Characters: C. Snippy/Sniper & A. Gromov/Engineer & C. Hatchenson/Pilot
"Our last hope."
Chapter 3: The Chain breaks
Engie, Snippy and Pilot were on their way out of the rundown electronics store that served as a strategically functional base for the hostile wastelanders who had robbed them.
After the three of them took their stuff back, the boss of the hostile group sent in his secret weapon a group of gunners, positioned all over the building and they didn't go easy on the small group at all.
Considering that Charles was the crew's only offense against the enemy force and that the other two carried heavy backpacks that slowed them down, they had made it surprisingly far already.
However, everyone's luck ends at some point and Snippy knew that he never had much to begin with.
After almost getting himself killed and ending up with a bad gash on his side, he couldn't afford to make any more wrong steps.
The group moved on.
As soon as they set foot on the second storey, Pilot wanted to run across to the stairs, but Charles instantly stepped in front of him, blocking his way.
"Don't go. I don't want anyone to run into another trap, do you understand me?" the sniper advised in a low voice.
"But there's nobody here!" Pilot replied, pushing him away.
"You don't know what's waiting behind these pillars! There could be more gunners lurking, waiting for us to make a wrong step."
"But how are you gonna know for sure, Snipster?"
Charles fell silent and exchanged a glance with Gromov, expecting some sort of help, but the engineer only shrugged. As he turned back to Pilot, he found only the backpack lying on the floor where the man had stood just a second ago.
"There's nobody here!" the swordsman's voice suddenly came from the other side of the hall, and he continued running towards the stairs.
"Hey Pilot, get back here!" Snippy commanded, but the man ignored him and disappeared from his field of view. "Goddamn it, will he ever listen to me?"
Engie stayed near him, seeming quite anxious.
They both tensed as they heard shots coming from below and a panicking Pilot rushed back towards them.
"There's about six down there and they don't look friendly!" he called out as he leaped towards them.
In the same moment Charles saw two riflemen coming up the stairs.
"Oh my... keep your heads down, everyone. They're coming!" he commanded with despair in his voice, as he crouched behind a pillar and deftly reloaded his rifle.
As soon as the men emerged, Snippy instantly opened fire. Without a chance to dodge, two hostile gunners went down, but it didn't end there.
He only had a short pause to recover from the pain in his side that resurfaced in this untimely moment.
Two more emerged from the pillars at the stairs and fired at them, missing the sniper by a mere whisker.
After a short exchange of shots from both sides, the remaining gunners dropped dead and the gloomy silence returned to the place.
A soft yelp from beside him alarmed Charles and he looked for his comrades.
It seemed that in the shootout, a bullet had grazed Pilots sleeve and had ripped a hole into the leather.
"Gosh, why didn't you stay behind the pillar?" the sniper hissed irritably as he pushed him to safety behind the pillar. Curiously, the waiting engineer observed the two, only just seeming to realize what was happening, but he remained quiet.
"Hey, get your hands off me, you jiggly slug! There wasn't enough space for- oww!"
Pilot flinched as Charles inspected the burned spot on the jacket. The shot had only left a little graze that barely went through the top layer of his skin.
"Well, you were lucky this time and got away with a scratch," Snippy noted, finally letting go of Pilot who furiously pulled his arm back. "Don't be so reckless about your cover, Pilot. This is no game..."
"...says the one who already got himself shot once today," Engie pointed out and crossed his arms.
"Oh shut up..." Snippy growled at the other man while he busied himself with putting a full magazine into his gun and dropping the old one to the floor.
He peeked around the edge to see if there were more soldiers coming, but he spotted none. For a moment, his surroundings seemed to spin. His side ached horribly and he felt exhausted, but he shook his head and closed his eyes for a few seconds, taking some deep breaths.
"You alright?" the engineer asked him, seeming concerned.
The question hit him quite unexpectedly and interrupted his every thought.
"I'm fine," Snippy replied quickly, and resumed an upright position, looking over at his comrades. "Come on, let's get going while it's still safe."
With that, the crew led by the wounded sniper moved to the stairs and gathered at the pillar down in the first storey. The backpackers were panting heavily as they arrived and looked extremely exhausted, though they still seemed quite happy about their progress.
"Only one more storey to go and we're free!" Engie announced under his breath, but the marksman instantly shushed him and grabbed him by the backpack, pulling him into cover.
The sound of footsteps drifted ominously towards them and Charles knew that they could only mean one thing...
"More bad guys incoming!" Pilot suddenly announced, and assumed a fighting stance, his katana ready to strike.
"W-what? H-h-how many are they?" the fazed engineer stuttered nervously.
"Just three. Shouldn't be too hard," Snippy answered after a short look, and readied himself.
Carefully, he glanced forth from the edge once more and a few single shots instantly came flying in his direction. Startled, he stepped too far back, which soon turned out to be a horrible decision. In that second, a bullet coming from the other side missed his leg by a millimeter. The impact blew a small hole into the wall behind him.
"Shit... this is bad!" the marksman gasped, and pushed himself against the pillar, pulling the others closer.
"What's wrong?" Gromov inquired.
"They're coming from both sides. If we let them circle us in, it'll blow our cover completely," he explained.
Now knowing where they came from, he could probably take out two of them at once, but he had to be fast. The last thing he wanted now was to give them enough time to aim.
As he moved to go into the offensive and shoot, he found himself pointing his gun into an empty aisle.
Expecting devious shots in return, the marksman quickly stepped back and checked the other side. They had regrouped and two were now on this side, but the third one had gone mysteriously missing.
This must be some kind of stupid trick. Just what are they plotting? he pondered.
If their foes wanted to force them back in order to step into a trap, the only chance to avoid it would be to take out the soldiers that were coming dangerously close as soon as possible.
"Charles!" Engie squeaked, and pointed at a gunner who seemed to have popped out of nowhere and was now at close range.
Snippy instinctively smacked his gun towards the man full force, catching him unexpectedly and causing him to stagger back. A flurry of shots that went right through the heart ended the man's life for good and stained the tiled floor below his fallen corpse with blood.
Gromov crouched on the ground with his arms shielding his head, trembling in terror from the close gunfire.
A short time later, another one appeared on the opposite side of the pillar. In a matter of seconds Pilot had slain the hostile gunner before Charles could even blink. With a clank, the black revolver fell to the floor, as the dead body collapsed.
As he stared down at it, trying to fight a sudden wave of dizziness, Snippy watched a puddle of blood forming around the corpse. The strap on his shoulder that carried his rifle felt like it was pulling him down with its weight and the gun in his hand wasn't any better. He needed to lay off some weight in order to still move deftly enough to fight.
"Hey Pilot. Hold still for a moment," he suddenly demanded, and attached the heavy weapons to the sides of the man's backpack.
Out of curiosity, he picked up the dead soldier's weapon and inspected it.
"What are you doing, Charles?" Gromov inquired as he watched him check the ammunition of the weapon.
"The way out lies just down the stairs and straight ahead," the marksman muttered, not paying attention to him. "I think these four bullets should be more than enough."
"What if they aren't?!" Alexander cut in, still huddled on the floor beside the pillar. "If there are more soldiers, we're all going to die!"
"No we won't. Besides, we just cleared the way and there shouldn't be many soldiers left in here anymore. And in case the bullets run out, I still have my other guns left. Now that Pilot carries them I can just grab them and shoot."
"Or I take them down with my sword!" Pilot exclaimed with satisfaction. "What are we waiting for, slugs? Freedom lies ahead!"
Alexander arose from his crouched posture a little bit too quickly and fought with his balance as a sudden dizziness caused him to sway and the heavy bag on his back pulled him down.
Out of reaction, Snippy caught him by the arm in the middle of the fall and helped him back up.
"Woah! Caught me just in time," the engineer gasped, and Charles let go of him.
"Uhm, okay. You're welcome."
"I hear voices!" Pilot interrupted the others, and they fell silent in an instant.
Footsteps sounded from above, accompanied by a commanding voice: "Don't let them escape!"
"Clear for action! I'll have to call in reinforcements!" the green eyed man suddenly announced, and dashed off without a warning.
"What...- Wait wait wait, where are you going?! Hey Pilot, come back! You still have my guns!" Snippy demanded, but his voice was drowned out by a sudden burst of gunfire and he had to take cover.
"For fuck's sake..."
The marksman looked up and spotted a few soldiers moving along the aisles in the storey above. Careful not to waste ammo, he chose his shots wisely.
As he pulled the trigger, the bullet shot through the glass and sharp fragments flew right into a small group of soldiers. An unlucky one was hit by the bullet and another one took severe damage from the sharp edged glass cutting its way into his throat. Snippy saw them drop to the floor, groaning in agony. One of the two remaining men stayed with them, while the other one moved on.
Three bullets left, the marksman noted.
"It's not safe here. Maybe we should just leave this spot and go after Pilot..." Engie suggested from behind his back.
"...and let the ones coming from above just shoot us in the back? Right, awesome plan, Engie," Snippy answered irritably as he held focus on the hostiles, trying to ignore his throbbing side.
Upon noticing the growing sound of footsteps, the sniper patiently waited for the foe to set foot on the first storey before he swiftly popped out from behind the pillar and fired off a bullet.
After the loud bang, pained sounds came from the man around the corner, but no thud sound followed.
"Augh...! You goddamn bastard! Get out from your hideout so I can blow your head off!" the man cursed while Snippy heard him load his shotgun behind the other pillar.
"Crap..." the sniper whispered and desperately tried to think of a plan, but he couldn't clear his head enough to come up with one.
"You didn't hit him in the right spot?" Gromov asked, all psyched up, and he noticed his companion becoming nervous.
"Yeah. And I only have two shots left. I'm gonna claim his goddamn shotgun when I'm done with him."
The foe moved closer.
"I told you you'd run out of bullets!" the engineer hissed at his crew mate, seeming quite pissed by now. "You should have listened to me, then we wouldn't end up in situations like-"
"Just shut the hell up and stop distracting me, okay? He's coming..." Snippy hissed furiously and dared a quick glance forth.
A painfully loud bang numbed his ears as a shot went off right next to his head and recoiled on the concrete pillar.
After that, someone seemed to be talking to him but for the moment all he registered were woozy, unclear voices and a hand pulling him back by the shoulder.
As a large figure appeared right in front of him, his quick reaction saved him at last and his shot hit his target fatally in the neck. With a gurgle, the man toppled over and stopped moving. The first thing Snippy did was pick up the new gun and inspect the sides that held a total of three shells.
Slowly, his hearing recovered and he heard Engie's ranting.
"Did you hear what I said? Answer me, damn it!" he scolded, shaking him by the shoulders.
That didn't help against the dizziness at all and only made his pain worse.
"God, stop it!" Snippy snarled at his inpatient crew mate, and pushed him away. "What's wrong? What are you so upset about? The guy's dead."
"Damn it Charles, it's not about him! I told you, I saw Pilot in the ground layer and a shootout happened down there. It seems there were more soldiers than you expected after all. What are you gonna do now? Huh?!" he admonished the marksman, who leaned against the pillar, massaging his temples.
"Alright, calm down! Now, tell me exactly what you saw," Snippy inquired rationally, putting his anger aside. "Did Pilot escape? Were there any more soldiers down there?"
"Well... while you were busy with this guy here, I looked down for a moment and saw Pilot fighting two of them, down near the stairs. He managed to trick them somehow and struck them down within seconds, then he headed for the door. Besides that, I didn't really see anyone else down there," the engineer explained. "But you never know! I wouldn't trust these dark corners."
"Good. So at least he made it out alive," the marksman assumed and sighed in relief, sorting his thoughts before he focused on his fellow in the fur lined coat and spoke up. "Alright Gromov, here's the plan. I'm going to check if there are any more soldiers down there and clear the way if any will show up. Wait here until I call you, and keep an eye on what's happening above. If you think they're about to come down, get the hell out of here and follow up. Got that?"
"Meh, fine. I'll stay here and wait," Gromov murmured a he slid down with his back to the pillar.
In Snippy's eyes, he didn't look quite happy about the plan, but he didn't blame the man. Staying behind completely unarmed was something even he would refuse to do. But going with him could be even more dangerous and he couldn't guarantee the safety of his fellow.
Silently he picked up the gun he had left behind that only had one bullet left.
"Here, take this," the marksman said, and handed it to him. "It's better than nothing, just in case something happens. Just pull the trigger and shoot; shouldn't be too hard. It's loaded and ready. Don't waste that last bullet that's left inside."
"Hey Charles..." the seated engineer said, looking up at him. "Don't leave me here alone for too long, okay?"
"I won't let you down. You can count on me, I promise," Snippy reassured him, before he turned around and took the stairs down.
Engie's fear grew with every meter the sniper distanced himself as he watched him go. Hearing a clang from above sent a shiver down his spine and he looked up, but nobody seemed to be there.
What would happen if the enemy took the opportunity for an ambush, now that they were separated? What if they took him hostage, or even worse, shot him down on the spot?
Shaking off these bad thoughts, he pulled himself together, reassuring himself that everything would be alright and that there was no point in getting all worked up. Even though Snippy had thrust a gun into his hands, he wasn't sure he could keep it steady and successfully shoot something if he really had to.
Swallowing his anxiety, Gromov took a few deep breaths, tightening his grip around the gun in his hands.
Closely listening to the low sounds of creaking metal and shallow footsteps that broke the tense silence every now and then, he stayed wary and busied himself by counting the minutes Charles was gone.
It wasn't an easy choice leaving Alexander back there all alone, but Snippy blamed it all on Pilot for randomly deciding to run away. However, this was not the right time to get upset about him.
With his gun raised, he paced through the area, leaving no spot unexamined. His injury made every movement unpleasant and slowed him down, but he wouldn't let that disrupt him. He would take his time and fire when necessary.
Somewhere near the stairs he spotted two unmoving gunners on the floor, lying close together. As he passed them, the sniper tried not to step in the splatters of blood that stained the floor around the bodies.
Spotting no one alive around the stair area, he moved on to the entrance way and felt an icy cold breeze, sending piercing shivers through his whole body. For a moment he had to fight the returning dizziness that started to obscure his vision with strange colors, but a few deep breaths later he managed to recover himself.
Pacing further on, he kept searching the area for hostiles, but ended up finding none. Glaring light came from the widely opened door and it took a while for his eyes to adjust.
The mission would end here and all that was left to do now was to call Gromov.
Snippy could barely wait to return home from this distressing mission.
Peering back through the hall, he made out a silhouette standing slightly hunched over next to the dead body near the stairs.
Still blinded from the strong light and the irritating blur in his vision, he walked a few steps towards him.
"Are you coming, Gromov?" he yelled, squinting his eyes. "I inspected the place; I think it's safe now. There are no-"
He broke off as his vision finally cleared and he realized that he hadn't been talking to Gromov. The shock hit him like a punch in his stomach.
For a moment he was unable to move, despite every instinct telling him to get the hell out of there!
There had been two soldiers on the ground before, but now one stood upright just about ten meters from him, holding a black rifle in his hands.
No cover. No time to aim. It all happened too fast as Snippy saw his chance pass by like a leaf in a wind.
With a quick jolt, he yanked up his weapon and pulled the trigger. All he hoped for was luck, but just in that moment it had abandoned him. His gun jammed.
A second later, he saw the soldier's rifle flash up.
All his hopes faded with a sudden impact in his right shoulder, the force making him stagger back. Through gritted teeth he cursed to himself and gasped.
Feeling the bullet tearing the tissue around it, the pain brought him to a point where he could no longer hold onto the gun, and the heavy weapon slid out of the sniper's hand.
This is bad... Snippy thought as he tried to focus on the soldier. He heard a few clicking noises, seemingly coming from an empty gun. In the back of his head he heard the guy swearing.
The sniper's already poor condition worsened with every second, especially now that blood started gushing from the gunshot wound. Tormented by the excruciating pain, he staggered, fighting to stay on his feet, but his vision blurred, ears numb from shock.
His muscles burned perilously, telling him that they would soon give out. The last thing he perceived was that he collapsed, before his world turned black.
In the moment after the short blackout, it was unclear to him what had just happened, as he found himself lying on his side. Blinking his eyes, he tried to wipe away the blur in his vision, finally making out his arms and below them some splatters of blood on the floor, his gun lying not far from him.
As he focused on two boots standing by him, he looked up. In the second he recognized the soldier who stood there, staring down at him, everything inside him startled.
Automatically he tried to reach for the gun on the floor, but moving his arm felt like someone turning a knife around inside his shoulder and he instantly regretted this horrible idea. Face twisted in pain, he ceased any further actions.
"You don't know when it's time to give up, do you..." he heard the man chuckle.
Snippy ignored him. Deep inside he hoped that Gromov would get his ass up and shoot the guy before it was too late.
What am I hoping for...? Of course he won't do it. Maybe he's even watching me right now from his spot up there, he thought, and peered up to the stairs. Alexander was nowhere to be seen.
"Look at me when I talk to you, bastard!" the soldier hissed, now in a completely stern tone with every hint of amusement gone.
The man lifted his leg and unexpectedly pushed his foot against the side of the sniper's chest to flip him over.
Tensing up in the agony his injury gave him, his consciousness started to dangerously sway, but it stabilized as he caught himself again, panting laboriously.
Inspecting the soldier anew, he noticed a nasty, bloody cleft crossing the man's chest, probably courtesy of Pilot's attack. By the looks of it, Charles assumed that the man must be scraping together his last energy to stand there right now.
"Killing my friends up there was a terrible mistake," the soldier muttered.
Dropping his rifle to the floor, the soldier put a clip into his hand gun while keeping an eye on the prostrated sniper who just silently observed, giving a wince of pain every now and then.
"You're going to pay for what you did there, bastard," he said before he pointed the gun at Snippy, his finger on the trigger. "I'll make sure you and your friend won't make it out of this building alive."
Staring up at the weapon that would soon end his life, Snippy's eyes widened in fear and he nervously grasped the ground under his fingers as if he could escape the inevitable by holding on to it, but a part of him already started to accept his fate.
Completely helpless, the sniper shut his eyes and flinched as he heard a terribly loud shot, seemingly shattering every cell inside his ears and setting free a thousand pictures originating from memories of his life. The faces he saw behind his eyes became clear like a photograph in hand. Many people appeared in his mind, as if they wanted to say goodbye. The last ones he saw were Captain, Pilot and Gromov, then his mind went blank.
For one moment he thought it was finally over for him.
But the seconds just continued passing by in his head and his heart rushed so intensely that he could hear each beat thud inside his head.
What happened? Why am I still alive? Did the shot miss?, the marksman wondered and only dared to open his eyes slowly. What he saw confused him.
A fountain of blood spurted out from the side of the soldier's throat, and his body fell to the floor like a limp, soulless puppet.
But how...? Did Gromov finally get over himself and fire a shot? Was this his work? Snippy wondered and peered about, searching the environment for an answer.
Finally he found it, but it was the last thing he had expected.
A tall, brawny man emerged from the shadows, mounting a wooden sniper rifle on his shoulder as he approached him with slow steps. The first thing Charles noticed was a bandage wrapped around his right arm.
Could it be?
As Snippy recognized that person, he startled, flinching back in shock. As he dared to move his right arm in order to push himself off the ground, a surge of pain shot through his shoulder, forcing him back down.
"Stay away from me...!" he grunted and grasped the floor below him, panting shakily.
"Sshh... calm down, Sniper," the strong looking man soothed him, an oddly comforting tone in his voice. "I'm not here to harm you."
"But..." the marksman started, trying to pull the right words from the jumble inside his head.
Flinching at the sudden movement of the other man, he watched as Stan put his gun on the floor and waited for an explanation for all this.
"Your life... for mine."
Silence filled the air as Snippy stared at it in disbelief and glanced back up to the executioner.
"It looks like I'll have to do a lot to compensate for what happened today. First off, let me inform you: The side of Stan you knew... well, I decided to get rid of it. The Boss manipulated my every action, even my thoughts. I should have realized the truth much earlier, before the old geezer decided to turn his back on me," he spoke with a note of shame in his voice and lifted his head, gazing down at the anxious sniper and put a smile on his face as he continued.
"I sincerely have to thank you for sparing me up there. I think there is no reason for you and I to be enemies anymore," he added, and paused. "I'm really sorry for what happened..."
"But... but..." Charles stuttered with a low voice. This all seemed a bit too convenient to be true.
He took a pause and slowly sat up, keeping in mind this time not to move his right arm under any circumstances.
"But... what?" the tall man inquired, watching him struggle.
"How can I trust you?" he asked, still utterly confused. "After all, you tried to kill me and my crew..."
"You'll have to. There is a group of soldiers coming in from the outside soon; I heard it through the radio call that connects all of our people. They will try to stop you, no matter what. Your friend can't shoot and you're not about to do anything strenuous any time soon. You probably won't make it out of this alive if you go alone," he reminded him, shaking his head to emphasize his last words. "Not with that bullet in you."
That got the marksman to struggle with his thoughts.
He found it hard to accept help from Stan; what he had done couldn't just be made up with words, in his opinion. But what choice did he have? This was a situation with only one way out.
Alexander lay against the back of the pillar in the first storey, clasping the gun Snippy had left him with, eyes constantly searching the area for movements he hoped wouldn't come.
Since he had heard the shots and the distant voices, he didn't dare to move a finger. By now he was through with all good and bad speculations he could make up in his head and sat, waiting for something to happen, hoping for someone to come and get him out of here.
If the enemy found him, he would prefer to surrender rather than getting shot running away or trying to shoot back. He looked down at the weapon in his hands, wondering why he still held it.
Silly Charles... I can't fire a gun. I'm short sighted in both eyes. Just enough to not see the target clearly.
As somebody called out to him, Engie instantly got up, hauling the backpack over his shoulders.
Then he stepped forth and dared a look down, making out two people, one standing and one seated on the floor.
Wait- why is Charles on the ground? Alexander wondered. Suddenly his heart skipped a beat and he startled, fearing the worst.
Who is that person with him? Did he get captured by the enemy?!
Clasping the revolver with both his hands, the engineer gave himself a shake and made his way down the stairs, ready to defend himself if he had to.
Firmly clutching the wound in his shoulder with his left hand, Snippy tried to stop the blood from leaving his body, but staying awake was difficult, as every breath or movement caused him pain.
"He's coming. Is he armed?"
"Yeah, I gave him a gun, but he's probably not going to use it..." Snippy muttered absently.
"That could still be a problem," Stan pointed out, picking up his rifle.
"Wait... what are you doing?!" Charles gasped, suddenly alarmed as he saw him aiming the rifle at his colleague.
"I'm not gonna take the risk."
"Put it down..."
Not accomplishing anything, Snippy tried to reach for the shotgun with his foot, but only ended up kicking it farther away.
"Don't even try," Stan warned him without even looking back. "If you shoot with that thing now, the recoil is probably going to rip your arm off. But you most likely wouldn't even be able to lift the rifle up right now, so forget it."
"Just promise me not to shoot him," Charles demanded.
"We'll see how things turn out."
Fretting about the man's stubbornness, the sniper gazed towards the stairs and saw something moving, but his vision wasn't sharp enough to make out any details. Weakened by exhaustion and pain, he lay down and strained to listen to hear what was going on.
Trotting towards the bright light, Engie blinked his eyes to accommodate, before finally spotting the brawny man. But in the moment he saw a rifle pointing directly towards him, a shock shot through his heart and panic exploded inside him.
"Put your gun down!" he heard a voice call out to him. "I'm not gonna hesitate to shoot."
He recognized that voice, it had buried itself too deep in his memory to forget it so soon and it unsettled him even more. Then he spotted Snippy lying on the floor, twitching barely noticeably. A heavy surge of concern coursed through him as he realized that he was barely breathing anymore.
"What did you do to him?!" the engineer inquired, tightening the grip around his gun.
"As much as you'd like to believe that, this is none of my doing. He got shot by one of those soldiers here," Stan explained calmly. "Now put your gun down. I promise, I won't shoot you if you obey."
Alexander trembled thorough his whole body from agitation, struggling with the decision whether to trust him or not and with the consequences his decision might bring.
"Put your gun down, Alex..." he heard Charles mutter, just loudly enough for him to hear. "It's not easy, but you have to trust him. He's probably our last hope."
"Him?!" the engineer shouted, jabbing his finger at Stan. "Did you completely forget that he tried to kill us? What makes you think you can trust him?"
"Goddamn it Gromov, just do it!" the sniper berated him irritably and groaned from the pain his commotion entailed.
For a moment Alex just kept his gaze down and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to sort out his conflicting thoughts, but a second later he came to a decision and took a deep breath.
"Alright. So be it..." he said resignedly.
The small gun was hurled across the room and slid across the tile floor before it came to halt at Stan's feet. As agreed upon, the man put his rifle down, keeping his gaze on Gromov while he mounted the weapon on his back.
Unable to wait any longer, Engie ran straight to Snippy and dropped to his knees beside him.
He looked horrible as he lay there, breathing unevenly, trembling and wincing from pain.
Alex already felt churned up at the sight of all the blood that covered the right side of the sniper's chest, but as he gently brushed the hand away and got a view at the gunshot wound, deep concern overwhelmed him, a feeling that tore his heart asunder.
This is all my fault... I should have watched his back and warned him, he thought regretfully.
The tall man stepped over to the nearby corpse and stripped the dead man's fur lined coat off, handing it to Engie.
"Here, cover your friend with that. His condition will worsen if we don't keep him warm enough."
Absentmindedly the engineer took the jacket and wrapped the sniper in it as well as he could.
"Don't worry... I'll get you both out of this," Stan reassured him, putting his hand on the other man's shoulder. "But you'll have to assist me if you want me to help you."
"What is it that you want me to do?" Gromov asked without turning around.
"I'm going to carry your sniper out of here, but you'll have to guard my back once we're past the door. Can you use a gun, perhaps?"
Not this again... I should have guessed, Alexander thought frustratedly.
"I can try..." he finally responded after a short pause.
"Good," Stan said and pulled a black pistol from his belt before he started demonstrating a basic tutorial. "Take a quick look. This is how you lock and unlock it and that's how you load it. You can ask me for more ammunition if you run out. Oh, there's one more thing you should know: don't underestimate it because of the size. The recoil isn't half bad."
With that, he thrust the gun into the surprised engineer's hands, who fumbled and almost dropped it. In the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of the strong man and watched him as he knelt down close beside Charles.
"We're going to leave, sniper. Are you ready?"
"Just get us out of here already..." Snippy muttered faintly.
"Okay, I'm gonna lift you up now," Stan informed him.
Carefully he positioned his arms beneath the sniper's neck and knees, before he rose. Engie flinched on the inside as he heard his comrade groaning up in pain, but he looked away and sorted his thoughts. Shaking off worry, he tried to clear his head and focus on the upcoming escort he was charged with.
"Alex, right?" Stan asked, and focused his gaze on Gromov, waiting for confirmation.
"Yes, Alexander it is."
"Okay. You're going to lead the way, Alex. I'll guard your back as I follow. Go!"
With a belated nod, the engineer turned to the door and started to move.
So that's how Charles must have felt when he escorted me and Pilot... Not the most pleasant feeling, in my opinion, he thought to himself as he passed through the door.
Finally back in the open, flakes of snow came flying towards him before the gust of a raging blizzard almost swept him off his feet, and he braced himself against the strong wind.
Stan dared one last glance back into the building before he moved on and slowly started catching up.
"Wait up, Alex! There's something big ahead! Can't you see it?" he barely heard the man warn him through the howling sounds of the wind.
"What? I can't see anything through all this snow!" Gromov yelled back, shielding his face with his arm.
Squinting into the storm, he slowly made out a big, ominous something moving through the blizzard, towering up every time it stopped and finally falling back down again. There were plenty of men around the beast, firing their guns at it, but it didn't even seem to notice the impact of the shots.
"What the... is it eating these soldiers?!" the engineer asked in confusion as he watched the big worm swallow down the last standing man.
With sudden fear he realized that it had spotted them and felt his hackles rise.
"Shit... it's coming towards us!" Stan noticed at the same time, and took a step back, grip tightening on Snippy.
With that, Gromov's most terrifying thoughts fell into place. The monster approached, gaining speed with every second. Slowly losing the feeling in his knees, he tried to move but the shock had taken control of him.
"Shoot it in the eyes, Alex! Come on, you can do it!"
Everything went mute in the moment the giant tunneler worm opened its jaws, revealing five rows of sharp, bloody teeth, spitting splatters of blood into the white snow and released an unearthly roar.
Just a few seconds before it could reach him, a voice rang through the storm.
Suddenly the monster worm braked, almost sliding all the way over Engie, who just managed to dodge by throwing himself to the side.
Heart racing wildly, he lay in the snow and watched a person trotting towards him. It was hard to make out small details in the blizzard, but the green tinted flying goggles, the aviator headgear and the huge backpack gave his identity away.
"Pilot?!" Gromov gasped disbelievingly and pushed himself off the ground.
"Good girl... here's a snack for you," he extolled the giant beast and tossed it something that looked disconcertingly like a severed arm.
Following the arm with all of its eyes, the mutated monster worm snapped it out of the air and crunched the snack gleefully.
Stan and Alex blankly watched the scenario, trying to figure out what had just happened.
"You control that monstrosity?" the two asked almost at the same time, both completely astounded.
"Stop calling her a monster, you dumb shoes! She is very sensitive!" Pilot hissed at them and gesticulated wildly. "Photoshop is my and Captain's pet. Treat her nicely, or I'll serve her your butts for breakfast!"
"Alright..." Engie began. "Thank you, Photoshop, for eating the adversarial reinforcements."
"Now that's how it's done!" Pilot said gleefully, suddenly in a much better mood. "Anyways, what took you so long? And who is that shoe that is carrying Snipster?"
"He is helping us. Now, can we please-"
"Isn't he the gun thief who tried to kill us?" Pilot interrupted him rudely and strode towards Stan with his sword in hand, but Engie hurriedly intervened.
"Look Pilot, we don't have time for long explanations right now. You need to get us home as soon as possible!" Gromov instructed him. "You know the way, right?"
To his own surprise, Pilot nodded and put his sword away.
"Come on, Photoshop, we're going home!"
The beast softly growled and turned around before it finally started moving.
"This way, Mr. Engie," the green-eyed man advised and motioned him to follow.
After exchanging a short glance with Stan, the engineer began to move along after the swordsman.
I really hope you know what you're doing, for the good of all of us; especially Charles, Alexander thought, deeply hoping that he did right to trust Pilot.
A shiver ran through him as he thought of what would happen to the sniper if they stayed out here for too long.
No, stop thinking. Enough. He won't die. Stan won't let him... I won't let him. And Seven..., he hesitated as his flow of thoughts abruptly ended. Seven... sometimes I think he doesn't give a shit about anyone but himself.