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Tooth and Claw

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The black weight of unconsciousness lifted and he slowly regained awareness. However, it was limited and he groggily attempted to gain a bearing of his surroundings. He could see a cobbled street at an odd angle before him, although his vision was still spinning. Spinning from what, he couldn’t remember. He had a metallic taste in his mouth, but it was faint so he paid it little mind. The ground beneath him was vibrating, rumbling as though he were inside the engine room of a great ship. He felt this in his palms as he attempted to push himself up off the uneven ground, only to find that he couldn’t. His leg twitched. It did nothing to shift the weight that was pressing down on the small of his back, which in turn throbbed dully. He considered his situation. The rumbling continued to persist.

He looked to his left, down the narrow, uniform street flanked by rows of terraced houses at the source of the noise. As he saw it, the word ‘tiger’ flitted across his mind. But it wasn’t orange and black, as he had pictured them, rather it was only the latter. It made a great clattering as it lumbered forward, growling all the while. Fear began to take hold of him; he was in the path of this beast, unable to move. If it decided to attack him, he wouldn’t stand a chance. But the dread ebbed away when he realised the Tiger wasn’t focused on him, instead it was fixated down the street, past him. He turned his head the way the approaching beast was looking, and saw nothing but empty road. If not for the Tiger, he would have been able to hear the shouts of men giving directions, and the resultant roars of—

The pain grew from its dull throb to a crescendo, the cocktail of endorphins and confusion that was his brain unable to hold it back any longer. His back turned to fire, his vision flooded and his breath came in sharp, harsh gusts. The shock as good as paralysed him, and he writhed in agony under the rubble of the destroyed wall behind him, droplets of blood escaping his mouth as he screamed. Although now his vision was a watery haze, he saw two silhouettes as they rounded the previously deserted corner, the word ‘bitch’ raced through his mind as he noticed their box-like shapes, and yet a strange hope filled him. Pivoting quickly, the pair barked in quick succession, rocking back slightly from recoil. The sound and the flashes from their weapons assaulted the senses of the writhing man. He heard the projectiles whistle overhead, and then a single clang. The street suddenly became briefly, yet eerily quiet.

Unseen by him, the Tiger snarled as it turned its head, and responded. With a sound like ripping paper, a green trail flew and struck one of the shapes, puncturing and setting it alight. His vision improving slightly, he recognised the image as one he’d seen many times before: a burning self-propelled gun, it’s crew bailing and scattering from the tank that had bested them. A couple of the vehicle’s crew stumbled and fell as their enemy filled the air with the rapid crack of machine gun fire, one’s dirt-streaked blonde hair spilling out around her head like a bizarre halo as she hit the ground. As the other SU-76 fled from the panzer, and he cursed it by yelling the nickname he now wholly thought it deserved, the reality and gravity of the situation hit him. He began to scrabble and claw at the ground, desperately trying to free himself. He always thought that he was willing to die for his homeland, but surely it couldn’t happen here, not now. He’d escaped and cheated death so many times; he couldn’t just become another casualty, just another point on a sadistic tally. His hands now, scraped and bloodied from their useless efforts, were shaking with each one of his pain-wracked sobs. He thought of his home, of his family, of his past life that were now so far away from the bitter war that had torn him from them. He had to survive, had to live, had to see those things again, even if it were just once. But as his arms collapsed and he beheld the great metal tread rearing up before him, gravel and dust shaking loose as it turned, he knew there was nothing to be done.