Beautiful Experiment

Chapter 13

Leon stopped a moment before Manuela noticed. He appeared to be looking at the low building ahead of them suspiciously. “What is it?”

“Ashley, you stay here. Manuela and I will check this one out.” Ashley nodded as she hid behind some of the random boxes outside the building. Manuela looked to Leon, trying to figure out what set him off.

“This building is the only way out of the valley besides where we came in. If I were the enemy, here’s where I’d try to stop me. And I have my suspicions about who might be there.” Manuela’s worry only rose as she watched Leon switch his normal handgun for the Punisher they had just secured from the Merchant for their medallion collecting efforts. He hadn’t been using it much, since more often than not, the stability his pistol afforded was more important. Manuela hesitantly unclipped the Red9 they had pooled pesetas for. The gun still felt awkward, and only with the attached stock did it help steady the awkward proportions.

Approaching the door, Leon had his weapon at ready, and he paused a moment, adjusting his grip before nodding to Manuela. With a half step, Manuela kicked open the door, her eyes quickly sweeping the surroundings as she dropped to one knee, aiming every which way. Slowly, she lowered the barrel, seeing nothing. Leon moved passed her, checking the rafters briefly before motioning for her to follow him.

Manuela’s feet were swept out from under her as she tried to stand. Reacting quickly, she pushed off with one hand, landing on her feet, gun pointed where she had been standing. Towering intimidatingly was the village chief. With one motion, he grabbed the handles of the doors, and twisted them together. Turning, he regarded them with disdain, before taking an earth-shaking step forward. Not waiting to see what he was doing, Manuela took a shot at his head, only to have him dodge to the side with ungodly speed. Leon’s following shot was also dodged, followed by the man charging them. His palm slammed into Leon, sending him flying backwards before pivoting to punch Manuela. She barely managed to dodge it, but her position allowed him to grab her leg, and as she was already leaning back, he was easily able to throw her onto the upper level of the building. Hitting the wooden side with the splintering of wood, Manuela hit the loft flooring with the breath knocked out of her.

“Move!” Leon yelled over the ringing. Just in time, Manuel managed to propel herself forward as the floor below her gave way to flaming bursts. A deep scream told her that the village chief had been the center of that particular explosion.

Grabbing the railing, Manuela looked down in horror to see a monster standing in his place. From the waist down, he was the same, but above that, it almost resembled a ribcage of parasitic tendrils, on which his head was perched disturbingly. The being oscillated creepily, looking down on Leon with malice.

Leon, for his part, was seemingly unfazed. Manuela recognized his cold steel gaze. With deadly accuracy and intuition, he began unloading rounds into the unveiled spine. The beast screeched, showing the effectiveness of the ploy. Picking up quickly, Manuela began taking careful shots at the spine. Each shot ripped through the flesh like paper, making the monster stumble.

The click of her weapon told her she needed to reload. Cursing, she removed a clip of her blood bullets while flicking the empty cartridge out. Sliding in the new pack, Manuela looked up, only to see in the couple of seconds that had transpired, he had moved. She turned just in time to roll with the slam.

Skipping along the floor, Manuel landed on her back, bringing the gun up, firing into its body. A burst of flame erupted from the impact, causing the thing to double in surprise and pain. Between shots, she could hear the blast of Leon firing from the floor. As the thing advanced, Manuela became aware of the fact that she was being backed into the wall of the building. Soon, she would be unable to dodge at all with all the limbs flailing at her.

Firing at the chief’s head, she stunned him long enough to unstrap a flash grenade from her belt, tossing it into a hollow of his body just before leaping over the banister, stumbling as she landed, but maintaining uprightness. Beside Leon, they took alternating shots at the chief, only to run out of bullets in their cartridges at the same moment. Finally unmet by bullets, the chief jumped down, shaking them off their feet. With a whip-like motion of his body, the chief bore down on Manuela; a motion she narrowly avoided. She did not escape uncathed however, as several of the longer tendrils raked her back as she rolled, tearing through easily.

Hissing in pain, Manuela concentrated on her back, trying to will her blood still. She could already feel the heat radiating from her back as her blood was exposed to the air. As she aimed, she could see the tendrils that had struck her had singed back to the base, charred by the flare.

“Leon! Aim at the wound!” A quick nod told Manuela he had heard, and he steadied his aim, as did she as the column whirled about, too fast for accurate shots. A shot fired from Leon’s weapon, followed by another as the monster stopped turning in shock. Puss flew from the wounds, and the sickening crack of weakening bone and flesh told Manuela it wouldn’t be long before it gave way. Hastening to make it a shorter time, she fired two rounds into the flesh, the first tearing it in half, and the second finishing it.

His top falling to the ground gracelessly, Manuela watched as the chief’s legs walked for a short time, before falling over. But it seemed he was not quite done. With unimaginable speed, his tendrils launched him into the rafters, where he then leapt to the walkway, out of vision. The only indication of his location was when flames leapt up, starting a spreading fire on the second floor.

The two moved back to back, waiting for the chief to jump. A thin layer of smoke began hanging over the top of the building, a ticking clock. A creak caused Manuela to turn, aiming quickly at nothing. Her vision whipped left, then right. She couldn’t see anything…

The ground took her breath from her as a weight slammed into her, knocking her breath out. She could feel a slash on her left side, before the hiss and crackle of her blood met the attacker. Desperately, she lashed out, letting her blood rile. As her blood crackled through the skin, it met the flesh of the mutated man above her, melting his flesh. With a scream, he launched himself back, the flames spreading over the little bits of cloth still clinging to his body.

Scurrying back, Manuela clutched her wounds, trying to will them to stop as she could feel the heat wreathing her body. Leon, meanwhile, was unloading bullet after bullet into the back of the chief’s head, until the body stopped writhing and lay on the floor. Kneeling, he quickly grabbed something before rushing over to Manuela. Without hesitation, Leon slung her over his shoulder, grunting with effort and pain as her blood spilled onto his coat. Glancing around, he could see the flames had consumed the walls in the time of the fight, and the door was sealed. A cracking told him something had fallen through, and he took his chance. Turning, he ran towards a newly formed hole, leaping through. Twisting, he landed back down, protecting Manuela from impact. Almost immediately, the building’s roof fell through.

Leon barely noticed however as he removed himself quickly, but gently from under Manuela, shedding his coat as he got up. As he saw the flames on it, he was glad he hadn’t removed it before then. Throwing it aside in a place where it wouldn’t set the entire countryside ablaze, he whipped around to the building. “ASHLEY!”

The aforementioned girl came as soon as he called, eyes widening as she beheld the slowly burning form of Manuela. Leon began digging in his pack, pulling out a water bottle, which he began pouring deliberately on the trouble spots. “In Manuela’s pack. Left pocket. Get the bottle” Leon commanded coldly, not looking up.

Quickly, he grabbed the other bottle as it was handed to him, and he used it to start putting out some of the worst fires on Manuela’s body. She was still crackling, but none of the fires were burning enough to cause too much damage. Hurriedly,, Leon slung her back over his shoulder, and began hurrying back down the hill. He had recalled seeing a well around here somewhere....

A few moments and he came upon the well. Laying her down gently, Leon began drawing the pail as fast as he could without spilling too much as Ashley caught up. In one motion, he doused Manuela with water. “Ashley, was there any food in those crates?”

Ashley shocked to attention, trying to recall. “I think so? Why?”

“We’re gonna need to camp out for the night to allow Manuela time to recover. She’ll be alright by morning, but until then, we need to make sure we’re set.”

“Tomorrow morning?! How is she…?”

“I’ll explain when we get there, but for now, carry her stuff. We need to find a place to stay.”

“So that’s how you met Manuela? You said she was infected with something..?”

“The T-Veronica. It’s in her bloodstream; that’s why she was on fire. It’s also what makes her so strong. When we first met, she was a sheltered child, but after the Operation, she wanted to help others. So she entered Agent Training. This is her first mission.” Leon chuckled to himself. To anyone, it might have been ironic, but he was more laughing at the fact it was more that she didn’t want to remain cooped up in a hospital when he was off saving the world. Not that he wanted to.

“Who would have thought it would be like this?” Leon glanced over at Ashley, who was hugging her knees tightly. It occurred to Leon the she might be missing home. He waved her over.

“Come on. Might was well be close. It’s safer that way” Leon explained. In reality, there was only one door, and it was barred tightly. It wasn’t impossible for them to be found, but it was unlikely. Ashley seemed amiable enough, and she crawled over, sitting beside Leon. They shared bits of their lives until Ashley fell asleep, as the adrenaline in her body subsided. Leon smiled at the sight of the young girl leaning against him, and the quietly slumbering form of Manuela on the floor beside him. Gun in hand, he resigned himself to a light sleep.
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