Katarina gave a derisive sort of laugh that was half a scoff and half a hiss because of the fresh pain that lanced through her face.
She'd dragged her fingers deliberately across her cheek to scoop away the warm red bubbly phlegm that dripped and oozed down toward her chin. A little crunching squelch answered her as she tugged the dirty sunken skin over her cheekbones, and with it a sudden flare of agony. The destruction of the scaffolding her body had spun around and through the bits of bone and stale blood that collected in her nose. Little spindly ladders of fiber and protein snapped and sundered and the whole mess slid just a little and she almost screamed. But not quite.
Claire gasped and rattled in the throes of death, and Katarina looked back and forth between the dying girl's face and the viscous mess on her own fingers. It was then she grimaced and laughed and turned and flicked her hand to send it all spattering thickly on the ground. Not that she meant to pay her respects to the dead and dying. That was the sort of cognitive dissonance that would kill her if she fell into its trap. If she'd had any respect for Claire, then she wouldn't have sliced into her lungs like soft cheese.
She looked for Hansel again as the blood foamed more slowly through the slit in her victim's chest, but only the shadow of his threat remained. Maybe he'd come back, she thought, or maybe he was reasonable instead. Why he'd gotten so far. Appearing and disappearing like smoke, leaving only bodies behind. Hickory-flavored, no doubt, laden with the scent of blood and whiskey and the sound of boots on sawdust.
Katarina smiled and twitched her brow and made sure to bring both hands to bear on the simple task of folding the knife away. The world was such a vibrant place if you took the time to view it. She began slicing away at Claire's clothing, pulling away the useless fabric to uncover the source of her morbid amusement. How strange it was that such an unassuming wound could peel away so much. Cause the whole marvelous machinery to hack and wheeze and eject rich red foam into places it didn't belong and end the whole thing by it.
The vest was thick and black and bloodstained, just like everything else. She tugged and pulled and slipped it off the fresh corpse with some effort. Bulletproof, apparently, was nothing short of absolutely literal. And Hansel was well-armed, and she wasn't, yet it was her own little dagger that had done the job.
She looked around again and took Claire's belongings for her own and twitched her brow and put the bloodsoaked vest on over her bloodstained green top. It was a little heavy, a little awkward, but there were worse things she could burden herself with. She looked around once more at the scene that had erupted so violently in the space of a breath. Hansel's flank, the kevlar-bolstered human shield, the darker nature of the flashlight, and her newfound armor's secret weakness. Enough confounding variables to make her head spin. But she'd be dead, she reminded herself, without that killer instinct. The snap decision-making. The unflinching drive to do anything and everything in her power to make it through, even by the skin of her teeth.
She slid silently from the scene, riding the skill and the preparation and the ragged bandages that muffled the strike of hard rubber on cement, cloaked in another thick layer of blood-slick luck.
((Katarina Konipaski continued in Shallow Grave