The Angels’ Oracle
“The True Option,” muttered Lara. “The mother of all religions.”
Sitting on the windowsill of her cell, not caring the least about the huge abyss that was right next to her, the explorer crossed out symbols and let the papers fall at her feet, forming a scattered pile of sheets.
Focused on the task, she barely heard Kurtis arriving and leaning against the door frame, watching her in silence. She was now used to his discreet and reserved manners.
“Look at this,” she said, pointing to the sheet in which she was working. The last symbol left was the Cross. Lara crossed it out with a jerk of her pencil. “Bang. Goodbye Christianity. Centuries of spirituality and faith destroyed in a second.”
“Don’t let the monks see you,” he said, looking over his shoulder.
She laughed and dropped the papers to the ground. Then she took another and relentlessly continued to work as she said: “You owe me some explanations. Start by telling me how the monk managed to convince you to follow him.”
Kurtis was also getting used to her outgoing and delightfully cheeky attitude, finding it as attractive as she found his mystery. “He gave me something that belongs to my mother,” he pulled out the amulet. “She’s Navajo. This belonged to her people for generations.”
“Who could’ve imagined?” Lara said. “Where is she? Is she as mysterious as you?”
“She’s a refugee on a reservation, with the rest of her people. In a place where Karel won’t find her. Both of us have spent all our lives running away and hiding. It was the only way to survive. But not anymore.”
Lara crossed out the latest symbol and began to fan herself with the useless sheet. The heat was sweltering in the monastery even at that point – typical of Greek climate - and the heavy, black clothing she wore didn’t contribute much to coolness.
“Huh...I’ve another question.”
“Why did your skin burn when you did...that, back there in Munich?”
“Probably because you were close.”
She stopped fanning herself and glared at him. “That’s very low of you,” she snapped.
“You think?” He replied, raising his eyebrows. In the corners of his lips hinted a smile.
Lara had enough. “Seems you like to play the role of the mysterious man, must be very proud of yourself. But you can’t fool me with that. No, Mr. Trent, I remember perfectly well the scoundrel who disarmed me in the Louvre.”
He threw his head back and let out a spontaneous laugh, without malice. “Tell me, Miss Croft. Would you’ve preferred me to knock you out?”
She didn’t answer, piercing him with her big brown eyes, while furiously twisting the sheet in her hands. “That would’ve been expected,” she said after a few seconds. “Nobody ever made me feel so... angry. So humiliated.”
“Humiliated? No, Lara, that wasn’t my intention at all. In fact, I was about to hit you, but I just couldn’t. Only a brute would hit you, and I don’t consider myself as such, despite what I may look like.”
Lara got up from the ledge and stood with dignity, her eyes sparkling. “So, how long will you go on with this?”
Kurtis looked at her. It seemed that her tone, rather than offending him, amused him. “And how long, Lara, will you keep pretending you don’t enjoy it?” And he turned and left the cell, leaving her open-mouthed.
The next day a monk came to tell the hegumenos that “the stranger woman” was asking for him. It was clear the brothers weren’t at all used to women within their walls, and the rigor with which they treated her almost bordered on rudeness, though she didn’t seem to care.
A true Amazon, thought Minos, looking at the strong woman wandering around the yard. When noticing him, she hastened to grab his arm with all informality: “I’d like to see the Oracle, patéras Axiotis,” she said. “I’m used to examining my place of action before working on it.”
The hegumenos smiled. It was said that nothing was sacred enough for that woman. Therefore, this faithful monastic community had rushed to close the chapel and the crypt, just in case. Lara would’ve felt insulted if she’d known about that, but in fact, Minos had been informed that the explorer had been seen prowling around that forbidden place last night. However, there was no broken lock, so that meant she still had some regards towards her hosts.
They descended into the darkness of the crypt, illuminated by a torch held by Lara, while helping the elder religious man to descend the slippery steps. There, where the sunlight didn’t shine and the air was rarefied by moisture and putrefaction, laid the remains of all the monks who’d vowed and served since mediaeval times. As there was not enough space for so many bodies, and following the Orthodox ritual, only the heads were preserved as they were considered the vessels of wisdom and faith.
Nice decor, Lara thought as they passed alongside walls full of ancient toothless skulls, each with its own name. Some were almost a pile of dust; others were more recent. Thousands of empty sockets watched them from their niches and seemed to come alive at the dancing light of the torch.
Finally, the corridor went down to a larger space. “We’ve arrived,” Minos announced.
Lara raised the torch and examined the place. It was a circular room reminding her of Cappadocia’s burial chambers. The floor was bare rock and the vault was covered by a beautiful fresco of an angel surrounded by small seraphim. In the middle of the room there was a small stone altar, similar to the one in Al-Fayoum. In the centre of the altar there was a hollow, a small concavity capable of holding some water or something else. That was all.
“A very austere spot,” Lara said.
“God’s things are austere, my daughter. Luxury and pomp are sins of this century.”
Lara could’ve asked him what he thought about those beautiful gold and ivory icons in many Orthodox churches. But she decided to move on: “Patéras, I recall having heard the Oracle already existed before the monastery was built.”
“Indeed. Both this altar and the fresco room are just a place of remembrance. It’s said the Archangel appeared here to deliver the Seal to the first hegumenos.”
“And that hole in the altar?”
“Haven’t you guessed it, daughter? That’s where you must put the Periapt.”
She looked at him, caught by surprise. “I thought the Periapt belonged to the Lux Veritatis.”
“And it belongs to them, or rather, it belonged to them. But concerning the Periapt’s origins I can’t say much, for I know nothing about it; only that it should be placed on the altar to summon the Oracle.”
Lara reached into the hole. Indeed, it had more or less the same size as the crystalline sphere. She rubbed the dust and cobwebs covering it. “Is there a secret code, spell or ritual? Or it’s just about placing the Periapt on it?”
“It’s up to you to figure it out. I’ve already told you everything I know.”
“Great,” she muttered under her breath so the hegumenos couldn’t hear it.
They went back outside and began to wander. Some scandalized novices looked at the scene: the holy and venerable father walking with a woman! Definitely, the times were degrading.
Minos, oblivious to that, looked around and asked: “Where’s Mr. Trent?”
“Frankly, I neither know nor care,” Lara muttered through clenched teeth.
The hegumenos looked at her, surprised. “I don’t know what he’s done to upset you, my dear, but of course you should care. So many things depend on him…as on you,” he sighed.
“How are you related with the Lux Veritatis?” Lara said, as if she hadn’t heard him.
Minos sighed again. “At the beginning we weren’t. Our community was born in 1138, when the monasteries were erected in the valley. At first we took refuge here to escape from war and plague, but ended up by settling here permanently. It wasn’t until two centuries later when the Order of the Lux Veritatis was born. They looked like humble knights of Christ, but they never became as famous as the Templars, the Hospitallers, or the Teutonic Order. In fact, I’m ignorant if the Lux Veritatis professed any religion or faith. Their task was actually to fight the Black Alchemist and the Cabal. But all was ruined when the Templars were destroyed. As you know, my dear, the Catholic Church, prompted by the French king’s political interests, ordered the extermination of that order and burnt all members at the stake. Consequently, the Lux Veritatis were afraid and hid. The accusation of witchcraft with which the Templars were charged was, of course, a lie, but...what could they expect for themselves, if they had such extraordinary powers?”
“Being accused of witchcraft in all fairness and crushed by the Church,” Lara said, and hastened to add, “the Catholic one, of course.”
“They hid, disappearing from both political and social spheres. They placed their strongholds in remote and foreign places, even in infidel lands like Egypt. And since they couldn’t expect any support from Catholics, they found refuge in Orthodox Christianity. We, the monks of Meteora, became their allies.”
“What do you know about them and the Nephili?”
“Ah, my child, not much. We trust them because we’d a common enemy: Eckhardt. However, we’ve a couple of legends about them. But I guess your youth won’t appreciate such details.”
“Oh, I love legends,” Lara said. “Underestimating them is a big mistake.”
Minos smiled. “Concerning the Nephili’s origins you already may be informed. God’s angels descended to Earth and joined Eve’s daughters. From this union were born these hybrids of angels and mortals, who retained more of angel than of mortal, and were called the Giants for their tall and slim shapes. Well...another legend says the Lux Veritatis are exactly their antagonists, only with more of mortals than angels.”
Lara laughed. “Are you telling me that the Lux Veritatis are also angelic hybrids?”
“Truth be told, nobody knows where they came from. But they certainly possessed qualities which can hardly be described as “common.”
Lara frowned as she pondered: “Well, I’ve seen Kurtis doing really weird things. He can alter the objects around him; make them move, explode, fly. He can send his mind to the past; he can get out of his own body. But it’s hard to believe he’s half-angel. Despite how extraordinary his powers are, he’s the most down to earth man I’ve ever known,” she concluded with a smile.
“Come on, my child, how many people in the world have such a gift? How many could’ve managed to survive the wound that devilish creature dealt him? Mr. Trent may not resemble exactly the image we’ve of a heavenly messenger, but certainly he’s not like any other human being. The Order of the Lux Veritatis wasn’t earthly at all. It’s said that if the Nephili were the Fallen Angels’ offspring, the Lux Veritatis are the same, born from angels who remained faithful. They had two categories actually: The Healers, those with healing powers, and the Fighters, those with psychic powers. Mr. Trent and his father belong to the last ones, the most powerful, the ones fighting directly against Eckhardt. That’s why the Black Alchemist mostly targeted the Healers, so that Fighters couldn’t be healed. This is how he gradually destroyed the Order.”
“Mortal angels. It’s a great contradiction.”
“Even the Nephili weren’t completely immortal. Only the angels themselves are. And about them we don’t know anything...nothing but what the Sacred Scriptures tell us. I’ve always wished my days would end with the Oracle’s revelation. Now I’ll see my wish fulfilled.”
Lara didn’t answer, absorbed in her thoughts. She was wondering why Karel hadn’t entered the scene. There were very few symbols left...she was getting closer to the key. She knew the Nephilim had to be hidden somewhere, waiting patiently for the ideal moment. But since leaving Munich she hadn’t seen him, she hadn’t received a single threat, Kurtis hadn’t noticed his presence, and the hegumenos himself had told her that telephone warnings had ended. Where was he?
That very night she’d find out.