The images rushed before him and the scene changed. This time it was a small dark room. The Grand Master and Loanna were talking, while she lit up the darkness with a torch.
“The expedition we sent to Cappadocia has succeeded,” said the old man, this time dressed in armour. “The Nephilim were destroyed.”
“But how’s that possible?”
“They were mired in a kind of lethargy. It was easy to annihilate them.”
“Then the only one left is Drakul!” She said, crossing herself to protect from the evil the very act of pronouncing that name evoked.
The Grand Master frowned. “I wish it was that simple, child. One of them ran away. We found his hole empty. Anyway, this is not the issue that worries me now.” He went to a chest in the corner and pulled out a velvet pouch containing a spherical object, a beautiful blue crystal sphere, carved with strange symbols.
“We call it the Periapt,” he said. “Actually, we are ignorant of where it’s from. Our Order has always owned it. But we noticed this crystal is able to kill a Nephilim if it’s wielded by a member of our Order. By any other person, it has no effect on these creatures.”
Loanna took the Periapt with trembling hands.
“Fear not, daughter, it cannot be broken.” And he sharply swatted the orb out of her hands and it fell to the ground. Loanna shouted when it shattered, but almost instantly, the pieces gathered together and the sphere was again intact.
“Pick it up, child.”
She shook her head, terrified. “This is demonic magic!”
“No, my child. That’s the power of angels. This crystal already existed when the Order was born, and will remain when the last of our brothers dies. The Periapt is made of a heavenly material that can kill an immortal being.” Seeing that Loanna was reluctant to touch the Periapt, the Grand Master picked it up and put it back into the velvet bag. “From this Periapt three crystal pieces were taken and carved into three daggers, which we call the Periapt Shards. With them, our warriors have been able to kill the fallen angels. Now our fight is focused elsewhere. We must destroy Drakul, find the Nephilim who escaped and…and kill your son.”
“That thing is not my son,” Loanna said coldly. “That thing is a creation of its father. I had nothing to do with it.”
He nodded. “The Periapt is our most valuable possession. It must never fall into enemy hands. Recently we learned that a cult has emerged and supports the Nephilim. They call themselves the Cabal.”
Loanna frowned. “Jews?”
“No, my child. Some are priests. Others are doctors. They’re guided by a man named Pieter Van Eckhardt, who calls himself The Black Alchemist.”
She sighed. “Evil blossoms and makes its way.”
Suddenly, a knight arrived on the run, sweating profusely. “Grand Master!” He gasped. “The Impaler is here in Egypt! He has used his alliances with the Turks to get to the Amazon!”
The news made Loanna go weak in the knees and she stumbled. The warrior caught her before she fell to the ground.
“We will see that,” said the Grand Master. “Let us face them. Let the Nephilim know who the Lux Veritatis are.” He drew his sword and kissed the hilt. “For this they will know! Bring together all our brothers. It’s time to fight.”
Once again, Kurtis was dragged to another time in a different place. This time to a rectangular chamber, empty except for a stone altar. Loanna arrived running, her clothes having been torn to rags, her hair loose. She closed the door and bolted it, visibly terrified. “Dead...” she muttered, panting. “All of them...it’s my fault!”
She turned to the altar, carrying the Periapt and a bloodstained dagger. She stumbled onward, tripped over the shreds of her skirt and fell to her knees, while convulsively pressing the Periapt against her chest. “Don’t let them find the Periapt...” she murmured. “Don’t let them find the Periapt!”
With the dagger in hand, she knelt and fitted the edge of the blade under the lip of a stone tile. She pried it up and dug a shallow hole in the dirt underneath, and threw the Periapt into the hole. Then she covered it with dirt and adjusted the tile back in its place.
At that moment the door vibrated with a thunderous roar, and a strong voice yelled: “Open, Loanna! Your game is over!”
It was Vlad Tepes.
Loanna arose trembling and shakily holding the dagger. Despite her condition, she was able to fight, but what could a simple dagger do against a Nephilim?
Then she took a deep breath...and suddenly calmed down. She stopped shaking and walked resolutely towards the stone altar. She stood in front of it, still looking towards the door, and she stabbed herself in the belly, plunging the blade to the handle. A trail of blood sprang forward and splashed the floor while soaking her clothes. She gasped.
Kurtis knew the piercing and burning pain she was suffering. He had felt that in his own flesh, and the memory made him shiver.
From that point on, the events hastened. Loanna fell on the steps of the altar. The door exploded into pieces and two men entered the room when the woman, with her last strength, pulled the dagger out of her body and let it fall aside.
One was Vlad Tepes, who watched with horror at the scene. The other was Karel himself, in armour, with amazingly long hair. He ran to the failing Loanna and lifted her chin. “What have you done, stupid mortal?”
Loanna looked at him with glassy eyes and stammered: “You’ve lost...you won’t have neither your cursed offspring... nor me.” Those were her last words. After a couple of spasms, she vomited a gush of blood and remained motionless, staring into the void.
“Dead,” Karel announced. “Both her and the baby.” And kicked the body, making it rolling down the steps.
The last thing Kurtis heard before losing contact was the wretched cry of anger and frustration that Vlad the Impaler let out.
The first thing Lara saw was Kurtis sitting at the foot of a sarcophagus made of ivory. “Well, well,” she said, “here I’m doing all the dirty work and Mr. Trent is having a rest...” But she stopped to take a closer look.
Kurtis was panting, gasping for air, a hand on his heart and the other clinging to the sculpture, as if having ran hundreds of miles and not able to take a step further.
“You okay?” She said kneeling beside him.
He looked at her and, for a moment, he didn’t seem to recognize her, his eyes bloodshot and his forehead beaded with sweat. Then he rubbed his face and whispered: “It’s nothing.”
“Really?” She said, holding out a hand. He took it and rose with her help. He then felt his legs were asleep and that made him stumble, but he managed to stay on his feet, half resting on the sarcophagus, half on her. “Too much time away...” he kept muttering, “I should go back before...”
Lara looked at him, confused. She had an idea about what he meant, but it was definitely weird. “Have you found anything?” They both asked at the same time.
“Well...” Lara said, smiling, “nothing interesting apart from some booby traps and a couple of boring skeletons.” She looked at the sarcophagus. “Well, well,” she examined the recumbent’s face. “Magnificent. The best museums in the world would pay astronomical amounts for this wonder. Too bad I can’t put her in my backpack,” she concluded with a laugh.
Kurtis was now feeling better. He walked around the tomb. “Any other remarkable stuff?”
“Bah, just an empty room with a stone altar,” she said with a shrug.
Yes, it was there, no doubt. The same steps, the same altar. Old blood stains... Kurtis examined the tile floor and crouched down to one. He removed it and began to dig in the dirt.
Lara watched him in silence. He’d already told her everything he’d seen...and actually, it wasn’t a very encouraging story. But at least they were on the right track. At least they knew what they came here for.
“Here it is,” Kurtis said as he pulled out an old threadbare velvet bag, from where he removed a beautiful carved crystal sphere and handed it to Lara, before wiping his hands on his pants.
“The Periapt,” she said. “The orb from which the three Shards were carved...” And without warning, she slammed it against the wall. Kurtis winced. The pieces fell to the ground, moved toward each other and joined, leaving the Periapt intact again. “Incredible,” Lara muttered, her eyes wide open. “It’s true...it can’t be broken.”
“Actually, it can’t remain broken,” Kurtis said, picking it up. Then, amused at Lara’s amazed face, he added, “I guess the best museums in the world couldn’t afford this wonder either, don’tcha think, Miss Croft?”
Lara slowly nodded her head. “Agreed.”
They had returned to Loanna’s tomb.
“Then she committed suicide to avoid being abducted again, and with her died the unborn child,” Lara said, “It’s tragic...”
“Karel was the Nephilim who escaped the slaughter at Cappadocia. Drakul joined him, but for some reason Karel then decided to infiltrate the Cabal so he could manipulate Eckhardt at his will, without him knowing,” Kurtis said. “But then...how did the Sleeper survive?”
Lara looked at the Periapt’s symbols. “I don’t know...perhaps your brothers missed it.”
“No way. A Lux Veritatis wouldn’t fail at that.”
“Oook,” she said, wincing. “About the Periapt...if it can’t stay broken, then the three Shards share this quality. Too bad I had to leave them stuck in Eckhardt’s corpse.”
“Karel must have them,” he said. “Anyway, what matters now is the Periapt.”
Lara carefully examined it. “I think I’ve an idea of what this could be...but I must study it further.”
Then a feared, hateful voice rang in the room. “Don’t bother yourself, beauty,” said Karel, “I’ll do that.”
Lara and Kurtis turned sharply. She pressed the Periapt against her chest in an instinctive gesture. There, between two arches, leaning against a column, was him, his expression looking calm and showing a serene smile. “Give me the Periapt,” he said.
Lara frowned. “It’s not yours. Doesn’t belong to you.”
Karel widened his smile. “Interesting that a thief like yourself would say such a thing. A person who spent all her life stealing and looting everywhere.” He separated from the column and began to walk towards them. “In fact it’s you whom doesn’t own the Periapt...or anything at all that you’ve taken all these years. You think you can just go anywhere and say ’this is mine’? You think you can take what you please just because you’ve found it?” He laughed. “No, Lara Croft. Maybe you’ve done that so far...but this time it’s over. This time I’ll be the one to take you...my Amazon.”
The last words sounded like a lash. Lara unwittingly shuddered and stepped back, but didn’t stop looking at him defiantly. Kurtis, however, didn’t move an inch. He’d been quietly studying his opponent. He turned his face towards Lara and exchanged a glance with her. She understood immediately.
Lara pursed her lips and jumped back, performed a somersault over the tomb and landed on the other side in a split second. Then she turned around and went towards the door.
But she didn’t go too far. Suddenly, the exit faded and she found herself facing a bare, impenetrable wall. Frustrated, she turned and saw the same had happened to the other doors. The room was sealed.
“A good trick,” said Karel. “One of the first a Nephilim child learns to do.” Then he repeated, relentlessly: “Give me the Periapt.”
Lara responded defiantly: “You’ll have to kill me.”
“Of course,” corroborated Karel. “But not until you’ve served my purpose.” He stepped towards her, surrounding the tomb, but then Kurtis cut his way off without uttering a word. His facial expression was completely inscrutable.
“I’ll take care of you...as I took care of your father,” Karel said, squinting. “Move away.”
“Nope,” Kurtis said with a grin, and then put a hand on his belt and caressed the Chirugai.
Karel tightened his jaws in anger. The curse between them prevented him from killing his opponent, as that would mean sentencing himself...but who said it was necessary to kill him? “Fine. You asked for it.” He charged slowly, shapeshifting into his real Nephilim’s semblance: greyish skin furrowed with dark streaks, white hair, black eyes spotted with bright white pupils, his body wrapped by a faint green glow and slightly raising over the ground.
Then he attacked. Kurtis jumped aside to dodge the lightning. The energy hit the sarcophagus and made it vibrate. He threw the Chirugai, but Karel avoided it with a quick spin in the air.
Lara groped the wall. She had saved the Periapt in her backpack and was now looking for the missing door. According to Karel, it was a mere optical illusion, so the exit must be still there...she just couldn’t see it.
A new energy beam fell nearby. Kurtis had avoided it very quickly and after catching the Chirugai in its flight, extended a hand. The invisible force departed from him and projected Karel against a pillar, making him slip to the ground.
“Dammit...” Lara murmured, as she dragged her fingers against the wall. “Where’s the bloody door?”
Karel rose again and fought back. He hit Kurtis this time and knocked him down to the floor.
“Eureka!” Lara shouted, and grabbed an invisible latch. She tugged it and began to open the wall. Suddenly, a shock shook her from head to toe and slammed her to the ground. The blow left her breathless.
Karel’s voice hissed in her ear: “Game over, beauty.”
Lara tried to get up, but a new charge paralysed her. Karel tugged and pulled her by the braid to force her to look at him. She saw her face reflected in the unfathomable eyes of that eternal and immortal being.
Then she heard a whistle. Karel howled in pain and released her, stumbling backward. Lara looked at him horrified, noticing the Chirugai plunged into his left side, deeply imbedded in his flesh. Karel snatched it with a pull and threw it down. A gush of white fluid – Nephilim’s blood - poured from the thick wound.
He looked up and saw Kurtis kneeling in front of him, staring at him with hate. Karel, blinded by anger and pain, sent a last attack that crashed him against the sarcophagus.
The Nephilim rose, panting. He staggered a few steps and grabbed his bleeding side. “You’re mad, Lux Veritatis!” He gurgled. “Mad!” And he vanished in the air.
Lara ran towards Kurtis, who lay sprawled next to Loanna’s grave. She tried to lift him up, but he refused her help and sat, leaning his back against the sarcophagus. The impact with the ivory tomb had opened a deep gash on his head and half of his face was drenched in bright red blood.
“Kurtis...” Lara whispered, extending a hand to swipe away strands of his bloodied hair. He gently pushed her hand away and rested his head against the tomb, staining the white ivory with his blood. “Let me enjoy this glorious moment,” he sighed, closing his eyes.
Lara looked at him, speechless. Undoubtedly, the blow had affected his brain. She didn’t notice that Kurtis had just fulfilled every Lux Veritatis’ dream: to see fear in the eyes of a Nephilim.