Once within the relative safety of the building I chanced a glance at my surroundings. There was just enough light to get an idea of depth. It wasn’t large. Tight, crowded, busy, full of detail I couldn’t make out. I tasted dust, kicked up into the air by our unwelcome entrance.
There was still gunfire. I felt the vibrations in my hands as stray bullets hit the building. But compared to what it had been like a mere moment ago there was a distinct still. The place was empty of life, which was what mattered. I crawled forwards to where Mike was propping himself up on his elbows.
“You okay to move?” A whisper, for what it was worth.
“Think so.” I could barely see his eyes in the darkness. A dim reflected gleam was the only indication they were open.
We crawled on our hands and knees away from the window, dragging tracks through a thick dust that lay on the cold floor. I pulled myself up on the doorframe opposite and peeked around the corner. No lights, no movement. For now. I motioned for Mike to follow.
I tried to keep the pace up as we pushed through the building. I had no idea which direction we were going, but anything was better than staying stationary. Maybe we’d caused enough confusion to slip away before they worked out what the hell happened.
We could hope.
Turned out hope wasn’t enough. The floor shook with a crash from behind us, junk rattled as it reverberated through the building. A door, a window, I couldn’t tell and it didn’t matter. They’d worked out where we were, which building, or had enough people searching that someone was close by chance.
Our pace quickened. I felt something grab my arm, felt a stab of adrenaline, but it was only the small fingers of the girl. Her father’s efforts were concentrated on helping Mike, who was being mostly dragged, one arm over the chemist’s broad shoulders.
Where I saw opportunity, I kicked over furniture into doorways and our the paths of our followers. A barrier of thick steel shelves, work benches, I didn’t dedicate much effort to determining the junk I threw down behind us.
We’d given up on stealth. No time. They were too close behind. Doors were forced open with violent haste. Mike pulled down the handle and I kicked them with enough force to splinter the wood. Our only hope was the sound would get drowned out by the noise of those trying to get through the obstacle course we’d formed behind us.
I stopped in a narrow corridor joining two rooms as another crash met my ears. Closer, from the room we’d just come through. We had seconds.
Did I really want to fight beside someone with concussion, maybe, and a small child?
“Go ahead,” I said. I pulled the girl’s wrist, breaking her grip on my arm. Did I really want her to see me fight? “Get them out of here, Mike.”
“Don’t know if there’s really anywhere to go,” he replied, leaning on the wall, breathing heavy, deep and breathless.
“Anywhere. Move. If this comes out near Jack’s dad’s place, aim for that. He might be able to help us out.” He nodded, and they shuffled forwards as I held back.
I’d carefully chosen the narrow space to make my stand, barely wider than the entrance at either end – just enough to tuck in between the door and the wall.
Footsteps. Grunting, muttering I couldn’t really make out. A thud as someone kicked aside a chair, tipped hurriedly in their path. There was plenty of warning of their approach.
A casual curse and an angry shush. “You think we’re not making enough noise already?” Rushed, harsh tones muffled by the wood of the door I hid behind, splinters digging into my knuckles as I held it open, hoping they wouldn’t try push it wider and realise I was behind.
I waited as two passed. The one moment I had before they realised that the dark shape half-hidden didn’t belong where I was.
I barged the door closed with my shoulder. It hit something, someone. I was dealing with three, minimum, maybe more.
But for now, I only had to worry about two. Their friend shouted as the door hit him in the face, but their confused turn was sluggish compared to my reactions. My knife was in and out of the closest’s kidneys before he even registered my presence. The severity of the wound didn’t register with his body for a while, because he threw a punch, only to find I’d moved around behind him with his turn.
This was my kind of battle. Surprise, close quarters, dark, brutal hand-to-hand combat. No allies to worry about. Everyone one you can hit needs to get hit.
He fell, and I was left facing his friend, raising his gun. In the cramped space it was well within my reach. I pushed his whole arm into the wall with my free hand and punched the knife into his chest.
Where was the heart? On the left? His left. It didn’t much matter. It was so easy, slipping the blade in. I thought the ribs would resist it more. I had time enough to make three holes before his legs gave way, too-bright blood blossomed in a star from the three narrow slits in his grey coat.
My stomach churned. My head didn’t have time to question what I was doing, but my chest was tight with the thrill of watching him fall in a crumpled heap.
There was a bang. I was kicked into a stumble as something thudded into my back. My feet struggled to find a footing, too many limbs littering the floor. Another explosion, a chunk of plaster exploded off the wall.
I pushed off, twisted around with a snarl to face the shooter. The knife lashed out, caught his fingers. The gun fell from his grasp.
I launched myself at him, my anger masking all thoughts on tactics. I didn’t think there could be more than three. I didn’t even look. I just reacted.
The knife went into this shoulder, below his clavicle. Stupid place to stab.
I pulled back but it stuck, blade jammed, lodged in the bone and sinew of the joint. Stupid place to stab. My yanking twist snapped the carbon steel clean in half. I shouted wordless frustration.
He was moving. I smashed what was left of the knife into his face. Hands pulled at me. I hit. I kept hitting.
My ragged breaths slowed, my vision seemed to expand outwards.
I looked down. I was kneeling, straddling a corpse. There was barely any face left. What little of the blade was left had punched narrow diamonds into the skin. I cast my eyes away, I didn’t want to look too closely.
I began to realise how much my legs ached from the running. My shoulder hurt from straining it too much, but I don’t know what had even done that. The muscles in my back stabbed me with pain when I twisted, fresh bruises? From a bullet? My armour seemed to have done its job.
I dragged myself to my feet, staggering away from the bloody body, letting the broken knife slip from my wet fingers.