him before devouring it. Lethen wasn’t sure he even saw the beast chew once.
Renala motioned Lethen toward the door. “I think you should back out through the door. If we just let him out, he might attack the others without the presence of your daemon. I’ll follow him out. If the rest of them see what he did to me, they might attack. Hopefully the owl will be able to keep him under control once he’s outside.”
Lethen didn’t like the idea of not being between Renala and the wolf, but like he said, it was her show. If it looked like it was turning back toward her, he would take whatever steps were necessary, not that she was likely to need help. She’d switched to her shield and wouldn’t be surprised this time.
Holding the last piece of jerky out, he backed from the room and outside. It was slow going since he had to watch both the wolf and his step. The area was still littered with various tools, including the prods and nets they’d used the last time they were there.
“He’s coming out now.” Lethen called to the rest of the group as he came out through the hidden door into the sunlight. He heard movement as everyone tensed, waiting for the situation to go bad with a quickness.
Slowly the wolf crept through to door and began to growl when he saw the circle of armed humans before it. Lethen was sure the daemon was going to attack until he heard the hoot of the owl., which immediately ceased the growling.
The wolf looked up and watched the massive bird swoop down and land right next to him. There were a few tense moments when the group had no idea what was going to happen, then the wolf lowered it’s head and nuzzled against the owl’s breast. A wing came up and wrapped itself around the mangy mammal. It looked almost like the reuniting of lovers. Considering how much they knew of other daemonic aspects, they knew almost nothing about their reproduction so it could’ve been exactly that. In nature, an owl and a wolf could never be a mating pair, but these weren’t normal animals. For all they knew, these two could be siblings. The only think that was for certain was that these two had been close and the owl had gone way out of its way to be reunited with its long lost pal.
After the initial joy at reunion, the two wild daemons stared at each other, most likely having a mental conversation that those around them couldn’t perceive. After coming to some sort of conclusion between them they turned to Renala. The owl spread it wing across the wolf again and the team could see it’s wounds disappearing before their eyes. After half a minute, it once more looked like the majestic wolf it had once been. Both approached the small girl, but with none of the previous rancor.
The wolf stopped a few steps away, but the owl walked right up and pressed its head to hers. The grimace of pain left her face as the daemon healed her. The scratches on her stomach vanished as well as the rib injury she’d gained previously. The owl turned back to the wolf for a moment. The latter’s face seemed sad, but the owl screeched, apparently settling the matter.
The owl turned back to Renala and disappeared in a mercurial swirl.
* * * * *