Pavel’s breath hitched as he pushed open the door to the old Ultra mall. His grip on his Kedr grew tighter and he nervously adjusted the face shield on his helmet. The sound of blood rushing in his ears faded as he moved slowly up the defunct escalator and into the darkness beyond. Strangely-shaped shadows loomed and shifted all around him as he strode ahead. Shots to his left, grenades far behind him, and faint footsteps --soft; so soft he could be imagining them-- on all sides. This was the Interchange area as he knew it. A raid like any other. In and out, scavenging what gear, food, and money he could to get himself through the month alive. That’s what he told himself. That’s how he stayed sane. But he knew what lurked inside this dead mall, this industrial colossus so far from its former lustre. He had heard tales, rumors, nothing more. He would be fine. He steadied his breathing, and began to move farther in, swiftly and silently.
He was headed for Brutal, on the hunt for some meds he could sell for high prices on the flea market. Or perhaps, if things took a turn for the worst, to keep himself alive. Regardless, they would be good to have. He made a left where he knew he needed to, glancing up at the light filtering down because he thought he saw movement there. Again, there was nothing. He hugged the walls, trying to dart through smashed glass walls and stay in stores and in the shadows. As he moved deeper and deeper into the mall, he became more on edge. Something told him this time wouldn’t be as mundane as he desperately wanted it to be. He checked all the pouches on his tactical rig, his hands steady and sure. Mags, meds, and grenades, all where he wanted them and ready if he needed them. He was almost where he needed to be. He could be out soon.
Not even a meter later, he came to a halt behind the counter of the store he was in. A body lay on the floor in front of him with all its gear seemingly still on. He scanned the area near him, saw no movement-- nothing lurking in the shadows, and lay down to loot it. He couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching him, but he knew it was probably nothing-- just survival instinct, his body keeping him on edge. He went for the dog tag first. No one in their right mind would kill a man and leave his dog tag behind. But, lo and behold, it was right there. The tag said his name is --or, he supposed, was-- Henry. A former USEC operator. He almost smiled at that. The only good USEC was a dead one. They did this to the Tarkov zone. He kept looking through his pockets, taking his painkillers, and swapping out the body’s heavy backpack for his own empty one. He wanted to keep moving fast, still feeling eyes on him from the darkness, and quickly took the man’s M4A1, tossing his own gun onto his back. The body’s armor and helmet were totally broken, so he left those behind.
Slowly, he raised himself onto a crouch, keeping his head below the top of the counter. He heard feet padding against the ground no more than a few meters from him, on his right. Suddenly, in a flash of black and white stripes, a figure was upon him, and the back end of an RPK-16 came flying at his head. He had no time to react before the world faded in front of him and he fell to the ground.