Beautiful Experiment

Chapter 15

Leon’s eyes scanned the room below, taking in the cell doors below. They never include rooms for no reason, he thought to himself, strange use of bells though. Likely, there was some kind of item down there they needed to continue. He nodded, then turned to head down, only to have his arm seized.

“I’m not letting you go down there alone Leon” Manuela insisted, though her grip was weak. She stretched herself a little thin this time, he thought grimly. She had just restocked her supply of her special bullets, but that took her using her own blood, so she was a bit weak now. Leon looked between Ashley and her, weighing his options.

“You’re not in a state to go down into a place as tight as that. If something grabbed you, it’d go from bad to worse. Besides, if you stay up here, you can provide me with covering fire should anything happen, and Ashley will be guarded. We can’t let her out of sight” he explained, casting a glance at the girl, who just nodded her understanding.

Manuela’s face betrayed her discomfort over the situation, but finally she relented, letting go of his arm. She moved next to the railing, using her vision to try and spot anything unusual, all while muttering. “Maldece mi sangre…¿porqué ahora…?”

Checking his munitions once more, Leon opened the door, descending down into the stone lined pit. Right away, he could tell that this had been intended as a prison. There were cells embedded on all the walls, and they each held restraining devices. Much to his chagrin, one of them was occupied. And of course, it was the one that had a lever in it. There appeared to be a vaguely human figure inside the chamber, though it wore an armoured helmet, and had large claws on its hands. “Someone must be a Wolverine fan” Leon muttered, looking through the bars intently.

With a hint of shock, he realized the thing’s eyes were sewn shut, and the beast seemed to only have the slightest inkling where he was. Slowly, he touched the prison door, feeling it yield to his touch, swinging clear of the stone floor. The door was open but the beast was still restrained. Turning to look at Manuela, he motioned across his lips, then held his left arm out at 45 degrees to his left before motioning to his head. Manuela nodded, leaning against the wall, propping her machine gun sturdily. A little more reassured, Leon stepped carefully into the chamber, walking lightly.

Nimbly, he maneuvered over to the lever beside the creature. At this range, he could hear its breathing, and undoubtedly, it could hear his. Tensing, he grabbed the lever, adjusting his footing. Taking a silent but deep breath, he pulled the lever.

From upstairs, he could hear stonework shifting, opening some new path. But more presently, he could hear and see the clasps of the monster release and he had just enough time to duck and roll as it swung its right arm towards where he had stood, the claws hitting only stone. Using the screech as sound cover, he rolled to a stand outside the room, pulling his gun to aim at the monster. He held his fire though as it turned to where he was, but not before he caught sight of the open spot on its back. He looked to Manuela, making an aiming motion before pointing to his back. She looked confused, but nodded, holding her aim tightly.

Walking crossways, Leon began walking towards the door he had come through, eying the surroundings to make sure he didn’t step on anything. The monster had slowly found its way out of the room, its claws having retracted. Convenient, he noted. Forming a plan, he looked at a bell, and reached for an object. His hand found a loose stone, which he seized tightly, before hurling it at the bell opposite Manuela. It struck the metal with a clang, and the beast turned sharply, claws extending as it threw itself wildly in the direction of the noise, claws swinging in a wide arc. Leon had to lean back as one neared his face. The beast seemed to have good spatial judgement, as it swung at the last moment, slicing the bell easily, but ramming its claw well and deep into the stonework, where it got stuck.

“Now!” Leon yelled, raising his own pistol and Manuela’s machine gun blazed from above into the open mark on the thing’s back, causing it to howl in pain. As much as it struggled, the bullet impacts threw off its balance and it couldn’t figure out which way to turn to remove the blade. It died on its feet, hanging limply by its claw, which slowly slid out from the weight, hand landing with a clang.

Leon heaved a sigh, wiping his forehead. He heard a shaking of the door, and Manuela appeared over the railing. “Leon, the door’s locked. Is there anything there to open it?”

“I’ll take a look. Give me a moment.” He had his suspicions about where it was. If there was anything he learned, new monsters usually guarded something. Walking over to the body, he flipped it over, and was rewarded to find a key strapped into its armour. Prying it off, he went to go when he had an idea. He lifted one of its hands, looking at the blade weapons. They appeared to be strapped to its arms, but only so tightly. Stepping on its shoulder, Leon grabbed one of the devices tightly, sliding it off the appendage with a little bit of a struggle before removing the other one. He carried them under his arm while he unlocked the door.

He opened it to a tight embrace by Manuela. “¡Eres descuidado, temerario, y...y…!” She took a breath. “Don’t do that!”

“I got you a present” he joked, holding up the blades. Manuela eyed them with confusion and distrust. “Your hand to hand style is really powerful, so I figured if you use these things, it’ll be even stronger. Let’s see if we can get them working.”

Leon had her sit on the floor, kneeling beside her. Taking her hand, he gently guided her arm into the gauntlet, which fit a bit loosely at first, but when he fixed the straps, they fit snugly. Checking the mechanisms, he quickly began putting together how they worked.

“Let’s try these things out” he said with a hint of excitement. Manuela nodded, holding up her armoured hands tentatively. Leon held her elbow with his left hand to steady her, while his right hand grabbed hers. “So, as far as I can figure, these things are held back by a spring like system. If you just tilt your hand forward…”

With a screech, the blades sprang out to full length, causing Manuela to jump a little. She repeated the motion once more, causing the other one to spring out and she held her arms out in front of her, admiring the blades. “They’re surprisingly light…”

She gave a few test swings, her momentum carrying easily. “And so easy to do these retract?” she asked with a nervous chuckle.

“Ah, right. Just tilt your hand the other way and it should reverse it.” Manuela nodded, doing the motion, and just like that, the blades retracted back to their holdings. “To be fair, I’m not one hundred percent sure how the mechanisms work, so just be careful with them. And as they teach you in school ‘don’t point them at anyone unless you want them dead’,” he joked grimly. Manuela chuckled, testing her grip on her pistol. Luckily, the bar wasn’t too obstructive, and somewhat helped stabilize her grip. Additionally, her punches would hurt a hell of a lot more now, even with the claws retracted, since they would be covered in metal, and the claw tips still peeked over the edge of the gauntlet.

“We should probably get going” Manuela stated, and Leon noticed for a moment that she seemed a bit more flushed than usual. He gave her a concerned glance, but he pinned it on her low blood levels.

“Alright. But you should try and avoid being in the front lines right now. You’re looking a bit peekish.” Manuela nodded, moving a hand to her forehead to feel. Concerned, but focused, Leon turned to the hallway that had become accessible to them, raising his gun once more. The hallway that had previously been bathed in flames was now quiet, or at least by the standards of this hell. A couple of cultists waited, but that was to be expected.

What Leon did not expect was the next room, which had a small path leading out to a platform in the middle of a pool. On either side, a raised path bordered its sides, and he could see a pair of winches on the top layer above that, similar to the one in the middle of the lower one. Another puzzle, he winced internally, immediately hating the architect of this place just that little bit more.

“What on earth is this..?” Manuela asked aloud, looking about at the room. It was impressive, Leon had to admit.

“It’s a puzzle. You see these a lot in some of these places. For whatever reason, people seem to think the best way to guard something is to put a puzzle in front of it. From what I can guess, we have to turn all the winches to move forward. Now, seeing as there’s no stairs to the second layer, I’d assume the middle one raises a staircase, but that still leaves the space between the main platform and the doorway on the far end of the room” Leon explained, his mind turning. Both Ashley and Manuela regarded Leon with amazement.

“I suspect that once we get to the second layer, the only way up will be to climb or to be boosted up. That’s the obvious time for an ambush, assuming we’re not already under attack.”

“I’ll take the upper levels then. The angle makes them harder to cover, and I can handle myself in hand-to-hand, so it makes the most sense. Plus then Ashley doesn’t have to climb up” Manuela offered. To both their surprises, Ashley spoke up.

“I want to help. There are two winches up there. If I can get to one of them, we can get out of here that much faster.” Leon was going to turn her down, but the look in her eyes was so determined that he could only sigh.

“Fine. But if things get hairy, you get to either me or Manuela, got it?” Ashley nodded, and Leon moved over to the first winch. “As soon as I begin turning this, they’ll probably start coming. Get ready.”

Cracking his knuckles, Leon gripped the winch tightly and began spinning it quickly. The platform they were on began shaking as a stairway began making itself apparent against the stone around it. The top step had just begun to peek up when they heard the shouting of villagers beginning. The path they had entered from was quickly blocked by men, and some of them came from the layers above, including a couple with crossbows.

“Ashley! Take the winch!” Leon commanded as Manuela took shots at the men trying to come over the path behind them. As soon as she had the winch, Leon unslung his gun, aiming for the left crossbowman. He landed a straight shot into the man’s leg, causing him to fall over and disappear beneath the water. Turning, he took aim, only to take a bolt to the shoulder. Hissing, he re-aimed, taking off the man’s head.

At the same time, the men began advancing, and Manuela glanced over her shoulder, seeing Leon clutching his shoulder. He was attempting to service his wound while still taking out the upper layers. He wasn’t going to be able to help her with the lower level ones, she realized. She slung her handgun back into its holster, springing the gauntlet claws. The villagers stopped in surprise, their confidence shaken. Playing for time, Manuela shook the blades confidently at them.

“¡Ven y cógelo!” she taunted, standing at the ready. In all honesty, she was more than a little scared of taking on so many at once, but she had more reach than they did. Except the one with the pitchfork, but she knew they didn’t have the speed to use their weapons too effectively. Finally, one of the villagers seemed to want to try his luck, and it didn’t take much more than one of them stepping forward, before the rest got the idea to.

The first one began charging at her, holding an axe over his head. Manuela held her blades high, preparing herself. Seeing her posture, the villager started to duck, but Manuela countered with a spinning kick to the man’s head, knocking him into the water. Keeping in the motion, she brought her claw swinging through the air on the next rotation, rending right through the next villager. Grounding herself, Manuela tried her best to look intimidating, which was assisted by the now bloodstained claws. She managed to make the villager in front of her cringe enough to were she was able to land a solid kick on his chest, knocking him back into the woman behind him, both ending up on the floor.

With an overhead swing, she drove her blades straight through both of them. With a heave, she swung the body-kebab, knocking the legs out from another villager before the bodies slid off the blades. Retracting one of the blades, she used the body of the villager to throw herself at the pitchfork wielding, landing a metal covered punch into his face, knocking him on his back. She swung her other claw, taking out the last standing villager. She quickly landed a lethal slice across the villager’s neck before moving to the stunned launchpad villager, who she finished with a quick pierce.

Satisfied with the bodies, she retracted the claws, and equipped her gun again, turning to see that Leon had fought off the other horde, but he was still holding his shoulder while leaning against the inch. Running over to him, she immediately withdrew her medical equipment. Taking out a strip of bandaging, she sliced off a section on the tip of her gauntlet before gently touching the wound. “Can you move the arm?”

“Perfectly fine. It just stings like a son of a OW!” Leon bit back a curse as Manuela pulled the bolt out. Before the wound could get worse, she began tying Leon’s torso and shoulder, tightly binding the site. Gently removing her hands, she gave him a once over. “Thanks. That should keep me going until we can find a yellow herb. I refuse to use my herbs until we find one.”

Regarding his shoulder, Leon laughed a little. “You know, I was once injured in the shoulder before. It was a bullet last time. Seems I get injured for women a lot. It was tied the same way too.” With a groan, he forced himself to a stand, then looked at the higher layers. “We still need to get to those higher layers. I can support you from down here. Try to not waste ammo if you can” he offered, motioning to her blood-tinged gauntlets.

“Got it. You just be careful down here, okay?” Leon nodded, and motioned for them to follow him up the steps. Reaching one of the walls to the higher level, Manuela took a run up before springing and grabbing the ledge. Pulling herself up, she extended a hand to Ashley, lifting her onto the highest layer. Leon took a few steps back, making sure he could see as much as possible while not being in immediate danger of falling off. He flashed a thumbs up, and the two split, heading for opposite winches. It wasn’t but a few steps when doors opened at the end of both paths, and villagers began stumbling out. Leon immediately began firing shots at the villagers on Ashley’s side while Manuela unsheathed her blades.

Leon had to give Ashley some credit: she didn’t scare easily. Despite the villagers coming at her, she kept pressing forward as Leon took out the mob, getting only as close as she felt she safely could. Soon, the tide stemmed, and she made it to the winch, just a little bit after Manuela had. Nodding to each other, they began turning the winches, while Leon flicked his attention back and forth between them. With a rumble, a pair of stone platform began raising from the water, making a path to the door. They clicked into place with an audible slam, and the winches would turn no further.

Gently, Leon helped the two women down. “Seems like you’re already getting used to those blades” he commented with a smile.

“I must say, you know how to give a gift” she retorted lightly, before taking taking the lead across the platforms. Leon could only chuckle and shake his head as he followed after.
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