The Amazon’s Tomb
Giselle approached the patient, a seventeen-year-old boy who was hurting himself as he struggled desperately against the straps that tied him to the stretcher. “Keep still,” she advised, tapping the syringe a few times. “The less you resist, the less it’ll hurt.”
The boy kept squirming. Of course, Giselle knew he didn’t understand German, for he was a recent victim, an Italian kidnapped during a class trip. She also knew he couldn’t hear at all anymore. The last dose she administered had left him completely deaf. But it was necessary to sacrifice some patients for the cause.
She injected the serum and left the room, ignoring the crying teenager. “Close the door,” she ordered to Friedrich, the guard. “The inmates are unbearable this morning.” And it was true. Through the white painted halls all sorts of moans, cries, and laments filled the air.
“Did you know the Meister has returned from Romania?” Friedrich said, locking the room door.
“He says he’ll shut down the experiments, for they’re no longer useful. He’s found another way to re-breed his race.”
Giselle froze. “What? No way!” She took off her lab coat and left the medical device on the guard’s truck. “He’s already here in Munich?”
“He’s just arrived.”
“Well, I’ll see him immediately!”
Karel sat quietly at the round table, looking with apathy at the empty chairs surrounding it. The Cabal had an identical room in each of its strongholds: Paris, Prague, Munich, Moscow. They used it for their meetings, decorated with that luminous sphere in the centre of the table and stone gargoyles: Eckhardt and his whims.
The door burst open and a woman in her thirties entered. She was a true Nordic beauty: fair skinned with short, blond hair and shining green eyes. Tall and thin, she radiated an air of superiority that the other Cabal members found annoying, but amusing to Karel. “Meister,” she said, greeting him with a small bow.
“What do you want, Giselle?”
“I’ve been told you’re going to cancel the project.”
The young scientist’s lower lip trembled, but she controlled herself. Eckhardt hadn’t been one to appreciate weakness among Cabal’s members, and Karel was even more inflexible in that regard.
“But Meister...” she hesitated, “my experiments are finally working. In three months I’ll succeed in isolating the particles and we’ll have satisfactory results.”
“No need anymore. I found the Amazon.”
Giselle sank into her chair, bowed down, and whispered: “How can you believe in that nonsense?”
Upon seeing the flashing cold blue of Karel’s narrowed eyes, she knew she’d just made a terrible mistake. “Watch what you say,” he hissed. “I won’t have my decisions questioned.”
“Forgive me, Meister,” she said, lowering her gaze, “but…I’m getting some results: patients are finally surviving the injections. And I’ve created life!”
“So did your sister.”
Giselle snorted with contempt. “My sister’s Proto-Nephilim was a disgusting and useless experiment. She should have destroyed it in its embryonic stage. I don’t do such botched jobs.”
“Your sister was a great scientist. One of the Cabal’s best ones ever. Eckhardt was wrong in sentencing her.”
She again raised her shimmering eyes. “Then why did you let him do that to her?”
“Questioning me again, Boaz?”
Giselle shook. She hated being called by her surname, which reminded her too much of her sister.
Karel got up, walked over and tugged the hair on the back of her head, forcing her to look at him. The Nephilim had icy and dead eyes. That relentless gaze drilled into her mind, probing every corner of her brain, and checked how loyal this servant was to him. Giselle felt trapped in the whirlwind of feelings produced by that glance: attraction, repulsion, attraction, repulsion...
“All projects and experiments will be cancelled,” Karel repeated. “You won’t take my chance anymore. There’s too much at stake. The Amazon will provide me the offspring for the High Breed.” Then he released her with the same brutality. She rubbed her sore scalp. “As soon as she gets the artefact at the stronghold of Al-Fayoum,” he continued, “I’ll bring her here and I want you to have everything ready, for you’ll be the one who will be in charge of her until I solve all this mess.” And then, he pointed to the door.
The scientist stood up and walked out, furious and humiliated. She had been one of the few members who approved of the new Meister. Eckhardt had always inspired in her feelings of disgust; his morbid cruelty seemed unworthy to her. On the contrary, almost from the first moment she’d seen the blonde man working in the shadow of the Black Alchemist, she’d adored him. When Eckhardt died and Karel revealed his true condition, she couldn’t help but love him. Yes, she loved an immortal being.
Unfortunately for her, he was an immortal being completely incapable of love.
“Oh, you want to fight, do you? Well, let’s do it.” Lara jumped forward and swiftly slammed a kick to the skeleton’s shield. The creature stumbled back and almost fell, but regained its balance. She kicked it again, and then again, until he fell to the floor. “I’m tired of meeting guys like you everywhere,” Lara said while trampling the bony arm. “You already gave me enough trouble in the Hall of Seasons. Don’t you ever get tired? Look, here comes your friend.” The friend was a second skeleton standing behind her and raising his rusty sword over the British explorer’s head. She, spinning gracefully in the air, beheaded it with a kick.
It had been half an hour since she had gone into the stronghold. After nimbly eluding the booby traps that protected it - they were very well designed, she had to give that to the Lux Veritatis - now she was wasting her precious time fighting some deceased warriors who wouldn’t let her focus on her task.
Lara stopped to catch her breath, looking at the skeletons writhing on the floor, and then turned to study the map that was painted on the wall of the grey, empty room. No doubt: it was a picture of the various hallways in the underground complex. The place was a maze; she could spend hours wandering around the corridors and kicking annoying skeletons without getting anywhere in particular. She took paper and pencil from her backpack and began to copy the map as quickly as she could.
“Leave me alone,” she murmured to the skeleton who was relentlessly getting up and heading back to her again with its sword raised. By the time the creature was next to her, she moved away. The blade hit the wall and broke. “See?” Lara said, without looking up from the map she was drawing, “you’re annoying.” The skeleton looked at the broken blade, confused. The other, moving with irritating slowness, began to slide towards her. “Are all Lux Veritatis so annoying?” She asked with a sarcastic grin, “I’ll have to consult Kurtis about that.”
She saved the map and ducked a new thrust, then kicked the skeleton again and made him roll on the ground. “Well guys, nice to chat with you but I’m out of time. Bye,” Lara said cheerfully, and walked away across one of the tunnels.
If all went well, the path would lead to a kind of ritual room with a stone altar. At least, it would be something to start with.
Kurtis went into the stronghold two hours later, as previously arranged. Lara had wondered how he would dodge the booby traps, which he found cute. Indeed, she was the specialist in that field and he was much less agile, but he wasn’t a cripple. He could handle them.
Luckily, he didn’t need to. The traps didn’t react to his presence. The razors remained immobile, no stone fell on him, and no chopper ready to cut him into pieces showed up. He peacefully passed between the motionless spikes and sharp blades.
Maybe there was a failure in the stronghold engineering, and not merely luck. Some hinges were even squeaky and he saw traces of Lara’s footprints on the ground...and on the wall. The British explorer had side-jumped to dodge the traps, which meant they were still functioning.
Of course, the traps were not being respectful to Kurtis without a reason. The answer was in a tiny room, empty except for a map painted on the wall and two confused skeletons, one headless and the other looking at his broken sword. When noticing Kurtis, they turned to him and bowed in reverence, even the headless one.
Their voices sounded like they were said aloud, but it was just in his mind. As he felt stupid answering to a couple walking pile of bones, he simply nodded and walked towards the map. The skeletons waited in silence. There was no reason to attack a member of their Order, neither to prevent him from entering nor from exiting.
Looking for the Amazon’s grave, aren’t you, brother?
Kurtis turned and watched with suspicion the grinning skull with empty eye sockets.
We can lead the way. But we cannot go beyond. Our mission was to protect the entrance and we failed. An intruder has challenged and defiled the sanctity of the stronghold.
“That was Lara,” Kurtis replied with a grin.
The skeletons sounded still more confused. Are you going to tolerate the intruder’s presence?
“She’s the new Amazon,” Kurtis said.
That seemed to convince those sad remains of knights died centuries ago. So there’s no reason to block her path. Once, an Amazon came to us. Now she has returned. Follow us, brother.
Kurtis went into the room. The skeletons stopped at the edge of the entrance, as the place was restricted for them. Other forces were on guard there.
The chamber was large and circular, like most Lux Veritatis’ strongholds. There was a sarcophagus in the centre, a structure carved in ivory. The cover, beautifully shaped, depicted the recumbent figure of a young woman. Kurtis recognized her: she was Loanna.
The beautiful statue’s eyes were closed and her lips parted in a sad smile. The clothes were luxurious and some delicate edges of the dress slid down the edges of the cover, and her hair was scattered on the pillow. It was hard to believe there could be a more beautiful sculpture. She seemed about to get up at any moment.
He walked around the grave, watching it carefully. There was an inscription at the girl’s feet:
HIC DORMIT LOANNA VON SKOPF
Vanitas vanitatum…et omnia vanitas
Here lies Loanna Von Skopf. Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Throughout the sarcophagus carved motifs were repeated: the scythe and hourglass.
Loanna was there, in her eternal sleep, her beauty intact and immortalized in the cold ivory. The inscription, however, considered her beauty a vanity with few hours of existence, as ironic and cruel as the Omnia vulnerant in Bran’s tapestry.
Suddenly, Kurtis felt that sensation again: the choking, the breathlessness, just the same as in Brasov’s castle. The presence of someone who wanted to speak to him through the echoes of the past.
He sat next to the grave. “Tell me,” he said, looking at Loanna’s ivory face. “I’m listening.”
He was in a dark room, dimly lit by several torches. In the centre was a round table at which twenty men were seated, some of them wearing a kind of monk’s habit, others dressed in armour. The Lux Veritatis.
There was a woman in the room, but she was to the side, sitting in a small throne higher than the rest. She was Loanna, and her pregnancy was well advanced. She was staring into the void, pale and limply clinging to the armrests.
One of the knights banged the table with his fist. “This can only bring us trouble!” He shouted. “Why do we have to take such a risk?”
An elder who was one of those dressed as a monk, whom all the others seemed to respect, said with a frown: “Say it clearly, Limoux: you want us to kill this woman.”
Loanna didn’t react. She kept staring at nothing with apathy.
“She is carrying a Nephilim in her womb!” Limoux yelled, “we cannot give that thing the chance to be born!”
“And to avoid that you suggest to shed the blood of this innocent girl,” replied the old monk. “Have you forgotten by chance that our mission is precisely to protect the victims of the Nephilim?”
“Our mission is to destroy the Nephilim!” Limoux’s voice was getting hoarse. “And there is a Nephilim!” He concluded, pointing to Loanna’s swollen belly.
That was enough for her. She got up as if driven by a spring, descended from the little throne and walked proudly to the door.
One of the knights rose to cut her way off. “You are not going anywhere.”
“Then give me a blade and I will kill myself,” she said, her voice cold and sharp. “If I am such a nuisance, it’s better to disappear from your lives as soon as possible.”
The old man sighed. “We don’t want you dead, Loanna.”
“But you also don’t want me alive, do you, Grand Master?” She replied. Her cheeks were burning. “It is a miracle I have escaped my confinement in Bran. I have been chased both on land and by sea. I have suffered countless dangers and setbacks. I have done everything possible and impossible to get here, to your stronghold...I, who am alone and pregnant, I who am a woman in a world of men and a Christian in the land of infidels. I have arrived here alive by a miracle! My only hope was to put myself under your protection...but I see what kind of protection you are going to give me.” She turned her head violently and took a step forward, but again the knight blocked her way.
“While you are here no one will hurt you,” the Grand Master stated. “This I swear by my honour as a Lux Veritatis. We will wait until the childbirth and then...” His voice broke.
“I’ll finish it myself,” Loanna said flatly.
The council members looked at each other, stunned.
“Can we trust her?” Limoux added, who insisted on behaving as if she was not present.
“Of course,” she said, looking at him with contempt. “No one is so eager to end this as I am.”
And then she left the place without anyone to prevent it this time.