Leon hated time limits. The fact that he was under imminent threat of death didn’t improve the situation. He ducked as a bladed tail swept where his neck would have been. He used his momentum to spring backwards just as the black beast swung at him again.
He regarded the monster cautiously, aiming his gun at it. Its lithe form was hunkered down, like a cat ready to spring. It held its three fingered claws to either side, trying to throw him off while its mandibled mouth hung down below its unnaturally glowing eyes. There were several wounds in its carapace, marking all the shots he’d emptied into the thing, seemingly to no avail.
“Leon! Move!” Jumping aside just in time, Leon could see a red canister roll past him, before exploding in a brilliant flash of white and a marked drop in temperature. Rolling to halt, Leon quickly drew his Magnum, taking careful aim.
They had been fighting the thing for a couple of minutes now and it had taken everything they had thrown at it. It was only after they had accidentally burst one of the tanks with a stray shot that they had found a method of fighting it. The canisters seemed to be filled with liquid nitrogen, and whatever made up the thing’s shell reacted badly with the nitrogen, turning it brittle.
Manuela quickly ran to his side from where she had managed to loose the canister from the wall. She pulled out her rifle, sighting the monster just as Leon fired off the first shot. Alternating shots, they plugged round after round into the thing. Draining the chambers, Leon quickly reloaded, knowing their window of opportunity was closing quickly. Standing while reloading, he began backing up. Manuela tossed a grenade at the thing’s feet, throwing it off balance just as it managed to break its icy bonds.
“We have to kill this thing!” Leon’s mind raced. They were having no luck. He’d put all of his carefully conserved Magnum ammo into it, and Manuela was running out of rifle ammo. He thought back along their path, but he couldn’t remember if they had seen any other canisters. They had used most of them fighting the thing, and it had gotten smarter every time. They had missed the second one, and Manuela had nearly caught a claw across the throat because of a slip.
Kicking open a door, Leon could hear the thing moving quickly behind them. They were almost at a dead end, back in the pit where they had fallen in. Maybe if they held out for a few minutes they could make a break for the elevator, but it would still be in their way, even if they managed to hold it off for a couple more minutes. Slamming the door closed behind them, he had Manuela twist the handle closed before they kept running. The banging told him they had bought a few more minutes.
As they hit the cistern, Leon began looking for any way to kill or escape the thing, but every offshoot was sealed with grates that would take too long to open, and the only way up was through the chute. And that was assuming they found some way around the spikes that lined the bottom.
“Follow me! And don’t shoot at all!”
Picking up pace, they arrived in the central room, where the spikes could be seen. Looking about quickly, Leon tried to mentally map out everything as he pulled Manuela to the other side of the spikes, putting the crooked wall between them and the thing.
Pulling up his pistol, Leon waited. Beside him, Manuela followed suit, looking less confident in the idea, but standing firm nonetheless. A louder banging could be heard, followed by dead silence. The sound of the door coming off its hinges and clattering with a splash, then silence. Leon breathed as he adjusted his pistol grip, trying to stifle as much noise as possible. He glanced over at Manuela, and he could see the fear in her eyes.
Forcing himself to look forward, Leon cut off any train of thought that interfered with the task at hand. He could console her later, after they survived. He did, however, catch her look off to the side in panic, as if hearing something. Leon dived for her.
For the second time in only a few minutes, Leon found his head underwater briefly as he used his body to cushion the impact. Using all his strength, he shoved Manuela up and off of himself, before sitting up himself. Peering past the water dripping off him, he could see the monster, and a trail of stale dust hovering in the air between it and its exit point. It had stumbled slightly after throwing too much force into its lunge, judging by its hunched posture. Taking no further time, Leon righted himself and began plugging rounds into the beast, aiming as best as he could for the wounds it already displayed.
Grunting, the monster turned and stood up straight, shrugging off the incoming shots like they were nothing. It roared menacingly as it advanced, as if it had all the time in the world. Leon didn’t budge, and only fired more rounds. The thing feinted left, but Leon predicted the feint and dodged under the swing.
With as much speed as he could muster, Leon unclasped his knife and drove it hard into the thing’s right eye socket. The sound it let out was horrific, but Leon gritted his teeth and twisted, wracking the thing in pain. It flailed wildly as it tried to pry him off, but Leon just pushed the thing, using his knife to guide its movements. When it tried to pull off, Leon twisted the knife so the tip became lodged in its skull. Yet the thing still kept fighting, and Leon hissed in pain as its tail found his back a couple of times.
Finally, Leon had pushed the monster back enough and he took the knife with both hands. Twisting around behind it, he straddled a bent spike before yanking back with both hands. Thrown off balance, the monster found itself impaled on the spike, and Leon pulled drawing it further down until it hit the base. He held his knife tightly, even as its claws scratched the spikes around him.
“MANUELA! BEND THE SPIKE!” he yelled, and as he struggled, Manuela seized the rusty impaler near its top. Digging her feet in, she pulled on it, the muscles in her body straining visibly. A creak could be heard as she gained leverage and pulled the spike down across the thing’s body, immobilizing it. Once it was secure, Leon sprung away, just in time to dodge a stray claw. The thing struggled, even going so far as to grab the spike, but from its position, it could do nothing. Just in case though, Leon fired a shot into its other eye, blinding it.
“Let’s get out of here,” he muttered, half-dragging Manuela away from the sight. They quickly returned to the elevator, on the off chance that it escaped. Finding it open, they hurried in, and both leaned against the wall with a sigh as the doors closed. Manuela’s breathing was heavier and she slid down to sit on the floor.
Judging by the air, they were pretty far down, Leon realized. Now’s as good a time as any. He moved to sit next to Manuela, groaning in relief as he rested his spent legs. “You okay?”
“Yeah, thanks to you. That thing would have had me. I just...froze up all of a sudden…”
“It’s okay,” Leon assured. “It happens to all of us. Even me. When I was in Raccoon City, the first time I saw Birkin, I almost ran away instead of shooting. So don’t be feeling guilty about not reacting right away. I didn’t get over my fear of fighting right away. I had years of training in the police academy, and then an overnight experience in hell…”
Manuela nodded, looking less sorry for herself, but Leon could still see the doubt in her eyes. “Did I ever tell you what happened after Raccoon City?”
A look of surprise flashed across Manuela’s face, and she shook her head. “You mentioned that they took Sherry into custody and brought you in for government work.”
“Those are both true. But I also went to see a therapist.” A gasp escaped Manuela and Leon chuckled. “I know, it’s hard to believe that I needed help, and at first, it was hard for me to believe too. When I was in the city, I had two reasons to keep moving: Sherry and Claire. Without them, I probably would have lost hope. The same thing happened in the mission where I met you. I had you and Krauser to look after, even if the big guy wouldn’t admit it.”
The two shared a moment of silence as they remembered their fallen friend, and eventually, Leon continued speaking. “But during Raccoon City, I got separated from the girls at one point. It was hard to keep going. Every time I ran low on ammo, I began counting, just to make sure I had more left. And to make sure I always had one.”
“When you start getting surrounded by the hordes, that gun looks a lot friendlier,” Leon muttered drily. “But it never came to that. I kept fighting because I knew I had to get back to them. I couldn’t give in. ‘What if they need me and are in trouble?’ I asked myself. I couldn’t abandon them, so I fought. When you pick up a gun, you owe it to the people you fight and die alongside. You have to continue living. Every time you fire a weapon, think of the people who died so you could be alive at the moment, using it to protect people.”
Manuela looked at her gun. She hadn’t really given it much thought beforehand. She had become an agent so that she wouldn’t have to be away from Leon, and so that they would stop using her as leverage, but wasn’t she loyal to him because he saved her? Because he killed her father when he was too far gone? And her mother? So in that way, was she not fighting for them? And for all the villagers who suffered at her father’s hands? And Krauser, who had his whole life taken from him because of her?
“But everything that’s brought me to this point was because of people I caused harm to…”
“That’s not true!” Manuela flinched at the sudden harshness in Leon’s voice. His steely eyes locked with hers and he gave her an intense, serious look. “Never think that. You never once thought to harm those villagers. Until you escaped, you didn’t even know. You didn’t choose to be infected with the Veronica virus, and you didn’t choose to infect your mother. You escaped because you thought that was wrong. You fought against what you perceived as wrong and that’s what counts. Now, you have the ability to fight and truly make a difference.”
Around them, the elevator came to a stop, and Leon stood, offering a hand to Manuela. “Now come on. We’ve got a short bastard to stop.”
As Leon lead the way, Manuela gave a soft laugh, shaking her head. Leon is something else alright, she thought as she followed after, her stride a bit more confident.
When they ran into the chamber, Manuela was ready. Salazar had his back to them, looking up at a massive plant-like thing on the wall in front of him. Beside him, his insectile bodyguard stood ready. In front of Salazar lay a large stone altar, covered in a faded purple cloth. Ashley was nowhere in sight.
Noticing his company, Salazar turned with a smile. “Ah, you're just missed her. The ritual is over. She left with my men to an island.”
“I think it’s time I paid my due respects to your impressive and stubborn will. Mr. Kennedy, welcome!” Salazar threw out his hands as the plant emitted tentacles, which wrapped themselves around Salazar and his bodyguard.
Cackling the whole way, Salazar was drawn into the main bulb. Manuela raised her gun to fire, but Leon nudged it down. “It’ll just consume their corpses if you kill him. Trust me on this one.”
Leon turned back to see the bulb undulating with a deep crunching noise and he slowly raised his pistol, ready for whatever came. Suddenly, the bulb burst, showering them both in rubble and flesh as it smashed the altar. Manuela gasped in surprise at the sight before them.
Extending from where the bulb had been, a horrifically emaciated head shook unbalanced on a thing, corded neck. One inflamed and pointed eye glared down at them above its mandibles. Near the base of the distended neck was a strange sort of sphere of what appeared to be a chitinous approximation of a venus flytrap. Large tentacles flanked them, shaking in similar fashion to the head. The thing let out a roar, and the flytrap opened briefly to reveal Salazar’s form fused with the monster, eyes full of red hate.
“Monsters. Guess after this there’ll be one less to worry about,” Leon challenged confidently, bringing up his shotgun. The flytrap, however, closed before he could take the shot, and Leon cursed. “Fire!”
Both agents started firing at the beast, but the bullets mostly ricocheted off the carapace. Salazar’s manic laughter could be heard over the thundering roars of the beast. As they fired aimlessly, the monster’s head split open, and a maw full of teeth could be seen as the thing rose up. Leon quickly realized what it was doing and rolled out of the way. Manuela was a bit slower and ended up getting thrown by the head, landing on the ground on the opposite side of the room from Leon. Groaning, she tried to get up, only for the tentacle on her side of the room to seize her and toss her down below.
“Manuela!” Leon looked over the edge, and he could see Manuela’s stunned form as she tried to draw herself to her feet. Worse, he could see that she was not alone down there. Rising from the rootlike mass, several of the parasites were squirming towards her, flailing hungrily. Unclipping a flash grenade, Leon tossed it down moments before jumping over a tentacle that tried to sweep out his legs.
Manuela heard the click of metal close to her, and her training kicked in as she looked away. As the flash went off, she could feel the intensity, but she also heard the dying screams of things around her. Uncovering her eyes, she saw the quickly deteriorating forms of several parasites around her. Glancing up as she shakily stood, she saw Leon ducking and weaving tentacle strikes. There was no time between strikes for him to fire.
Looking directly up, Manuela could see the main head, and its single eye focusing on Leon. Taking aim, she began firing into it, causing it to reel back in pain and surprise. Its attacks became uncoordinated enough for Leon to find an opening, whereupon he fired his shotgun right at its eye. The thing shrieked and lost strength, forcing Manuela to dodge, lest she be crushed by the head. For a moment, she thought the fight was over, until she heard a fleshy splitting and a laugh. She could barely make out the form of Salazar at the base and she back stepped to see him better, aiming her pistol.
Before she could take a shot, she heard the sound of a magnum, and she knew Leon was hitting it with the strongest thing they had. Briefly, she recalled some advice he had given her after they got off the elevator. If you see me using a magnum on something, hit it with all you’ve got. A lot of these things have weak points and you have to take advantage of that.
Holstering her pistol quickly, she unslung her rifle and began taking shots at the bulbous form of Salazar. She found herself reloading much quicker, and her aim much steadier than normal. She held back a laugh as she realized she was channeling her anger into her actions.
Bullet after bullet found its way into Salazar, and Manuela was convinced they had him. Her hope faded as the casing closed back up, sealing him in the protective chitin. She was so busy watching him that she failed to notice the other head stirring behind her, and was knocked off her feet by a sweep. Crashing against the wall, she struggled to stand. She opened her eyes in time to see it opening its maw, preparing for a charge. Thinking quickly, she grabbed a grenade and lobbed it inside, interrupting its charge, causing it to land mere inches away from her. Knowing it wouldn’t be down long, she began climbing the closest ladder back out, dragging herself to her feet quickly as the ground she had been standing on was destroyed by the massive head.
“You okay?” Leon asked as he dragged her to her feet. Manuela nodded before moving away from Leon, as she didn’t want to be caught by any stray shotgun fire.
“Should we use the..?” Manuela’s eyes roved over the weapon that Leon had left untouched on his back. They had found it in the castle a while back, and Leon had insisted that they save it. He seemed to have a faraway look as he picked it up, after lightening his pack of some spare items, which he had entrusted to Manuela. Its diamond-esque head was carefully tucked behind his body, to prevent potential damage to it.
“No. Just hit it with everything we got. He’s gotta die some time.” Manuela nodded as the head went down once more, and she crouched into a marksman’s position. Forgoing standard bullets, she slipped in a case of her custom rounds, while tossing Leon a set, which he skillfully loaded into the Broken Butterfly. When the bullets met flesh, this time they met with fiery impacts that seared away chunks of flesh. Through her scope, Manuela could see the final fear of Salazar as his red eyes searched wildly, trying to process the fight and the pain at the same time. Finally he slumped over, barely breathing. With a careful shot, she drilled a shot straight through his head.
The whole body gave a violent shake, causing the chamber to shake with it. Both Leon and Manuela struggled to stay on their feet as the beast reared its head...and started disintegrating. The whole body began giving off murky yellow vapours while turning a dark brown itself. The tentacles and head began to shrivel and fall, until they wilted off. The main bulb sealed back up and fell off, casting the room into a dead silence.
Leon wasted no time to admire the sight. He motioned his head to a side door. “Come on, let’s go get Ashley.”
From the signs, Manuela knew they were headed for a dock. It had to be close, since they’d already descended quite a ways, and they hadn’t been fighting Salazar all that long. Leon was taking point, only pausing to have Manuela read a sign here or there. Soon, she could see the hallway terminate in an open room and she knew they had reached their destination. But as he stepped through the doorway, Leon stopped, looking at something Manuela could not see from where she stood.
Edging around the corner, she saw the source, sitting in the remaining boat. A beautiful asiatic woman in a red dress sat in the front seat, her posture confident and in control. Her gaze was focused on Leon, and she wore a slight smile that was slightly parted, as if to give off some sort of invitation, but her expression changed as she beheld Manuela. Her smile became less inviting, and more bitter, and her confident pose became rigid as she possessively held onto the wheel of the boat.
“I suppose you two will be needing a ride?” she asked, a slight sarcastic tone to her voice. Leon “hmph”ed and holstered his pistol. As the woman’s eyes fell on her, Manuela reluctantly followed suit. Cautiously, they approached the boat, and Manuela made a point of getting in first, sitting directly behind the woman. The other woman’s confident air never faltered.
“Leon, who is this?” she inquired as they pulled out, never taking her eyes off the woman. After a long moment, Leon answered.
“This is Ada Wong.”“And I must say it is a pleasure to meet you.”