The first shot sailed wide of him, but an anguished yelp to his rear informed the Preacher that others had not been so fortunate.
Another shot passed him, then another.
His mind reeled; how could they?! How could Imperial Guardsmen open fire on their on citizenry? These engineers had done nothing wrong, they merely showed up for work this morning. The heavy stubber continued to spit rubber into crowd. People were falling all around, one lolled onto Lazarus from behind as a bullet caught him in the throat, instantly crushing his windpipe.
The Preach lurched to one side, freeing himself from the corpse’s grip just in time to dodge another volley. The final bullet hammered into his arm and he howled with pain; purple, yellow, and blue all vied for space on his arm as a bruise sprang forth instantly, though all feeling had already vacated the traumatised limb.
Finding his footing was getting harder, as the bodies of those who had been ahead of him in the crowd now littered the floor, he stumbled awkwardly, and as he put his foot down again there came a loud crack. Quickly glancing down, he found he had just shattered someone’s ankle, but they were well behind need for the bone to be whole. His mouth started to salivate heavily, preparing itself for vomit; what hell had he stumbled into?
A mass of corpses around him, tripping over dead limbs, the Empire firing on their own people – this had to be a nightmare! He stumbled forwards again and a lump of rubber winged his hip, half spinning him with his force. Behind him, another three men fell, and as Lazarus scrabbled to get to his feet, he lurched hurriedly to the left, jumping behind another man for cover – the Engineer fell instantly, and as he did, Lazarus let out a cry of anguish.
What had he done? Used another person, another follower of the Emperor as a bullet shield? He watched the figure crumple, and as he fell, he turned, revealing the shattered spectacles and bulging eyes which would form his death mask.
The Preacher was sick, and just as he purged himself, another bullet slammed into him, sending him flying backwards. Another two of its brethren caught him in the air and, before he hit the floor, there was only blackness.
“Lazarus….Lazarus, we have to go”
Pain focused in the Priest’s right arm. It intensified to such a degree that the pain filling him entirely seemed less potent, bringing all its efforts to bear on his upper, right arm. He opened his eyes slowly and glanced down, the movement of his head feeling like it took as much energy as running a marathon. He found a black glove around his arm, trying to pull him up.
He followed the arm upwards until a face came into view. Vague recollection flashed into his mind, as he looked at himself in the mirrored visor of Falorn.
“We have to go, Preacher – Time is short”
Lazarus nodded as his voice failed him. The other man helped him to his feet, pulling him up, then thrusting a bottle into his hand, “Drink” came the simple instruction.
Without question, Lazarus took a long sip, finding ice cold water in the bottle. As he drank, he surveyed the fresh hell around him – the scattered corpses for the workers, their terrified faces and broken bodies all seeming to stare up at him asking why he had not helped them. He turned stiffly and glared angrily at the Stub turret, but to his surprise found it to be a smoking wreckage.
“You could not have saved them” Falorn said. The sentence was delivered as undeniable fact, not support, nor sympathy, “Now, let us go…”
The sniper half guided, half carried Lazarus from the foundry. He was stronger than the Priest had expected; his wiry frame being built upon with almost nothing but muscle, it seemed. It took time, each step arriving with an explosion of pain and a wave of tiredness. On more than one occasion, Falorn had to stop Lazarus from simply sitting down, back against a wall, and waiting for the inevitable…he had nothing left to give, no energy reserves to draw on, if the Emperor had decided this was his time and place, who was he argue? Yet the sniper continued to push him forwards, refusing to accept anything else.
Finally, they were far enough from the base that Falorn seemed content, “I must go, Brother Lazarus” he said. His mask did a good job of masking his voice, but his accent was still unusual, clearly not of Cindar, nor any sector near here. Had he, at that second, cared about anything other than finding a way to cease the pain emanating from every cell of his body, Lazarus might have asked, or tried to listen a little more carefully, but such things were well beyond him. He placed his back against a wall and nodded his understanding.
“Are you going to be alright?” The sniper asked
He preacher nodded, “You’ve got me this far…I shall not render your night’s work a waste by dying now” he said, forcing a light chuckle.
“Very well. Then I shall take my leave” Falorn said, giving a slight incline of his masked and cowled before turning and walking away.
“Falorn” called Lazarus a moment later, the effort of raising his voice resulting in a deep rasping cough bubbling up out of him.
The sniper turned.
An awkward silence filled the air between them, before Falorn nodded and turned, disappearing into the city night.