Beautiful Experiment

Chapter 16

Leon crouched beside the flambeed cultist’s body. In similar states around him, more cultists were splayed in various writhing forms. Tucked into the robes, Leon pried a pendant from the man’s neck. It appeared to be some form of ruby, wrapped in a gold bezel1 in the shape of the cult’s insignia. He had to admit it seemed quite pretty, even for the evil it represented. He tucked the gem into one of his pockets. He could have sworn he had seen one of the Merchant’s blue lights around here somewhere…

Manuela tapped his shoulder, causing him to look up from his pondering. Quietly, Manuela nodded in Ashley’s direction. His frown deepened as he caught sight of the younger girl, who had lagged behind the two of them for the past few minutes. It seemed she wasn’t feeling well. Now she was shaking. A flash of concern passed from Leon to Manuela.

Walking over cautiously, Leon made a tentative reach for Ashley. “Are you alright…?”

Leon was cut off as Ashley brought a hand to her mouth and started coughing, and Leon could see some blood leaking through her fingers. “Ashley!”

Ashley tore herself from Leon’s grip. “I’m fine! Leave me alone!”

Leon was stunned for a moment, but quickly recovered, pursuing Ashley. Manuela was ahead of him this time, and was closing on Ashley quickly as she ran down a hall. One more bound and…

From behind Manuela, a row of five spears bursts from the stonework, separating them vertically. Both Ashley and Manuela jumped at the unexpected assault, Manuela pulling Ashley back forcefully, only for another one to burst just in front of them. Leon reached the first set, gripping them tightly, trying to force his way through, but they refused to even give in the slightest. At this point, Manuela had practically picked Ashley up and was retreating to the far wall.

Outpacing the spears, Manuela reached the other side, setting down Ashley, before turning to face the rising tide of spears. But for once, her superior gifts seemed to be of little use as she was forced back away from Leon by more spears until both Ashley and Manuela were backed against the wall.

“Leon! What’s…”

With a loud clinking, bars secured the two of them to the wall before spinning around, causing them to disappear into some inner passage. As the wall secured itself, the spears retracted, leaving only disturbed stonework in their wake. After cautiously stepping past the first row, Leon rushed to the wall. Banging against it, he tried to find some weakness, but to no avail.

“Can you hear me?”

“Leon! What happened? Oh my god…” Leon recognized the voice as Ashley.

“Ashley! Listen to me! You have to keep calm. Manuela’s with you, so you’ll be okay. I’ll find a way to get to you.”

“Leon, I don’t think there’s a way to get out of here. I can’t slice anything without risking Ashley’s health.”

“Just stay put, I’ll be there as soon as possible. Stay safe.” Leon reluctantly stepped away from the wall, before turning to face the hallway behind him. “Seems a hell of a lot larger than a few minutes ago…”

A harsh screech of the radio cut off his thoughts, and for a moment he thought Manuela might have managed a way out. He whipped out his radio, only to find Salazar’s laugh greeting him.

“How’d you..?”
“We jacked the line. We didn’t want you two telling any unwanted information.”

Leon clutched the radio tighter. “Where have you taken them?”

“Ah! So the two fell into one of our wonderful traps. When we find them, I’ll make sure to save the agent for later. I want to kill her before your eyes before I dispose of you, Mr. Kennedy. In the meanwhile, I let out some of our miserable insects to entertain you.”

“Thanks. That should keep my company. Cuz boredom kills me!” Leon spat spitefully. His normal sarcastic bite was replaced with a cutting and cold slice. Salazar looked almost taken aback by the agent’s venom.

“You really shouldn’t treat your hosts this way. I look forward to our next another life!” And with that, Salazar cut the line.

Manuela struggled weakly. If she had been stuck in this thing alone, she’d be out of there, or at least throwing all her strength into it. However, with Ashley bound beside her, she would have to risk possibly injuring her. So instead she looked around as Ashley did the struggling.

“Why aren’t you doing anything?” Ashley demanded, her eyes alight with fear.

“I might hurt you in the process. My gauntlets could slice right through you and any struggling might break your bones,” Manuela explained calmly. Ashley was silent for a long time, only giving the occasional struggle for posterity.

“I know Leon mentioned a virus…”

“The Veronica virus,” she interrupted. Seeing Ashley’s fear of her response, she added: “Don’t worry. I’m not angry with you bringing it up. It’s just...sensitive.”

“The virus inside me is what gives me my strength. Before it, I was just a normal girl. Well, almost,” she laughed humorlessly. “My father was a powerful Colombian crime lord. We lived near this village called “Mixcoatl.” Funny thing about it was that while it was an Aztec name, there were no Aztecs in Columbia. I think my father named it that out of some kind of pride. He had that kind of power…”

“You’re the daughter of Javier Hidalgo?” Ashley asked, astonished. “I mean, I recognized your name, but I didn’t think that…”

“I am Javier’s daughter. Or at least, I was. He’s dead now.”

“I heard about that. The official reports said it was a sting.”

“It was Leon. He was sent there on accounts that biological weapons were in use. Seeing as he survived Raccoon City, he had more experience with those things than most people in the world. It was my fault; when I escaped from my father, he released the T-Virus into the water. They didn’t stand a chance. Every villager was turned into a zombie. Leon found me in the church in the center of town. He fought off my mother when I lost consciousness. Him and Krauser.”

“I didn’t know it at the time, but even then, I had the T-Veronica virus in me. I’d had it for years. And it failed to do to me what it did to my mother, or anyone who had it. I’m told the only other person who survived it was Alexia, the woman who designed it, and she was trying to take over the world with it. My father had been kidnapping girls from the surrounding towns and putting their organs into me. That’s part of why Leon was called in, on account of all those missing women.”

“Didn’t Krauser die?” Ashley asked, and immediately started apologizing for the question.

“He went down in a crash from what I heard. It’s sad that he died, but he was never as nice to me as Leon. I heard him telling Leon that they should get rid of me before I turned. It was Leon who convinced him not to. Leon looked out for me during that mission. Still, when Krauser took that spear to the arm from my mother, it damaged his arm irreparably. He was dropped from the special forces shortly afterward. I can only imagine that he wasn’t too happy about that…”

“In the end, we were set to escape when my father, in a last ditch effort, bonded with a Veronica infused flower, and became...a monster. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen. He was so big that he could block out the sun. I wanted to run when I saw him, but Leon insisted on fighting him. When I saw Leon fighting so valiantly against my father, it struck me. My father was so far gone that he wasn’t even human anymore. I decided that if I was to live, I’d live as a human, even if that meant dying before becoming a monster.”

“I ran into the path of one of my father’s limbs just before it crushed Leon. That’s when my viral abilities awoke. I burned down the limb, and from there, I threw my own blood at him, trying to take him down at my expense. Leon and Krauser managed to defeat him before I died, but I did lose consciousness during the helicopter ride. When we got back to the US, they took me in, looking for signs of infection. Luckily for me, the virus only improved me. I was gifted with enhanced strength, senses, and my flaming blood.”

“Leon visited me every day he could. He was the last person I knew in the world, and he owed me nothing. If anything, I was indebted to him for putting him in danger so many times. And still he came every day. As soon as I was cleared, he took me places. I felt normal, and it was beautiful. But then the government asked for his services, and used me as leverage. They were going to take me away from him, so I promised myself to the service, so long as I could work with Leon. Perhaps it was a bit rash, but I couldn’t allow myself to sit back anymore. What happened there made me realize that we can’t let this virus affect the world.”

“Sounds like you’re pretty dedicated to Leon” Ashley pointed out with a gentle smile. Manuela sighed and leaned against the wall. “I’ve seen the way you look at him you know.”

Manuela turned crimson and she stuttered for an answer. Composing herself, she took a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter. We’re in a mission right now. Maybe some time, after all this is done. What matters right now is getting out of here alive.”

Ashley nodded and leaned back herself. They weren’t getting anywhere anytime soon. They both hoped that Leon would be there soon.

Leon planted the shotgun firmly into the carapace of the downed insect creature, pumping a blast right into the mass. The body gave a last gasp before curling up disgustingly. Wiping away blood from a shallow slash mark on his face, he kicked away the body in disgust. Far too big to be an insect infection. This thing was human at some point, he noted.

He had no doubt there would be more around here. These kind of things never come alone, he grumbled mentally. Still, he’d rather not waste shotgun ammo on them. Instead, he switched to his pistol. He hadn’t expected the first one, but now that he had seen their telling eyes, he’d be on the lookout for more.

Leon found himself in some kind of prison area. The path he needed to take to get ahead was blocked by water, and even if it had been a short passage of swimming, there was a gate blocking the way. He was not confident that he could make it past both obstacles, especially if one of those things snuck up behind him while he was doing it.

Briefly, he checked his wound. Nothing to be concerned with, but it did sting a little. Reaching down, he splashed some water on his face, and the stinging stopped. Either an acid or a poison, he noted. He was more inclined towards the former, since he wasn’t experiencing any other effects. Better keep my distance.

Investigating the cells, he found varying tidbits, but nothing overly useful. There was a yellow herb, which he immediately mixed with a red and green, but slipped it into one of his front pockets, since it wouldn’t help his wounds much at this moment. He also found a note stuffed into the cracks of some bricks detailing parasite research. Confusingly, they seemed to be Luis’. The strange Spaniard seemed to have some deeper place in all this.

Eventually, Leon found the passage he was looking for. Turning a corner, he looked over a small cistern, which split the room perfectly. On the other side, he could see a door, undoubtedly leading somewhere he needed to go. He almost leaped in, but he saw the telltale glint that told him there were things in the pool below. Before the monsters had time to notice his hesitance, he had plugged a handful of bullets into one of them, killing it. The other had just enough time to leap to the side of the first bullet. Leon re-aligned the shot and fired again, clipping its body as it moved to the ceiling at lightning speeds. However, the pause as it gripped the ceiling allowed Leon to finish it off, causing it to hit the ground with a disturbing crunch.

In the next room, he found a valve he suspected was for the run-off, and his suspicion was confirmed as he turned it. He wasn’t all that thrilled about going back though, since it always seemed to him that more things appeared when one was forced to backtrack. Checking his ammo, he frowned. He really wish he had more. From what he could tell, the monsters relied on stealth for their attacks, but they could take a damn beating. They seemed to be good jumpers too, so it wasn’t like he could just outrun them. They did seem to have trouble getting off their backs though.

Clicking his clip back in, he headed back along the path, slowing as he came back to the main room. Peering upwards, he looked to a hole in the roof. Perfect for an ambush, he noted. As he approached, he was proven correct, and one of the monsters landed gracefully in front of him. Instead of retreating, he lowered his stance as he charged, knocking it off its feet, causing it to his in surprise as it found itself on its back. Not pausing, Leon charged to the lower level.

Spinning, Leon landed a solid kick into the door, knocking it in. One of the monsters was in the room beyond, but its surprise and Leon’s speed allowed him to charge up the stairs, through yet another door. Throwing the door closed, Leon turned, and had to suppress a curse.

Before him, several large blades swung rhythmically across his path. One of them swung over a gap, promising death at any hesitance. He could hear the banging at the door, and knew his time was limited. He moved right up to the first blade, so close that he could feel the air split from the heavy object. Slipping past it, he started bouncing back and forth between his front and back foot, gauging the timing on the jump.

Leon almost lost his momentum as he heard the door burst open, and the angry clicking rushing forward. As he flew through the air, he could hear one of the buggers get sliced, having not slowed fast enough. Focusing on the next obstacle, he cursed aloud, seeing two blades swinging opposite each other. Getting closer, he prepped to go through, only to have a weight on his back push him through. Thankfully, he passed between the blades, but now one of the things was on him.

Reaching back, he grabbed the sides of the thing’s head, trying to prevent it from getting near him. His hand burned from the acid, but he couldn’t let it near his head. Leaning back, he struggled to keep his balance. His struggle was rewarded as the blades crushed the thing on his back.Now that he was free, he pulled out his gun, turning just in time to see one of the things hit the gap blade. He took aim at the last one, firing into its head right as it leapt across the gap. The force threw it off course and it hit the side, legs trying to grip onto anything. The scratching of chitin didn’t bode well, and it went over the edge.

Finally safe, Leon heaved a sigh. He had come out ahead on that encounter, considering there were four of them. He had suffered some wounds in the fight, and he knew he’d have to use his herbs sooner or later. Still, he hoped he wouldn’t have to use it too soon. He tested his grip, and found that despite the pain, he could grip it well enough. He just hoped that Manuela was faring better.
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