The Supreme Temptation
At that moment, Dr. Boaz, extremely pale and twisting her fingers, asked to see Karel.
“What do you want?” He said, looking up from Rouzic’s notes about the Periapt’s symbolism.
“The woman is under treatment, as commanded, Meister.” She said. “If we continue the dose for some days we’ll have her docile and completely at your mercy.”
Karel looked at Giselle and smiled with amusement at seeing her overwhelmed look and her clenched teeth. “You can barely hide your hatred and loathing for Lara Croft.”
The scientist bit her lower lip. “That woman’s hateful and despicable! She’s spent two days tied up and under treatment, yet still she dares to challenge me.”
“Well, be grateful at least she didn’t bite you.” Karel chuckled.
“You can’t negotiate with that bitch. She hates you, mein Meister, and she’ll do anything to damage you.”
The Nephilim shrugged and added: “That will only make all this more entertaining. Perhaps she’s the most rebellious and spirited of all mortals, but she’s still a mortal. She can do little against me.”
“She killed the Sleeper!”
“Therefore she must pay for that, and she’ll do it in the most humiliating way for her.”
“So that’s all?” Giselle said, disappointed. “Just payback?”
“Of course not. I’m not mortal, revenge is a flaw I lack. There’s a prophecy and she’s the Amazon. I hadn’t noticed that when I chose her to recover the Paintings, but then she destroyed the Cubiculum Nephili.” And then he added with a grin: “What’s happening here is you’re jealous.”
Dr. Boaz blushed to the ears, but she said emphatically: “That slut doesn’t deserve such honour! You never believed in prophecies. I beg you to give me a chance. I offer myself to take her place.”
Karel arched his eyebrows. After spending thousands of years between them, learning their habits and attitudes, those damned mortals always managed to surprise him.
“Joachim!” She continued, haltingly, “I love you!”
He shook his head. Human passions! How much he missed the quiet and serene fellowship of his people, always above those flaws!
“Enough of this nonsense, Boaz.” He said coldly. “I belong to a race beyond your understanding. A race of angelic beings who would take a human for their pleasure, but never as a partner. If I accept your romantic offer, you’d be merely the instrument to carry out my purpose. Then I’d get rid of you, because you’d be of no more use to me. Is that what you want?” He opened his hand and showed the Nephilim’s symbol. “Look at this, Giselle, and never forget. You mean nothing to me. Neither you nor any other mortal. I don’t need your experiments. I don’t need you.”
She looked down, deeply wounded, and nodded slowly. Then she said resignedly: “You’re like Eckhardt. He didn’t believe in me. I’d have made you proud of me. I’m sorry if I interrupted, I won’t bother you anymore.” And she turned and left the room.
Karel stood looking at the door for a moment, then shrugged and continued to study the symbols.
Never in his wildest dreams had Friedrich imagined that could happen to him. “But...” he stammered, “you’re supposed to be sedated! It can’t be, it’s impossible...”
“You think things have to be possible? They just have to be real!” Cried Lara, “now do as I say if you don’t want to end with a span of steel in your throat.”
“You won’t go far. You’re weak and unarmed. This is our place. What you’re doing is madness.”
Lara drove the tip of the scalpel with a determined gesture on the warden’s neck, bringing forth a trickle of blood.
“Then you better not annoy this madman,” she spat between her teeth.
It took no more to crumble the warden’s will. Shaking and crying inconsistencies, he just released Lara’s belt. Then, with a sharp twist, she broke his neck and dropped him to the ground.
Lara stopped to catch her breath for a moment. When she tried to stand up, rising from the stretcher, her knees failed and she rolled down to the ground. She leaned back against the wall. That idiot was right. The drugs were making their effects known. How could she escape in such a state?
I’ve gone too far. I won’t give up now.
She crawled along the ground to reach the door, grabbed the knob and pushed herself to get up. Again, her legs buckled, but somehow managed to stay upright. She opened the door and peered into the hallway. There was nobody.
After opening the door, a weak and dizzy Lara ventured through the Laboratory’s halls, stumbling and clinging to the walls, with no other weapon than a scalpel.
Giselle came running to her office, entered, and slammed the door. She was about to vent her sorrow against the furniture, but she stopped when seeing a man sitting in her chair with his legs on the desk, placed over several analyses and other valuable files. His brazen and insolent behaviour filled Giselle with fury. “Who the hell are you?”
“Name’s Kurtis,” he replied dryly. “And apparently you are...” he leaned forward, took a plaque on the table, and read, “... Dr. Boaz. Fuck that name,” he grunted softly.
“Kurtis Trent!” Shouted the scientist, “You killed my sister!”
“If that thing was your sister, then I did you a favour.” He rose and moved towards her. “Where is she?”
“Don’t piss me off, Dr. Barbie. Where do you have her?”
“Go to hell.”
“You know more about hell than me, hag.”
Giselle had retreated against the wall. She discreetly groped her robe pocket, until she found a small syringe filled with morphine. She pulled the plug and jumped towards Kurtis, pointing directly towards his neck.
But she didn’t manage to prick him. She suddenly felt completely paralysed, her arm held high, and was stuck like that, unable to move forward or retreat.
“Wrong move,” Kurtis said, and pulled the syringe from her hand, “I knew you’d try something stupid like that.”
The scientist looked at him, terrified. She’d heard about the Lux Veritatis’ powers, but in her confusion she’d forgotten about that. It was like if an invisible force held her back.
And suddenly it let her go. The doctor stumbled and was about to fall, but Kurtis grabbed her arm and pulled her up brutally. “Now take me to Lara,” he said, putting the barrel of his Boran X against her neck, “and you better not try any more stupid moves or I’ll send you where I sent your monster sister in the blink of an eye.”
Lara heard footsteps in the corridor. She quickly opened the first door she found, which fortunately wasn’t locked, and went inside. She didn’t feel strong enough to fight, and a scalpel wasn’t a great weapon.
But...where was she? The room was completely dark, as was most of the Laboratory rooms. But a strong stench filled the air, like a mixture of chemicals and metal. Something like blood…and formalin.
Lara groped in the dark, looking for a switch. But what she found was a foot. She gasped and withdrew her hand. Then she touched it again. Yes, it was a foot. A small and frozen foot. There was a human body.
She turned and looked for the wall, bumping against several stretchers, until she finally found the bloody switch. When she got used to that annoying light, she turned and froze.
Frozen as the corpses that filled the room. Men, women, and children of all ages were lying on stretchers, dissected, mutilated, incomplete. Those who still had eyes stared at the ceiling with indifference.
The smell of formaldehyde was unbearable. Lara moved faintly between the stretchers, watching the gory scene with horror. A mortuary? No. They had been ordinary, healthy people. This was an atrocity, like some kind of Nazi experiment.
“Don’t be upset,” Karel’s voice whispered behind her. “No more will die. You’ll pay for them all.”
Lara whirled around. Karel was there, silent and expectant. God, how she hated his ability to appear and disappear at will without making a sound. “Where do you think you were going?”
“Away from you, hellish scum,” Lara said, wielding the scalpel.
“If I were you I wouldn’t think so. There’s so much I can offer you.”
“Yeah, right. Don’t make me laugh.”
He moved slowly towards her. Without even realizing it, Lara began to retreat, but kept the scalpel at the ready.
“You refused my offer rather quickly the first time. I’ve had hundreds of mortal at my service and none of them are like you. Join me and I’ll put at your feet this opportunity you despise. I’ll make you immortal and I’ll fulfill every wish of yours.”
“My only wish is to get rid of you,” she said through clenched teeth.
“That’s not an option, Lara. If you refuse to do this once more, you’ll do this by force. The only difference being you’ll die when you’re no longer useful to me.”
At that moment, Lara’s back slammed into a desk full of laboratory equipment. Karel moved forward until his chest touched the scalpel’s tip. “Go on. Stick it in. It won’t make any difference. You could even stab me and still it won’t kill me.”
Before she could even imagine the shock, Lara found herself lying on the laboratory counter, with her wrist immobilized by Karel’s fist, who was laughing sarcastically.
Weakened as she was, Lara realized she wasn’t a dangerous rival for him, and barely had the strength to defend herself.
“You see?” He said, “I said you’d fear me.”
Lara still had a free hand. She grabbed a flask at the same moment Karel’s fingers forced her to drop the scalpel and slammed it against his face. The glass broke with the impact and cut his cheek from the temple to the corner of the lip. The Nephilim cried in rage as a wave of milk-looking blood flood across his face. He snatched the broken flask from her hand before rising in all his pride. Then he put his hand on the cut and touched it. Within seconds, his cheek was intact.
They challenged each other with their glances for a moment. His was cold and cruel. Hers was defiant, still half-lying on the counter and not daring to move. As if, despite everything, he fascinated her.
“I thought you were smarter, Lara,” he continued, dropping the flask to the ground with a dismissive gesture. “Apparently you’ve not understood very well who I am. I’m actually the most ancient being on the planet. You couldn’t resist the curiosity to see what I’ve seen. Studies, theories, encyclopaedia, researches, religions are for me nothing but a herd of mankind’s fantasies and speculations. When the Lord cast His plagues on Egypt, I already existed. When Alexander arrived in India, I was there. When Columbus discovered America, I witnessed that. I’ve witnessed the entire history of this world, Lara. There’s no question I can’t answer for you. There’s no mystery I can’t disclose to you. I could tell you many things and make you see them as I did...”
The spell of his eyes was stunning. His voice was like poison. Lara felt as if her head was about to explode. Her body was stiff and the strong smell of the room made her gag.
“And if the mankind’s mysteries are not enough for you,” continued Karel, “I can reveal to you the divine mysteries. I’m half angel. I’ve seen the face of Him whom you call God. I can tell you who He really is, without fantasies and religious dogmas. I can tell you what happens after death. Yes, I could even restore life to who you want. I could grant you everything you asked me and that would be only a fraction of what I could give to you...if you only join me.”
Lara closed her eyes, dizzy. That tension was beyond her strength. It would be so easy to give up, to surrender... “I would accept your offer, Karel, if you wouldn’t demand so much in return,” she opened her eyes again, “What about all these victims? This gruesome imitation of a Nazi experimental laboratory is also part of your offer?”
“It was a whim of Eckhardt. I didn’t approve all of his methods, but he was useful to me. As I said, thanks to you this won’t continue. You will put an end to it.”
“You’ll sacrifice me on behalf of all the doomed ones. That’s really moving.”
“It depends on you to be a sacrifice or a gift. I offer my hand again to you, Lara, but I also warn you there will be no third time. If you refuse again, I’ll abandon any qualms about the treatment I’m going to give you.” And he offered a white, perfect hand, except for that mark on the palm, a brand apparently made with a red hot iron which she’d recognized from the start.
While she was tempted to accept, she also was aware of what she was about to do. She couldn’t pretend. She couldn’t lie. She hadn’t that choice.
Once again, Werner’s corpse appeared before her eyes. She heard Luddick’s screams. She saw Bouchard’s lifeless body falling to the ground. She recalled Kristina Boaz’s desperate glance as she fell inside that pod, Muller’s terror when she ate him. She was reminded of Putai’s anger at seeing her people massacred. And, above all, she remembered Kurtis. Kurtis, who’d helped her to escape. Kurtis, who’d stood between Karel and her. Kurtis, who had risked his own life to save her more than once.
And she knew if she joined that abominable being, she’d be betraying them all, good and evil, righteous and wicked. She’d be immortal, but empty. She’d reach the highest knowledge of all visible and invisible things, but she’d sell herself. She’d surrender to the whims of the Nephilim in exchange for knowledge and power. She’d save her life, but condemn the rest of mankind.
“Karel, I...” her voice was shaky and tentative. He looked at her, pleased...but then Lara squinted and spat vigorously, “I prefer death rather than put up with you for all eternity!”
With a wild cry, she sank her knee into Karel’s stomach and pushed him back. She jumped from the counter and ran towards the door, but at the moment a cold hand grabbed her ankle and pulled her, making her fall. She managed to slap the switch and the light went off. In her fall she rolled over a stretcher and the corpse lying on it fell on her as well.
Karel’s fist, so cold that it burnt, was still clutching Lara’s bare foot. She kicked and crushed it against the floor with a stomp. Once free, she crawled under the stretchers and reached the door. She slipped down the hall, thinking only of escape once and for all from that damned place, far from those corpses and far from Karel.