Beautiful Experiment

Chapter 17

Leon groaned as he pushed against the large doors. He had to be getting close to Ashley and Manuela at this rate. The room he entered was grand, and had a faded red rug running across the checkered floors. Compared to the rest of the castle, it was in rather good condition. Probably just for show.

As he looked for a door, he saw a shadow being cast across the floor and onto him, and with a tired expression, he looked up to see Salazar on the balcony above, a smug smile on the old midget’s face. To either side, his normal, shadow garbed bodyguards watched imposingly. Leon said nothing, instead glaring daggers at the man. He flexed his fingers near his gun, tempted to shoot the man, but he knew in his state he wouldn’t do too well against the two...whatevers.

“What a pleasant surprise! But I’m afraid it’s Ashley we need, not you, Mr. Kennedy,” the man taunted, tenting his fingers. Leon leaned back and rolled his shoulders.

“If you don’t need me, then get off my back old man!” he retorted, just frustrated with the man at this point. He was half tempted to walk away, but he knew that would just draw his ire.

Salazar, for his part, looked surprised. “Did you say old man, Mr. Kennedy? It may come as a surprise, but I am only twenty years old.”

Leon scoffed. There was only one explanation for the man’s appearance given his age. “So you’re just like all the rest of them. A puppet of the parasites?”

“Surely you don’t think I’m the same as those diminutive Ganados?” Salazar questioned, his expression a mixture of disgust and anger. He shook his head, as if the very thought were impossible. “The parasites, Las Plagas are slaves to my will. I am in complete control.”

“While I don’t give a damn! Rain or shine, you’re goin’ down!” Leon had had enough. He drew his gun, but barely had time to aim when several sections of wall slide away around the room, revealing more zealots. A small nervous feeling crept into him as he beheld the rocket launchers that some of them were wielding. Even more had crossbows, and on the ground floor, several were advancing menacingly with scythes held out.

All Salazar did was give a dismissive hand wave, and with a smirk on his face, gave them a command. “Get rid of our American friend.”

Leon didn’t need any more motivation. He flung himself to the side, landing behind the cover of a marble barrier just as the rockets flew. He could just barely hear the click of crossbow bolts flicking off the walls over the roar of the rockets. Quickly, he popped over the barrier, taking a shot at one of the rocket user’s legs, causing him to fall off the edge, crushing a scythe wielder below. Whipping his aim to the other side, he hit another one in the head, stunning him briefly. He had to duck again as a bolt soared over his head. Taking a glance, he tried to formulate a plan. Ducking, he heard and felt the rocket explosion on the other side. They were alternating their shots to try and keep him pinned, he realized. Salazar must have wanted him quite dead.

Over the rockets, he could hear one of the scythe cultists getting closer. Leon had nearly been on the receiving end of one of their swings earlier and it was not something he wanted to do again. Popping up, Leon took a moment to aim, before the man’s head disappeared in a fine red mist. The bullet shattered the bone mask he wore, but for his effort Leon took a bolt to his left shoulder. Luckily, the stumble it caused made him dodge the other one. Crouching again, Leon cursed loudly as he yanked the bolt out.

Now was as good a time as ever to use his herbs, he figured. Quickly digging into his pocket, he withdrew the cloth he had made the mix in and wiped the concoction on the wound. He gave it barely any time to finish before he was back in the action. The bolt hadn’t done any seriously lasting damage, but it was rather painful.

Another cultist could be heard around the corner, and Leon edged silently closer. He could hear the steps, and counted until he could hear them right around the corner. Spinning out, he fired a shot straight into the man’s face, but reached out his other hand to grab the man’s body. Stunned, the man couldn’t manage to do anything as two crossbow bolts planted themselves in his body, ending him. Using the body as a shield, Leon fired off a couple of shots into one of the rocketeers, killing the unarmored man. Quickly, he spun to see the other one aiming a rocket at him. Fighting his instinct, he fired a shot at the weapon, then threw himself aside, not waiting to see the result. To his relief, the explosion was heard up in the balcony, rather than next to his head.

Now, it was just him and one crossbowman, and they both realized it. By the time he peeked around, the man had already fled the scene, probably having disappeared through some secret door. Leon smiled slightly, enjoying the small amount of rest this afforded him. It was certainly a hell of a lot easier to scare these guys than zombies. After refilling his clip, he ransacked the room, finding some ammo bits here and there, but certainly not enough for an extended survival time. Idly, he rubbed his wound, thinking about what he could do when he stumbled across the answer.

Walking over to one of the bodies, he moved once from atop what he sought. Underneath a former scythe wielder, he found the crossbow of the man he knocked off the balcony. He hadn’t been alive long, so he’d likely still have plenty of bolts on him. Leon briefly considered using the scythe, but he had absolutely no training with those. The fact that it required both hands was a negative as well. With Manuela’s weapons, she could still fire. The thought of Manuela made him focus on his mission, and he quickly pocketed as many bolts as he could scrounge. The crossbow would likely be a surprise weapon. It was too slow to reload in a fight, and it could only do major damage if he aimed well. It still meant he could conserve ammo though, and if Raccoon City taught him anything, the caliber didn’t matter as much as the conservation.

Leon opened the door, expecting to find another antiquated hall, or dining room in need of a good party, but was surprised to find what appeared to be a mid-sized hedge maze before him. He was just about to head into it when his radio beeped. Reflexively flicking it out, he immediately regretted the action when Salazar appeared on the screen.

“Oh. It’s you. I was expecting someone more interesting,” he answered boredly.

“You really should be more courteous to your host Mr. Kennedy. But! I see you’re still alive. Do you like my garden?”

“I see you’ve managed to work some of your twisted taste here too.” Leon shook his head as he beheld the garden. The hedges were dark, and he had no doubt that going through them would be more than a little painful. Looks like he’d have to solve it the old-fashioned way.

“Sagacious as I am, even I get lost here sometimes. Even if it takes your whole life, you’ll never get out.” Leon scoffed slightly, looking over the maze. It was hardly enough to be a labyrinth. Leon almost missed the man continue speaking. “Do you know that no one dies without a cause? You will satisfy the stomach of my cute pets. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to tie up a few loose ends. Like chasing down a couple of rats.”

As Salazar cut the transmission, Leon pondered his last remark. Two rats to chase? Luis was one of them, but if Salazar knew where he was, who else was there? It wouldn’t do him any good to just stand around though, so he headed down the weathered stone steps. Hesitantly, he put his first foot down on the crisp earth, bringing the crossbow up. He pulled back on the serving, and slipped a bolt into channel. Reaching down, he unclasped the top of the pistol holster so that it would be within easy reach.

Skulking along the path, Leon listened carefully. The maze was eerily quiet, and lacked any sounds. Salazar had mentioned pets, and he had no doubts that there would be something coming soon, if it wasn’t there already. He hoped it wasn’t more of the insects; he didn’t have the ammo for that. Rounding a corner, he stopped abruptly, bringing the crossbow up.

Growling at him, one of the wolf monsters he had seen earlier was crouched, teeth bared. Unflinchingly, Leon pointed the crossbow at the beast, silently daring it to go first as he backed up. It was close, but not too close. If it lunged he could…

A horrible sound of flesh splitting caused him to lose focus, backing up much faster as the dog’s back opened up and several vicious tendrils lashed out to try and hit him. He barely dodged them, and he fired a bolt into the open flesh cavern, causing the beast to howl and spasm as the bolt was snapped and dug its way into the folds of flesh as they moved. The beast collapsed, blood gushing from the slits of flesh. Loading another bolt, Leon held the beast at point, but it failed to move, its thrashings subsiding. It seemed he had gotten a lucky hit on the thing, but he doubted he could do it again. Still, if this is what Salazar had sicced on him, he knew how to fight them.

Stepping passed the body, he moved silently amongst the foliage, following the left wall when it came to junctions. Soon, he found himself in a small clearing, with a shed standing along one wall, attached to the stonework. He could hear the snarling inside of it from here, and he didn’t think he would do too well against however many were in there, so he began backtracking, his mind working to figure out a way of getting rid of the beasts. He conjured his mental map, trying to remember details. He had seen two of these sheds, and he was fairly assured that the other one also had dogs, not to mention the ones that might be hiding in the foliage. He also remembered there being a platform in the center. A smile came to his face as he though up a plan to get rid of all of the beasts in one fell swoop.

He followed the path as he remembered it and found himself at the base of the platform. Paths led off of it to the side of the maze, but he couldn’t risk any more encounters with the dogs in such close quarters. Stretching quickly, Leon took a short running start before kicking off the solid base and grabbing a relatively high ledge. Planting his boots against the edge of the bricks, he forced himself higher. The hardest part was forcing his shoulders higher than his fingers without losing his grip. But he managed it, and very quickly shot out a hand to the lip of the platform. Securing it with his other hand, he pulled himself up, groaning from the exertion. Rolling over the edge, he lay on his back for a moment, taking deep breaths before he sat up. From here, he could see the entire maze.

More importantly, he could see the locations of all the beasts. Milling about the maze were several of the dogs, sniffing for his trail. In both corners, Leon could see the shacks. To his relief, they featured gated doors, and he could see the beasts through them. Smiling, he set his plan in action, unstrapping a grenade from his belt. He hadn’t used many of these ones yet, but it seemed that hanging onto them had been a good idea. He contemplated using the crossbow for the next part, but he doubted it’d have the penetrating power to destroy the locks in one shot.

Kneeling, Leon took careful aim at one of the gate locks. He knew that the first shot would tip off all of the beasts as to where he was, and with their speed, they’d move to surround him. If he messed up, his only hope would be to jump down and hope to outmaneuver them, which he doubted he could do. With a deep breath, he took the first shot, not waiting to see if it connected before spinning in place and doing the same to the other one. To his relief and surprise, both shots were met with the sound of metal being snapped. The baying of the hounds rang out in the maze as he grabbed the grenade with his off hand, flicking the cap off with his thumb. Spotting two of the closer dogs, he pegged the leading one with it, causing it to stop and sniff it before getting a blast of flame as a reward. The flame caught the nearby hedge on fire, and it seemed whatever foulness had left the castle in such poor maintenance had also affected the hedges, as they went up like dry tinder. Pulling out the crossbow, Leon spotted one of the dogs at the leading edge of the fire making its way to the steps up to his platform. With a careful shot, he hit its side, causing it to stumble and be swallowed by the flames.

None of the other dogs got close before they were inevitably caught by the flames. For whatever reason or another, they seemed to be destroyed almost instantly when lit alight. Leon wasn’t complaining, but Salazar would be when he saw the state of his maze. The hedges were hardly more than blackened skeletons of spiked tangles, and amongst them, charred corpses of former animals. Leon whistled at the sight; two bullets, a bolt and a grenade well spent, he mused. As he surveyed the damage, he caught sight of a fountain, which was mirrored on the other side. Undoubtedly they held some secret.

Hopping down from the platform, Leon crossed the still smouldering debris, using his knife to cut his way through the brittle bramble. Stepping over a gap in the last hedge, he knelt alongside the first fountain’s edge, scanning the depths. Soon, he spotted a small plate in the water, and he reached his hand into the cool water, fingers curling around it. Shaking it off, he inspected it, and had to admire the artwork. The blue stone was one he couldn’t identify, but it complimented what he suspected to be half of a crescent moon that was nestled amongst what appeared to be a tree. The carving was so smooth he almost didn’t believe it. But he had only one half, and he figured he had a good guess where the other one was.

His suspicion was confirmed when he found the other half in a pond, and together they formed the image he suspected they did. He had no eye for art, but he could tell this was exquisite craftsmanship. Perhaps it was from a time before all this, he wondered. Pocketing it, he looked around for an exit, but he only saw the way he had come. Sighing, he headed back up, the weight of the panel in his pocket. He was about to head back the way he came when he saw another door, opposite the way he had came in. With relief, he noticed that it had an indent matching the tablet in his pocket.

Freed of the weight, he watched with satisfaction as the door slid to the side. To his surprise, the room beyond was in slightly nicer repair. A fireplace lay beneath a portrait of the cult leader, and lavish furniture lined the walls. He turned to find a door, only to hear the click of a gun against his back.

A feminine voice met his ears, commanding in its intensity. “Put your hands where I can see them.”

Leon could have sworn he recognized the voice, but now wasn’t the time for a trip down memory lane. “Sorry, but following a lady’s lead just isn’t my style.”

Quickly, he spun, grabbing his assailant’s neck with one hand and her hand with the other, the barrel aimed away from him. Leon’s eyes had just started widening in realization when the attacker’s leg came up, knocking his grip loose. The gun went flying up into the air, and everything seemed to slow down. Leon could see the assailant spinning away, red dress blocking his vision. His mind raced as he pushed himself forward, reaching for his knife. Mentally, he calculated his opponent’s path, and realized swiftly that he’d have to adjust his grip. Spinning his knife, he twisted the blade down. Throwing his left hand out, he caught the woman’s hand just as she spun the gun. Knife pressed to her neck, Leon glared at her intensely, finally recognizing the attacker.

“Bit of advice-try using a knives next time. Works better for close encounters,” he pointed out bitterly, seizing the gun. With a fluid motion, he unclipped the ammo and tossed the gun aside, slipping the knife back. The woman smiled, removing her sunglasses.

“Leon. Long time no see.” Countering her smile, Leon’s own expression was one of distaste and annoyance.

“ it’s true.” Leon hadn’t been entirely convinced when he had heard the facts, even though it all added up. He had been a bit disheartened by it, but with the mission in Columbia, and trying to help Manuela get adjusted to life here, he hadn’t had much chance to think about it. He was actually grateful for that, as he hadn’t been able to mull over it. His eyebrows dropped in further annoyance at the knowing, but cocky smirk on her face.

“True? About what?”

“You, working with Wesker.” Leon paced a bit. The whole thing didn’t sit well with him. He hadn’t actually met Wesker, but he knew that the man was thoroughly evil. He had brought his own team into a mansion to collect combat data on them, having been working for Umbrella. That was what pissed him off the most, that she had been working with Umbrella. That damn company had caused the death of so many in Raccoon City, and they were still around because of people like Ada and Wesker.

“I see you’ve been doing your homework.”

“Why, Ada?” The question was more pointed than Leon had meant it to be, but it just made the bile rise in his throat. Ada didn’t seem to flinch. In fact she seemed to relax, tossing down her sunglasses, seeing as they weren’t needed much for her “disguise.”

“What’s it to you?” she asked coolly, cocking her stance confidently. Leon could tell she was stalling. But for what?

“Why are you here?” he demanded, taking a half step forward accusingly, only to be met with a blast of light and smoke. Stepping back, he turned sideways, trying to make himself a smaller target as he raised his arm to block the smoke. Through the grey, he could barely see Ada moving quickly. As it thinned, he could see she had retrieved her gun and was leaning against one of the window sills.

“See you around,” she taunted, leaning over and out. Leon started to rush forward, only to realize he wouldn’t make it. Through the clearing smoke, he glared at the window, as if the daggers he was making would hit her, wherever she had gone.

Leon opened the door, and instantly, his bad mood was lifted. In the room below, he could see Manuela and Ashley, bound to the wall but unharmed. He went to call out to them when a door in front of him opened, and none other than Luis stumbled forth. He couldn’t help as he saw the Spaniard before him, who was smiling himself.

Triumphantly, he held up his hands, and Leon could see he clutched some kind of phial. “Leon! I got it!”

The Spaniard’s smile disappeared with a “thump,” and his body gave a violent shudder. Both men looked to see a small bit of purple tendril from his chest, and he was suddenly whipped into the air, his screams being matched by Ashley’s own at the sight. With a violent shake, Luis dropped the vial, and a hand shot out from the darkness to grab it, garbed in deep purple robes. As the figure stepped forward, Leon could recognize it as the cult leader from earlier, Saddler. With a lazy disdain, Saddler threw Luis down. The Spaniard coughed and tried to roll over in pain. “Now that I have the sample, you serve me no purpose.”

“Saddler!” Rage filled Leon as he glared the the imposing man. Saddler, as if just noticing another person here, smiled. He looked down at Leon like a small child who was to be humoured.

“My boy Salazar will ensure you meet the same fate.” With those words, Saddler turned and left the way he came. Leon thought momentarily about chasing, but a cough from Luis made him think otherwise. Rushing to the man’s side, he began inspecting the wounds rapidly. He didn’t have enough herbs for this. Maybe if he…

Luis spasmed again, and Leon grabbed his face, forcing the man to look at him. “Stay with me Luis!” he commanded, and to his surprise, the man didn’t struggle, but instead grabbed Leon’s arm to prevent him from moving.

“I am a researcher...hired by Saddler,” he admitted, looking Leon dead in the eye as he struggled to speak. The Spaniard gave a pitiful laugh, and Leon was reminded of the joke about ladies he had made earlier. “He figured out what I was up to.”

“Don’t talk.” Leon tried to yank his hand away, to treat Luis’ wounds, but the man’s grip was strong. With his other hand, Luis slipped something out from within his pocket. It was a small canister like the ones doctors prescribed. He had seen plenty of them in the hospital when Manuela was recovering.

“Here. It should suppress growth of the parasite. The sample...Saddler took it. You have to get it back.” Luis’ words faded with a breathy voice and his head tilted back in Leon’s hands, his grip finally letting go. Leon was paralyzed for a moment, but shook Luis, hoping to snap him out of it.

“Luis! LUIS!” Angrily, Leon shook the man, biting back his curses. He paused, holding the man reverently. He had barely known them, and yet he had given his life trying to help him. Combined with the solid evidence of Ada’s betrayal, Leon could feel his determination being tempered to a fine point. Standing up, he took one last look at Luis’ body before turning to the two women.

“Are you two okay?” he called.

“We’re fine Leon. You’re the first person to have come through here. If you can get this middle buckle off, I can get us out!” Manuela answered. Leon nodded, pulling out his pistol, carefully aiming down the sights. He aimed to the side, and both girls shied as far away from that side as possible. With a bang, the middle buckle split open. Manuela swung her now free forearms out, knocking the buckle aside. Able to properly aim, she slashed off the lower buckle, and then the upper one. Free from the wall, they both stumbled forward. After stretching their sore limbs, they smiled up at Leon, and he forced a smile back.

But their freedom was short celebrated before a door slammed open and cultists began pouring in. Leon brought his pistol up and Manuela sprung her claws forth, ready to meet them.
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