"Is that so?" Veronica replied to the man's comment, lowering her head in defeat. Robert had been right. There would never be an escape. "Others have tried, you know."
The man laughed, the sound of his chuckles carrying through the air like the rotten feather of a crow wafting through a light breeze until it finally settled. "I don't think I would have the pleasure of being here if they hadn't, darling Lenore."
She sighed, bracing herself to stand up. The light that illuminated the small, circular area around her flickered a couple of times and then went off, letting the night swallow her whole. "I'd ask you to give me a reason to kill you," she slipped her hands to her guns as she stood to her feet in order to face her opponent. It seemed odd how tranquil everything became in light of the oncoming confrontation that would leave one of them dead. Her insides no longer twisted and churned. Her lungs no longer felt like collapsing and her flesh no longer burned. She was alone with the promise of bloodshed, her only comfort. "But… I don't think I care anymore for excuses."
"Prospero finishes running." The man, little more than a shadow in the night, began to walk towards her, swaying with each slow step. "I wonder, is it because you finally wish to face the Red Death, or is it because you've merely found yourself cornered? Tell me, my dear, how does it feel to know that salvation lies through a trail made of my blood?"
Salvation? Did she even care for such a thing anymore? "Enthralling… I almost wouldn't have it any other way." She found herself pausing; the words that so easily drifted from her lips keeping still for but a moment, allowing her to speak her mind instead of letting her demon dictate her actions. "I… I really should have expected as much."
"But," he spoke before she could get anything else out. His shadowed form continued to approach her, stopping only a few yards from where she stood. "Did you expect to see me, lovely Lenore?"
"Lenore? Are you insane?" She found herself speaking under no real direction of her own. Despite being confronted by someone so alien to her, she couldn't help but speak with him as if she had known him for years, regardless of how much she knew that she should keep her guard up.
"I'm as sane as you, my sweet. You may go by whatever name you wish, but always and forever you are to me my sweet Lenore." He lifted up his arm, pointing a long, indiscernible object at her. "We were together for so long, yet so short. They took you away. They called you a failure, a travesty, but they didn't know that you hadn't heard the bells!" He stopped to laugh, waving around what Veronica assumed to be his weapon. "Though, I expected that you forgot. You forgot so much, but you needn't worry my dear, for it was not your fault, but those wretched, spiteful angels wished you forget of your existence there, with me."
"You're mad…" Veronica muttered with all the enthusiasm of a child forced to do schoolwork. Somehow, she came to expect nothing less from this man.
"Oh, I love you so, Lenore." He threw his arms up in the air, tossing his head back to the night sky. "I love you so much, despite how much of a coward you are! Come, bow to your superior before he spills your blood and reacquaints you with those wonderful bells."
As if he had control over the very fabric and motions of reality, the few working nearby streetlights sprung to life. Standing before Veronica, illuminated in all his glory, a pale, blood-covered husk of a man stood, waving a sword through the air as if directing the stars above their heads. With a spasmodic twitch, his head shot upright and his cold, dark eyes focused on Veronica. Slowly, he lowered his arm, grinned and pointed the tip of his sword at her.
"I'm already dead," Veronica said with all the conviction she could muster, her words practically tearing through the air, leaving nothing but absent voids of silence in their wake. She pulled her handguns from the holsters at her hip and aimed them at her target.
"You're scared! Prospero! YOU'RE SCARED!" His eyes opened wide, bulging from his face. He licked his lips while his echo was still fresh in the air as if tasting the dried blood still caked to his face.
Every breath she took sent shivers down her spin and once again, she began to crave the warmth of a blanket of blood wrapped around her skin. "Yes, I'm scared," she uttered, her words falling from her lips like a freight train cascading off the edge of a cliff. "I'm scared of myself… I always have been, but I'm not scared of you. I'm not scared of you or any other God damn thing in that city!"
Veronica pulled the triggers to her guns, determined to see her opponent fall to the ground. The gunshots rang through the still air, replacing whatever sort of conversation the two of them shared prior. Whether or not any of her bullets hit her target, she never knew. Before she could so much as utter a single curse, her opponent closed the distance between them and brought his blade down through the air, forcing Veronica to catch his weapon between her handguns in order to prevent it slicing her head in two.
Bringing down more of his strength on his sword, the disturbed man whispered, "You've heard the bells before, haven't you? Not when I heard them so many countless ages ago, but recently. Oh, Lenore!" He grinned as he brought the edge of his sword ever closer to Veronica's forehead. "That's why they took you away! You heard those sweet bells far too late and they never knew! They never thought you were a god like me!"
Struggling to keep her end of the parry up, Veronica managed to reply, "I'm getting real fucking tired of listening to you!"
For a brief second, nearly all tension ceased from her opponent. Of course, just before she could utilize the opening, he twisted his blade and swiped it to the side, forcing one of Veronica's handguns out of her grip. Wasting no time, she retaliated by lodging a couple of bullets into him, causing him to stagger backwards. What damage being shot at point blank range did to the psychopath obviously did little to hinder his assault, as no fewer than three seconds passed before he attacked once more, sending his blade through the air towards Veronica's neck. She avoided decapitation by ducking, only to have him plant his boot against her jaw, knocking her backwards onto the ground.
Before Veronica could so much as realize that the pleasant warmth she felt cascading down her face was her own blood, her opponent ran to her and kicked her other gun from her grasp, sending it sprawling into the distance. Even though the world spun around in circles, she could make out this man's image as he stood above her, sword resting on top of his shoulder as he admired the sight of his defenseless, injured prey beneath him.
"You left me with nothing, sweet Lenore. Nothing except the mental embrace of countless pages." He laughed to himself, weighing his blade in his hand, without a doubt readying himself to end Veronica's life in one swift slash. "Loneliness became my muse in my personal prison. Text can only do so much for a starved, broken heart." Rolling his head around his shoulders, he looked down at Veronica and grinned. "But I became a god while you ran away, Prospero. You ran and I became everything that every mortal dreams of! I am death! I am life! I am the incarnation of the Red Death!"
He lifted his blade into the air and began to swing it down at Veronica. Dizziness still plaguing her eyes, the saltiness of her own blood gracing the tip of her lips and tongue, Veronica let out a short, forced laugh, flicked her wrist and released her hidden blade just in time to deflect the man's sword. No sooner did the clang of metal colliding dissipate in the heavy air than Veronica forced herself to sit up and jam her knife into her opponent's thigh. Then, she only knew an intense, throbbing and burning pain from the side of her skull, the wonderful, blissful warmth of blood against her cheek and the cold, hard embrace of the ground.
"Do you remember those white rooms, the torture chambers painted in invisible blood, the souls of others like us and the unending concert of agony screams?" The man's voice entered Veronica's temporary realm of semi-consciousness. "The hands of God? How were they to know that death was the key to our disease? Those bells were so sweet when I heard them, Lenore! So very sweet! I had wanted to stay, but they wanted a tool. Instead, they got a ruler." Footsteps. Slowly, the darkness gave way to scattered lights against a dark, midnight blue background. "When you heard those bells, were they as sweet as I remember?"
She knew that she needed to move, but her body fought against any desire to stand up. Death waited for her if she held still any longer and part of her wanted to embrace that calling. Part of her wanted to accept her fate, thinking that perhaps she deserved to die or that she would find true peace beyond the grasps of life. His blade could be His scythe and she could have chosen to embrace such an entity with open arms.
But she didn't. She couldn't let herself give up, not after all she had been through. Even as that part of her that wanted so much to escape from everything that haunted her for the past few, terrible days, she continued to think, "How long would Kyle wait for me?"
Somehow, Veronica found herself on her feet, the figure of her opponent standing just beyond the reaches of one of the streetlights. She swayed to the side, having to force herself to regain balance as he began to walk towards her, his blade hanging at his side as a mere extension of his arm.
"I'm surprised," he said, stepping into the light for only a moment before passing through the other side. As soon as he reentered the darkness that controlled nearly all of the air, he ran at Veronica, knocking away her feeble attempt to defend against his attack. She felt the arm equipped with the wrist blade fling to her side. No matter how much she tried, Veronica couldn't prevent herself from screaming as her opponent impaled her upper arm with his blade. With every inch he pushed the cold, sharp metal through her flesh and muscle, another broken scream shot from between her lips. Pain dominated her so much that even as the man pressed against her, his cheek touching hers, she could do nothing but tremble and pant in a futile attempt to displace her agony.
Nuzzling the side of her face for the briefest of moments, the man pushed his blade further through her arm and whispered, "You don't remember the Doctors or those who heard the bells but never returned to Hell? Everything was white. It was like Heaven, if Heaven were made of pain and lies. They wanted to play God, and we were their pawns. Oh, how the tides have turned, right dear Lenore?"
As his words faded into her mind, his hellish embrace practically tearing through her flesh like sandpaper, Veronica found all the pain and warmth that had conquered her senses begin to dissipate. Silence took hold of her ears and the desolate, suburban world disappeared from her eyes. As her consciousness departed from reality, a distant, beating heart began to break through her newfound deafness. Each new beat, like a drum, grew louder, causing deep, penetrating vibrations to surge from her chest. Eventually, the sound and the vibrations became too much to bear. The rhythmic beating rang in her ears until she began to plead for silence. Her body began to feel as if it would shatter with each new beat, as if her bones were made of eggshell and she was slowly falling apart.
When the beating surpassed any sort of tolerance Veronica had left, forcing her to scream absent, soundless yells into the air, her skin lit on fire. She tried to move but found that her body had been bound in place. Her wrists, ankles and neck grew sore and cold while the rest of her body burned. Eventually, those areas fell numb and the constant beating began to fade. For the longest time thereafter, she felt nothing.
"That's all for now," spoke a man whom she could have sworn she had heard before, his last word allowing a bright, white light to conquer the blindness that had fallen over Veronica's eyes. For a moment, all she saw was that white light. "At least you two seem to be sturdier than the others."
Veronica blinked a couple of times. She tried to let out several deep breaths, but couldn't tell whether or not she succeeded. Soon, the image of a man dressed in white came into view, standing before her with a clipboard in hand. The desire to speak and inquire into her location became overwhelming, but try as she might, Veronica couldn't find the power to speak. Only after the man in white left the room did she realize that weakness hadn't stayed her tongue, but fear had kept her mouth shut.
"I… think that," someone began to speak from her side, this voice more young and weak than the last. "That I died. Are you supposed to hear bells when you die?"
Wide eyed, Veronica found her head turning to her left. Sitting there, bound to a cold, metallic chair much like herself sat a young boy with hideously pale skin and the darkest pair of eyes she had ever seen. Under no control of her own, Veronica found herself replying, "A white light, maybe… I don't know anything about bells. Are you sure you didn't just pass out?"
"When do you think we'll be able to go home?" the boy asked, as if he hadn't just said that he had died.
Veronica shook her head, but try as she might, she couldn't remove her gaze from the young boy. "I don't know."
"Do you miss the others?"
"I hardly knew them…"
"I'm glad you're still here, Veronica."
She began to suffocate with the mention of her name, all of the air within her lungs instantly fading from existence. The boy closed his dark eyes and lowered his head. Soon, he faded back into the white light and then everything began to go dark. Veronica tried to gasp for air, but found that there was none to be had. She tried to move, but her limbs wouldn't budge. Confusing, alien memories plagued her exhausted body and tore through her fragile psyche until she couldn't even feel her limbs any longer. In one last, desperate act, she threw her head back and began to scream, wanting nothing else but to drown her existence and forget everything.
Her hopeless, terrified cries were replaced with a distant voice, and then gunshots. However, even as the pain that seized her entire arm began to recede ever so slightly and her adversary fell to his knees before her, she remained separated from reality. From her lips came the word, "Billy," but no one heard her speak.
The name of the self-proclaimed god lingered in the air for all of a moment before he shattered it by yelling, "She's mine! UNDERSTAND?"
"Ronnie!" Veronica's attention immediately shot in Kyle's direction, spotting him standing underneath one of the streetlights a few yards away just before her dagger, sheath and all, came skidding along the ground to her feet. "Hope I'm not interrupting anything. You wanted that back, right?" Even though she couldn't clearly see his face, she knew that he was smiling.
For all of the time it took Veronica to crouch down and reclaim her weapon, never once taking her eyes off Kyle, she forgot about the pain in her arm and how little she could will herself to move it. All of her blood loss, the liquid fire drizzling down her face and the insane lunatic not five feet at her side became all of a distant memory. For a brief time, she only saw Kyle. The demon inside her crawled back underneath its rock, taking with it every repressed, fragmented memory that had resurfaced.
She actually began to smile, but she should have known better. A gunshot exploded from her immediate left and before she could so much as tear her attention away from Kyle to remind herself that the man he had shot had not keeled over and died, she watched as Kyle stumbled backwards and fell to ground. His short-lived cry of agony dug its nails into the recesses of Veronica's mind, forcing her to watch his writhing body lie on the ground. Every new, frantic breath she took felt as if she were inhaling napalm and without even thinking, she began to run to him, screaming his name.
"Running again, Prospero?" Billy's blade cut off Veronica's path, drawing her attention to him. She could only manage to stare with absent, broken eyes into his cold, grinning face. Fresh blood soaked the entire right side of his chest from where Kyle had shot him. "We're not finished here and I can't let you run any longer."
"You!" Veronica shot back, her grip tightening on her dagger. "YOU! I'M GOING TO FUCKING KILL YOU!" At every available pause, she found herself gritting her teeth. Long after she finished speaking, her words continued to linger within the air, as if only to attempt to remind her of her raging insanity. Rationality no longer acted on Veronica's behalf, thrown to the wayside for her desire to kill. She didn't even crave this man's blood. Unlike every other instance that she had slipped into the abysmal world of savage insanity, she knew that he needed to die, no longer caring about right or wrong. It was no longer about her or her humanity. He had shot Kyle, the one person who had done more for her than any other person in her entire life and for that, and that alone, he would die.
Wasting no time, not so much as sparing a single moment for the maniac to respond with some twisted, poetic verse, Veronica reached out with her injured arm, not caring for the intense, throbbing pain that ruled nearly every nerve on the upper left side of her body. Her hand wrapped around her opponent's blade in an attempt to disarm him before lashing at his throat with her blood-tainted, emerald knife. The dark expression on Billy's face never so much as changed as he seized Veronica's wrist mid-strike and tore his blade free from her grasp, gashing her hand open in the process. She probably would have screamed if it hadn't been for the blood that filled her mouth from biting down into her tongue.
"We're not so different," he began to say as he prepared to take his advantage and strike Veronica down. "His blood is on your hands just as much as mine! You wanted to kill him too, don't lie!"
Veronica opened her mouth and screamed, blood flowing over her lip and down her chin as she tackled Billy to the ground. Resting on top of him, holding his arms in place, she looked down into his dark, dead eyes and shook her head. "I'm not as sick as you are. I'm NOT as sick as you are!"
"Keep running, Prospero. The Red Death already has you."
She removed her grasp of his right arm, the wounds in her left arm having completely numbed the limb. Still, she forced herself to close her hand into a fist and bury her wrist blade into his shoulder. No matter how much pressure she applied, no matter how much she twisted the sharp piece of metal inside his flesh, Billy never so much as winced. Instead, he began to laugh, causing Veronica to call out, "Stop! STOP LAUGHING! JUST DIE!"
His laughter faded to a chuckle and he began to shake his head. "He was already dead anyways, Lenore. But here I am. Here I've waited so long to be this close to you, to be reunited with my Lenore! We could live as gods!"
"If this is godhood," Veronica began to utter, loosening her grip on his other arm, "then I want nothing of it." In one swift motion, she pulled her hand away and gashed his throat with her dagger.
For a couple of seconds, Billy attempted to laugh, which soon turned into weak coughing fits. "The bells… The bells!" He gagged, lying near motionless beneath Veronica.
She watched him as he began to reach for air, but instead found only blood. "Death is too sweet for you," she said to him before driving her blade into his chest, leaving it there for the last few moments of his life.
"The Raven!" he cried, trying to reach up for the sky. "Nevermore!"
As Billy's body fell limp, Veronica took her knife from his chest, watching his blood drip off the tip onto his warm, blood soaked clothing. For the next passing minutes, she found herself plunging the knife repeatedly into his body, ending only when his upper torso resemble more of a shredded mess of gore than anything that had ever had any semblance to a human. She began to cry as she delivered the last few wounds to his corpse, eventually falling to the ground at his side with only the unending night sky as her comfort.
" Kyle," she uttered between sobs, the pain that slowly began to return to her senses starting to drive her mad. "Kyle! Kyle!" With whatever strength she had left, Veronica forced herself to begin to crawl towards him. "Please, Kyle! Please! I need you! Say something! Kyle!"
Her crawl turned into a weak, drunken-like walk and finally a mess of a run until, finally, Veronica tripped and fell over him. Burying her face into his chest, feeling the embrace of chilled blood against her cheek, she continued to cry out his name, wanting only to hear him say something, anything. As light-headedness began to reign over her senses and her eyes burned from flooded tears, she could have sworn that she heard him say, "I promised that I would never leave you again, didn't I?"
Pulling her head away from his chest to look at his face, Veronica found only pale, silent flesh staring up at the sky. She shut her eyes and began to yell with all the remaining strength her swollen, sore throat could handle. "You promised! You fucking promised!"
Hours probably passed. In reality, time had ceased meaning countless unforgettable days prior. All that remained was a corpse, and with that corpse a terrible emptiness, the likes of which no human should ever have been forced to embrace. The emerald blade rested on top of Kyle's chest while Veronica knelt at his side, her head bowed in silent remorse. At least, she thought she felt remorse, knew that she should have felt remorse, but all that truly remained was a void. Try as she might, she couldn't even feel her heart beating behind her chest.
"I'm sorry," Mark said after what had probably been an eternity of silence.
Veronica fell forward slightly, slowly shaking her head. She went to speak, but found that language had been lost to her. Instead, she stood up and ran her uninjured arm across her eyes only to find that all of those tears she had shed had already dried. As she began to walk away, picking up Billy's sword as she passed his slowly rotting corpse, Mark followed, no longer concerned about what she had done in the past. In fact, even Veronica herself no longer cared for what she had done, for the blood she had spilled. It no longer mattered.
Time passed, she knew that well enough. Eventually, Mark began to feel ill. Not long thereafter, he collapsed. For reasons beyond her comprehension, Veronica sat at his side as he attempted to rest, only to watch as life slipped away from his body, replaced with the wretched mindless hunger that consumed so many other human-shells left to dwell within the city. She ended the miserable creature's existence. The funny thing stood in the fact that she never noticed how Mark's body didn't bleed when she cut it, or how it never fell to the ground when it finally stopped moving.
By the time Veronica reached the highway, she became reunited with the familiar broken emptiness of the streets of Raccoon City. Corpses and cars littered the paved roadway like breadcrumbs left to mark a trail to Hell. However, bright lights shone off in the distance. Mindlessly following the highway brought her to a quarantine road block, Umbrella mercenaries stationed around various military-grade vehicles in order to prevent anyone from entering, and leaving, Raccoon City.
Despite how nearly all of the mercenaries aimed their guns at her, she continued to walk through their encampment, absently following the highway in order to reach Marcy's Diner. She had no real idea why she continued to walk, but she did. From her right, she heard a man call out, "Right, we found her. It was just like Billy said."
Shortly thereafter, several men blocked her path, pointing assault rifles at her in order to cease her movements. For a moment, she thought about tearing through their fragile bodies and paving the highway with their unworthy blood.
"Miss, I'm afraid we're going to need you to come with us."
She threw a glance to her right, then her left, finding mercenary after mercenary surrounding her. Lowered her head, she began to laugh, letting Billy's sword fall from her grasp. "If you want me, come and take me."
The last thing she saw from the back of one of the mercenary's vehicles as it drove off was a mushroom cloud engulfing Raccoon City so many countless miles away. Then, she found nothing more than all too familiar white light and bells.
Those wretched bells.