“I knew it,” Kurtis sighed, rolling his eyes. “She simply can’t be still.”
Giselle cried in horror at seeing Friedrich on the floor, next to the empty bed. “He’s dead!” She whimpered. “She broke his neck!”
“Looks like it,” Kurtis agreed, pushing her forwards, “and I don’t even want to think what she’s up to right now. Breaking something or cutting off power for sure.”
Boaz reacted swiftly, hitting Kurtis in the face hard enough to stun him. She slipped into the hallway and punched an alarm button. Instantly, a loud siren started blaring violent echoes all across the bright surfaces of the enclosure.
She screamed when he pulled her hair. “Well, Dr. Boaz, you’ve exhausted my patience. Enjoy your stay with your friend,” Kurtis hissed before throwing her into the room and locking the heavy door. Now she’d yell if she wanted to. Those gates were identical to the Sanitarium’s: no sound escaped through them.
The alarm kept ringing. In a few moments the place would be full of mercenaries.
He walked quickly down the hall. On the verge of turning a corner, a slender figure fell upon him, brandishing a scalpel straight to his heart. Kurtis made a quick retreat and blocked his attacker, who turned out to be Lara. “Hey, calm down, beastie!” He shouted.
She looked at him with wide open eyes and dropped her arm. “What are you doing here?” She gasped.
Kurtis snorted. “What am I doing here? Hanging out, of course. I’ve just arrived from Egypt, looking for you nonstop for days without sleep, and the only thing you can think to do is to stab me and ask what am I doing here.”
She smiled, embarrassed. “Well, I didn’t expect to find you here. I’m used to taking care of myself.”
“I’m sure of that,” he said, looking her up and down. “You okay?”
Lara’s looks were really unfortunate. Her green hospital robe was torn and splattered with blood, her wrists and ankles skinned, her cheekbone swollen and her hair really matted. Not to mention the dark circles around her eyes, her gray, clammy skin and her blue lips. And that smell of formaldehyde. “I’m perfect,” she replied proudly, raising her chin.
“I see,” Kurtis said, unconvinced. “We better move quickly. That crazy Barbie-looking scientist has activated an alarm, as you can hear. We’ll have Gunderson and his fellas soon running around here.”
Lara grabbed his arm. “The Periapt! We can’t leave without it!”
“You think there’s time for that? We’d be lucky if we manage to get outta here!”
“With or without you, I’m going to get the Periapt,” she insisted. “If we lose it we lose everything.” She turned and walked down the aisle with a determined step, or at least that was her intention. Instead, after a few steps her strength failed and she clung to the wall to avoid falling on the ground.
“You’re so stubborn, Miss Croft,” Kurtis sighed, and gallantly offered his arm. “C’mon, lean on me. We’ll do this together, since I’m not gonna lose you again.”
Gunderson jumped from the couch when he heard the alarm and left the hall, trying to ignore the pain in his stitched hand. He met Karel, who came very calmly along the corridor, apparently not caring about his clothes that were splattered with his white blood, though no wound was visible on him. “It’s a signal from Boaz,” he said to the mercenary. “As expected, the Lux Veritatis has come for Lara Croft.”
“I’ll gather my men.”
“Too late. He called the police. They’re coming now.”
Trent…you fucking bastard! “What should we do?”
“Safeguard the Periapt and the Shards. Load them onto a truck and send them to our base in Moscow.”
“What about those two?”
“I’ll take care of them...in due time.” He disappeared like a wisp of vapor that vanishes into thin air.
“The Library!” Lara exclaimed, pointing forwards.
They were crossing a transition zone; the white tiles of the lab turned into walls of old wallpaper. Guided by Kurtis, who already knew the place, Lara had guessed it would the place to hide valuable artefacts. She expected her assumptions to be right... then they heard someone shuffling papers in a nearby office.
Lara, still leaning on her partner, searched his holster and quickly pulled out the Boran X. “Hey!” He protested. “What the…?”
Lara silenced him by putting a finger on his lips. Then she winked at him and crept forwards, peering discreetly around the door frame.
There was a lanky, pale man who was hastily gathering papers. Lara immediately spotted the notes she wrote in Al-Fayoum, so she didn’t waste any more time deciding.
The man was surprised to see a bruised woman pointing at him with a gun. “Miss Croft, I guess,” he said politely, his voice reminiscent of a snake hissing.
“Well guessed,” she replied. “Whom do I have the honor to target?”
“Luther Rouzic, librarian and keeper of the Cabal’s archives,” he said. “And I must admit that since I checked your theories about the Periapt, I’m a big fan of yours.”
“Well said. My theories. Bring them back to me, along with the Periapt and the Shards. Make me lose my patience and I’ll blow your brains out.”
Rouzic smiled slightly. “Come on, lady. You’re so weak you can barely hold that gun. I doubt you’d even be able to pull the trigger.”
“If she can’t, which I doubt,” Kurtis intervened, entering the room and standing next to Lara, “I’ll shoot you myself. Now do as she says.”
The archivist’s glass eye glittered at the light of the lamp. “You’re wasting your time,” he hissed, “I haven’t got those artefacts. They have been moved.”
“Perhaps Moscow. I really don’t know, Lux Veritatis warrior, and I simply don’t care. Nothing of that matters now, because I’ve discovered the True Option.” He threw his head back and laughed out loud in a boorish way. Lara and Kurtis exchanged a look of concern. “Oh, no, I haven’t told Meister Karel about that,” a hint of fun shone in his one eye, “nor will I tell you. No, my friends, Luther Rouzic gives nothing for free. The knowledge is mine, so simple that it seems incredible. Your brilliant research has helped me, Amazon. You’re really clever, but you still need to put together the final pieces.”
As he spoke, he pulled a flask. Kurtis understood too late what he was about to do. He threw himself upon him and even tore the skin of his hands, but was unable to prevent him drinking from the bottle.
“What about you, my friend?” The archivist said with sarcasm. “Do you also want some poison?”
“Poison!” Shouted Lara, “The True Option! Why take it to the grave?”
Rouzic had fallen on his chair after the push and didn’t get up again. His body began to quiver with spasms and convulsions. It was a fast-acting poison. “For revenge,” he gurgled. “The knowledge is mine. The key is in my mind. I betray the Cabal with honor. They blinded my eye. Now leave me, my destiny is death.”
Kurtis grabbed him by the lapels and began to shake him like a rag doll: “Then die if that’s what you want!” He shouted in his face. “Just tell us the damn key!”
The librarian rolled his eyes and foaming at the mouth, began to shout like a madman: “The True Option is the mother of all religions! The Supreme Command! Everything and nothing at the same time! It’s so simple and so complex at once. You want to know? Read, Amazon! Read my writings! In them you’ll find it!” His voice suddenly cut off, and after a couple of spasms, he went still.
Kurtis released him and stood up. “One bastard less in the world,” he said solemnly, wiping the foam off his liner.
Lara was already at the desk, quickly collecting all the papers he had on it. She rolled and stuffed them in a cardboard cylinder used to store maps she’d just found. “He wouldn’t have told us anyway,” she said. “It would’ve been too easy.”
Suddenly they heard a distant rumble in some section, then shots and hurried footsteps.
“C’mon, Lara,” Kurtis said. “They’re already in here.”
She slung the cylinder on her back and left hurriedly. “What’s all that fuss?”
“I called the police.”
“Maybe, but when they see the gore exhibition set up by these Cabal sick fucks, they’ll forget about you for a while. Surely the Czech police have already discovered the Strahov and will be aware of this issue.”
Reluctantly, Lara had to admit he was right.
The Cabal base was in havoc. Police and Gunderson’s men ran through the halls shooting and chasing each other. The Laboratory rooms were now open, and the patients still able to walk were fleeing or being released. Lara and Kurtis avoided that pandemonium and tried to seek a less crowded way of exit.
At the same time, another person tried to escape without being seen. Giselle was running through the corridors as if chased by a ghost. She’d seen the police agents and didn’t need to be a genius to guess that if they found her, her brilliant career would come to an end.
A single idea was on her mind: she needed to rescue something before fleeing. Something so important to her that under no circumstances should it fall into the police’s hands.
She reached a door and feverishly swiped her identification card. Then she entered. That section was called The Incubator, where Giselle had bred some specimens, crude attempts of anthropomorphic Nephilia, very different from her sister Kristina’s Proto, a zoomorphic hybrid. Unfortunately, none of those specimens were alive at that moment. At Karel’s command, every one of them had been destroyed.
All of them but one.
Dr. Boaz opened a cryogenic tank and took out a small test tube with a bluish liquid. She carefully placed it in a small cooler and hung it from her shoulder. “Come on, my little one,” she murmured fondly. And she left the Incubator at full speed.
Lara tried to push the door, but it was firmly closed. She took a deep breath and prepared to open it with a kick, but before her foot touched the door, it burst into pieces. She turned sharply and glared accusingly at Kurtis, who was dropping his still extended hand. “You’re a killjoy,” she snapped.
“You ever let anyone help you?”
The door led into a lorry park, similar to where Lara had crossed to enter the Strahov in Prague. There were, however, several empty spots, and the large warehouse door opening out to the cold streets proclaimed that a truck had just left.
“Well, let’s see if you’re so eager to help,” she said turning towards Kurtis. “Is there any way for you to find out which truck carries the Periapt and where it is now more or less?”
“Of course,” he replied, amazed at her cunning. “But…I’m not used to doing this in public.”
“Oh,” Lara said, rolling her eyes, then she turned slowly. “In that case, I won’t interfere with your privacy, Mr. Trent.”
“Whatever,” he growled. Then he stretched his arms and closed his eyes.
Lara turned slowly again to look at him. Somehow, he was no longer there, although she saw him with her own eyes, stiff and breathing heavily, his body wrapped in an orange glow aura faintly shining, almost unnoticeable to the eyes. She took a step towards him and stretched a hand out. Her amazement increased when feeling a strange warmth in her fingers. As unbelievable as it seemed, Kurtis released both light and heat, like a star, the heat being more intense than the dim glow.
And then Lara noticed the contrast. Karel. The Nephilim was cold. When she had him close to her, it almost made her teeth chatter. His aura was freezing. Kurtis was fire. Karel was ice.
Suddenly, he staggered as if having taken a hit. Instinctively, Lara grabbed him, but released him instantly, screamed and shook her hand. “You’re burning!” She gasped, astonished.
Kurtis took a few moments to react. He shook his head and wiped the sweat from his forehead. “Don’t touch me!” He finally said. “Never put a hand on me when I’m out!”
She shook her hand until relieved from the burning sensation and said: “Okay. Guess you don’t want to answer some questions bugging me right now.”
“It’s hard to deny anything to you, Lara.”
She shook her head and looked at him with a mischievous smile. “Anything?”
“Then you won’t deny we need to leave this horrible place. Let’s go after that truck I guess you’ve just seen and we’ll get the Periapt back. Then there will be time for questions.”
“Mein Gott!” Said one of the German officers. “They’re quartered!” Then the poor man turned and stumbled out of the mortuary, fell forward and began to vomit. Another one fainted as a result of overbearing formalin smell. And several of them had experienced nervous breakdowns, even though they were trained for their profession.
After several shootings and with military backup, the police had rounded up and arrested the mercenaries. But there was no trace of Karel, Gunderson, or even Giselle. They did find Friedrich and Luther Rouzic’s corpses, though. They also arrested the other staff and took the unfortunate “patients” to a real hospital.
Some of them would die soon. Others would never recover from the horrific aftermath of experiments and operations. Twenty wouldn’t awake from the comatose state. The rest wouldn’t even walk again.
One veteran officer, descendant of German Jews, said: “If my father were still alive, he’d define this monstrosity with a single word: Mauthausen.”
Inspector Kohler nodded, sorrowful. “You need to get in touch with the Czech and French police brigades. This is related to The Monstrum and the Strahov case in Prague.”
The veteran added: “Lara Croft, surely. We found her prints on the neck of a warden’s corpse.”
“I’m afraid, Ottonegger, you’re accusing the wrong person.”
“Lara Croft is not The Monstrum. She can’t be. This newly-defined Nazi massacre is not the work of one person. At least not by someone like her. I think the responsible one for this atrocity is someone we haven’t identified yet.”