Author's Note: I'm deviating a lot from the "official" RE5 geography in here. But then again, Kijuju geography doesn't make that much sense in the first place.
The Devil's Queen
Excella tried not to think of Marcus as she shifted the revolver in her clammy grip. His aim had been flawless, yet none of his shots had even come close to connecting with Wesker. Was there any hope for her then, with her quivering hands and limited ammo?
All I need to do is aim and fire, she thought to herself as she watched the blond approach. His pace was steady and confident. She wondered if he was relishing in the idea of tearing her apart.
Aim and fire.
The motion was clumsier than she'd anticipated, the revolver almost slipping from her fingers as she pulled it up in front of her. It seemed to take ages for her to line up the sights as her eyes refocused past the gun and onto...empty air.
Excella barely had time to let out a panicked gasp when her entire vision was suddenly filled with dark red and purple. By the time she realized she was staring into Wesker's blood-stained shirt, the revolver was already flying across the room, slapped aside by a sweep of his arm.
She screamed and dove left, trying to slide past him and out into the open. One second she was moving through the air, the next she had her back crushed up against the stone wall, her bare feet dangling a meter off the ground. There was pressure all around her neck like a taunt metal noose.
Excella clawed in panic at the hand encircling her throat, digging her nails uselessly into the exposed skin. Black spots swam through her vision. She tried to find purchase with her feet but her heels only kicked helplessly against the wall behind her.
The grip continued to tighten. It was a slow, easy motion, unhurried and unyielding. He's going to snap my neck, she thought, dizzy with panic.
Past the bloodstained arm pinning her to the wall, Wesker's face loomed in her darkening vision. His lips were still pulled back in that savage grin and his alien eyes glittered like tendrils of fire. There was joy in his expression as well, a terrible, twisted amusement at her struggles.
For less than a millisecond, however, she thought she spotted a brief flash of hesitation.
Frantic hope raced through her mind. With renewed energy, she pried at his fingers, scratching at them blindly in an attempt to get them to release. It was like trying to bend cold steel. Her elbows scraped up against the wall, her hair hung in strands over her white, terrified face—and his grip seemed to loosen, if only for a heartbeat.
It was there again, unease in his blazing, yellow eyes. His fingers twitched, but he did not let go.
The word was a barely audible squeak, but he must have heard her. There was a snarl, and suddenly she was flung aside, her bare knees bruising against the ground.
Air had never tasted so sweet. She lay sprawled out, coughing and sputtering, too distracted with breathing to even notice the throbbing pain in her neck and the head. For a while, she could think of nothing other than filling her lungs with oxygen. And then after several strained gasps, her mind cleared and, with a cold stab of fear, she realized that her assailant was still behind her. She jerked around so fast that the edge of her dress tore against the rocky ground.
He was kneeling by one of the pillars with his head cradled in his hands. She could see his shoulders shuddering with panting breaths and he made a strained sound that was half a growl and half a groan.
"A-Albert." Her voice was so hoarse she barely even recognized it.
He looked up at the name. Wild eyes stared back at her, flashing with some sort of crazed, uncontainable emotion she couldn't identify. There was a crease in his thin, golden eyebrows that made him seem confused and angry at the same time.
Their eyes locked. And then, like a bristling dog, his features twisted again and his hands clenched back into tense fists. Seeing the muscles strained against his neck, Excella jerked back in terror.
But to her surprise, he only shuddered and fell still.
"Albert," she repeated. "Are you…?" She hesitated, considering a few things. Calm? Sane? Going to try to kill me again?
With a strangled growl, he bent his head down again, pressing the base of his palms against his eyes as if he was trying to rub something out from behind them. The light from the corridor shone off the wet blood still dripping from his hands. She could see that they were shaking.
Excella clambered to her feet, keeping her eyes peeled from any sudden movements from the blond. She was worried for him but she knew better than to get any closer.
"Tranquilizers." She was suddenly reminded of the incident back at the research center, the little 'hiccup' almost a month ago. "You need tranquilizers. Like back then. There's bound to be some…"
She looked around helplessly.
Without removing his hands from his face, Wesker shook his head stiffly. His breathing was so ragged she could hear every hoarse gasp even from fifteen feet away.
And then he spoke, his voice strained and contorted. "Proto…type…"
"Back…back in the luggage. I developed a prototype a-antidote…for…" He exhaled abruptly, like a heavy sigh. His hands steadied and he moved them carefully away from his face. "…for this."
"Our bags are in Marcus' guest rooms." The darkness seemed almost suffocating all of a sudden. "We'll have to find a way back to the surface."
Now that his face was unobstructed, Excella could see that his skin was a ghastly, pale white. Smudged crimson blotched the upper half, where his blood-drenched palms had previously been.
"We have to…go," he said slowly, as if struggling to find the words. "Go...and get it."
"Can you stand on your own?" Excella took a hesitant step forward, but stopped when she saw him twitch violently. His eyes narrowed abruptly into thin yellow slits.
"Don't," he hissed. He closed his eyes for a moment, as if gathering himself. And then he relaxed again, the tense muscles on his face loosening. "Don't...come close."
Excella nodded and remained fixed at her spot, happy to oblige.
There was a flash in the corner of her eye. A glance told her it was the flickering corridor lamp glinting off the buckle on Lana's decapitated corpse. The body was still slumped where Wesker had left it.
Perhaps she had a radio on her, she thought with a sudden flash of hope. It dissipated quickly, however, when she realized how unwise it would be to call for help. She'd forgotten that Marcus Kauffman was still scattered across the cavern floor and Albert was practically drenched in the dead man's blood.
At the very least, she could probably still salvage a flashlight. Excella walked over to the corpse, careful to keep her distance from the blond. She could feel his eyes on her, and she tried to ignore the hunger that shot through them.
"Power consumes…," he mumbled suddenly, his voice distant and detached.
Excella furrowed her eyebrows, but continued over to the body. He's delirious. This does not bode well. And then there was another thought, a tiny intrusive voice in her head. I should leave him here. Any second now and he'll snap again.
In two hurried steps she reached the body, shuddering when her bare feet squelched into the dirt. It reminded her of wet sand on a beach—except here, it wasn't water creating the effect.
Shuffling through the pockets of the combat vest, Excella fished out Lana's military-issue flashlight and a small, tactical radio. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to keep this on me, she thought after a pause. She hung it around her neck, wincing when the nylon strap pressed against the developing bruises on her skin. Folded in the inner pocket of Lana's vest was a map, which she threw aside after a quick scan. It was only for the underground facility, which was still blocked off from them by the collapsed room.
She was standing up when she spotted her revolver lying a few feet away from the body. She picked that up as well, telling herself that it was for any uncooperative natives still wandering around the ruins.
Excella heard a scraping noise behind her and turned around to find Wrk pulling himself unsteadily to his feet. His breathing had evened out, but his wild, unsettling eyes were still very much apparent.
There was only one other exit from the cavern, an unlit tunnel opposite from the corridor they had come in from. She shone the flashlight toward it.
"Let's go that way."
He nodded slowly in reply.
She kept her distance from Wesker as they moved into the tunnel, following him like a detective tailing a target. From behind, she could see that he was hunched over, a dark, stumbling mass against the glaring white of her flashlight. She felt a pang in her heart every time he leaned against the wall for support, but fear kept her from getting any closer to help him.
"I won't…let them," he mumbled, as they worked their way through the darkness. The words were soft and barely intelligible.
Excella tried to concentrate on the path ahead of them, ignoring the way Wesker's disjointed rambles echoed strangely up and down the tunnel.
"Consume me…like Will."
Curiosity got the better of her and she found herself speaking. "Who?"
It took a few minutes before he answered, as if he was trying to find his voice again.
Excella raised her eyebrows. A friend? The word seemed too genuine to come out of someone like Wesker. He'd never mentioned this man before, but then again, everything she knew of his past came from files she'd dug up in Tricell's database. She wondered if it was safe to pry.
"Where is he now?"
He didn't answer. The only sounds in the quiet hallway were the slow shuffles of Wesker's feet and the metallic rattle of the radio hanging from her neck.
There was light coming in from the end of the hall, a very pale white that barely illuminated the darkness. It puzzled Excella, since the path they had taken had been relatively flat. There was no way they had reached ground level yet. The exit where the light was coming from wasn't much more than an angled slit, and Wesker has to turn sideways to slide through.
She switched off her flashlight and followed Wesker out into the light.
The underground pocket they had entered was massive. It was almost completely circular, with jagged slabs of rock jutting out of the walls. High above her, she could see tiny holes in the ceiling which allowed several dusty beams to stream weakly down into the expanse.
What caught her eye, however, was the structure in the center. There was a large circular stone mound there, raised off the ground like the layers of a cake. Following its circumference was a dirt path and four small stairs in regular intervals that led up to the center. She could hear the soft trickle of water somewhere beneath the structure.
And then there were the flowers.
Hundreds of them clumped together in the center of the circular pedestal, their orange and red petals glowing in the pale beams of light. Many flourished beyond the bounds of the circular garden as well, bright bursts of color against the mossy, crumbling stone.
How curious, she thought to herself. An underground garden.
She was suddenly aware of Wesker, standing several feet ahead of her. He stood motionless at the edge of the stone pedestal, staring out at the garden as if he had never seen a flower before in his life. His eyes were so wide that the whites seemed to for form a ring around his yellow irises. There was energy in them again, something far different from the wild hunger she'd witnessed before.
And then he took a step forward, and then another step, until he was up the small staircase and standing on top of the raised mound. He looked down at the flowers, bright red petals brushing against his blood stained jeans. Although he was facing away from Excella, she could see that he was completely still, not unlike the flowers in the stagnant underground air. She couldn't even hear his formerly ragged breaths anymore.
"What is it?" Her voice sounded obnoxiously loud in the deathly silence.
There was a short delay, before he whispered: "Stairway…"
Excella glanced at the stone steps leading up to the mound. There was nothing on them. Was it just more of his delirious ranting again?
He crouched down then, slowly and cautiously. Dried blood flaked off his clothes and disappeared among the plants like crimson snow. Those stained red hands—the same ones which had almost squeezed the life out of her—reached out and touched the petals, so gently and reverently she could scarcely believe her eyes.
She wondered how ridiculous it would be to admit that she was jealous of a flower.
Excella walked around the circular path to get a closer look at the objects that had brought about such an abrupt change to her companion. They reminded Excella of daisies, with long, flexible stems and petals arranged in the shape of shallow dishes.
She sniffed the air experimentally. Something was missing. There were no weeds poking through the ground, no soft breeze in the air, no sweet smell of plant life and pollen. Only a garden of scentless flowers and the soft trickle of water somewhere beneath the stone. It reminded her of a museum exhibit, an ecosystem frozen in time. She had to brush a finger along a nearby flower to convince herself that they weren't made of plastic.
"Stairway?" she repeated softly, as she fingered a petal.
A flash of memory passed her mind: she'd been preparing for an interview, trying to snag a lab position in Tricell a few years back. The book had been large volume, almost too heavy for her to lift, filled with pages upon pages of miniscule black font. Excella hadn't been looking forward to reading it, but she had known how important it was for her to learn the information it contained. After all, it was the history of the world's greatest pharmaceutical company.
Of course. A lost Umbrella facility, a mysterious flower garden.
"Stairway of the sun," she said aloud. The words echoed through the dusty air. "The source of the original Progenitor virus."
She ran her hand around the circumference of the flower, letting the soft petals slide by her fingers.
"But if I remember correctly, Umbrella was not able to cultivate the plant properly outside of its origin." It was more to herself than to her companion, still crouched silently among the flowers. "So this…this must be the source. It all makes sense now. This is what makes this facility so special to you. It was the beginning of everything. The beginning of Umbrella."
Wesker turned to stare at her, his eyes pale and unblinking.
He doesn't understand me at all, she thought. He's still lost in there, somewhere among that ticking time bomb of a virus.
"But why do you need the origin of the progenitor?" she continued, ignoring Wesker's blank stare. "Unless...you want to create something different…something new. You want to start from the beginning. A new virus."
A buzzing excitement was working its way up her spine as she spoke. She felt like a child again, catching a glimpse of her Christmas present behind a torn corner of wrapping paper. A new virus. Could her hypothesis be true? Was it even possible? And what would it lead to in the end? Wesker wasn't any normal scientist; he wasn't after the research publications, the patents, the fame or even the money. There was something big planned behind those strange yellow eyes, and to think that she, Excella Gionne would be the one beside the man who would change the world…
She was thrown back into reality when Wesker flinched, his fingers instinctively grabbing down on the flower he had been examining. Her moment of excitement melted away the instant she saw the broken petals floating down from his fist. None of my fantasies will matter if we don't find a way out of here…before Wesker snaps and decides my head looks better off my shoulders than on it.
He was struggling with it again, teeth gnashing in a sudden bout of inexplicable anger. She scanned the room for an exit.
There was a short ramp of dirt in the back that led into a tall opening in the wall. The sides of the exit were decorated with two half broken columns, so eroded that they were now just round, crumbling stumps. Faded, engraved snakes circled the broken pillars in hypnotizing spirals.
"Let's go." She could hear the tremble in her own voice. "Back there. It will probably lead us out."
To her relief, Wesker complied and started stiffly toward the path. However, his fist remained clenched and the edge of a pulverized petal could be seen peeking out between his long fingers.
She tailed behind him once again, her flashlight lighting the way through another dark tunnel. She kept the beam forward and onto Wesker's feet, in fear that he'd fall down the unseen edge of an underground cliff. From the corner of her eye, she could see the faded gold glint of half buried ruins, like shadowy tombstones looming out of the ground.
They seemed to walk for hours. Gradually, she began to realize that they were no longer in a tight enclosed space; their footsteps had suddenly become very quiet. She could just barely see the dark forms of stone railings on either side of the path. Beyond them was an inky black, but she didn't dare move the flashlight away from the path in front of her. It would be a sorry way to die, strolling straight into a gaping abyss.
She was impressed with how Albert was holding up. He seemed to be moving faster than before, as if the mere act of walking was giving him momentum. Without a word he traveled headlong into the darkness, seemingly oblivious to any sort of danger the unknown path would bring. Briefly, she wondered how well his eyesight fared in the pitch black. Was her flashlight even necessary for those inhuman eyes?
Just when Excella was about to give up hope that they would ever see daylight again, the pair came across a narrow staircase. Wedged stone bricks led up in a steep slanted slope, disappearing into the darkness above. There was an archway that stretched over the first few steps. Most of its carvings were faded beyond recognition, but Excella thought she spotted an etched eye staring out at her from the highest point of the arch. She shuddered, trying to shake of the feeling that she was being watched.
Wesker spoke then, his voice hoarse and quiet. "This is the exit."
"How do you know?"
"I can feel the air."
She shone her light up the steps. They seemed to stretch forever.
"Can you make it?"
Wesker ignored her and started up the stairs.
Excella followed him, her legs trembling from both exertion and fear. There was only emptiness on either side of her and the width of the staircase was so narrow that one stray step would send her tumbling away into the darkness. The steepness made it worse, and soon she found herself almost bent over, clambering up on all four limbs.
She was glad that Wesker had to stop occasionally, since it gave her the chance to catch her breath. During these pauses, the blond would bend his head down over his chest, as if he had found something interesting on the steps underneath him. If Excella hadn't known better, she might have thought that he was praying. He would remain in the position for a few silent minutes, before exhaling softly and continuing the climb.
By the time the steps ended, Excella's bare feet were so bruised that she was wincing with every step. She limped up over the last stone wedge and found herself staring into a small, round orb of pastel red light. It took her a second to realize that it was an opening at the end of a narrow corridor.
Wesker was already moving toward it. She followed him, the orb expanding into a glaring sky of red and yellows.
Her eyes adjusted quickly and she saw that they had exited out onto the top of a small, rocky hill, the warm colors of the sunset flooding the open landscape. The breeze was surprisingly cool, and she took several deep breaths of fresh air. The dreary maroon of the African horizon was a welcome sight after hours of underground darkness.
Excella looked over her shoulder to find Wesker hiding in the shadows of the cave entrance, one hand shading his sensitive eyes from the piercing sunlight. Outside of the underground darkness, he looked even worse than ever.
Time was running out.
She needed to get her bearings. Judging from the direction of the sunset and the tiny concrete square in the distance, they were more than ten kilometers east from the original entrance to the facility. Out of curiosity, she took a few steps around the cave to take a look at the landscape behind them. There was a shimmering light in the distance: a tiny bay jutting inland. That could prove useful for future, she thought, and made a mental note of its location.
She fumbled for the radio around her neck. Earlier, when she had picked up Lana's radio, she had noticed that there was a little plastic card stuck taped on the back, with several frequencies written in large red marker. She was fairly certain that they would lead to help, or at least someone with the resources to pick them up. All she had to do was get a response.
She yanked the retractable antenna out of the device but paused before turning the dial. This was Lana's radio, after all, which meant the frequencies would most likely lead back to Marcus' men. Even if they were far enough away from the scene of the murder, there was no telling what the soldiers would do if their boss weren't to emerge from the underground facility. And if that wasn't suspicious enough, Wesker was still caked head to toe with a layer of dried blood—Marcus' blood.
She did have one advantage. Most, if not all, of Marcus' men were mercenaries he'd hired to clear out the old research center. Perhaps she could persuade them to turn a blind eye, especially given that she and Wesker were the only ones who knew the location of the bodies. As long as Marcus' death remained vague, she doubted the mercenaries would act too rashly.
She turned the dial until the small LCD screen reached the first frequency on the card.
"This is Excella Gionne, from Tricell. I need immediate assistance. Can anyone hear me?"
She had barely released the button when the radio crackled to life with a response. It was a male voice, distorted with static.
"Ms. Gionne, I'm glad to hear from you. We lost contact with your group a few hours after you went underground. What happened? Where are you now?"
"There was an accident…one of the caverns caved in on us."
"Is Mr. Kauffman with you right now?"
"I'm afraid not. Marcus was caught under the collapse and only my companion and I made it out. We found a way up to the surface through the ruins behind the facility."
A second of static.
"That's unfortunate news." Even through the distortion Excella could tell that the man was far from mourning. "I will send my men to pick you up; can you give me your location?"
"Yes, but…there's something else that you must understand."
"I'm listening, Ms. Gionne."
"This situation, although tragic, is also quite…delicate. A Tricell board member may be dead." She paused, still holding down the call button as she phrased her next line carefully. "I am willing to offer a…a gracious compensation for anyone who can make this process as easy as possible."
There was no response for several agonizing minutes. Excella even double-checked her radio to see if it had lost the signal. And then finally:
"I understand ma'am. For the sake of privacy, I'll retrieve the two of you on my own. You can decide how you want to contact Tricell after you get back to the facility."
She signed in relief. "Thank you. We're on a small hill, east of the facility. I can see the edge of the bay from here…and what looks like a swamp and some heavy foliage a little ways west. "
"I believe I know where that is. Look out for green jeep. I'll radio you when I get close."
"Your understanding is greatly appreciated."
Once the conversation was over, she turned back toward the cave. Albert was sitting cross legged a few feet in, hunched over in the darkness. The jagged cave entrance and warm light cast a strange red and black shadow across his face, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Golden eyes stared emptily at the wall opposite from where he sat.
She inched cautiously over.
"Someone is coming to pick us up. We'll have access to the bags soon enough."
No response. Excella rubbed her neck, wincing when she put pressure on the tender skin.
It was then that she caught sight of the wall Wesker was staring at. Like most of the other structures she'd seen in the ruins, it was crisscrossed with carvings.
"Snakes again?" she said aloud. Walking over, she ran her hand across the etchings, feeling the smooth raised curves under her fingers. There were serpents carved across ever corner of the wall. They twisted and turned among each other, forming dizzying waves and hypnotic spirals. Some were larger than the width of her hand, others thinner than her pinky.
Sharp fangs shone in the evening light, zigzag grooves formed rippling, intricate scales. Their eyes had once been painted a vibrant red, but time had turned them into faded rusty smudges.
At the sound of her voice, Wesker's gaze moved away from the carvings and fixed unblinkingly at her. He stared, expressionless, for a second, before a slow smile crept across his lips. It was barely noticeable, a shadow of a grin that tugged gently at the corners of his mouth.
Excella shuddered and turned away.
"Never did like snakes," she said, reflexively brushing the tips of her fingers over the bruised skin on her neck.
And then she sat down in the shade of the cave and waited for the jeep to arrive.
Author's Note: Someone made an interesting point on Tumblr. Wesker claims to have wanted to save the world, and in a way, he has. We now know that his son, Jake, has inherited Wesker's blood which is apparently some sort of magical cure to all the viruses (hence Sherry's determination to get him out alive.) Probably too deep for Capcom to have planned out intentionally though.