Sara tore off, the shrieking harpy darting after her. Terror made her agile, but the creature was lightning-quick. She reached out to grab Sara, but she ducked and rolled out of her path.
Enraged, the harpy screeched deafeningly and soared upward once more, preparing to come about. Sara threw a wild gaze around her, searching desperately for Leon. He lay outstretched on the pavement, his eyes staring at her glazily. Her heart sank; he couldn’t save her now.
Sara scrambled to her feet, hearing the harpy’s vicious cries and the distant beating of her powerful wings. Panic shot through her, rooting her to the spot as she saw the harpy’s outline nearing her once again.
As she stared in helpless horror, a strange stillness came over her. Her will seemed eclipsed and dominated by a foreign inhuman presence lurking within her mind. Her own consciousness remained intact, however, and it recoiled at what followed.
Fury and bloodthirst surged through Sara. Her head snapped up to gaze on the harpy with smoldering ochre eyes, her teeth bared in a monstrous snarl. In the recesses of her mind, Sara was filled with terror, but the dark entity within her reigned, seizing control over her body. She took on a challenging stance, hissing and growling tauntingly at the harpy.
The harpy accepted the challenge, screeching as she dove toward Sara, her spindly yet strong arms outstretched. Sara would have sprinted away, but her alter ego had other ideas. Electrical charges coursed through her body, emanating from her pores in scintillating orange currents. The harpy plunged, swiping at Sara. She evaded the harpy with ease, snatching her left wing even as the creature rushed past.
Sara wrestled the harpy to the pavement. The harpy snapped and shrieked, trying to claw at Sara, but the struggle was short lived. A burst of orange electricity burst forth from Sara’s hands, engulfing the harpy and causing her to convulse and shriek deafeningly. Blood oozed from the harpy’s eyes and mouth, her gray skin charring rapidly. Sara cringed inwardly at the demonic laugh that issued from her own throat.
Seconds later, the harpy was reduced to a blackened heap of smoking bones and scorched wings that glowed with fading embers. Sara threw the corpse away from her, hissing triumphantly.
The oppressive alter ego suddenly receded, releasing Sara’s will once again. Enervated, Sara dropped to her knees, gasping and retching. She caught sight of the steaming remains beside her and quickly scrambled backward, exclaiming inarticulately.
Struggling to compose herself, Sara sought her fallen guardian. She froze in dismay at the sight of Leon now lying splayed out on his back, motionless. With a soft cry, Sara rose hastily, her head swimming at the sudden movement. She stumbled forward toward Leon.
Sara knelt and surveyed him cursorily, her heart hammering in her chest. She brushed his bangs away from his face. Her blood ran cold. His eyes, half-open, stared glassily at the sky, giving no indication of life.
“No, Leon. No. Stay with me!” Sara straddled Leon. She laid her head against his chest, listening for a heartbeat and hoping to feel even a wisp of breath from his parted lips. She was rewarded with the feeble yet unmistakable throb of his heart. The faint warmth of a shallow exhalation brushed over Sara’s forehead.
Anxiously, Sara straightened herself and began performing CPR on Leon. “Don’t you dare die on me!” she cried
Leon’s eyelids fluttered, but his eyes shut instantly, and he showed no further sign of reviving. “No, no, no! Come on. Come back!” Sara set to work on him afresh, mastering the desperation that nearly suffocated her.
Sara paused, staring at him with bated breath, but still Leon remained unresponsive. Sara moaned frantically. “Wake up!” She pounded on his chest in despair. “Please!”
Leon’s eyes flew open wide. He gasped sharply before bursting into a fit of coughing. Relief flooded Sara, and she quickly leaped off of him, breathless with elation.
Leon turned on his side, still racked by the bout of violent coughing. At last the attack subsided. He groaned deeply, clutching his chest. Panting heavily, he looked up at Sara.
“I’m sorry I was rough,” Sara said, smiling weakly. “Your heart practically stopped. I didn’t know what else to do.”
Leon shook his head. “No; thanks for bringing me back online.” He drew a labored breath and, sitting up with some difficulty, he glanced over at the incinerated harpy just yards away. He exhaled sharply, a pensive frown petrifying his features.
Sara followed his gaze, her heart dropping. “I... did that,” she whispered.
“I know,” Leon replied quietly. “I couldn’t move, but I saw it.”
Sara sat back on her heels, trembling uncontrollably. “I-I don’t even know how I did it. It’s like... something else took over.” Her voice rose, terror reaching fever-pitch as she recalled the sensation of being a prisoner in her own mind. “I could see, hear and feel everything, but I couldn’t control my own body. It was like looking through someone else’s eyes.”
Sara turned a wild gaze on Leon, roused almost to hysteria. “I didn’t do that; Nyx did! I’m losing control of myself. I’m becoming a demon!” she exclaimed.
Leon took Sara’s face in his hands firmly but gently, startling her. She fixed her stormy eyes on his somber, collected countenance. “Sara, I know you’re scared, but you’ve got to calm down,” he said quietly.
Sara glowered at him. “With every passing minute, I get closer to losing my humanity. Excuse me if I’m not cucumber cool!” she snapped.
Leon sat back, leaning on his hands, and looked at her calmly. “When I was deployed to rescue the First Daughter years back, I was captured and implanted with a parasite that hatched in my body and latched onto my central nervous system. It started altering my thoughts and controlling my actions. I almost killed my companion.” Leon’s brow furrowed momentarily at that.
He looked back at Sara. “I know what you’re going through; I’ve been where you are. But I believe we can beat this. You’ve gotta hold on.”
Sara sheepishly averted his intense gaze regretting her misdirected fury. She thought of his undemonstrative kindness and of his unexpected, comforting embrace in the lab. “I’m sorry,” she said humbly. “I shouldn’t have snapped at you; it was uncalled for.”
Leon shook his head dismissively. “Forget it.”
A sharp prick from the monitor made her hiss softly. “This thing just stuck me again,” she muttered.
Leon took her arm and checked the monitor. He glanced up at Sara gravely. “Forty five percent,” he informed her.
Sara set her jaw but said nothing.
“The clock’s ticking. We’d better get moving,” Leon said.
Sara nodded and started to her feet.
“Hey, Sara? Give me a hand, will you?” Leon asked.
Sara smiled and extended her hand to him. “Kinda strange hearing you ask me for help.”
Leon took her hand and pulled himself up. “Foolish pride isn’t one of my faults,” he said with a low chuckle. He pressed her hand reassuringly, his bare fingers warm against her cold, clammy skin.
Despite the petrifying fear that gripped her, Sara’s heart beat a little faster at his comforting touch. She managed a weak smile.
Leon and Sara turned simultaneously as a chorus of hisses and guttural moans joined the din of roaring flames. An approaching group of undead was closing in on them.
“That’s our cue,” Leon said. “C’mon!”
Sara followed him around to the driver’s side of the truck. She climbed in and scooted over to the passenger seat, Leon hurrying in after her. She watched anxiously as he searched the glove compartment and under the visor fruitlessly.
Sara looked out the window to see a small cluster of zombies stumble onto the road. “They’re getting closer,” she said urgently.
“Yeah...” Leon rummaged around the truck. He suddenly tore up the floor liner. “Got it!” he announced triumphantly. He turned the key in the ignition and the engine roared to life.
Sara started as the incoming zombies began pounding on the door.
“No hitchhikers,” Leon said. He stomped on the gas pedal and the rig took off. Turning onto the center of the road, Leon accelerated.
Sara leaned forward in her seat wide-eyed. More zombies were appearing in the truck’s path. “God! They keep coming!” she gasped.
Leon’s eyes narrowed, a scowl marring his face. He bent his head determinedly as he plowed through the gathering throng of undead. The decayed bodies thudded loudly against the grill and hood of the truck.
The gate to the tower was now clearly visible, lit by security floodlights on either side. Sara looked up ahead at the imposing wrought iron gate. “How’re we gonna get in?”
“I’m gonna knock. Brace yourself!” Leon shouted.
Sara leaned back in her seat and ducked down, instantly recognizing Leon’s intentions.
The truck roared as it rushed forward at breakneck speed. The distance closed rapidly, and the next moment, the truck barreled into the gate. A deafening, jarring collision followed as the iron groaned and collapsed in a heap of battered, warped metal. Leon drove through the portal and on through the tower’s steel doors.
At last he brought the truck to a screeching stop, the rig now resting on a mound of rubble halfway within a darkened antechamber.