Somewhere on the border between Switzerland and Germany, a couple of hapless fugitives sought without success to leave the country without drawing the attention of the authorities, as Lara was still wanted by the police.
Nowhere in Europe would be safe enough to hide them from the police. Nowhere in the world was safe enough to hide them from Karel. It was the perfect moment to be swallowed by the earth - which didn’t happen, of course.
That afternoon Kurtis told her all that happened since Gunderson kidnapped her from Egypt. He’d tried to sidestep the issue, but finally had to reveal the slaughter. Upon learning of Putai’s death, Lara fell into a prolonged and painful silence, which lasted for the next hour of driving. After a while, exhausted, she laid her head on Kurtis’ back and closed her eyes, feeling silent rage devouring her from the inside.
Putai, more beloved than a sister, despite cultural barriers; Putai, who saved her from a slow death under the pyramid...Putai, gunned down under Egypt’s hot sun. The shaman had brought her life, and Lara had brought death to her and her people, the same people who helped her when she’d nowhere to go.
“Lara,” Kurtis gasped, “if you keep squeezing me like that you’ll crush my ribs.”
“Sorry,” she apologized, and loosened her arms. She was so focused on her misery that she hadn’t noticed.
Kurtis had made no attempt to comfort to her until then, knowing that most times one wants solitude in such a case. But then he told her: “Believe me, Lara, I know how it feels when you’re responsible for the death of a loved one. But someone taught me the dead don’t want your tears or your regrets, but for you to fulfil your debt to them. I promised Putai two things. I’ve already done the first one. The second one is only a matter of time.”
Lara nodded. She already knew what Putai had requested in the last moments of her life - but she couldn’t help but feel furious. “Putai and her people have died for nothing,” she said bitterly. “In the end that bastard caught me. If I’d given up when I had the chance...”
“Gunderson would’ve killed them the same. Lara, he was once my friend and I worked for him for a long time. He’s an unmitigated liar. After that, he would’ve humiliated you until you regretted your stupidity. It’s better this way. Stop tormenting yourself for your friend’s death. She’s at peace now, while you and me are still standing in the middle of all this mess.” Then he added quickly: “Did I tell you the Golden Seal has changed again?”
Lara’s head went off his back while saying irritably: “Of course not! And what is the unique honor of this revelation?”
“It changed just as I got to Munich,” he said, ignoring his partner’s sarcasm. “As I see you’re tired, I’ll get to the point: the map shows us Meteora valley in Thessaly, a province of Greece.”
She was already doing calculations. “Meteora...I got it! The Meteora monasteries. Those are located over hundreds of meters high on lonely crags. In all likelihood, that’s our next destination.”
“But first...” Kurtis turned left on his motorbike and parked into what appeared to be...
“A roadside motel?” Lara said, not hiding her disappointment.
“Sorry, M’lady, but right now I don’t have the address to the Ritz,” he replied sarcastically. “Another time maybe.”
That was the first time he called her ’m’lady’. She would never forget.
In fact, Lara was so worn out she could’ve slept on a stone.
“Actually, the less time we’re here, the better. And it wouldn’t hurt to tidy you up a bit.”
Lara winced and patted her tangled hair. “So how awful do I look now?”
“Well...if you want my humble opinion, you never look awful. But people are gonna think badly of me.” And he adjusted the rear view mirror to make her look at herself. Lara was almost scared of seeing her own face. She looked like she was dead and her swollen cheekbone was worse than ever, and then there was the matter of her torn clothes and matted hair.
Kurtis’ assumptions were correct. Lara had to rush to the room after the motel customers and staff looked at her shocked and began to throw accusing glances at Kurtis, thinking he was a scoundrel who’d just beaten his girlfriend.
Once she took a shower, Lara healed and bandaged her wrists and ankles. Then she spread an ointment on the bruised cheek. Actually, that was nothing compared with what Gunderson had got. After changing clothes, she left the bathroom and fell full length on the narrow single bedroom.
Kurtis, silent as usual, was sitting on the floor by the door, sharpening the Chirugai’s blades as if nothing else mattered.
“Are you staying there all night?” Lara asked sleepily.
“I’d take a shower, but I might have someone spying on me behind the door.”
Lara stuck her tongue out in reply. Within minutes she was asleep.
Kurtis remained sat in the dark. His purpose was to stay close to Lara in case some angelic creature dared to appear. But he was so exhausted he soon fell asleep too.
Next morning, Kurtis awoke feeling like he’d been trampled by a bulldozer. He stretched while feeling painful pangs in his back and muttered: “I hate this job. All the hassles and none of the perks.”
“Really?” Said a soft voice.
He opened his eyes. Lara, dressed in jeans and jacket, was lying face down with elbows on the bed and resting her chin in the palm of one hand while the other was twisting her braid. “Good morning, my faithful sentinel,” she added with a sly smile.
Of course, sometimes it was worth waking up pained if it was accompanied by such a charming vision.
Lara dropped her sight again to the papers. She hadn’t been idle, studying the Periapt’s symbols again, courageous and consistent.
“You must be bored of looking at symbols,” Kurtis said, rising and stretching again.
“Never. This is my job, and there’s nothing more fascinating than a riddle I can’t solve. Now I’ve to start discarding symbols. Rouzic assumed, like me, that the Periapt is older than all the religions depicted in it.”
“That makes no sense. How is it possible for it to have symbols of religions born centuries after it?”
“That’s what I’m trying to figure out. But there’s no doubt it shows all religions. Maybe someone had gradually carved the symbols...or these could have been added by another way. Everything is possible with an artefact that can’t be destroyed.”
Suddenly, someone knocked on the door: “Open!” Yelled a commanding voice. They froze. While exchanging an alarmed glance, one thought crossed their minds at the time: they had found them. They had fallen into the police’s hands.
Lara jumped out of bed as driven by a spring. She looked around for an escape route. There was the window, which fortunately wasn’t very high. Kurtis threw her the cardboard cylinder with the documents and the bundle with the Periapt and the Shards. Lara put it all on her back and grabbed the window frame when the door began to pound from several repeated blows. She jumped out by the time it opened.
Upon landing on the ground, Lara looked up and whispered: “Kurtis!” But he neither replied nor jumped after her.
She heard a person entering in the room. “Kaliméra, Mr. Trent,” an unfamiliar voice said, speaking in Greek. “I’ve been searching for you for a long time.”
Kurtis hoisted the gun which was pointing directly at that individual’s face, who didn’t seem impressed. He wasn’t a cop, that was clear. He was a young man of pale complexion and dark eyes, wearing a black hooded robe which gave him an air of austerity. “You can drop the weapon,” the man said calmly. “I’ll hurt neither you nor your elusive friend.”
“Who says I can even understand what you’re saying?”
“You know how to speak Greek perfectly, Mr. Trent. Your father taught you well. And you had a chance to prove that when you faced Karolis on the boat.”
“How do you know that?” Kurtis replied, now speaking in Greek.
“I know a lot about you,” replied the other, and then he pulled out a small object from his pocket and dangled it before his eyes. “Do you recognize this?”
Kurtis saw something he recognized right away, but whose presence there he couldn’t understand: it was a small Navajo amulet. He knew perfectly the smoothness of its wooden hoop, the intertwined threads, and the softness of its tiny dangling feathers. He knew every nook and cranny of that object, because he’d played with it often, for many years in his childhood...
Marie Cornel drew her beautiful black hair away from her shoulders and lifted the small amulet from her neck. Then she playfully swung it before her son’s eyes. “What do you see, Kurtis?”
The boy blinked and reached out to touch the hanging beads and feathers. “I see a spider web.”
Marie laughed and her laughter was like a fountain. Whatever he said, she always laughed. Neither uncertainty nor the difficult situation they were forced to live in managed to erase that never-ending smile from her cheerful face. “It’s an amulet of protection. A dreamcatcher. My people always hanged it over their babies’ cribs to filter their dreams. That kept them protected from evil spirits, for the dreamcatcher only allows what is good to pass through.” She put it in her son’s hands. “This was hanging over your crib, and before that it was on mine, and before that your grandfather’s. Unfortunately, it can only protect you while you’re a child.”
“Is it true it filters dreams?” He said, hanging it from his neck.
The mother smiled again. Her lively black eyes, so full of life and contrasts, sparkled like two stars. “Nothing has power by itself, Kurtis. We’re the ones who give power to things.”
“So... why do we need amulets?”
“Someday you’ll understand.”
He unconsciously dropped his arm to his side. Suddenly, the Boran seemed heavier than usual. He was confused, feeling like a child again. “Where did you get that from?” He demanded more than asked, his voice trembling with emotion.
The man was still swinging the dreamcatcher. “She gave it to us. Not willingly, of course...”
“If you’ve dared to hurt her...” Kurtis muttered through clenched teeth.
Maybe for what he suggested or because it sounded so threatening, the man stepped back and shook his head, horrified. “By God’s name, no! We don’t hurt anyone, that’s against our faith. But she assured if you saw it, you’ll agree to listen to us. She hurt to let it go, but of course, it was our only guarantee.”
Kurtis’s ears were ringing. None of that made sense to him. Everything was madness. “Give it to me!” He said abruptly, reaching out. “It’s not yours.”
The man then gave it back quickly, as if fearing that Kurtis might bite him. He quickly put it in his pocket.
“Now you’ll let us help?”
“Maybe after I know who you are.”
“We’re the ones who saved your life.”
“You think I haven’t noticed that? Start by telling me who the hell you are.”
That guy had broken into the room like a police officer, but now he looked unsure. He swallowed hard and said as firmly as he could: “I come as a representative of Minos Axiotis, hegumenos of Ayios Stephanos’ monastery at Meteora.”
Lara wondered what to do. She had both documents and artefacts, so she was able to escape...but how could she leave Kurtis in the lurch, he who had crossed sea and land to find her?
She was hesitating to go back into the motel, when Kurtis exited followed out by a silent hooded shadow. Lara approached with caution, without losing sight of the stranger.
“We’re going to Greece,” Kurtis said.
“Who’s this?” She said, pointing boldly at the monk.
The aforementioned nodded in greeting and said smiling: “I’m Father Nikos Kavafis. The hegumenos has sent me to lead us to Meteora.”
“Why should we trust him?” Lara said, looking at Kurtis.
“I’ll explain to you later,” he whispered.
Lara turned to the monk. Kurtis might have his reasons, but she wouldn’t be so easily convinced. “We’re near the border of two countries at the heart of Europe and not really likely to reach Greece without being found by some of our pursuers, which include the police and a Nephilim.”
The monk didn’t seem to grasp her sarcasm and said, nodding gravely: “Indeed, your situation is dire.”
“Then explain to me how an Orthodox monk will take us to Greece without raising suspicion.”
Nikos didn’t answer. He began to walk quietly, and they had no choice but to follow him. When Lara was already thinking of giving him a few shakes, he pointed ahead: “This banality of modern times will take us to Athens. From there, the rest will be done by road.”
Lara and Kurtis looked at each other, stunned. There, on an esplanade, waited a helicopter. What kind of Orthodox monastery was provided with that?
“Don’t worry,” Nikos smiled, recovering his confidence. “All concerns will be solved in due time. Father Minos is eager to meet you.”