Sedlins sat down on the one still upright half of a splintered mahogany bench and looked around the room, carefully avoiding one particular corner. He tried the lock again, but still it held fast, though his hand came away with a sooty residue of charred tin and phosphorus. Outside manic shooting reigned, punctuated by irregular metallic crashes and the occasional harsh wave of silence. He put his ear to the frame, to a point where some crude spike of antiquity had forced its way into the erstwhile sanctuary, and tried to hear through the noise to the sounds which he knew would be there, as distant though they may be. His ear twitched as bloody wave upon wave of chaos reached it, but for the third time that hour he was neither disappointed nor relieved to hear them free of that thudding, inescapable regularity. He reached behind his back, shivering as cold fingers brushed the tender peeling skin, and touched the gun holstered in his belt, taking small irrational comfort from the fact that at least he did not look helpless. As he drew his hand away another terrible lull swept through the compound; once against his ears pricked, and were this time met with the slow creak of a great oak gate, its plaintive moan of faint resistance spreading through the night air even to this concrete sepulchre two storeys below. For just a short moment a black film seemed to engulf his senses, and when he opened his eyes the gun sat in his hand before him. He saw the inevitability of his fate starting down at him from all corners of the room, and with a deep breath returned its gaze and looked to his left, where the two sightless eyes he knew so well seemed to lead the condemnation. A second gate slammed shut somewhere in the network of corridors around the room, twice as loud as the first, even though now numbed by the pulses of adrenaline pumping through his veins. The room was now shaking, cold grey motes covering everything in a thin layer of shadow. Wiping his eyes he cocked the gun and peered into the corridor, but was only able to make out the faintest of human forms among the storm of dust. A nagging throb of impatience was seeping into his consciousness, striving to make itself felt among the raging cauldron of hormones and terror. It was not something he understood, but the culmination of a month’s unrelenting stress bubbled up inside he until he could bear nothing more, he wanted only peace at any cost. One, two, three shots, the lock lay in tatters and his magazine empty. He realised now that any hope, any recourse he might have held out for was now beyond his reach, that if it was anywhere it was miles away and fathoms above him. A third gate crashed open, no less than a hundred metres from his lowly hold. Outside shapes were forming from the shade, still a distance away and advancing slowly, but so massive as to blend into the foreground. Shards of concrete fell around him, his shoulders scraped raw and a trail of red streaming down towards his elbow. He looked at the door, at the most important inch of wood to his life thus far. The figures were clearer now, filling the whole aisle and followed by a trail of prostrate humanity. The latch was off, all it would take was the palm of his hand. Sedlins closed his eyes.
“Ave Maria, orbae gloria, indignam animam tibi donavi”
He opened the door.