-Chapter 11: Wrong Side of Wonderland -
He paced his room, its length and width so second nature he didn't have to see the opposite wall to stop, turn, and begin again.
No shadows passed over the crack of light beneath the door. Where was Sherry? This Danny Angel boy?
"Damn!" He smacked the wall with his hands, sending a shiver through the concrete. Already tried punching through – twice. Nothing but cement flakes and throbbing wrists for his effort.
"Come on. Think. What else did Chris say about Wesker?" Walk, wall, turn. When was the last time he had seen Chris? Walk, wall, turn. Claire's birthday party? No, that was before. Walk. Wall. Turn. Stop. Now he remembered.
"We were playing poker," he told the room. The scene became fresh in his mind, details of the conversion like leaves blowing into his face and sticking there. "Claire's house, weekend. First time meeting Barry – nice dude, a little domestic, kept showing pictures of his brats. Chris was drunk. Claire was pissed. Sulked in her bedroom. I think I was drunk, too. Shit – she was pissed at me, not Chris. Damn, what did I do that time?"
He racked his brain for a few minutes before realizing he didn't have time to be an idiot. "Oh hell, it was probably because I was drunk, or the dirty socks I left on the floor. Anyway, Chris started talking about Arklay. Barry got a little queasy looking and left the table. Chris just kept going and going, Albert this, Wesker that. Our Captain, asshole, son of a bitch, and a bunch of other creative insults. Then, Son Of A Bitch injected himself with some prototype virus before the Tyrant made him a meat kabob. Pretended he was dead for years until Antarctica. Claire was poisoned, but found her in time. Alexia, the crazy plant bitch with the equally crazy brother who thought he was his sister. Steve helped Claire, but then he died. Wesker took Steve's body because he had the T-Veronica virus. Okay...so what happened to Steve? What did Wesker do then?"
"He modified the T-Veronica and Progenitor viruses, and then made the first of his new race of humans. Blood Angels."
"Shit! Give me a heads up before you magically appear."
The small smile lit up her weary face. "Sorry, you were reminiscing so intensely. I didn't want to interrupt."
"You alright? You look ready to fall over."
"I'm running on fumes, or the last of the drugs. Going back to my body isn't something I look forward to. I'll be a mess." She sighed and rubbed her hands over her face. Golden dust sprinkled.
He went to hug her, but ended up through her, a burst of heat and the smell of ozone lingering. Hunger grumbled, a stirring in his loins. He hid it with soft laugh and strategic placement of his hands. "Forgot, can't touch you anymore."
"I appreciate the thought."
"Where is this Danny guy? Isn't he supposed to be with you?"
"He's coming. He had to lose the others. I...kinda gave them wrong directions. Wesker also. But I think Wesker suspects I'm not behaving myself. On the platform when you appeared, I had convinced him that I had helped you soul walk on purpose, so he could use that as leverage with Saddler. He believed me, but it took some fast talking. It's a wonder he hasn't pulled the plug already."
"Pull the plug...to your body?"
"Yes. On his PDA. He can inform the doctors babysitting me to shut down the link. One button. That's all it takes for me to disappear. This is why we have to be fast. Between you and Danny, one of you has to grab that device before he uses it."
"And then what? Kill him? Don't worry, I'll kick his blond ass all over this facility for what he's done, but sucking souls or not, I still work for the President, Sherry. Wesker has dirt on everyone – Umbrella's founder, corruption in the American government. Black market ties. And this new facility of his, these Angels."
She kept at arms length, but implored with her entire body. "I can give you the intel you need. And I have allies within Oasis. Once Wesker is dead, they'll be free to speak. Leon, you can rid the world of someone terrible. Someone who wouldn't hesitate to use you as he used us. He wants that power Saddler spoke of. The bond. He would be a cruel master, Leon. Worse than Saddler ever was."
He thought of Wesker's fire, what it would taste like, what he would discover in that secret core. Sherry knew how to tempt him. A whisper of Medeya there, in the way she had used her body and voice to manipulate Jase.
But unlike Jase, he knew when to say no.
A sharp thump on the door made them both jump.
"'ello?" The voice, male and very British. "Anyone order a medium pair of...trousers?"
"Oh good, Danny. Finally." Sherry went through the door, leaving him feeling envious of her spirit form. After a loud bang, surly mumbling, Sherry offering advice, and a bit of cursing – the heavy door swung open.
In entered a trim young man, mid-twenties, wild brown hair and eyes to match. His pure blue aura fanned around him like a sea lily, feather-like tendrils he had never seen on a human before. But then again, Danny was a Blood Angel, the product – or victim – of Wesker's experiments. Could he even be called human? Danny's sleek uniform clashed with his swagger, the easy grin on his face. He tried to imagine that mouth stained red, bits of meat clinging to his chin.
"Ah, he wastes no time in sending the vibes. Complicated ones, my favorite," Danny said with a quirky smile. Disarming manner, but beneath it, the flash of teeth and coiled muscles. "Brilliant. He sees between. Not many can since I'm so dashing."
Sherry waved her hand between them. "Danny, this is Leon. Leon, Danny."
"Pleasure. Here, mate, you're flapping in the wind." Danny tossed him the dark bundle he had been carrying. Bundle unfolded into a dirty pair of pants. Leon shook them and frowned when nothing else fell out.
"What? You want a pair of ganado knickers to go along?"
"Would it have been so hard to grab a pair of shoes or something? A shirt?" He zipped up the pants. Waistband low around his hips. Too low. Running was definitely out of the question. "Damn, could you have least killed one my size?"
"Look, this bastard and his twenty buddies weren't exactly happy to see me, right? It got messy. Be grateful there's not shit and entrails sticking to those."
"Uh huh. Twenty? Really?" In response to his sarcasm, Danny's sea lily bobbed and swirled around itself.
"At least. Not counting the ugly crying thing that kept growing back its head every bloody time I cut it off. Annoying, that one."
Sherry rolled her eyes and levitated into the hall. "Danny, get a grip. It won't take Wesker long to realize I sent him in the wrong direction. My link is safe until he finds you. Which means we have to find him first."
Like an eraser to chalk, the mention of Wesker wiped the smile from Danny's face. His aura went from feathers to nettles. "This whole plan of yours. It's dicey," Danny said. "What will we do about the Angels? They won't just stand there and gawk while pretty boy here sucks the life from him."
"I sent the Angels wandering into packs of ganado. They'll be busy for a while. Leon, Danny has to keep contact with you, skin to skin."
"That's not a good idea – hey!" He dodged Danny's first attempt to snag his arm. "I'm being serious! I'm really hungry."
"Oh, he wants to devour me already. I love it."
"If you haven't guessed it, Danny's empathic," Sherry said. "One of his abilities is to subdue the target, make it docile. For this to work, his hands have to be on you...somewhere. That way when we find Wesker, he'll think Danny caught you."
Danny captured his biceps, squeezing. Nettle-feathers pricked his aura, and his aura responded. It amazed Leon to see it, the dusky twilight of his soul unfurling around him like a shroud. Tiny pinpricks of light shimmered with sentient movement. Danny's sea lily wavered a tentative greeting. His twilight gave a lazy twist in return – then it struck. It enveloped the sea lily, smothering it, consuming it. He gasped, his hands gripping Danny's arms, pulling him forward –
Feelings of satiety. His muscles and mind hummed with energy. He stared at Danny in wonderment, and received an impish grin in reply. "Too bad I had to do that. Would have been one hell of a snog. Off we go then."
Through the door and into the hall. Ganado bodies littered the floor, his guards failing for the last time. A day ago, he would have looked at their corpses with relief. Now, all he felt was remorse.
"One of them tried to bite me. Can you believe that?" Hands still on his biceps, Danny ushered him forward through the hallway graveyard. "Don't feel too bad for 'em. If you weren't all purple-eyed and slutty, they'd have torn you to bits."
"It's not their fault Saddler controlled them."
"He doesn't now - and didn't when I came through. They were protecting you – badly, I'm afraid – but at least they tried."
"Thanks, now you've made me feel worse."
"I could make you giggle and think of rainbows if you'd like."
"Maybe some other time."
"Danny, focus would you? The Angels are scattered, but one might wander through here. I can't sense everywhere at once." Sherry glided forward and poked her head around the corner. "Weird, I thought I heard – never mind. Come on."
"Just emotional echoes. I keep getting a mindless wall of red from my mates. All the scientists are pigeons flying into things - except Goldburg who's always his good old barking self. One of the pilots is reading porn. Here. Reading porn! I don't know where the Commander finds these morons."
"Wesker has a varied toolbox. Some tools are dull, others are shiny and expensive, but all can be thrown away when the job is done." Sherry paused, then chose the right hall. Less bodies. Less blood. "Just pay attention and stop getting distracted."
"I'm holding a Ken doll in my arms, one with real hair and poseable limbs. All I want to do is play with him."
"Keep sensing for Wesker, Danny. He's the biggest threat," Leon said. He hoped for the same effect Wesker's name had before, but Danny's nettles stayed soft and flowing. Then they pressed closer, curious.
"Hm, you've been shagged recently. I can smell it." The tickle of Danny's nose followed the curve of his throat. "A little sour, a little sweet. How about we find a little nook somewhere, and you can show me what games Mr. Saddler played."
"Right. Behave. Yes, mum."
Danny knocked aside two ganado corpses with his boot. Sherry stayed in front, her head tilted as if contemplating the significance of the dirty floor and stained ceiling. It may have been the light from the hall, but her sun rays shone weak and aimless, a definite switch from a few hours ago. Maybe tiring? She slowed, listening again for a song only she could hear.
Ahead, the door swung open.
Sherry flinched as if she'd smacked into a wall. Slump in Danny's grip. NOW.
He hid behind his hair, chin to neck, eyelids fluttering. A soft groan. He prayed that was convincing enough.
Danny hid his fear behind a bouncy chuckle, the cheer in his voice just shy of fake. "'ello, Captain. Where you've been hiding? Look what I've caught. Isn't he a pretty bird?"
"Lovely," Wesker said in guarded surprise. His fiery aura raised a burning eyebrow.
Sherry offered a shaky smile. "Sir, he's unharmed. We had to dress him, though. Saddler left him in...uh, rather sparse attire."
"I can imagine." Heavy, purposeful footsteps, and from Leon's limited view, the motion of a black glove reaching into a shiny black pocket. Sherry's sun spiked with solar flares.
"Wait, you still need me! I, I can keep him compliant and – "
"Danny obviously has things under control. Your services are no longer required, Ms. Birkin. But thank you. I had expected the usual antics and more, given your past with Mr. Kennedy. Keep proving yourself useful like this, and I may reinstate your privileges."
Sea lily grew twice its size. Danny's hands tightened. A jolt of panic not his own, but just as intense. Wesker's fire flickered into view, licked the slack and frozen face of a dead ganado. The slender device became the infamous PDA. Wesker ran his thumb over the buttons, teasing. Sherry's breath hitched. Her voice streaked through his mind like a frantic comet.
Please! Leon! Do it! Do it now!
The muscles on his back squirmed, eager and ready. Wesker took another step, his cold feline gaze on Sherry.
Fuck being fast. He had to be blinding.
Two blades launched and struck. A strangled cry of surprise, and a last second evasion thwarted by a third blade through the bicep of Wesker's gun arm. Feathered pins locked in place. Expensive leather tore and bled. Gloves shredded on sharp edges. The PDA skidded to Danny's feet, then crunched to pieces in Danny's hands. Fire engulfed wall to ceiling, then tried to eat his wings. Not sure if the sudden heat was real or imaginary, he twisted one blade in warning. Wesker snarled like a beast, eyes wild and flaring rage. Legs thrashed, black heel marks on the floor. Muscles strained and jerked. Wesker's gun arm ripped free. Fuck. Only two flimsy rapiers left to hold this bucking bull in place.
So he added two more.
"I can keep doing this until you run out of limbs, Wesker," Leon said. "Be a good boy and stop flopping around."
Bucking bull considered this proposition with a hooded glare and a contemptuous snort. Then reason prevailed and Wesker calmed, struggles easing one by one except for his fingers. They knotted by his side, eager to resume pulling at his feathered pins – or to commence throttling the one holding him.
"Is he secure?" Sherry peered at Wesker with a wary mix of fascination and disgust, a bug on the wall she had never seen before. Danny wiped the PDA's remains off his shaking hands as if they burned.
"Yeah. Consider the tail bolted to this ass."
"Good. Danny, disarm him."
She might as well have told Danny to saw off his own arm for all the enthusiasm he showed, but he did as she asked in one darting movement that rivaled Wesker's speed and grace. If the rest of the Angels had even half those reflexes, he and Danny would have a serious problem if they crashed this party.
Once Danny had retreated to safety, gun and combat knife in hand and sea lily a quivering bud, Wesker tried to coax his young Jedi back to the dark side.
"Danny, you swore an oath to me, you know the consequences of betrayal. You know everything she says is a lie. Why do this?"
Danny opened his mouth, but Sherry answered. "You know why. You watched Raianna die and did nothing. Now Danny's going to watch you die...and do nothing."
Sounded fair to Leon, though he had no idea who this Raianna was. A lover? A sister? Whoever she had been, Danny still grieved for her by the way he blinked at the sudden misting in his eyes and found the cracked cement at his feet profoundly fascinating. Sea lily darkened to a mournful navy.
Wesker's eyes locked on Sherry and smoldered there. His inferno dwindled into an infuriated little campfire, white hot core and spitting embers. Sherry gave him a black glare of her own, sun eclipsing into a scarlet crescent. They stared at each other, communicating in their silent, annoying way. From their auras, it seemed to be an intense conversation, one that had his hunger pacing inside him as he had in that tiny room.
Leon started when she appeared next to him. What had he told her about the magical poofing? Wesker grimaced at the sudden movement, his glare finding a new target to set aflame.
"We don't have much time," Sherry said. "Angels are nearby – not in this section, but below us. Mercs also. And the ganado. Take what energy you need and then take his head. It's a guaranteed kill, and it's quick, more than he deserves."
He hesitated. Wesker's campfire soared into bonfire again, flames like fingers accusing him. "No. I said I was taking him...alive."
A lightning flash of fury in her sun, a glimpse of some strange, seething mass illuminated, then swallowed by light. Golden sparkles returned, but they did little to brighten the deep crease between her brows. "We had an agreement," she said, voice flat and firm.
"We had a discussion, not an agreement. And I thought I was clear. Alive, not dead." He tried not to think of that pulsating shape (mouth, it had been a gaping, black mouth), and smoothed his tone with gentle understanding. "You've been under Wesker's heel for six years. And I can relate. I have memories from numerous hosts on being enslaved, and of course, the unforgettable joy of being Saddler's boy toy for half a day. I know what it's like to be used. To be property. You want to escape, you want to hurt back. And you will hurt him, Sherry, but not in the way you want. Or when you want. I told you, I have to consider this situation as a government agent. Wesker's wanted by the BSAA and the CIA for his crimes. There are protocols I have to follow."
"So...is it protocol to harpoon the bad man to the wall?" Danny said, trying his best to be belligerent. His trembling hands folded under his arms. Red splotched his pale cheeks like war paint. "Read him his rights while he bleeds from the wounds your razor wings of death gave him?"
"Technically, Wesker's a terrorist. I don't have to give Miranda rights."
"Oh bloody Christ." Danny's palm clamped to his forehead. "Did Saddler fuck every last bit of sense from that beautiful head of yours? Or is this just typical American stupidity I'm dealing with? Sorry, can't tell the difference. Sherry, I think his brain's broken. Please fix him."
"Leon, you're not being rational. You're thinking like a...human."
"I'm not being – what?" He stared at her, aghast, wondering how and when the coin had flipped, and their roles had reversed. Sherry came to him, her sun drawing out his twilight somehow, infusing it with warmth. He remembered the mouth and gathered himself close. She followed, keeping contact, wispy rays invading his layered swathes.
"It's not a bad thing, and I understand it. So does Danny – even Wesker to an extent. We've all gone through the transition. You're new again, Leon, and you're confused, unsure what your role is now in the world. You cling to normalcy – to things like duty and morals and obligations. But they don't matter anymore."
"They matter because they have to matter. I'm not throwing away my moral compass all because I have to do...things that aren't...right. Or normal. I'm still me. I'm still here, damn it."
"Yes you are. You're still you." Placating him now, a suicide she had to lure back from the ledge. "And you're tired. You want to go home. And you want to bring back something to make it okay again, lessen the guilt you feel. But President Graham wants his daughter, Leon. Wesker is a poor consolation prize."
Wesker grunted, reminding them of his presence. Leon looked through him, into some future time where President Graham walked toward him, worry lines and age softened with a relieved smile, eyes bloodshot and hopeful.
And what happens when you tell him Ashley's dead?
President Graham dropped his head into his hands with a choked scream of denial. He stumbled and Leon caught him. They made a clumsy decent to the floor, Graham still in his arms. Tears spattered inside glasses, and behind them, raw grief, disbelief and sorrow. Then Graham's eyes changed. Hardened into anger, accusation.
Why did you fail me?
He pulled away, but Graham held on, dragging him down. Fury and hate. Bitterness.
He won't remember your friendship. When he sees your face, he'll see her. He'll see your failure.
Graham's foot crushed into his spine. He couldn't breathe. And he couldn't use his wings because this was his President. He was honor bound to protect him and his country. Others came, yanked him to his feet, fellow agents once friends, but no longer. They didn't see him as Leon Kennedy. Their colleague was dead. In his place, a monster.
He'll order things. Tell his scientists to study you, do things to you. And he won't care how much pain he causes. It will be punishment. And it will be just in his eyes.
A shadow presence slipped free from his aura. Pressure eased from his mind and took with it the images placed there. He exhaled and wiped at the prickling in his eyes.
"You've reduced him to tears, Sherry," Wesker's words came raspy and taunting. "Well done. I would give the applause you deserve, but unfortunately, my arms are skewered to the wall."
Blades twisted in reflex, and the agonized strain on Wesker's face made it all better.
But not for Danny.
"Fuck...did you really have to do that?" Doubled over, hand slapped over the place where Leon's feather had just shut Wesker up. Nothing red seeped though Danny's fingers, but his breath came fast, eyes squeezed shut. Sea lily scrunched up into a tight bud. Danny groaned, averted his face as if to vomit, but staggered into the wall instead. He collapsed in a pile and into a fetal position, whimpering.
"Danny? Oh no. I'm so sorry!" Sherry tried to draw Danny's sea lily into the open, but it had disappeared inside its fleshy shell. Her sun beam went through Danny's body and groped about, a blindfolded gardener in search of a stubborn tulip bulb. "Please, if you hide from me, I can't shield you."
"Shield him from what? Is it the empathy? Explain it, Sherry – and make some goddamn sense when you do."
She bristled at his tone, snapping those teeth inside the sun. Either the mouth had grown, or the light covering it had dimmed. The gold had trouble veiling the toothed abscess around her body. His instincts, new and old warned him that mouth symbolized something, and it wasn't anything close to good.
"When you attacked Wesker, I prevented the triggers from activating. But our little...chat took more out of me than I realized."
"Didn't I say to make sense?"
"Triggers. Mental conditioning. Brainwashing. All the Angels have been rebuilt in both body and mind. If they harm Wesker they'll go into seizures. Thinking about hurting Wesker will bring nausea, headaches, nightmares. And even watching – does it make sense for you now?" She all but spat at him, the teeth around her stretching wider, ready to take a bite. "He tried to do it to me, but the G-virus is incompatible with his program. A small blessing."
She blinked from Danny to Leon's side, and this time he jerked away. Wesker let out a hoarse cry when the blade slanted deep. Danny mewled on the floor.
"That's a good start. Take it the rest of the way."
"Don't ever use that tone with me. Don't ever enter my fucking head and put things there. It's bad enough not knowing what's real and what isn't without you mindfucking me! Saddler did that shit, and Wesker does that shit. And now you? I've had enough of people fucking using me!"
A slow appraisal from his bare feet to his face, measuring him, looking for a weak point. He stood stiff under her gaze, unable to move away, and unable to threaten bodily harm – not that he would. She was Sherry. And though she scared the hell out of him right now, he still saw those guileless blue eyes, her small body swimming inside of Claire's pink vest. The medics in quarantine had tried taking her twice, but she had fastened herself to his arm – and at one point – her legs around his waist, and yowling with every bit of strength her vocal cords could give her.
Don't let them take me. I won't come back.
They just want to check you, Sherry. I'll be right outside. Promise.
Claire promised. Said she'd come for us.
She will, right after she finds her brother.
But she never did, did she? And you never found me.
What? No, Sherry, I...tried. I told you –
You failed me like you failed Ashley. And now you're failing again.
"I'm not. I'm not failing. I'm trying to be...human. I'm not, I don't...fuck. Stop it."
She touched his face, the tears there she could not wipe away. His feathers shivered. Wesker tensed, fingers like ivory talons. His fire burned in slow motion, every flame an eye narrowed on Sherry.
"He wants to hurt me, Leon. Can't you see it? All that fire, and fury, and rage. It's all directed at me. Please, keep me safe." She sighed the word "safe" and laid her head on his shoulder, nuzzling as if she could smell him. He closed his eyes, tried to untangle his mind from hers, but her sun flowed in every corner, illuminated every secret chamber. His hunger shied from her presence, lips in a snarl, fur rising, shoulders hunched to spring. But she tamed it with a thought, soft hands in its fur, drawing it close, and breathing one word in its ear.
He opened his eyes. Wesker's fire saw the change before Wesker did, but it did not retreat as he expected. The strange colors returned, the glints of purples and blues. Butterflies that did not burn. They thrived in a field of flames, nectar gathered from embers.
He licked his lips, already hard.
His wings hinged and he knelt, hands on the wall, Wesker's head between. Twilight met fire, violet and red merging, not clashing. The two forces seemed intrigued by one another rather than threatened. The smell of new leather and blood, powerful muscles shifting around his blades. Erotic. Wesker held his breath, slitted pupils dilating then contracting, clinging to control. Touching him was touching a marble statue warmed by soul fire. And past the fire, the scent of winter. Fresh snow under a sky of stark, glittering stars. Wind through ice glazed trees. And in that wind, a hint of roasted clove, a flash of fragrant heat. Fire and ice.
He pressed against the statue, hands wandering, lingering in places that made the statue's muscles seize and breath quicken.
"Leon," the statue said. An attempt to deny his fate, to rationalize with his executioner. "Don't let her control you."
"She isn't." He smiled against Wesker's mouth. This is all me, baby."
Wesker's lips made a seal, jaw a rusty hinge, but he fixed that with a flick of blade. He devoured that pained cry, fused himself to that unyielding body. The fire fled from the encroaching twilight, but twilight pursued. Relentless. Starving. Hips met in an awkward dance. A groan part pain, part pleasure, but not surrender. He made a frustrated noise and punished with his kiss. A rhythm built, tentative, leather against cotton. Twilight found the fire hovering above a frozen lake. Ice layers thick. A glimmer of light and motion beneath. Rainbow fish with gauzy fins. His soul watched them glide, mesmerized.
He didn't know when his wings retracted, or why. He didn't care about anything except Wesker's hands hauling him up by his ass and crushing him into the wall. Sherry cried out a warning, but he was already lost, captured prey under the paws of a very aroused feline. He had done the same to Ashley back in that smelly room, when the ganado watched him put his hands on her, when he took from her without asking. This was retribution.
Impatient fingers slid from the small of his back, to inside the slack waistband of his borrowed ganado pants. One good yank and Wesker could do whatever he wanted.
Control it, Leon. Control him. You're not prey. You're the predator, you're stronger. Don't let him use you.
He sensed it then, a weakness. Years alone, yearning for perfection never found. Everyone failed him, always some flaw, some blemish to spoil any blossoming affection. Alone. Better that way. Needs of the flesh are trivial. Obsolete.
His legs hooked around Wesker's hips, his hands tangled in that thick blond hair roughened with crusted blood. You need, Wesker, Twilight whispered to the fire guarding the lake. Like anyone else. You've denied yourself long enough.
The fire wafted in indecision. His legs clenched Wesker tighter, feigning surrender when he had every intention to conquer. Wesker made a feral noise against his mouth. The waistband of his borrowed pants tore.
The flame became ash. The ice broke.
Submerged, and like in a dream, he could breathe. No chill in the vast darkness, no sense of gravity or weight. In the flowing current, brief impressions of emotions swept past, traces of sensation from his body in reality. He shrugged away those ties to himself. No distractions. Go deep, and be quick. If Wesker became aware of the intrusion, then he could sever the connection – or use it against him.
Beneath him, a glow. Vague, humanoid shapes swam in a cosmic swirl of luminescent fins and star dust. The swimmers traveled in lazy circles three layers deep and separated by colors: sunset bled into dusk, dusk brightened into dawn, and in the center, a frothing white vortex.
He descended into that core, past the strange, featureless mermaids. They swam on, oblivious.
A smooth surface under his feet, slanting into a room that radiated sterility like a beacon. He squinted until the white softened and a hall revealed itself. This hall led to identical halls that branched into four directions every junction – plus diagonal halls, halls on the ceiling. Halls in the floor. He got lost just by looking at it.
Hunger for energy guided him deeper into the Maze of Blah, toward where he hoped Wesker hid all the darker goodies. And after a period of senseless wandering, he found his first bread crumb.
A hall in the ceiling, not titanium white, but a soft cream. He floated up and righted himself on either the floor or wall (could have been either), and found a door there. No knob, seams all but unnoticeable save for the hair-thin red lines that marked them. He pushed on it, put his ear against it, and poked at the seams. Wouldn't budge. He rolled his eyes. Only Wesker would make a door that didn't open. Damn cock tease. But at least he was on right track.
He chose his next halls based on a grime scale from one to ten. Ten being the prim and proper Wesker, and one being the Darklord of Hell Wesker. Eights and sevens had dingy gray under the cream, doors more frequent, but still without knobs. Sixes and fives looked as neglected as Saddler's facility. Doors oozed black fluid. No knobs.
He felt resistance between each transition into a lower level hall. Sometimes it would be a sudden push of air, other times it was like wading through invisible mud. He always won these mental tug-of-wars, but it seemed the deeper he went, the more Wesker's subconscious – or whatever it was – fought to keep him out.
Transition number two, a winding throat of a hall that forced him to scramble on his knees when the ceiling began to press down. He emerged, panting and sweating into a blackened number one hall.
Something growled loud enough to shake the soot from the ceiling. He waited in a half crouch, staring into blackness and hoping the thing wasn't as big or as ugly as it sounded. Nothing emerged from the tantalizing opened doorways on either side of the walls – the nearest a few steps away. Red light filtered through the drizzle of sooty dust, the gunk already coating his shoulders and arms. He rubbed his fingers. The odd texture of the stuff bugged him. Seemed more refined than soot. Slippery. A whiff of it brought to mind fifth grade art class, and the mess he had made every time a stick of it found his fingers.
He wiped it off on his pants and found streaks of it on his chest. His feet sank into the cool layer on the floor. The sound of wind howled all around him, but he didn't feel it. Something brushed his ear. A voice down the hall said: I see you. Laughter, intimate...sensual: it knew secrets and wouldn't share. Red lights dimmed, and his mental heart pounded. Charcoal sprinkled, but the growling did not return.
He cracked his mental knuckles and took a deep breath of chalky air. Time to open a few closets.
Door number one had no door. Inside, a stone room, no other furniture except a large desk. Nondescript things sat upon it: a black phone with numerous extensions, a wire basket containing manilla folders – all tabbed neat and facing the same way. A cup of identical pens, facing up and capped. A bin of paper clips all the same color: red.
The mug caught his attention, navy blue, logo stamped in white: S.T.A.R.S.
A picture frame on the middle of the desk, facing away. He turned it over: the Alpha team of S.T.A.R.S clowning around. A sunny day, an empty field behind them. Chris with his goofy grin, arm dangling around Jill whose smirk teetered on edge of laughter. The gleam in her eyes, the way she leaned into him, the easy intimacy. He didn't need their auras to know why. And Barry, with his toothy smile and bear arms around the shoulders of both Frost and Vickers – two of the Alpha team he only knew by gravestones.
And standing at the edge like a shadow, with his infamous sunglasses and polite, small smile – as if he found the antics of his teammates bizarre rather than amusing – was captain of Alpha team and his current soul snack: Albert Wesker.
Three of Alpha's sacrificial lambs had survived Wesker's betrayal, but Bravo team had been slaughtered – save for their medic, Rebecca. But Wesker had tried to kill her anyway. Shot an eighteen-year old girl. A fucking kid. Cold-hearted son of a bitch deserved his head chopped off.
The glass cracked in two in his hands. Shattered when he dropped it. S.T.A.R.S Alpha team divided.
The room shook. Doorway wanted to become a wall. He hit it at a run and managed to squeeze through right before it sealed. Too damn close.
Note to self: don't trust the doorless doors.
Piano music. Someone pounded on the keys with fervor and skill, a dreary, melodramatic melody. Made him think of operas and Alfred Hitchcock. Inside the room, a rotting piano bench and the echo of music. Paintings on the wall changed before his eyes: a saint became a demon, a knight became a murderous warlord with Wesker's eyes. The corpses at his feet stretched for miles.
Back in the hall, ghost wolf barreled past, a hint of musty fur and copper before it knocked him into one of the few closed doors. Under his hands, some sort of canvas, leather, or –
He snatched his hands back. Skin. Human skin.
"Momma?" Female voice, but warped, folding in on itself. A misshapen head strained against the skin door, bulbous skull, giant hands curled into claws.
"Momma, I can't see your face." Her mouth left a drooling wet spot.
He moved on. Some closets should stay shut.
Something hanging in the next room. Lightning gave it form. A dress, and not the little black variety. The rusty hanger it hung from replaced the medicine bag of an IV stand. Vintage style, straight from the seventies. Flowing and soft. Dark mint. On the sleeve, a tag and message written in what was becoming his least favorite artistic medium.
She only wore it once.
A feather drifted to his toe. In his hand, it turned black. Someone struggled to breathe in the shadows. Lightning revealed no one. Beeping. Erratic. A heart monitor?
He drew a breath. Couldn't exhale. Couldn't inhale. He opened his mouth. Not even a gasp. He clutched at his throat, thumped his chest. Fuck...oh fuck, he couldn't breathe. Rasping in his ears, and the sound of his own pounding blood – but he shouldn't have blood. He shouldn't need air. Charcoal gloom swallowed him. The hanger creaked. Choking noises. Rattling in someone's throat. The sound of cloth ripping. A dry, throttling death knell. Heart monitor flatlined.
He threw himself into the hall.
Lungs expanded. Contracted. Relief. What the hell was that all ab –
Ghost wolf pounced on his back.
Charcoal went up his nose, into his eyes. Red lights went out. His world became snapping fangs and harsh, snuffling growls. Talons raked furrows into his soul skin, flayed muscles and tendons, exposed his spine. His scream sputtered, then rose into a shriek when it went for his throat. A chunk of himself tore away. Blood flooded his mouth, poured from his nose and made a pond of gummy charcoal under his cheek.
The weight lifted. The smell of dead dog faded. But the damage...mortal. Cold frosted his insides. Left him numb and burning. He couldn't move, and he couldn't heal these wounds because he never learned how – never had the need. Where were his hosts? Oh, right. In his real brain. In his real body. The one Wesker would dissect and experiment on if he didn't wake the fuck up.
He tried to rise out, will himself back, but layers of Wesker's psyche had buried him. Isolated and powerless, a soul dying inside a soul.
Red light gentled to blue. Feathers rained. Some angel above the black cloud flapped her wings and took pity on him. He rolled over. Feathers fell like snow, gave him airy kisses. The pain eased. Warmth melted the frost. He touched his throat. Healed. The taste of blood was gone.
Down at the end of the hall, a woman waited in the dress she only wore once. A familiar shade of blond hair flowed abundant and soft over her shoulders. Long wavy bangs hid half her face. Around her willowy body, a quiet blue radiance the charcoal and grime of this place couldn't touch.
"I know who you are," he said. She had on that old style dress and existed in Wesker's mind. It wasn't hard to guess.
She raised her head, but did not reply. Feathers arranged themselves in a circle around her green sandals.
"What I don't understand is why you saved me."
I didn't. He saved you.
She turned like a sleepwalker and drifted down another hall. He followed, wincing at every shift in the darkness. A child prayed somewhere close, words lost in the charcoal fog.
"Who saved me? Wesker? I thought the wolf was Wesker."
The wolf is a memory.
"That memory tried to maul me."
You are uninvited.
Couldn't argue with that. He eyed her backside, watched the heavy swing of her hair. "So, are you leading me out?"
No, I'm leading you to him.
"There's a difference?" He stopped when she stopped. She faced him, and tucked her bangs behind her ear. Her features rode the fine line between masculine and feminine. Large, heavy lidded eyes, and generous lips softened the carved hollow of her cheekbones and strong, pointed chin. Patrician nose, high forehead, eyebrows thin and darker blond.
Striking, but in a way of a tigress or a solemn Greek goddess. Admire from afar, but don't touch.
Behind her, a door appeared, a monstrous thing made out of locks of every shape and complexity. Desperate muttering inside. The praying child.
That isn't my name.
"Then what do I call you?"
She touched the door with a slender hand. 'Lady hands' his mother would have said with a wrinkled nose and pursed lips. Hands that never saw dishes, or gardening, or scrubbed the bathtub clean after a certain filthy boy who thought making mud cakes after the rain was a swell idea.
Her fingers trailed over the largest padlock in a pensive outline. Distance in her eyes. She was elsewhere, in another time and place, seeing some tragic event unfold. Sorrow infused her radiance, turned it dark and brittle. If he touched her now, she would fall apart.
He doesn't remember.
The locks dissolved into charcoal under her fingers. Through the hole in wall, the child didn't miss a beat of his desperate mantra. A string of the same sentences in rhythmic cadence:
Obedience breeds discipline, discipline breeds unity, unity breeds power, power is life.
Over and over again, as if the child had to convince himself the truth in the lie.
Go. He refuses my comfort.
"What makes you think he'll let me – oh, great," he said to the now empty hallway. "And of course...you disappear. Yep. Sure, I got this. Don't need any help at all with your demon child."
Nowhere else to go but forward. Another mauling or some other torture awaited, but he couldn't stay here. In Soul World, grains of sand floated to the bottom of the hour glass, but in reality, they spat. The sense of urgency seized him, gave the courage he needed.
Air congealed with charcoal dust. Heaviness, something pushing back. Go away, go away. You're not invited. Dim light, red as the hall and centered around a crouching figure. Age could have been thirteen, or eighteen – hard to tell in the gloom. Nude, spindly legs and arms, body hunched over and ravaged with crisscrossing grooves. Some cuts were partially healed, crusted over. Some went to the bone.
Not wounds from a whip, or blade.
Visits from ghost wolf.
He saw the chains then, glints of dull iron around wrist and ankle and neck. Thick rings on the floor held their prisoner in place. Shallow rocking, rapid and anxious. Hugging himself, shivering. Umbrella's secret motto tumbled in broken fragments from the boy's lips.
"Wesker?" It couldn't be him. This pathetic, helpless thing that roused his every instinct to protect, to save. Wesker didn't need saving. The very idea itself went against the laws of nature and the universe.
Ghost wolf rumbled low, prowling the fringe of light. A despairing cry, and the boy curled himself smaller. Motto came faster, sentences overlapping as if the speed would appease his furry warden.
He put his hand on that bony shoulder, felt the twitch of muscles that would grow inhumanly strong one day. Silence. Rocking ceased. The boy swiveled his head one crank turn at a time. Under the spill of lank hair...nothing. No face. Impressions for the eyes and the mouth, but a blank canvas for the rest.
Transfixed, unable to move or speak, or remove his arm. The boy held Leon as the chains held him. Those sunken impressions peeled themselves open, strands of skin like rubber cement splitting from paper. The boy's mouth opened in a howl. A black void. The absence of life and emotion. Of soul.
The clicking of claws at a run. The motion of air behind him. A furious snarl. Ghost wolf leaped but didn't hit.
The world went red. A hand spun him around. Blood and fire seared his vision, a pale face contorted with affronted rage. Wesker's fingers dug into his shoulders, lips raised, bared teeth parting.
He smacked the wall and went down. White light everywhere. Grit on his ass. Where was his fucking pants? Where was Wesker? A girl was screaming Leon's name, sobbing as if he was dying in her arms. Sherry? The facility hallway. That meant –
A truck hit him at full speed, lifted him by his hair and slammed his head into the floor. Everything wiped to gray and psychedelic glints, Sherry's crying muted by the roar of his suddenly exploding head.
Through the groggy cloud of specks, Danny lay in a heap near the wall, sea lily limp and adrift. Beyond Wesker and his blazing hellfire, human forms gathered, black and red suits, drawn weapons.
Wesker staggered and Dante's Inferno faltered.
Sherry thrust herself into his thoughts, fueling his adrenaline, straightening his jumbled brains.
I don't know what happened, but you did something, saw something. He wants to punish you, wants to tear them out. I'm so sorry, Leon. I didn't mean to hurt you, or force you to do anything. You can still make it. He's weak. Confused. So are they. Go on, get out of here...run, Leon!
He swayed to his feet, the hall a mess of movement and auras, all concentration on their fallen captain.