Leon bolted upright, gasping in fear. Casting his gaze wildly about, he saw that Manuela was nowhere to be seen. As he moved to push himself up, he groaned in pain as his body fought against him. A quivering in his arms warned him that something was very wrong. Using all his strength, Leon raised his arms, and he saw that the veins were outlined in black, growing up his arms, racing towards his sleeves. Even when the lines moved out of sight, he could still feel them running into his shoulders. He had just begun to scream as they reached his neck and he could feel his thoughts turn only to the location.
Jaw. Eyes wildly searching for something.
Cheek. Anything to avoid the end.
Eyes. Then black.
Startling awake, Leon found himself in the same cabin from yesterday, and from his nightmare. This time, however, he found no lines trying to take him over, only someone holding him close as he took in his surroundings.
Calming, Leon was happy to see Manuela was the one providing him with comfort. Finally, as his breathing slowed, he managed to stand up, dusting himself off before stretching. The floor had not been kind on his back.
Manuela didn’t say anything, just nodded. Pulling out the transmitter, Hunnigan’s face crackled into view. “Good to hear from you two again. It’s been six hours since your last transmission. What happened? I was starting to get worried.”
“Don’t you mean lonely? We encountered a creature in the lake getting here and we both suffered cold exposure. We managed to make it to this cabin before losing unconsciousness.”
“Why are you at the lake? Leon, you’ve been requested to stand down, due to a potential safety issue on the mission. You have to…”
“I’m sorry Hunnigan, but I can’t do that. I have to see this mission through. The President’s daughter is still missing, and for all we know, they could be trying to infect her. Evac’ing me won’t do any good, only waste time. I doubt I’d be able to be cured, if I indeed catch anything from these guys. Besides, we’ve already encountered one uninfected, so there could be more. We have to make an effort to extract them.”
“I have orders to bring you back from HQ” Hunnigan warned, though she knew it was futile.
“We’ll call with updates” Leon promised, walking out of the cabin. Manuela faced the screen, face full of conflict.
“Go after him. I’m upgrading your status to head operative now, seeing as Leon is technically unfit for leadership right now.” Hunnigan leaned forward conspiratorially. “I’ll try and keep you guys out of trouble back here. Take care of him. Hunnigan out.”
Sliding the radio back into her pack, Manuela took a moment to regard Leon. He was already back to the mission, orienting himself from the looks of it. He waved for her to follow him. “We should get moving. No sense in waiting around if you’re up to it.”
Manuela realized he was waiting for her to make some kind of decision about moving out. Is it because I passed out from cold exposure? she wondered, drawing her pistol with a nod. Leon was about to head out when his eye caught something in the cabin. Coming back in, he picked up a note they’d failed to notice later.
There’s an important item hidden in the falls. If you are able to get it, you might be able to get Ashley out of the church. You already took care of the hard part with the “El Gigante.” About what’s been going on in your body...If I could help you, I would. But unfortunately, it’s beyond my power.
“El Gigante…” Leon wondered aloud. “Is that the thing that you took on earlier? The corpse we passed on the way here?” Manuela nodded, and Leon chuckled. “So much for their defenses. If everything’s this easy, we’ll be back home by tomorrow.”
Slowly turning the handle, Leon peered into the dark room of the church. Raising his gun, he stepped in, Manuela kneeling as she quickly moved to cover his side. A flash of movement caused him to turn, quickly recognizing the source as their target, Ashley Graham. He also had just enough time to recognize the bit of wood hurled at his face.
Dodging, he held out a hand, motioning for her to stop. “Hey! Take it easy!”
Ashley seemed to think him one of the villagers, as she threw herself against a stack of barrels. “No! Get back!”
“Hey, it’s okay. We’re here to rescue you. We’re alright” Manuela tried, reaching out to Ashley. “Your father sent us.”
“What? My father?” Ashley seemed almost seemed scared to believe it was true. Slowly, Manuela approached her, smiling gently.
“It’s okay. You’re going to be alright.” Tentatively, Ashley took the outstretched hand offered to her, standing slowly.
“Come with us. We have to get you out of here” Leon ordered, moving to the door. Ashley nodded, and she quickly moved into file, with Manuela holding the rear. Leon pulled out his radio as he moved. “We’ve succeeded in extricating the subject.”
“Good work I’ll send a chopper right away.”
“What’s the extraction point?”
“There’s another trail you can take to get out of the village. The chopper will pick you up beyond there.”
“Got it. I’m on my way. Leon out.” No sooner had Leon put away the radio, however, that he saw a man in ornate purple robes stepping out in front of the altar. He walked with unsettling calm, head tilted down like a monk. In his hand, a strange staff with writhing tentacles gazed at them with its asymmetrical eyes.
“I’ll take the girl” he stated in a lazy, unworried tone.
“Who are you?” Leon demanded, levelling his gun at the man.
“If you must know, my name is Osmund Saddler, the master of this fine...religious community” he smiled looking upon the three before him.
“What do you want?”
“To demonstrate to the whole world our astounding power of course. No longer will the United States think they can police the world forever.” Manuela’s breath caught in her throat as she listened. He sounds so much like my father… Shaking her head, she refocused down her sights as he continued. “So we kidnapped the President’s daughter, in order to give her our power, and then send her back.”
Ashley touched her neck, and Manuela could feel the pieces click together. She had been injected just like Leon had. She seemed to realize as much. “Leon, I think they shot something in my neck.”
“We just planted her a little...gift” Saddler explained, turning his unsettling gaze on Manuela. “You there...you know of what I speak of. You refused our gift, but you gave us something more useful than you could ever know.”
“What are you talking about?” Leon aimed his gun at Saddler, who did not move at all.
“Ah! Mr. Kennedy, you are being quite rude. I shall have to put you in your place.” With a raise of Saddler’s hand, Leon was hit with a burst of pain. Grunting, he struggled to keep his aim up. “I see you are still not ready. It’s only a matter of…”
Saddler was distracted as one of Manuela’s bullets lodged itself in his head. Standing resolutely, she moved in front of Leon, her blue eyes flashing in determination. “You are a monster…”
“Manuela, it’s time for us to go” Leon half-choked, looking behind them. Manuela could see a pair of zealots behind them, crossbows aimed. Grabbing Leon’s hand, she yanked him up and into motion, and he in turn pulled Ashley along. Leon bolted for the side window, ducking under a bolt, while Manuela jumped after, landing on her feet. She fired a couple of shots through the smashed window to discourage pursuit, if only to buy time.
“What’s going to happen to us?” Ashley questioned, still trying to wrap her head around the situation.
“Don’t worry. We got into this mess, we can get out of it.”
At the sound of his name, Leon spun around, catching a plan of wood in his hand. Before him stood Luis Sera. Leon smiled for a moment before sticking the wood into the doorframe, jamming it shut.
“Small world eh? I see you found your friend. You must be Manuela” he said with a bow, before turning his gaze on Ashley. “Well, I see that the President’s equipped his daughter with ballistics too.”
“How rude! And I don’t believe there’s any relevance with my figure and my standing. Who are you?”
“Ho ho, excuse me, Your Highness. Perhaps the young lady might want to introduce herself before asking someone his name?”
“Her name’s Ashley Graham, the President’ daughter. And she’s Manuela Hidalgo, my partner on this mission” Leon explained looking out the window at the approaching torchlight.
“Are they, you know?”
“Manuela’s uninfected, and Ashley’s cool. Don’t worry.”
“Really, uninfected? How’d you manage that one eh?”
“No time for explanations, Ashley, get upstairs! Here they come!” Leon threw positioned himself facing the wall closest to the base of the stairs, pistol at the ready. Luis moved to his side, whipping out his Red9. Manuela stood against the base of the stairs, ready to cover them, and to take on any enemies that got close.”
“Okay...it’s game time.” Leon sprinted to the the shelf on the closest wall, and began shoving it in front of the window.
“Manuela, get the other one!” As Manuela hurried, Luis seemed to get the idea, and together they covered all three of the bottom windows. Clustering back in the center, they checked their guns in a tense moment.
They all jumped a little as the banging began and the unarmed villagers began pounding on the sturdy boarding, trying to break it down. Soon, the banging gave way to chopping as the armed ones took their turns, hacking into the boards. Splinters soon began spraying through the backs, and the three took up stance, aiming patiently.
Luis was the first to fire, spotting a villager’s head through the crack, the Red9’s bullet exploding the man’s head easily. That only seemed to entice the villagers onward, as soon after, the shelves began crashing down, and the villagers struggled to climb over each other’s bodies to get inside. Bullets whizzed from all three guns, and the clicking of magazines were timed like a well oiled machine.
Until one of the villager’s head exploded, unveiling a long, spiked tentacle. The most recent villager on Manuela’s side had received the blow, and was standing back up, tentacle whipping about. As it lashed out, she jumped backwards, doing a back handspring to avoid the low blow, which took out the leg of the table that had only moments before been near her. “Look out!”
Leon turned, seeing the abomination. Damn it, it ruined our formation. He noticed several villagers were using the pause caused by Manuela’s dodge to clamber through the window. Unclipping a grenade, he had just enough time to see the blue tint on it before he hurled it towards them. “Cover your eyes!” he yelled, just before the canister sent forth its light.
Quickly getting back to the task at hand, Leon was surprised to see that the tentacled beast was writhing on the ground in its final moments. The flash grenade killed it! “If you see another one of those things, hit it with a flash grenade!” he commanded as he eliminated the stunned villagers.
A crash of glass was heard upstairs just then. “I’ll cover the upstairs!” Manuela shouted, rushing up before Leon could protest. He saw a few flashes of gunfire before he had to turn back to his side.
Eventually, a villager’s voice could be heard over the torrent of bullets. “¡Vamos!” And with that, the horde stemmed. Leon turned to see Manuela walking down the stairs, followed by Ashley, making sure the coast was clear.
“Looks like they’re backing off.”
“So what do we do now?” Luis inquired.
“The bridge I crossed to get here is out, so I guess we have no choice but to keep moving.”
“I forgot something, you guys go on ahead.” Before they had a chance to argue, Luis left the cabin, heading off into the night.“Luis…” Leon stared off into the night, wondering what he could be doing.