Resident Evil: Field of Blood (Fireheart Fury Book 1)

Chapter 18

“You okay?” asked Leon as he leaned back from the steering wheel.

Sara wriggled herself upright and looked over the dashboard at the dimly lit chaos of the room beyond. “Yeah, I’m good,” she answered.

“All right. Let’s get moving. But stay alert. We don’t know what Ramsey’s got cooked up in here.”

Nodding, Sara opened the door and hopped out of the truck. She looked around warily. The place was dark and deathly silent. “I don’t imagine there’s a light switch around here,” she remarked as Leon came up beside her, weapons drawn.

At the word “light”, a row of bright recessed lights came on, bathing the room in a blaze of fluorescent illumination.

“Voice-activated lighting,” Leon said. “Okay.”

Behind them a portcullis-style gate slammed down, halted by the high roof of the truck.

“The lights aren’t the only thing we activated,” Sara said uneasily.

“Looks like we tripped a silent alarm,” Leon noted. “God knows what else has been set off besides that gate. Try to be as quiet as possible and stay close.”

Oddly, as large as it was, the room was sparsely furnished. Long sideboard tables with runners and empty candelabras flanked the long walkways, but aside from a pair of plain benches at the end of the hall, the room was bare. A long staircase with ornate banisters wound upward to a shadowy landing.

“The vaccine’s probably up there,” Leon whispered, pointing with a gun. “C’mon.”

A wave of nausea swept over Sara, and the room seemed to suddenly roll. She gasped, tripping over her own feet and crashing into Leon. “Oh! I’m sorry!” she exclaimed, trying to steady herself.

Leon turned to help her, his expression grim. Sara looked up at him dully. Her body ached, and an unpleasant, feverish chill made her shiver. “Sorry,” she repeated lamely. “I’m a little dizzy,” she whispered.

“Just hang on a little longer,” Leon said gently. “We’ll find the vaccine. We’re close, I know it.”

Weary and too dejected to disagree, Sara nodded feigned assent. But she was beginning to believe that even if they found it, it would be too late. “I’m okay. Let’s go.”

Inclining his head, Leon moved on. Feet feeling leaden, Sara followed. She balked suddenly, an eerie feeling coming over her. “Wait,” she hissed. “I feel like something’s… lurking.”

Leon halted, listening with her. For a moment there was nothing but deathly silence. They both stood stock still, scarcely breathing. Presently, the low sound of grating stone broke the vault-like hush of the tower. A metallic scraping noise followed, drawing closer with each passing second. Heavy footfalls joined the scraping. Sara and Leon exchanged uncomfortable glances.

“Get behind me,” Leon said.

Sara obeyed helplessly. What horror was advancing now?

A creature stepped out from a panel hidden in the wall. It towered over them, its extremities asymmetrical and abnormally bulky. A yellowish pus-like fluid seeped from incisions that had been sloppily sutured with large staples. Its left hand had apparently been severed, and in its place was a stump sealed with a metal cap from which hung a massive chain that ended in a spiked iron sphere the size of a cannonball.

The monster glared at them from a single large, protruding eye; the right eye having been gouged out and covered by a piece of metal bolted to its skull. It roared angrily. The sight was gruesome and terrifying, as its lower jaw had been ripped off, and its long, thick tongue lobbed over its wide chest. Bloody saliva dripped perpetually from its mouth, forming a puddle at its gargantuan feet. A pulsating, yellow-green sac protruded from its neck.

“Oh, Jesus!” moaned Sara. “What do we do?!”

“You stay back. I’ll… improvise.”

So saying, Leon opened fire. Dark blood shot forth from the B.O.W.’s wounds, but it seemed unaffected. It roared, spraying foul spittle at them. Sara rushed away to a far corner of the room, watching the scene in terror. The monster lifted its flail-like appendage and swung it at Leon. “No!”

Leon leaped out of the way just as the ball sailed through the air. The ball smashed into the marble wall, shattered pieces soaring everywhere like shrapnel. Leon rolled away and into a crouching stance, shooting again. The monster only growled and advanced, leaving a trail of blood as it moved, the ball scraping behind it.

Sara moved out from her corner and dove behind a sideboard just a few feet away from the B.O.W. Hardly considering her next move, Sara took hold of a candelabra and flung it at the creature’s back. It roared and whirled around, flailing the ball around with it. The deadly weapon decimated the sideboard, dashing it into a shower of splinters. Sara cried out in alarm as she tried desperately to move out of the monster’s path, but in her fear, she tripped over her own feet and fell flat on her behind. “Oh, God…”

“Sara, get away from there!” Leon shouted.

But it was too late. The monster seized her by the neck and raised her up from the floor bodily, bringing her level to its horrifying face. Sara struggled, her feet dangling in the air helplessly. The creature seemed to analyze her curiously for a moment, but it tightened its grip quickly. Sara kicked furiously as the pressure against her larynx increased. Gasping, she began clawing at the creature’s face, pounding at its head wildly. Two more gunshots rang out, but the monster hardly seemed to notice, so intent was it on terminating its victim.

Sara’s vision began to dim, darkness closing out the sight of the monster’s disfigured visage. On the verge of unconsciousness, Sara frantically clutched at the B.O.W., her hand falling on its bleeding tongue. She grabbed it and tugged hard. The monster bellowed and dropped Sara. It roared deafeningly and made an effort to stomp on her.

Coughing, Sara rolled aside, avoiding the giant foot by mere inches. The B.O.W. advanced in another attempt to crush her, but at that moment, a gunshot rang out. Sara saw a splatter of yellow-green fluid gush from its neck. The next instant, the creature keeled over then fell to one side in a lifeless heap.

Leon was beside her immediately, helping her up. “You okay?” he asked.

Sara drew breath with some difficulty, looking over his shoulder at the monstrous corpse. “Are you sure it’s dead?”

“Yeah. That sac on its neck--that was its vulnerable point. I’m sorry it didn’t occur to me sooner. Can you move?”

At last Sara looked directly at Leon. She blinked and ran a hand over her face as if to clear her mind. “Yeah. Sure, I can walk.” She wiped the hand with which she had seized the creature’s tongue against her clothes. “Ugh. Disgusting.” She glanced down at the B.O.W. “It’s like Frankenstein’s monster,” she remarked.

“Yeah. Picasso’s got nothing on the sadistic bastards that make these things,” Leon answered. “C’mon. Let’s see where these stairs lead.”

Leon led the way up the black marble staircase to the tower’s next level. Sara followed him with some difficulty, each step feeling like a mountain climb. A bone-deep chill made her tremble.

Again Sara felt her will being eclipsed; a terrifyingly savage impulse laid hold of her and her eyes took on the same sickly yellow hue as before. She looked up at Leon’s ascending figure and began imagining his warm flesh between her teeth. The thought of tasting his blood drove her into a frenzy. She bared her teeth in a devilish snarl as she crept stealthily behind Leon. Hissing softly, she pounced on his back.

Leon exclaimed in surprise as Sara leaped at him, snapping and snarling ferally. The two grappled fiercely with each other. “Sara, you’ve gotta fight it!” Leon shouted above her inhuman growls.

Sara screeched in rage, wrestling with him vigorously. Despite Leon’s strength and stature, Sara nearly overpowered him. He twisted her around, pressing her hard against the wall. With a wild shriek, she wrenched herself out of his grasp, causing both of them to lose their balance and roll back down the stairs.

Although somewhat disoriented, Sara rose to her knees and again lunged at Leon, savage in her hunger.

Leon caught her deftly, rolling her over and pressing her to the floor, his hands pinning her wrists down firmly. “Come on, Sara! You can beat the virus’ impulses. Come back; fight it!”

His words broke through Sara’s frenzy. Her mind cleared and her eyes returned to normal. She went rigid as she realized what had just happened. Sara turned her gaze up to Leon’s somber face. He was working to control his rapid breathing as he met her terror-stricken eyes.

“Okay. That’s it. You’re back in control,” he assured her.

A horrified shudder shot through Sara’s tense frame. “Oh, God… Oh, God! The virus is spreading faster; it’s taking over,” she gasped. Sara stifled a sob, the effort tearing her voice as she declared: “You’re gonna have to kill me.”

Leon’s eyes narrowed slightly. “No.”

That monosyllabic refusal uttered so quietly and definitely made Sara frantic. “Leon, you have to! I could’ve killed you! Next time you might not be able to stop me.” She raised herself slightly. “Please, kill me!”

Leon relaxed his grip. “No,” he reiterated.

Sara’s eyes widened as a flash of desperation coursed through her. Her distraught gaze fell upon the gun holstered to Leon’s thigh. She pushed his arm aside and reached for it.

Leon uttered an unintelligible exclamation. He caught her hand even as her fingers brushed the grip. Once more he pinioned her arms securely against the floor. “What are you doing?!” he cried. “Are you crazy?”

Sara writhed fiercely. “If my death will save you and the rest of the world, then why won’t you just end it?!” she expostulated.

“I know what has to be done. If it comes to that, believe me, I will take care of it. But I refuse to just quit--not when we’re this close to finding the vaccine. I’m not willing to murder you!”

The vehemence in Leon’s voice stunned Sara into silence. Her eyes locked onto his. Strange gleams flashed in those ardent blue orbs as he watched her from behind his bangs, now falling just inches away from Sara’s face. She stared at him dumbly, unable to suppress her tears any longer. They gushed out, unrestrained.

“But it’s not murder,” she quavered at length. “You’re doing your job; you’re protecting the world. I--”

“Don’t,” Leon interrupted, shaking his head resolutely. Hesitating briefly, he relented, releasing Sara’s arms and withdrawing. He exhaled sharply as he took her hand and pulled her into a sitting position. Heaving a gusty sigh, Leon sat on the last stairstep, swiping the sweat from his brow.

Sara composed herself, hastily wiping away her tears. “There’s no changing your mind, is there?” she asked, working to steady her voice.

Leon shook his head. “The subject’s not open for discussion. I told you: I don’t give up easily.” He turned to look at her.

Sara stared at him in disbelief and chuckled mirthlessly. “God, I wish I could be dauntless like you.”

Leon blinked slowly, glancing at the fallen B.O.W. just feet away. “I’m not fearless,” he said. “I just use my fear and anger as weapons against psychos like Ramsey.” His eyes slid back to Sara. “You’ve got a hell of a lot of courage--enough to be willing to sacrifice yourself for the greater good. That’s admirable, but now I wanna see you fight for your life.”

Sara met his piercing gaze. In that moment she imbibed a small portion of his strength and tenacity. She inhaled deeply. “Well, if you can go this far out on a limb to try to save me, the least I can do is cooperate, I guess.”

Leon chuckled quietly. “Okay. Good enough,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said softly. “Not just for trying to protect me, but… for your encouragement.”

Leon inclined his head.

“Okay, just… give me a minute,” she said. She lifted herself onto the step beside him and bowed her head. “God, I’m so tired,” she sighed.

Sara started slightly when Leon lifted her chin gently, raising her head to look up at him. Surprising tenderness tempered the usual solemnity of his handsome features. He caressed her cheek, regarding her with an inscrutable expression. They sat for a moment, gazes locked, then Leon leaned toward her tentatively. Sara’s heart skipped a beat. “Leon…” she whispered.

He hesitated and looked at her searchingly, halting only for an objection. But Sara had no mind to protest. She watched him with puzzled expectancy. Receiving no remonstrance, Leon moved in closer, his eyes dropping to her lips. The warmth of his being made her blood rush. She closed her eyes with bated breath as Leon kissed her softly.

A charge shot through Sara at the slightly rough sensation of Leon’s lips upon hers, and she marveled at the paradoxical gentleness of this formidable fighter. She expected him to withdraw, but he stunned her anew by kissing her again, urgingly. Leon’s silent, tactile entreaty was impossible to deny, but less so than Sara’s own sudden longing. Setting aside her usual judgment, she reciprocated the kiss.

Leon drew her closer to him until their bodies were flush, and she felt the damp heat of his body against her own chilled skin. Sara gingerly twined her arms around him, careful not to aggravate his wounds, and indulged in his warm, comforting embrace.

She had never experienced such a kiss: strangely solemn and breathtakingly intense though not deep. Sara ran her fingers through Leon’s hair, pressing herself against him, fears and emotions swirling wildly.

Leon broke the kiss abruptly and stared bemusedly at Sara, his brow slightly furrowed. “I think I got carried away,” he remarked.

Sara tore her eyes away from his full lips to see his serious expression. Leon’s shift in mood suddenly made her feel self-conscious. “Do you kiss all the girls you try to rescue?” she asked bluntly.

“No,” he replied decidedly. “That was actually out of character for me.” His grave tone made it difficult to discredit his sincerity, and his fixed look plainly intimated that he had no regrets.

Sara felt oddly reassured.

Leon exhaled sharply, his eye falling on her viral meter, and his expression darkened. “We need to keep moving,” he said. “We’re running out of time.”

Terror ran icy fingers down Sara’s spine. “Yeah,” she agreed.

They began their ascent once more. The long, winding flight of steps led to a long gallery flanked by a door on each side. Leon tried each one, but they were locked. “Damn it,” he muttered.

Sara looked ahead at the end of the gallery and spotted an elevator. “Leon, look,” she said, pointing.

Leon nodded. “We might be in business if it’s not coded or locked,” he said.

Leon hurried through the gallery, Sara doing her best to keep up with him. The hall seemed to tilt suddenly. Sara’s head swam and her legs gave way. She collapsed into a stunned heap. Leon halted immediately and rushed back to her. He dropped to one knee beside her.

Sara lifted herself up, heaving a shuddering sigh as a bout of shivering seized her. “Everything just seemed to spin,” she panted. “God, I’m so cold!”

Leon laid his hand against the side of her neck. “You’re burning up,” he observed, his expression severe. “I can carry you.”

Sara shook her head. “No. You need to be free to deal with anything we might come across.”

Leon sighed gutturally. “You’re sure you can walk?”

Sara bobbed her head.

Leon helped her stand. Sara swayed unsteadily, but managed to keep her footing. “I’m okay; I got it.”

After ascertaining that Sara could stand unaided, Leon took her by the wrist and led her along the gallery to the elevator. He signaled her to stand aside after pressing the button. They hung back cautiously, but the elevator opened without incident.

Leon took hold of Sara once more and they boarded the elevator, heading to the unknown regions above.

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