Jasper couldn’t help grinning at the stunned looks on his audience’s faces. “Wait,” he said, glancing back down at the pages in front of him.
She looked pale, but she was on her feet. And the hand offered down to me felt solid enough.
I let her pull me back up, although I tried to use my own muscles as much as possible. “You aren’t supposed to be here,” I told her, as I regained my feet.
Danni didn’t look impressed. “And look what would have happened,” she pointed out impatiently. “You down on the floor, with more Priests-“
Before she could finish, bullets whizzed overhead with sharp cracks. The Priests climbing up the stairs had reached our floor.
Moving together, Danni and I dove behind the dead man’s desk. My shoulder made me grit my teeth and grunt against the pain as we landed, but the next hail of bullets stopped against the heavy wood. I closed my eyes for a moment, doing my best to block out the pain and push it away, to the back of my mind.
When I opened my eyes again, Danni was watching me closely. “After all I’ve been through, you can’t die on me, now,” she remarked, but although her words were flippant, her eyes looked concerned.
I waved a hand at her. “I’m fine,” I insisted, pulling out my revolver. Only one – I wasn’t sure how well I’d be able to fire on my wounded side, and I would rather use the hand for faster reloading.
This, now, this was a skill I knew well. Pop up, just for a moment, get a glimpse of where the enemy is taking cover. Cock the gun – single action is more accurate than a full pull.
Listen to the next rain of bullets. Wait for the pause, listen for the click of an empty chamber. Rise, fire, anticipate their retreat.
Don’t wait for the sound of the body falling. Swivel. He’ll be partly behind cover, now, but he’s predictable. Two through the plaster – it’s no armor against lead.
Gun back on the entrance, waiting for stragglers. Listen to the two impacts of bodies hitting the floor.
Thump. There’s one.
And the second-
Even as my mind realized that I’d made a mistake, Danni’s gun roared beside me, and the second man fell back with most of his head reduced to vapor and splinters.
The girl nudged me as she climbed up to her feet once again. “Getting sloppy, are we?” she teased, moving towards the door.
I put a round in between the eyes of the next man as he appeared at the entrance to the floor. “You’re just too distracting,” I retorted, as he hit the ground.
Danni scoffed at me as we both moved towards the door. I couldn’t help noting that she remembered much of my training; she kept herself behind cover, protecting her chest and keeping her gun out and in front of her, ready to take a shot as soon as it presented itself. Her steps were careful, always ensuring that she was braced and wouldn’t be knocked back when she squeezed the trigger.
We dropped two more as they climbed the stairs, but a glance down the stairway revealed more Priests milling beneath, clearly trying to plan their next assault. We retreated quickly, but bullets still followed us.
I glanced over at Danni. “Looks like they’re all coming up after us,” I commented.
“Good. Let them come.”
I held her gaze for a moment longer. “You okay to cover the entrance? I know you’re still recovering from-“
She waved me away before I could finish.
Still, I spared one last look at her as I stepped to the large window in my dead supervisor’s office. When I pulled her from the burning wreckage of the cabin in North Dakota, she’d been a twisted, broken thing. I could still see the signs of that trauma in the ropy burn scar that ran up one leg, in how her foot twisted slightly inward. The back room doctors had done their best, but for days she had been unresponsive. I couldn’t count how many times I’d pulled myself from my bedroll, my heart pounding as I struggled to listen for her breathing, fearing that I would hear nothing.
The Priests had been watching for a man with a girl, maybe a man by himself. They weren’t checking cripples.
The window’s glass was thick, but it shattered at my blows. I reached under my coat, finding the iron shape I’d concealed there. Once more, I checked the knot that connected the sharp instrument to the thin rope I’d worn coiled around my waist.
From behind me, I could hear exchanged gunfire. Cries and thuds told me that Danni’s rounds were finding their targets, but I knew she couldn’t keep up that sustained fire for long. I could feel her pushing down the pain that surely came with each recoil.
A twirl of the iron hook. I knew I couldn’t take long. I had to make this throw count.
The chunk of metal thrummed as it swung past my head, looping until it was a blur. From behind me, I heard Danni’s revolver click empty.
I couldn’t wait any longer.
I let go of the rope in my hand, watching the iron grappling hook sail away, out into empty space.