Hello. cringes According to my FF stats, it's been over a year since I last updated. I uh…I really don't have anything to say about that, other that I feel better for having taken the break and I hope to hit back hard with this story, which is by far the longest I have ever written. So if anyone out there is still reading this, I'll be surprised, but in a pleasant way.

This is about half of Chapter 32. I don't have the other half finished quite yet, but I would like some input on this before I go on, just to see who's reading and what their opinions are. Please do not be afraid to critique me on grammar, spelling, and/or plot. I am mature enough to handle an honest review and I WILL NOT come unglued on you or harshly review your fics for revenge or anything like that. I've found that honest opinions really help my writing.

Chapter 32

" So...this is a really kickass place, huh? " Veronica asked for about the fifth time that evening. Over a half hour of gleefully displaying her impenetrable fortress, her crowning achievement, and her company had said very little. In fact, his frosty silence was almost unnerving. Veronica didn't know why--it wasn't like Wesker would ever be able to come out on top in another fight--but something about Mr. Tall Dark and Blonde was giving her a mild case of what her internet-sources commonly referred to as " the wiggens."

Especially the way his neutral expression seemed to be his only expression. Wesker didn't even bother with a glance at his new ally. " Yes, Veronica. This place is most impressive." There was a trace of suppressed resentment in his voice.Not that Veronica noticed. The sorceress was terrible at reading people and even worse at judging true character. Truly, she had no idea how dangerous the man walking at her side was, or how quickly he would turn on her if it suited his interest.

The pair turned a corner and headed down yet another elaborate hall.

Emphasis on elaborate.

Like almost all the other corridors in the castle, this one boasted a bloodred carpet so rich in hue and vibrancy that it seemed only kings should walk on it. Obsidian dragon sconces graced the walls with their fiery presence. They were arranged in such a way that they appeared to be fiercely guarding their glowing candle treasures. Even the garnet eyes seemed aglow with a primordial light which caught the viewer by surprise and held him there in a sort of spellbinding enchantment.

Fancy Veronica, very fancy. Wesker had to admit that the sorceress had style. He'd seen practically the entire castle by now and it was amazing just how immaculate and eye-catching everything looked.

Dragons, he'd noticed, were a common theme throughout the entire abode. Just about every room he'd toured thus far had had a dragon in it in some form or another; whether as a statue, a coat-rack, a furniture decoration, or a lighting fixture. Quite a few dragons were employed in the service of lighting.

A true medieval sorceress, Veronica enjoyed a more old-school feel to her home, and all of the lighting came from candles with not so much as one modern light-bulb in sight. Even the furniture was old-fashioned. The designs ranged from Renaissance-era to early 1800's. All of it was European in origin, and all of it looked rather new; suggesting to Wesker that Veronica was able to conjure matter out of thin air since very few such artifacts would have survived into the 21st century. Certainly fewer than what this ditz had languishing about.

" And in here we have my personal favorite--the recreational room! " Veronica swung open a black oak door--yes, black oak--with a dragon carving on it and led the way into yet another room.

Wesker groaned inwardly.

Was this tour ever going to be over?

My god, how many of these stupid rooms does she have! You've seen one rec room, you've seen them... Wesker's flow of thought was disrupted the second he actually entered the room.

Unlike the other hundred or so rooms in the castle, this one was decked out very modern. The first thing he noticed was that the light was supplied from an actual 100-watt light-bulb. This observation took all of one second, however, as the rest of the room's contents were infinitely more interesting.

Lining the left wall in all it's high-tech glory sat a brand new state-of-the-art computer system. The high-resolution monitor, sleek tower, and sharp keyboard were all "prettied up" in a preppy shade of fuchsia which made the self-respecting former HCF operative wish he were colorblind.

Then his eye drifted over to the mouse pad, and nothing could have prepared him for the horror.

There it was.

It's head was a misshapen yellow square pocketed with irregular holes. It's eyes were two white saucers far too large in proportion to the rest of the creature. A nose as long as a flute sprouted from the center of it's face, and just below this a gaping mouth several sizes too big grinned in that idiotic way which would haunt sensible adults for years to come.

This was a creature of inconceivable power--no matter how guarded you thought you were against it, there was just no way to keep it's evil influence out of your home. The beast had the power to brainwash anyone unfortunate enough to cross paths with it; to turn minds into mush, intelligent adults into children so warped in their sense of humor they'd laugh at just about anything.

This was a force to be reckoned with, a creature even Wesker feared—Spongebob.

Veronica was definitely evil.

Oh yeah.

And insane.

Thankfully, the rest of the room wasn't quite as scary. The right wall was home to a complex stereo system with speakers so massive they were probably capable of blowing the opposing computer system right on out through the stone wall and into next week when the volume was cranked to full blast.

Apparently, this music-loving sorceress had hearing problems. If not, she would very soon.

Just like the computer, the stereo rested on it's very own entertainment center only, surprise surprise, this large wooden obstruction had the word 'Sauder' engraved within one corner.

Just as I suspicioned, Wesker thought, This one required absolutely no thought on her part. Must take too much mental power to dream up your own brand of furniture. Because his eyes were especially keen, the T-2 carrier could make out every label of the neatly-stacked CDs lining one shelf. He instantly wished he hadn't been so morbidly curious.

In addition to an unhealthy amount of Alison Krauss, the lineup included some Good Charlotte, several Shania Twain albums, The Backstreet Boys, N-Sync, Linkin Park, various country singers, a ridiculous amount of Avril Lavigne, and every Evanescence CD ever made. Ever.

That last struck Wesker as a little odd. From what he could tell about Veronica so far, she seemed to have a very upbeat, ditzy, cheerful persona.

Evanescence were about as far away from that as you could get. He should know. They were Spade's favorite band, and she played them constantly.

The center of the room was highlighted with an overstuffed plush sofa which would have been a magnificent piece of furniture if not for the tacky fuchsia color. Sitting directly across from it was the pride of the entire room: an extremely elegant black oak entertainment center which showcased a brand-new 32-inch Sony high-resolution TV, a state-of-the-art DVD player, and every video-game console available on the market. Playstation 2, X-Box, Gamecube, Sega Dreamcast...Veronica had them all. She also had an impressive assortment of games to go with them.

Wesker didn't have time to count, but there were no less than one hundred video games glaring back at him from behind the glass of the gaming cabinets. This was a woman who liked her fun and games.

" Well, what do you think? " Veronica chirped in that overly-cheerful voice of hers. She reached the couch and turned back to face her guest with outstretched arms and a winning smile. Her older, more mature appearance had since been dropped in favor of the teenaged form she now possessed.

It was all just as well with Wesker. Air-headed mallcrawler suited her personality so much better than anything else. Besides, an older woman would have looked ridiculous assuming any one of the over-exaggerated postures and expressions that were second-nature to Veronica.

" Not too tacky, 'ey? "

This takes 'tacky' to a new level. And beyond. Wesker really had to bite his tongue. " Um...sure. It's...modern." He had a sudden urge to flash around and smash up those annoying fuchsia things. How could one color be so irritating? He crossed his arms and gave a curt nod, hoping his fashion-challenged hostess would hurry on to the next room or whatever it was she had in mind. " I see you like video games."

He'd said the magic word.

Veronica's eyes sparkled with glee. " Video games? I love them! Well, I haven't had much time to play lately, but I'm pretty good at this one."

Before Wesker could stop her, the 512 year-old sorceress hit the sofa with the force of an oncoming train, curled up into a comfy position, and held out her hand like she expected somebody to walk by and drop something into it. A second later, and the TV and PS2 turned on all by themselves. A controller nudged it's way out of the cabinet and floated gracefully into the outstretched hand.

" This game's pretty fun, but kinda frustrating." Veronica went on as if Wesker had said something, " The main character is a demon halfbreed, I think."

After the initial opening credits which, apparently, not even Veronica's magic could speed up, the words 'Devil May Cry 3' appeared in red over a hazy picture of a young man with white hair and twice the fashion-sense of Veronica. Time stood still as the Ashford loaded her game. She'd only had brief time to practice, true, but the first few minutes of gameplay had hooked her and now she was quite sure that the internet had not been exaggerating even a little bit when it had deemed the game " Delightfully addicting! A must-play! "

At the back of the room, Wesker rubbed his temple with a gloved finger. It was insulting how quickly Veronica had been willing to turn her back on him--as if he were of no more threat to her than some little puppy scampering loose around the room. He really wanted to hurt her. Badly.

" Miss Ashford, while I appreciate your fine taste in games, I do believe I have yet to see the rest of the castle." He tried to keep the edge out of his voice.

" Just a sec." Veronica's eyes were glued to the television. Onscreen, the sword-wielding, gun-toting, white-haired protagonist slashed his way through a legion of sand-wraiths. All was well until one particularly tough wraith knocked him on his butt.

" Danté! No! Get up! " Veronica shouted, as if this would somehow help. She began to pound fiercely on the buttons.

" Looks like you could use some practice." Wesker observed.

" No! I mean, I'm usually..." An entire squadron of wraiths moved in for the kill. Danté's health dropped to a dangerously low level. " Could you check to see if anyone's in the hall real quick? "

Wesker's neutral expression slipped into a frown. What a space cadet. " Alright."

The second Wesker had his back turned, Veronica wiggled her finger and filled Danté's health meter. Much better. What's the use in having magic if you can't cheat every now and then? And if I'm going to cheat a little...it was simply too much temptation.

" It's clear." Wesker came back in to find Veronica kicking sand-wraith butt. This is the girl who defeated Alexia Ashford? How embarrassing.

It was like the punch line to a joke. He almost felt sorry for Alexia.


Wesker covered his mouth and made a soft coughing noise. " Veronica..."

" Oh! Alright. I'm coming." She tossed her controller to the floor and made a downward swipe with her hand which caused everything to shut off. That accomplished, she got up and led the way out the door. " I am sorry," the apology was quick and energetic, " I am easily distracted."

You can say that again. Wesker rolled his eyes, thankful for the dark shades which hid the disrespectful motion.

He needn't have worried; Veronica was more concerned with the wall than him. Nothing new there. In fact, ever since entering the castle, she'd barely made eye-contact at all. Perhaps there was still a small drop of sense hiding somewhere in that tiny brain of hers.

" Now there's only one more place to..."

" Veronica? " Ash appeared suddenly and unexpectedly from a door to the left. He took one look at Wesker, and his eyes glossed over in pure terror. Oh god, not him!

Wesker's grin was that of a wolf bearing down on it's prey. " Hello, Ash. Lovely scars. Tell me, how does it feel to see through the eye of another? "

Ash's mouth worked, but no sound came out. On impulse, his hand rose up to hover just above his new eye. Gingerly, he touched a finger to the flesh just above it; feeling the rough, furrowed edges of his scars. The tissue had still not completely healed in some areas.

Wesker chuckled cruelly. Though he hadn't actually witnessed the events, he could pretty well guess as to what had transpired after he'd stabbed the young Ashford in the face with the sharp metal tips of his clawblades, destroying his left eye. " An eye for an eye, 'ey? I bet that made Mommy proud."

Ash whimpered like a lost puppy.

Wesker's smile broadened.

In the midst of this, Veronica blinked, thoroughly confused. " You two know each other? "

" We had a...run-in in Africa." Wesker explained calmly, savoring every drop of his victim's fear. This was too good. If only Veronica weren't around, he'd finish what he'd started months ago.

As if reading the ex S.T.A.R.S. Captain's thoughts, Ash darted behind his ancestor, fearful blue eyes fixed firmly on the man who had very nearly killed him. He had absolutely no desire to repeat that experience again. Much as he loathed his chores-obsessed family-torturing ancestor, she was by far the lesser of two evils and the only protection he had. For once, he was glad she was around.

" He gouged out my eye! " Ash's words were a flurry of terror-driven excitement, " That's Albert Wesker, a carrier of the T-2 virus! You can't trust him, Veronica. He's very powerful and he hates our family! " He grabbed her arm in a fashion much akin to a frightened child clinging to it's mother for dear life.

Veronica tugged away, annoyed. She wasn't sure which was worse--cowardly Ash, or his in-your-face-all-work-and-no-play mother.

" It's alright," she replied coolly, locking a no-nonsense gaze on Wesker, " he and I have already fought, and I bested him. Now he's on my side. I was just showing him around the castle."

" But he's a traitor! " Ash exclaimed, horrified immensely at the prospect of Wesker being allowed to roam the castle freely, " He's like, famous for it. Long history. He betrayed S.T.A.R.S., he betrayed Umbrella, he betrayed HCF, and now he's going to betray you! "

Veronica was unmoved. In her mind it was all painfully simple. Betray me? Him? Hah. He wouldn't get far. In all her long life, no one had ever dared to betray her. The concept was foreign. Treachery was for the weak to deal with. Not her. Not ever her.

" Ash, I assure you, there is absolutely no danger. Wesker won't harm you."

Despite Veronica's attempt to reassure him, Ash remained unconvinced. " To hell he won't! "

Wesker's grin stayed put. Few things in life were as satisfactory as watching an all-noble Ashford cringe like a dog behind his master. Although, for all his cowardice, he had to give the boy some credit. At least he knew a poisonous snake when he saw one.

Veronica had had enough. " He won't." She declared matter-of-factly, as if it were an unchangeable fact set in stone. Her face hardened, her eyes blazed a deep violet, and when she next spoke her words were deadly serious, " You understand, Wesker? Ash is my family. He has my full protection, as do the other Ashfords. You are not to harm any one of them. You do, your ass is grass and I'm the lawnmower. Got it? "

There was no room for argument.

Wesker held his hands up in the classic gesture. " Don't worry about it. Consider me Ashford-safe." As always, his tone was relaxed and level; his face an outward expression of blasé.

It was, of course, all a charade.

Aligning yourself with a super-powerful sorceress was one thing, but when that sorceress turned out to be an airheaded Ashford-loving twit with less than half the IQ of candied yams...well, that was a whole new potato salad. The more time he spent around her, the more Wesker wondered how such a complete and total failure of human life had ever acquired such power. No matter how he tried to make sense of it, he just couldn't. It did provide him with a sliver of hope though: if someone like Veronica could attain such a favorable position, it shouldn't be too hard for him to get on top of the game as well.

And getting on top of the game was what Albert Wesker was all about.

How to play the game? Simple.

You went where the power was, and right now Wesker couldn't think of a single thing more powerful than the woman standing five feet from him. Anyone who could shapeshift, walk on air, teleport, throw lightning bolts, and create matter just by willing it into existence could most certainly thrash HCF and every horrible bioweapon it could dish up.

With or without Alan, it didn't matter; S.T.A.R.S. were doomed.

Veronica was the winning side.

All Wesker had to do was play his cards just right and execute a little bit--okay, a LOT--of patience, and he would learn Veronica's little secrets. The redheaded Ashford might be the biggest fool in the world, but let that work to his advantage. Learning all there was to know about her magics and what made her tick was definitely worth the hassle of putting up with her flawed persona. The reward for such knowledge would be inconceivably great.

Veronica studied Wesker with rising interest. She was not so naïve as to think that the face he was showing her was his true one, but for all her great power, she was still unable to read minds. More and more, she found herself curious as to what he was thinking. Something about this handsome new soldier tingled alarms in the back of her mind. But why?

I'm just jumping at shadows here. Veronica reassured herself, He is powerless against me. He knows this. He will not try anything. That's why I allowed him in here in the first place; the plan. Until my dreams are made a reality it can't hurt to have a little back-up just in case something goes wrong. After I am Queen of the New World, I won't need him anymore. A slow smile crept up the side of her mouth. Maybe I'll turn him into a kitty-cat. The former wiccan inclined her head slightly, picturing Wesker as a pure black kitten.

" Um, Veronica..." Ash started in a voice was barely more than a squeak. Wesker moved, and he jumped back blindly; nearly knocking the back of his head against the hard wall.

Wesker's smirk deepened. Clever boy.

Veronica merely shook her head and suppressed a girly giggle. The boy clearly had much to learn in the department of coordination. Much like me.

She cleared her throat. " Go on then, Ash. You can...play my video games or...whatever. Wesker and I have things to do."

You mean I'm free from chores? Ash didn't waste the opportunity. Slipping past Wesker with an expression much akin to a hunted animal, he hurried inside the black-oak door.

Veronica watched him go dispassionately before turning around and continuing her way down the hall. " Come on."

To be continued…..