The frigid cold permeated through the layers of thermal coating that Mykola wore. The temperatures had dropped so low, that the Oymyakonian felt as if he had been wearing only just very thin clothing. No one dared to step beyond Khvostovgrad's city perimeter, as each metre someone stood further away from the planet's thermal vents that helped make the condition of city 'liveable,' the chances of death by hypothermia essentially doubled. Mykola didn't know whether or not to consider the Insurrection's retreat into the death boundary to be symbolic of their impending doom, or his.
«Drive them in!» A voice boomed.
Mykola shook his head, before he turned it in the direction of the noise being made. A modified Warthog with a snowplow drove forwards. A stack of corpses rolled along with the snow into a pit dug into the frozen ground. The frozen bodies fell into the hole, joining the ones already there. Mykola couldn't even count the number of bodies, but from glance, he could tell it was well over four dozen. There was the crack of a gunshot, Mykola closing his eyes as he realised why there was a gunshot.
He dropped his head to the ground below, in an attempt to block the entire situation from his view. But the first thing that Mykola saw, was a trail of crimson running across the white snow. Mykola stopped, staring at the line of red running across the white as he attempted to process everything that was going on now.
«Do I need to fucking tell you again?!» The gunman's voice shouted, as Mykola felt the barrel of a gun press against his back. «We got a fresh grave open, won't be a problem to fucking put you in it!»
Mykola started walking again, his instinct ordering him to survive, even though it might have just been a temporary condition. Mykola looked back up, finding a set of metal stairs that led up to what appeared to be a watchtower of sorts. He stepped up with his black boots, as he marched up the staircase before he was presented with a solid metal door.
«You know how to open a fucking door?» The gunman questioned, as Mykola reached for the handle.
Mykola turned the handle, swinging the door open as there was a sudden blast of heat. Mykola stepped through into the strange room, quickly removing his thermal mask as he peered around the room. There seemed to be a collection of fine things, with an oak desk and chairs that somehow made their way up the stairs. Kuptov sat in a chair, pouring himself a shot of vodka as he peered up to Mykola and the other Oymyakonian.
«We have lost the city.» Kuptov said, as he took the shot of vodka before he lifted up his black papered cigar. «And with it, we lost our essential footing into winning this war.»
The two Oymyakonian's remained silent, as Kuptov took a drag of the cigar before puffing it out. «We also lost a lot of our supplies.» Kuptov said bluntly.
Mykola resisted the urge to yell out at Kuptov, to criticise him for what he said given he had somehow moved a luxury apartment into an emergency camp set up at the edge of a warzone. But he remained silent, knowing very well that any criticism of Kuptov now would have led to his death.
«And because of that, we cannot afford to keep everyone who comes to us alive.» Kuptov said, as he looked over his cigar. He then suddenly moved his eyes to the two Oymyakonain's, «But I am sure that the two of you know that already, yes?»
«Yes, sir.» Mykola and the other Oymyakonian replied.
«I must look like a hypocrite right now.» Kuptov calmly said, «But mind you I was not the one who brought this here.»
«Who did?» Mykola asked, before biting his tongue in realisation he had spoken out of turn. But Kuptov didn't do anything, nor did the gunman as he Marshal reclined slightly.
«Ice bastards. This was one of their outposts for operations. This was the furthest they could get away from Khvostovgrad, and still maintain a checkpoint before they mined further out.» Kuptov replied, «The one who owned this place came out here to hide, when hell broke loose. We found him quickly though, took possession of it. And now here we are.»
«Is there anywhere else we have in the city?»
Kuptov chuckled lightly, before he pressed the cigar against an ashtray. He then leaned forward, as he stared directly into the eyes of Mykola as he spoke coldly: «No, we don't.»
«Are you fucking serious?» Mykola shot.
«Shut. Your. Fucking. Mouth.» Kuptov said, as Mykola shrivelled. The gunman pressed the gun against Mykola's back, as the Oymyakonian froze much like a statue, before Kuptov chuckled and continued, «We aren't done, Mykola. We still have a war to fight, a war to win. But in our current condition, we can't support absolutely everything.»
Mykola stood silently, as Kuptov circled away from his desk and stepped closer to Mykola. Kuptov stopped only a dozen or so centimetres away from Mykola, as he continued to speak: «If a man were to have a lame arm, would it be best he kept it, or cast it away?»
Mykola stayed silent.
«We have to sacrifice Khvostovgrad temporarily. We will get it back, only when we shape ourselves by removing from us, what and who cannot be saved.» Kuptov said, «The sick, the starving and the injured. They can no longer be kept around. The children? They won't survive out here very long anyways. Mykola, you said you understood why these decisions were made.»
Mykola turned his head to his left side, as he refused to look directly at Kuptov. The Marshal laughed, «You now want to take back what you agreed to? Is it because you are afraid, Mykola?»
«This isn't what our cause was about.» Mykola replied weakly.
«This is exactly what our cause was about, Mykola!» Kuptov shot back, «To take back what was ours! To free ourselves from a tyranny, where everything that was decided and done was far beyond our control. And now? We liberate ourselves.»
«By taking that which is precious away from others?»
«Life?» Kuptov asked, «They dedicated their lives to this cause. They knew the consequences of failure. This is that failure that they face now. Now either we can do the humane thing, and end it quickly–or sit by and watch them suffer. What would you rather do, Mykola?»
Mykola remained silent once again.
«You see, deep down inside you know I am right. You know that if they complain about a bullet now, they will complain about the hunger and the cold later. And when you can do absolutely nothing about it, they will ask you: 'Why don't you kill me now? Why don't you make it simple?»
«But that isn't what—» Mykola tried to speak.
«This is exactly what they want. The dying are the hypocrites. They first complain that you want to help them—but then later—once they are finished eating our bread, they will want you to help them.»
Kuptov stepped away, and paced around the room as he approached his desk and picked up a M6D magnum pistol. He pulled back the slide, checking the bullet contained within the weapon before he released it and approached Mykola, offering the Oymyakonian the weapon. Mykola stared at it, not sure whether or not he should grab it.
«I want you to show to me that you can be trusted, Mykola. Because right now, it seems as if you are losing faith in what matters the most.» Kuptov said in a low tome.
«What do you want me to do?» Mykola asked.
«It is a cruel thing to be shot by someone you don't know. Not only for the person, but also for the shooter. But someone that they know, someone that they trust to have the best interests in heart for them? Makes a total difference.»
Mykola shrunk as he came to the definite realisation of what Kuptov intended for him to do. He felt daggers plunge into his back, as his throat swelled and his breath became ever weaker. Kuptov sensed this apparently, as a smile formed around his lips.
«I want you to give mercy to Vadim. Blindness is a gift in a way for this. They don't see it coming, and thus have no reason to be afraid for too long. Spare your friend, Mykola.» Kuptov said.
Mykola's fingers wrapped around the grip of the magnum, as he shakily brought it back to his side. He looked down to the floor of the room, as Kuptov grabbed the shoulder of the Oymyakonian, in a way to suggest that he intended to give him comfort.
«It might be difficult to process, Mykola.» Kuptov whispered, «But I think you will understand in due time. And soon, we will take back Khvostovgrad. In the memory of those who we have all lost.»
Mykola weakly turned away, as he looked at the door which granted him interest, as he stepped through quietly as he pulled his thermal mask over his face, as he slowly stepped down the metal stairs as he guided his own way to where he saw Vadim was taken. So that he could do what he knew he had to do.
To give mercy.
The concrete walls and floor, although not covered in snow, was as cold of it nonetheless. There was crimson smears across the wall and the floor, dragging across the left to the door that led outside once more. The long bunker used to serve as a storage for materials used by the Ice Bastards for mining operations, and was located off to the side of the facility of the Insurrection now claimed. A line of the blind appeared across the wall, and across from them were the line of those who could see.
Mykola shivered slightly, as he held the magnum tightly in both of his hands. Across from him, was the standing body of Vadim. His hands were tied behind his back, as his blind eyes stared directly at Mykola. There were two more gunmen that accompanied him, with the lead standing off to the side. The lead gunman glanced across his audience, as he paced around the inside carefully.
«For those gathered for this execution,» the lead gunman announced, «know that this isn't because I fucking despise you.»
The room seemed to take on a new silence, as Mykola turned his head to the lead gunman before he looked back to the line of those waiting for execution. He stared directly at Vadim for a while, as the gunman continued.
«This is because we are merciful enough, not to allow you to die in the fucking snow. We are not cruel, we are not vengeful. We are merciful, and hold that you deserve this mercy.»
Vadim's feet shifted, as he muttered under his breath. The gunman paced down the middle of the line, before he stopped at Mykola's right—the end of the line.
«Hold your peace, and we will end this before you fucking know it. Executors! Ready!»
The line of three pistols rose in the air, as Mykola's grasp on his magnum trembled slightly. The Oymyakonian held back tears, held back whatever emotions he could as he stared directly down his sightline. His aim was slightly off, failing to connect a sight with Vadim directly. His finger slid down to the trigger, gently pressing against it as he took in a shaky breath.
Vadim's feet shifted once more, as he tried his best to keep up appearances. He prepared himself quietly for what was to come. Mykola couldn't stop himself, as the gunman readied himself to say 'fire.' Mykola's magnum turned directly to the lead gunman, squeezing the trigger as the weapon fired. The bullet cracked against the head of the lead gunman, as the two others—not noticing—fired their guns into their targets.
Mykola quickly turned to the two, as they realised very quickly what had happened as their targets fell to the floor along with the lead gunman. Mykola was faster than them, as he squeezed the trigger three more times. The bullets slammed into the head of the second, and the two other bullets collided with the chest of the other as they fell down screaming in shock and agony.
Crimson blood pooled on the floor as their bodies sat in the warm substance, as it slowly froze solid. Mykola holstered the magnum, as he ran over to Vadim as he grabbed the Oymyakonian by the arm.
«W-what the fuck is going on?!» Vadim spat, «A fucking stay of execution?»
«You can call it that, you blind shit!» Mykola hissed, as he led his blind friend past the dead gunman towards the exit. «We need to get the fuck out of here!»
The two tread across the snow, Vadim being guided by Mykola as they quietly passed around the perimeter of the base the insurrectionists have claimed. Vadim turned his head to Mykola's voice, «Yeah? And how the fuck are we going to do that?»
«We'll figure it out!»
«What?! We will figure it out? What the fuck, Mykola!»
«Fucking trust me on this, you ungrateful piece of shit!»
There was a voice off in the distance of the snow storm, hardly audible, but noticeable. It emanated from back inside the storage facility the two had just escape, as it soon became more frantic and angered. A second joined it, and then a third.
«You telling me to be grateful? Where the fuck are we supposed to go! The whorehouse?»
«If it still is there... now shut the fuck up!» Mykola hissed.
«It's not like I could enjoy it anyways, you fuck!»
An alarm promptly sounded, as dozens of more voices joined in on the yelling. Mykola stopped for a second, before he tugged again on Vadim's arm to bring him forward. Vadim spat, «They will be look for us, find us, and hopefully kill us.»
«They will not kill us! We just need to make it back to Khvostovgrad?»
«What, so they could fucking kill us there? So the UNSC could kill us?»
«We don't need to be killed by the fucking UNSC!» Mykola scoffed, «We will surrender! Say we are refugees, trying to get off the planet!»
A third voice joined them: «Traitors!»
Gunfire sounded, as bullets shot past both Mykola and Vadim as the second swore under his breath. Mykola turned back, spotting the faint grey figure behind them as he removed his magnum and shot back at him. This prompted more gunfire, as three bullets danced up the leg and into the lower spine as Vadim cried in pain. Mykola responded by shooting the figure twice, as the man fell down into the snow—dead.
«Mykola! I-I can't move my fucking legs!» Vadim cried in pain, as he stumbled forward as his blood soon solidified over his injuries. More voices were heard behind the two, as Mykola swore. He quickly holstered his magnum, before hoisting Vadim up as he carried the injured Oymyakonian over his shoulder.
Mykola traveled forward through the waist high snow the fastest he could, ignoring the weight he was carrying with him as he stumbled across the first ruins of the destroyed city. He had his sights set on the centre of the city, the main base of the UNSC occupation.
«We aren't going to fucking make it!»
«Vadim, shut the fuck up!» Mykola shouted, «Don't give me that shit! We are going to fucking make it!»
«You think the UNSC is going to give us fucking refuge? You are fucking thick!» Vadim shouted back, «They will slaughter us! Just as they have for the last nine fucking months!»
«They have to accept our surrender, they don't have to know we are insurrection—»
«They will fucking know, Mykola!»
«How the fuck—»
«Who else could have been blinded in a fucking gas attack?» Vadim replied.
Mykola ceased all movements forward, as he tensed up. He realised what Vadim had said, but he didn't want it to have been said. Mykola stopped under the ruins of one building, the hardened wooden paneling of the first floor stationed directly overhead. He shuffled Vadim from off his shoulder, as he rested his fellow Oymyakonian on a bank of snow.
«No, no... there has to be a way. There has to be a fucking way.» Mykola muttered.
«There isn't, Mykola. Civilians died in their recent attack on the Metro, Kuptov fucking killed those who weren't, and those who went to the UNSC were already taken off the planet! And with me being fucking blind—»
«They would know...» Mykola finished, as he sat beside his blind friend. «This can't be! This can't fucking be!»
«What are the chances they would take prisoners?» Vadim asked, «Surrender at their main base. Then we have a fucking chance.»
«Small, those fascists fucking hate us!» Mykola said, as he drew his magnum as he shakily analysed the weapon. He held dropped it to the side that sat closest to Vadim, making an unmistakable clang against a steel pipe exposed.
«You might still have a chance, Mykola. A small chance is a fucking blessing compared to what we will face under Kuptov!» Vadim replied.
«What the fuck do you—»
Vadim swung blindly, striking Mykola across the head as he grasped for where he heard the clang. Vadim pulled the magnum from Mykola's hand, taking possession of it as he turned it against himself. Vadim scoffed quietly: «You know what I fucking mean, Educated Shit!»
«Vadim! Fuck! Don't—» Mykola shouted, as he tried to stop Vadim. A shot rang instead, as the thermal mask of Vadim exploded and his head shot back from the recoil as a red mist spread across the scape, as it brushed across Mykola's thermal jacket. He covered his eyes as this happened, as he turned away from the scene as he stood by quietly.
Eventually he dropped his arm, before he looked back at Vadim. Mykola couldn't stare at the frozen body surrounded by red snow for too long. There was nothing he could say, nothing he could do at this point. He stood quietly for a while, painfully considering what Vadim had done. Was it done in cowardice? Fear?
He pondered whether or not he should collect the magnum, but instead Mykola turned on his heel and walked from outside the ruins of the building. He looked back at the body of Vadim, holding back anything he deemed irrational. But that was when he spotted it: the familiar sign of The Romanov.
Mykola paused and stared at the sign, with the dead body of Vadim under it. Perhaps Vadim knew where he was, from some odd sixth sense that he had gained from his blindness. Perhaps, Vadim decided to perish at the one thing that was left to him. The one thing that Novo Oymyakon still let stand, aside from its ruin. The one thing, Vadim feared to lose the most from the war.
Perhaps, that was his greatest mercy. The mercy of being left, at what left they had.