Leon raised himself off of Sara and swept her hair away from her face to look at her. “Are you okay?” he demanded.
Sara coughed slightly. “Uh-huh. But my ears are ringing.”
“Yeah, mine, too.” Leon stood and helped her up quickly. He looked up to see their rescuer approaching them steadily. As he came closer, Leon recognized the burly figure. He found himself looking into the somewhat saturnine face of his longtime friend, Chris Redfield.
“Chris!” Leon exclaimed, walking up to him. “Man, are you a sight for sore eyes!”
Chris tossed the expended booster aside. “I figured you could use a little help right about now. Looks like I got here just in time,” he said.
“Great timing,” Leon agreed, relief surging through him.
The two men clasped hands in a friendly greeting.
“Jesus, Leon, you look like hell,” Chris remarked, surveying him.
Leon scoffed. “Yeah, well. I ran out of PEZ.”
Chris produced a case of health tablets from his fanny pack and tossed it to him. “Help yourself,” he said.
“Thanks.” Leon turned to Sara. “This is Sara Rios. Sara, this is Captain Chris Redfield of the Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance.”
“Nice to meet you, Captain,” she greeted him.
“Chris,” he corrected, offering Sara a small, kind smile. “In ass-saving situations, I tend to ignore formalities. You got the antivirus, I hope.”
“Yeah. Ramsey was pissed about that, as you saw,” Leon answered, after popping several tablets into his mouth. “Where’s the chopper?”
“I told the crew to hang back, and I came ahead on a motor raft. Good thing we’re just about done here. As soon as HQ gives the word, this place is history. Of course, if we take too long, they’ll light it up anyway. Aside from that asshole, what else are we dealing with here?”
“Just your garden-variety zombies. Every other sideshow is down,” Leon replied.
At that moment, a deafening roar came from the conflagrant tower. Ramsey’s blazing figure emerged from the inferno. “Is that the best you can do?!” he taunted.
The trio spun about to face the approaching horror. Sara cried out.
“You gotta be shittin’ me!” Chris exclaimed.
“I stand corrected. What the hell’s it gonna take?!” Leon growled.
“A shitload of luck,” Chris remarked.
“And me without a rabbit’s foot,” Leon quipped, drawing his guns.
Chris readied his assault rifle. “Get back,” he told Sara.
Sara retreated behind her guardians, her eyes glued to the oncoming flaming terror.
Chris and Leon fired a volley of bullets at Ramsey, but he stalked on, unaffected.
“Let’s get the hell outta here,” Chris barked.
The group retreated simultaneously, running as fast as they could.
“Any chance your guys can hit fast forward on the evac?” Leon panted.
Chris shouted into his microphone. “Alpha Eagle, we’re ready for evac. I repeat, we are ready for evac. Get that damn bird here now! The helipad’s out; meet us on the west side of the island!” He threw a quick glance at his companions. “Follow me!”
They raced through headstones, Leon and Chris taking down the incoming undead as they cleared a path to the shore.
A thunderous roar rent the air and the ground quaked as Ramsey’s bloody, blistered bulk landed directly in front of them, cutting off their escape. Leon and Chris instantly opened fire. Ramsey bellowed in pain and fury as his blood splattered onto the earth.
“Ah, damn!” exclaimed Leon, looking at the locked-back slide of his gun. “I’m out! Chris, got any extra party favors?”
Chris wordlessly drew a silver Magnum and tossed it to Leon before hastily replacing his magazine. He fired again, shredding Ramsey’s lower arm. The monster howled.
Leon prepared to shoot, but halted as Ramsey shed his ruined appendage, and a new one sprouted in its place. Ramsey’s hideous face spread into a demonic grin and he burst into raucous laughter. “You can’t destroy a god!” he boomed.
Fear bloomed within Leon, but he stood his ground. Recalling the last flash grenade he had, he tossed it at Ramsey’s feet. Ramsey shouted and gurgled as he staggered backward, momentarily blinded. “Move!” he shouted to his companions.
They ran on again, Chris pausing once to pitch a grenade at Ramsey. “I swear, these sons of bitches die harder every day! We’re almost there,” he called.
Leon turned to look after Sara. She was lagging behind. He fell back a few paces and took hold of her arm. “C’mon, Sara. Keep going!”
He felt a sudden constriction around his right ankle, and he was instantly pulled down to the ground, Sara collapsing alongside him. He released Sara as he was reeled backward through the dirt by a long, slimy tentacle. “No!” cried Sara.
Chris whirled about. “Leon!”
Leon rolled onto his back even as Ramsey dragged him, managing to fire off two rounds. Ramsey hissed, but continued hauling him incessantly. Leon cried out as his shoulder hit a headstone. He dropped the gun, pain searing through him. He struggled furiously, but was unable to break free.
Sara leaped up, ignoring her terror and exhaustion, and chased after Leon’s disappearing figure.
“Wait, Sara!” Chris called behind her. “Come back!”
Sara scarcely heard him. She caught sight of the fallen Magnum and snatched it up. She raised trembling hands and aimed for Ramsey’s head. There was no laser or dot sight to guide her now. For once she appreciated first person shooter games.
“It’s just like Unholy Alliance,” she murmured to herself. “Just aim and…”
She fired the gun. The jarring recoil caused her to stagger back, but the powerful blast went clear through Ramsey’s cheek. He quickly released Leon. Relief flashed through Sara until she saw a long tentacle dart out at her.
She felt a hard shove from behind as Chris swept her out of the way. The tentacle wrapped itself around him, and lifted him off the ground bodily. Chris groaned and struggled against the constricting tentacle, his weapon falling to the ground. Ramsey laughed menacingly.
Sara groped for the Magnum. Taking it up again, she rose on shaky legs and shot once more. This time, she missed her target.
Ramsey looked down at her. “You bitch!” he rumbled. Still gripping Chris, he stalked toward her.
Leon suddenly slid between them, taking hold of Chris’ rifle and rising up on one knee to fire a barrage of bullets. Ramsey howled ferociously and dropped Chris, turning his attention to Leon.
“Damn you!” Ramsey exclaimed.
He raised a foot to stomp on Leon who managed to dodge him just in time.
Sara hurried to Chris. “Are you okay?” she demanded.
Chris turned stern brown eyes on her. “Are you crazy? He almost got you!”
“Look out!” shouted Leon.
Before Sara realized what was happening, Ramsey had seized her by the neck with his tentacle and yanked her up into the air. She yelled in agony as a row of razor-sharp barbs bit into her flesh. Below her, the men shouted in consternation.
Ramsey brought her level to his face. “You traitorous little bitch! I will drink your blood and crush your bones to dust!” he declared.
Ramsey tightened his grip. Sara let out a strangulated gasp as the suckers began draining the blood from her body. Her legs kicked frantically.
Leon and Chris fired several rounds, but they seemed to have little effect on Ramsey now. He continued siphoning Sara’s blood.
Sara’s vision dimmed, and the noises around her grew distant. A sudden frenzy laid hold of her just as when she had fought the harpy. But now Sara was in control of her faculties; no foreign will dominated her own.
A surge of power coursed through her veins and she uttered a feral shriek. A blinding current of golden electricity burst from her body, shocking Ramsey and causing him to release her instantly. She hit the ground hard, blood streaming from her perforated neck. Strangely, however, she felt little pain.
Chris and Leon were beside her immediately, taking advantage of Ramsey’s temporarily stunned state.
“Can you stand?” asked Leon.
Sara nodded mutely, too winded to reply.
“What the hell just happened? I thought you said you’d gotten the vaccine,” Chris said, lifting Sara up easily.
“We did. But the virus was bonding with her blood; it must’ve altered her cells to some extent,” Leon reasoned.
“Shit,” Chris muttered, looking at Sara’s neck. “Those wounds--they’re healing.”
Sara leaned heavily on Chris, touching her neck gingerly. Her skin was still bloody, but the punctures were closing. “God, what’s happening to me?” she gasped.
Ramsey broke from the electrical shock Sara had inflicted on him and growled.
“We’d better worry about that later. Ramsey’s back online,” Leon said. “Let’s go!”
The three of them ran as fast as they could toward the shore. Just then, the air shook with the combined noises of a distant roaring jet and the whirring blades of an approaching helicopter.
“Aw, hell,” muttered Leon. “They’re gonna purge the island… now.”
“Damn them!” Chris growled.
Ramsey erupted into laughter. “Let them come. I’ll crush them all!” He turned his attention back to the group at his feet.
The trio stood in triangular formation, backing away slowly as they prepared for whatever might come. Ramsey advanced on them threateningly, preparing himself for a triumphant kill. Then, unexpectedly, he balked, groaning loudly and doubling over.
“Clear out!” shouted Chris.
Leon grabbed Sara’s arm and they ran after Chris, pausing several yards away to watch this new development.
Ramsey began retching violently, vomiting a bloody, opaque yellow substance. “What is this?! What’s happening to me?!” he bellowed.
“Now’s our chance!” said Leon.
They tore off again. A searchlight beam suddenly fell over them. Sara shielded her eyes against the blinding light.
“Head for the chopper,” Chris ordered. To his team he added: “Alpha Eagle, we need you right over the island. Son of a bitch is closing in on us!”
As she followed the men, Sara looked back at Ramsey. He had rallied and was pursuing them, but his speed had decreased. The searchlight washed over him briefly, and Sara realized with astonishment that his flesh was melting. His newly formed limbs dangled lifelessly at his sides.
“What have you done to me?!” he roared after them.
“He’s… decomposing,” Sara muttered.
The helicopter descended, the blades scattering debris over the group. A soldier within opened fire at Ramsey as the pilot hovered over them. The deadened appendages fell off, leaving a trail of bloody pus
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon!” a female soldier shouted down to them.
Sara gasped as Leon’s strong hands gripped her and lifted her up to the soldier. The woman heaved her onboard. Sara knelt on the chopper floor gazing at Chris and Leon below.
“Leon, go! Get in,” Chris told him.
Leon turned, and with the soldier’s aid, he climbed onto the chopper. Sara took hold of his arm. “Ramsey’s dying,” she said, staring into his face earnestly. “He’s rotting!”
Leon looked at her briefly before turning to the soldier stationed behind the M134 machine gun. “Keep shooting that thing!”
Sara looked down and covered her ears as the soldier fired at Ramsey who reeled backward, howling as his blood rained down. “Chris, hurry!” she screamed over the chaos.
“Hurry, Captain!” the female soldier echoed.
Having emptied his magazine in a final assault against Ramsey, Chris retreated and leaped up onto the chopper. Immediately, Leon and Sara helped him aboard.
“Pull up!” Chris ordered the pilot.
The pilot obeyed, but before they had become fully airborne, Ramsey shot out a bloody tentacle and grabbed a landing skid.
The helicopter pitched dangerously, and Chris slid backward. Still clutching at Chris, Sara slid with him, trying to hold him despite his weight. The other soldiers rushed to their aid. The pilot struggled to gain altitude, but Ramsey tugged against the engines with his remaining strength.
“Shit! Hang on, everyone!” shouted Leon.
Gripping the side of the doorway, Leon leaned out carefully and, aiming as steadily as he could, he fired a single, perfect shot at the tentacle. Ramsey’s roar of rage and pain echoed over the helicopter’s noise. The tentacle broke off, releasing the skid.
The helicopter leveled off abruptly, and it took the combined efforts of Leon and the soldiers to hoist Chris and Sara safely onto the helicopter.
“Thanks,” Chris said breathlessly. “Get this bird the hell outta here!” he barked to the pilot.
The pilot immediately ascended and pulled out. The roar of the approaching jet grew louder, and the plane came into view. Everyone aboard the chopper looked up to see it drop the missile.
“Buckle your asses in, this is gonna be a bumpy ride. Hold on, and don’t look at the flash!” Chris shouted.
Everyone scrambled to secure themselves in. They had barely finished buckling their belts when the missile landed. They shielded their eyes from the blinding flash as it lit up the night sky. The blast caused some turbulence, but the pilot quickly regained control of the chopper, and soon they were well on their way.
The soldiers cheered triumphantly. “We made it, Captain!” the male soldier piped up.
Chris shook his head. “That was too damn close,” he said.
Leon breathed a low sigh of relief. “You’re telling me.”
Sara stared dazedly out the window of the helicopter, watching Halcyon Isle burn, and with it, the horrors conjured up by Devon Ramsey. Leon touched her shoulder gently, startling her. She turned to him, meeting his clear, solemn blue eyes.
“Are you okay?” he asked softly.
Sara smiled unsteadily. “Yeah. I can’t believe it’s really over. I owe you my life.” She looked up at Chris. “And you, of course.”
A small smile brightened Chris’ ruggedly handsome face. “That’s the job,” he said. “Thank you for the help back there. You’re pretty tough for a civilian.”
Leon chuckled. “You have no idea.”
Sara smiled wryly. “I don’t know… I just wanted to help… if I could. I don’t know if you’d call that being tough.”
“I would. Jump in, do what you can, hope you don’t screw up. Hell, that’s how we do this job. Maybe you should work with us,” Chris joked.
The remark had been made in jest, but it struck Sara deeply. The idea had merit: a lifetime spent putting down bioterrorists and protecting innocent victims like she and all the unfortunate women had been. It was a terrifying job, true, but it would be a life of purpose.
“That bastard went down hard,” Chris was saying.
“Yeah, no kidding,” Leon replied. “Then Ramsey started melting like the Wicked Witch of the West. What the hell happened to him, I wonder.”
Realization dawned on Sara, and she turned back to her companions. “My blood,” she said. “When he grabbed me, the tentacle was sucking my blood. After that, he just started falling apart. I think my blood infected him.”
Leon nodded. “Makes sense. His body rejected your blood because your cells were an antivirus cocktail comprised of the neutralized Omega Virus and the vaccine. He didn’t imagine that the combination could be lethal to him. Bastard literally had a drink that didn’t agree with him.”
“And good riddance to the asshole,” Chris concluded.
Silence fell among them, each lost in their own thoughts. Sara broke the silence presently.
“Do you think the DSO would recruit someone like me?” she asked soberly.
Everyone within earshot turned to look at her in some surprise.
“Are you sure you’d want that? Do you realize what this life is like?” Leon asked, looking at her gravely.
“Don’t think I can cut it, huh?” Sara asked, raising her chin in mock defiance.
Leon shook his head. “I’m sure you can. But this, tonight, would be your whole life. Every day could be a waking nightmare,” he said.
“Your entire life would revolve around trying to take down monsters and the psycho sons of bitches that make them. It’s the army and FBI with a mutant twist,” Chris informed her.
Sara mulled this over for a moment. “I know. But if I could be a part of trying to stop those freaks and make the world a little safer… I think it might be worth it.”
Chris shook his head dubiously. “No argument, but you might wanna think it over carefully.”
Leon said nothing, regarding Sara with a thoughtful expression.
Sara looked down at her hands quietly for a moment. “So… what’s gonna happen to me now? ’Cause I seriously doubt I can just go home.”
“Well, we’ll have to transfer you to a government facility for special tests and assessments. You’re a victim of infection followed by inoculation. Scientists need to verify complete recovery and determine whether it’s safe for you to rejoin society,” Chris explained. “I’m sorry,” he added sincerely.
“Terrific. I get to be a rat in someone else’s lab. Makes sense, but it still sucks,” Sara sighed.
Leon took her hand and pressed it gently. “You’ll be okay,” he said assuringly.
Sara smiled. His touch recalled to mind the kiss they had shared, and she turned her face to conceal the sudden flush that rose to her cheeks. “So, I guess once I get… wherever I’m supposed to be, it’ll be the last we’ll see of each other.” She looked back at him.
Leon gazed at her intently. “Not necessarily. Unless you think it’s better that way.”
Sara bit back a very undignified ‘no!’ and shrugged with feigned nonchalance. “It’s not that. But you’ll be moving on to another case. I’m sure I’ll be the last thing on your mind.”
Leon scoffed. “After everything we’ve been through tonight, no chance.”
“Why not? You’ve been through this before with many other victims, I’m sure.”
“Yeah… But I really wanna see you again.” Leon’s look and tone were firm and decided, ending Sara’s doubts.
“I can’t promise you as good a time as we had tonight,” he said, making her chuckle. “But I think we can figure something out.”
“I’d like that,” Sara replied.
Leon smiled then turned to look out the chopper window, his expression becoming grim.
Sara felt desolate in the silence that followed, and looking at Leon, it was obvious he felt the same. His was a terrible burden being both victim and savior. She understood that weight instinctively, and she had a strong desire to share that burden and take up arms against the dark world of bioterrorism.
Sara reached over and placed her hand over his. Her light touch served to jar him out of his morose reverie, and he turned to her. A look of profound empathy passed between them. Leon intertwined her fingers in his, tucking them into his palm.
They gazed out at the city skyline where eight million people would sleep a little safer, ignorant of the danger they had narrowly escaped.