Manuela groaned as she regained consciousness. A dull soreness was present throughout her body, though she could still feel the sway of being moved. Cracking her eyes, she found herself in darkness. Mind working to figure out what was going, she soon realized that a bag or some other cover had been placed over her head. Whoever had hold over her was not friendly, she concluded.
She tried to remember what had lead to this. Leon had attempted to kick the leader, and his kick had been caught. With a strength she had never seen, the man had knocked him out in one throw. She had tried to defend Leon’s unconscious body, and managed to do some damage, taking out the two guards before the chief had caught her around the throat and slammed her into the wall, knocking her cleanly out.
Struggling quietly, she found felt the ropes binding her. The knotting felt crude and suggested a weak bind. Listening quietly, she could hear wheels. Probably a cart. They were being transported somewhere. But she couldn’t hear any natural sounds. That couldn’t be good.
Silently, she began working at the bindings, weakening the key points enough to tear her arms away from each other. Quickly, she worked on her legs, feeling better now that she could move. The sack on her head quickly joined her bindings, though it was still dark when she took it off. It appeared she was still under some other cover. Glancing to the side, she could see Leon and the other man, both out cold. Manuela sighed as she realized her enhanced condition was the only reason for her consciousness.
She was about to start on Leon’s bonds when the cover was thrown off. Without second thought, Manuela lashed out with a kick at the villager she saw, sending him flying. Wasting no time, Manuela rolled off the cart to a stand, spinning to meet any attackers.
Another villager lunged at her and she ducked to the side, swinging her leg up and then back down into his back, flooring him. Grabbing his collar, she whirled him into the next villagers, knocking them back. Normally, she’d take the distraction to run, but she had to defend her partner, and the other man. She reached over to the cart, tearing off a board to use as an improvised weapon. She smiled as she saw that it had taken a few nails with it.
“¡Ven y lo tiene!”1 she challenged, hoping to goad them into a foolish attack. SHe didn’t know if this parasite allowed for decisions like that, but it couldn’t hurt. It seemed to work, as the villagers did not seem happy as they stood up, shuffling towards her.
The first of the four got a flat smack to the face, causing him to recoil. Manuela brought her leg about in a roundhouse, knocking back another one in the process. The third reached over and grabbed her from the side, attempting to restrain her while going in for a bite. Manuela struggled, elbowing him in the solar plexus, but to her surprise, it was only the force of the impact that caused him to let go. He showed no signs of experiencing pain, merely resuming his stagger towards her.
Backing up, Manuela felt for her pockets, hoping to find something to use. It seemed they had taken everything. A quick glance at the cart revealed her equipment was stashed within, peeking from behind a crate of some descriptions. But the villagers were between her and it. It would take a special approach. Manuela took a deep breath as she prepared herself.
Digging in with her heel, Manuela pushed off forcefully, barreling into the first villager, the force stunning him temporarily. Using her momentum, she ran him into the only other standing villager, knocking all three of them over. Rolling with the impact, Manuela rolled over the two of them, running as she hit her feet, board still in hand. The two collapsed villagers still lay between her and the cart, though they were pushing themselves up now. Manuela placed a foot on the top one’s back in step, pushing off of him. He gave a bit more than she anticipated, and she stumbled as she landed, but she had still cleared the four of them. Throwing her bag over her shoulder as she dug it out, she whipped out her pistol. A quick couple of shots used up the bullets in the actual gun, but killed the two grounded ones. Reloading quickly, she fired at the other two, exploding both their heads.
But just as she was about to relax, one of the villager’s bodies remained standing, continuing to move towards her. Her eyes widened as she witnessed the disturbing sight, her mind temporarily going blank. It was just as quickly charged as a tendril burst from the neck, whipping up into the air violently, shining in the dim light of the tunnel.
Manuela fired a bullet into the madly waving mess, only for it to miss in the blur of movement. It seemed that careful aim wouldn’t help too much here. Firing a volley of rounds, she heard them connect, but they had no visible impact on the thing. And then it charged. Manuela threw up her arms, taking the brunt of the attack on non-vital organs, but when it got around them and lashed her body, she felt her nerves explode in pain as she was thrown back by its force.
Landing, her pistol was knocked from her grip, and she struggled to breath from the direct hit. She rolled to the side, trying to stand as the thing got closer, tendril raising for the final strike. Manuela braced herself for the end.
It never came. The tendril seemed paused, waiting in air, as if trying to discourage her. She quickly looked around, only to see him.
He was exceptionally tall, covered in a rather extravagant robe. Holding a staff with tendrils emerging from the top, he held out the other hand towards the tendriled thing, seemingly stopping it. But the smile on his face, accompanied by his overall demeanor, suggested he was far from a friend.
Manuela, recovering from her pain, rolled over to her gun, reaching out desperately. Searing pain countered as the man stepped with unnatural speed on top of her hand, pinning it in place. He looked down at her with that same unsettling smile.
“Waking up a bit early are we?” he asked with a deep voice. “And I see you killed your escorts. How...rude” he smiled. Manuela felt her blood freeze. This man was obviously insane, and likely had something to do with what was going on.
Bending over, he picked Manuela up by her throat, secure but gently. He looked her over, eyebrow slightly cocked, then smiled broader. “Still, I suppose it’s good to have an audience for apotheosis. You must be one of the American agents, no?”
Manuela went to retort, but he squeezed tighter, cutting off her breath for just a moment. “No need to speak. You’ll simply ruin the moment.”
And with that, he began walking, holding her as if she were light as air, never shaking with effort. Manuela, for all her struggling, couldn’t escape his grip as he dragged her deeper down the tunnel. She briefly caught sight of the tentacled thing pulling the cart as they came around a corner. Soon, the stone walls gave way to white tile, and she realized with rising horror that they were in a lab.
The man forcefully tossed her on the floor, turning his back to her as if she were of no consequence. “Now” he began, reaching over to a nearby table. “You will see our gift in action.” She could see a needle in his hand, filled with a purple fluid. That couldn’t be good.
Manuela raised her fists, ready to defend herself. He just smiled at her and turned to the cart. Manuela realized too late what he was doing, rushing to try and stop him. A crossbow bolt landed in front of her path, stopping her dead. She tracked the trajectory, and saw that both sides of the room were lined with murder holes, through which men could barely be seen. Any move could provoke them.
Manuela’s mind raced as she saw the man pick up Leon, smiling maniacally. With an almost reverent motion, he moved the needle in a slow arc to Leon’s neck. Manuela saw it happen in slow motion as it pierced his skin. Unable to hold any longer, Manuela started forward, only to have a bolt pierce her leg with devastating accuracy, bringing her down with a crash.
“Now, now. That’s no way to behave yourself” the man chided with a dark undertone as he began walking towards her. Manuel looked up, tears of pain stinging her eyes as she felt the bolt in her flesh. He picked her up easily, producing another needle. “I was going to make you wait your turn, but now…”
Manuela looked at the needle in the corner of her vision, losing sight of it as it passed her jawline. She could feel her temperature rising as her body readied its defenses. Images of her father played through her brain, and she could feel her mind clouding over, being possessed by something basic and instinctive.
When the needle pierced her skin, it exploded forth in flames, knocking the needle away, and causing the man to lose his grip in surprise. Manuela didn’t need another moment as she landed. She rolled right through the man’s legs, using him as potential cover as she bolted for the tunnel. The man didn’t have time to undo whatever command he had given the tendril beast as she snatched her pistol from the cart and kept running, ignoring the burning in her leg as her vision clouded over. The last thoughts she had before passing out were a promise: I will come back to save you Leon.
Light greeted her burning eyes as Manuela awoke. Attempting to sit up yielded a great amount of pain, forcing her to lay back down.
“Take it easy there stranger” a gruff, gravelly voice offered, prompting Manuela to sit back up, and roll away in response. She peered through her pain-squinted eyes, barely making out the shape of a trench-coated man with a bandana around the lower half of his face. A blue torch filled the room they were in, which appeared to be some kind of cave. The man had his hands raised in a gesture of peace.
“Who are you? Where are we? What happened? Where’s Leon?” she demanded, looking around. There appeared to be a number of weapons around, along with crates and various bits and bobs. The room had enough weapons in it to fight a war.
“Easy there stranger. I’m afraid I don’t know much about ya’. I can tell you that you were in bad shape when I found ya’. Had to carry you here myself. Helped myself to a bit of the gold you’s was carrying as payment” he chuckled.
“You still didn’t answer my question. I hope you didn’t take anything else” she threatened, spotting her pack in the corner behind him.
“Feel free to take it back” he commented, tossing it to her. “I only took a small sum. Fair enough deal for someone who was in no state to haggle if I do say so myself. As for who I am, I am a humble merchant” he bowed dramatically, causing a metallic rattling as a number of unknown things moved in his coat. “We’re in one of my...places of business, as you can see by this lovely torch. And as for this “Leon”, I’m afraid I can’t help ya’ there. Mind describin’ the stranger to me?”
“Taller than me. Straight, brunette hair. Dark combat shirt. Over the shoulder holsters” she explained, checking her pack. It seemed nothing but a slightly noticeable amount of pesetas were taken. She began re-equipping as she talked.
“I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for the stranger. In the meanwhile, I noticed you’re a bit light on ammo” he chuckled, throwing open his coat. The number of weapons on his coat should have weighed any normal human down, and she had no doubt that there were more pockets on it than any number of backpacks. “Got somethin’ that might interest ya’” he smiled.
Manuela’s eyes skimmed over the selection, eyes picking up several rather...questionable items. Mostly, she noticed the plentiful ammo boxes, but she also noticed what looked like a pistol, though it was a bit strangely designed. “What’s that?” she inquired, pointing to the gun in question.
“Ahhh! You have a keen eye stranger. This is a custom weapon. ‘s called “Matilda.” It's got a 3 round rapid-fire capability. Although it uses up ammo rather quickly” he explained conspiratorially. Manuela raised an eye at the weapon.
“How much?” she asked. A weapon like that could be useful. Quick, but powerful shots that could be aimed better than a machine gun.
“70,000” the Merchant smiled. Manuela recoiled at the price. There was no way she could find that much money! The Merchant seemed to sense the situation. “Figured as much. However, I might be willing to do an exchange” he offered, and Manuela cocked an eyebrow. “I consider myself quite the connoisseur of weaponry. Whilst I was looking through your equipment, I happened to notice you have some rather...interesting ammunition in there. I might be willing to cut the price for a box of those.”
Manuela pondered the offer. The bullets he spoke of were in one of the side pockets. They were experimental, with a small capsule containing a sample of her own blood. When they made contact, they exploded in a burst of flame that would sear the target. She hadn’t intended to use them unless they had encountered armored terrorists. She had a feeling she’d be using them more than she’d thought. She could make more, but it would take a bit out of her. Still, the weapon would be worth it. Finally she nodded, digging the pack out.
“Hehehe, thank you!” The Merchant handed the weapon to her in exchange, taking a portion of her pesetas as well. “Anything else?”
“Some ammo, and a first aid spray if you have one” she inquired. The Merchant nodded, digging them out from the folds of his jacket, exchanging them for more pesetas. Manuela sighed at her dwindling money supply. Still, she might find more in the future. “I think that’s all for now...thank you.”
“No problem stranger. Come back any time” he acknowledged. Manuela waved to him as she left the small chamber, exiting through the mouth of the cave. She was greeted by a rather large lake. As she gazed over its surface, a thought came to her. Reaching into her pack, she thanked God that she had her radio.
Clicking it open, she prayed that she could reach command from here. Her prayers were answered as Hunnigan came over the screen. “Manuela reporting in.”
“What happened? You went dark on us.”
“We ran into an individual who displayed enhanced strength and resilience. Leon and I encountered some individuals who were infested with what seems to be some type of parasite.”
“Is Leon alive?” Hunnigan interrupted.
“I hope so. I had to split from him. I recovered from the attack quicker, and I’m currently still near the site.”
“We’ll keep trying to make contact with Leon. If we reach him, we’ll be sure to radio you. For now, your primary objective is the same, but consider finding the source of the parasite, as well as the location of Leon, to be your secondary objectives. Clear?”
“Clear. Manuela out.”
Leon groaned as he awakened. From what he could see, he was in some form of shack. He attempted to stand up, only to find himself weighed down by something. Turning, he saw he was handcuffed to the man he had rescued from the wardrobe.
“Hey. Wake up” Leon commanded, giving a small twist to the handcuffs. The man jolted awake, then groaned as he stretched his legs.
“Ay yi yi. Crawl out of one hole and into another.”
“You wanna tell me what’s going on here?”
“Americano, si? You wanna tell me what brings a bloke like you and your lady friend to this part of the world?” Luis drawled, though hissed as Leon tried to escape. “Easy there, whoever you are.”
“The name’s Leon, and the other agent is Manuela. We came here looking for this girl.” Leon fished the photo out of his pocket, flashing it to the other man.
“Let me guess...you’re looking for the President’s daughter?”
“That’s too good to be a guess. Wanna start talking?”
“Psychic powers” the man whispered conspiratorially. Leon turned to face him better, eyebrow cocked in slight disbelief. “Nah, just kiddin’ with you. I overheard one of the villagers talking about the President’s daughter in a church.”
“And who might you be?” Leon interrogated, trying to figure a way out of the situation.
“Me llamo Luis Sera. I used to be a cop in Madrid. Now I’m just a good-for-nothing guy who happens to be quite the lady’s man. Say, what’s the deal with your partner? Where is she?”
“I don’t know where she is” Leon admitted. “But she’s a survivor of a rare mutagenic virus called T-Veronica.”
“Is that related to the t-virus? I think I saw a sample of that back in Madrid.”
“The same one. I’ve had some experience with it as well. My first and only day on the force was during the Raccoon City incident.”
Before the conversation could continue, the door burst open, and a villager trudge through the doorway, blood spattered across his front. He dragged an axe behind him, mumbling in Spanish. Leon and Luis both struggled against their bonds, but to no avail.
“Do something cop!” Luis yelled, panicking. Leon tensed his muscles, preparing for the swing. As the blade swung down, he pulled away, causing the axe to hit the bonds, severing them. Rolling to the side, he landed on his back. The villager prepared to swing again, but Leon kicked him in the stomach, swinging him overhead and into the wall, where his neck snapped. Luis took the opportunity to hurry through the now open door, leaving Leon by himself.
A ringing distracted Leon, and he reached into his pocket to find his radio. Flicking it open, he was greeted by the relieved face of Hunnigan. “I’m glad to see you’re okay. Before you ask, Manuela’s okay. She managed to escape and is currently active.”
“Glad to hear it. Where was she?”
“She appears to be somewhere east of you by the position of her radio signal. It should be just a bit past the village you were in.”
“Good to know. Tell her to radio in as soon as she can. Leon out.” Slipping it back into his pocket, Leon started towards the door. Just before he left, a voice whispered from the window.
“Over here, stranger.” Leon turned to see a hooded, cowled face motion for him to come around the back of the building. Suspicious, he opened the door, being greeted with a gust of wind and the sight of a canyon beyond a gate. Turning away from it, he rounded the building, nearly crashing into the robed man around the corner.
“Hello stranger. You must be Leon” he surmised with a laugh. Leon cocked an eyebrow.
“Who are you and how do you know me?”
“I ran into a friend of yours. She had a keen eye for weapons that one.”
“Manuela...you saw her?”
“Not too far away from here. Just by the village lake” the Merchant confided. “Now, I’ve got plenty of wares for sale, if you’re interested.”
Leon smiled slightly as he saw the selection. After checking his own supplies, Leon purchased a few boxes of ammo, and a grenade. He was tempted to get the rifle, but he decided against it, deciding instead to upgrade the firepower of his pistol. It had served him well so far.
“Thank ya’ stranger” the Merchant laughed, pulling the robe back. Leon nodded to him and returned to the gate. Peering over it, he could see several villagers wandering over the bridges that spanned the chasm. He sighed as he beheld it.“This is gonna be painful” he muttered before opening the gate.