The True Option
“Minos! Minos Axiotis!”
The hegumenos came out of his reverie. He was praying before a small icon dedicated to St. Stephen, the monastery’s patron saint, that hung near the crypt entrance, when he saw Lara arriving in a flurry of robes. Her cheeks were flushed as she breathed heavily.
“What happened, child?”
“Quick!” She commanded imperiously, “Open the crypt!”
At that time, a hooded figure appeared in the yard. The alleged monk threw back his hood and a cool and collected face appeared, a pale man with blonde hair and blue eyes. Minos had never seen him before, but he immediately recognized him. No more was needed to urge him on. Jumping, he pounced on the closed hatch and opened it at a breakneck speed.
Karel rose slightly in the air and went towards them. Now his face had changed and showed his true form. He noticed the chubby hegumenos withdrawing terrified, but what really infuriated him was Lara, standing and challenging him with a defiant look. “Arrogance has made you stupid,” he said, stopping and floating in the air. “At least before you had the decency to fear me.”
“What are you going to do, Karel?” She said loudly, extending the Periapt toward him. “Are you going to prevent me from descending into the crypt and summoning the Oracle?”
The Nephilim didn’t answer. He threw a beam of energy towards her, but she dodged it by jumping to one side. “I’ll answer for you,” she continued, relentless. “You can’t stop me! Your life depends on me now! Kill me and you won’t have any hope!”
Among the arches in the yard Kurtis appeared, moving slowly towards Karel. He noticed him and rose a little more. “Indeed, pride has corrupted you, foolish mortal,” the Nephilim said through gritted teeth. “There’s no doubt what your choice will be. You think you can blackmail me with that? No one threatens me!”
“What choice do you have?” continued Lara, distracting him while Kurtis was still advancing with the Chirugai in his hand. “You’ll never lay your hands on me, you pig. I’m out of your reach.”
“For now,” Karel granted again, serene. “But you won’t arrive in time. Admit it, Amazon, you’ve failed. I’m going to kill him,” he said glancing at the indifferent Kurtis. “You can’t do anything for him. If I were you I’d stay here to enjoy the show.”
For a moment it looked like the threat made a dent, but she soon got over it - no one tricks Lara Croft! - and she dropped herself through the trapdoor. The hegumenos went after her and bolted the hatch behind him.
Kurtis and Karel were now alone in the yard. The Nephilim pursed his lips angrily.
“So, what now?” Kurtis said mockingly. “Looks like you’ve run out of resources. You’ve played your last card and lost.”
Karel rolled his white eyes towards him. “What’s the point of killing each other? Why waste your life in this meaningless sacrifice? My cause wasn’t evil. I just wanted my people’s survival, which your Order destroyed without mercy.”
Kurtis trembled with rage, as if he’d suffered a shock. “You shameless bastard. You talk about survival; you don’t even know how many people you’ve killed! I’m a mortal - not an idiot, and you’ve become as cowardly and lying as those mortals you’ve rubbed shoulders with, the same ones you despise.”
“So you want to die? Go on!” Karel hissed. “Think about it, because the survivor will suffer a slow death before passing away. Maybe you’d do better to kill yourself. Your father was stupid enough to fight...which granted him only more suffering.”
But Kurtis didn’t answer - he wouldn’t let his speech distract him. He crouched and grabbed the Chirugai with one hand and the Shard with the other. Again, he felt those excruciating pangs in the injured shoulder, but the pain no longer mattered. Nothing mattered. All was over for him. He sighed and waited for the Nephilim’s attack.
Karel didn’t make him wait.
The Amazon ran through the dark and damp tunnels full of grinning skulls, while Minos, torch in hand, tried to follow her – in vain, since Lara ran like she’d never run before, even faster than if her own life was in danger. She ran until her lungs burst and the sphere in her hands became heavier than a rock – but she even didn’t stop at that moment. Come on, child, she heard Werner’s voice from the mists of a distant memory, echoing in her mind, show them what you’re made of.
The robe’s strips were entangled in her legs. Why didn’t that goddammit tunnel ever end? A fork, and another and another...bloody maze! And suddenly, the Oracle appeared before her eyes. Lara then stopped and leaned against the wall, panting heavily. Her legs ached and she was sweating in her skin-tight clothes. “Minos!” She cried out, “I need light!”
The poor hegumenos arrived after her, panting like an ox, and fell to his knees. He was too old for that jogging.
Lara walked towards the altar and placed the Periapt in the hole. After a couple of steps back, she began to write the remaining symbols in the dusty steps, while she quoted one by one. “Aphrodite…Uranos...Poseidon…Gea...Helios...”
Minos watched her in silence, holding the torch with shaking hands. He felt inclined to protest: How would a heavenly Oracle accept a pagan god’s symbol? However, he didn’t interrupt her.
Lara stood up again and set her sights on the Byzantine fresco. The angel seemed to look at her, relentless in his gesture of blessing the world. On each of his sides were the Alpha and the Omega, meaning the beginning and end of everything.
She stepped forward and placed both hands on the Periapt. Suddenly, the orb began to give off a bluish light. The hegumenos stifled a scream. At the same time, the Alpha and the Omega began to shine too.
“Angels!” Lara exclaimed then. “Hear my voice! The Amazon is calling you!”
The monks fled in disarray, some running into the crowded elevator, trying to save themselves - others climbing down across the cliff, and the most fanatical and desperate simply jumped into the void, disappearing into the depths of the valley. Only few, including Nikos, remained steadfast.
The reason for the flight was a savage battle taking place in the inner yard. They couldn’t come closer – a wide light barrier was around the spot and repelled them if they tried to approach. Through that nebula, Nikos could just distinguish two shapes fighting each other. One wrapped in a deep orange glow, like a burning flame. The other giving off an intense green light, floating in the air like a cold iceberg. The contrasts of light were so violent that it was impossible to distinguish anything more. Outside that light field no sound reached them, although the unleashed energy made the air vibrate.
“Anything we can do?” asked a monk, disturbed by the evil presence in the holy place.
“Just pray,” sighed Nikos.
A golden light spilled through the circular room. Minos fell on his knees, trembling with emotion, but Lara remained steadfast holding the Periapt.
You have called us, Amazon. Those words sounded only in Lara’s mind - only she could hear them. She looked around but saw nothing except that ethereal light. Hundreds of years ago we made an oath, and now we have come to honor it.
It wasn’t a single voice, but thousands, millions of voices talking at the same time, slowly and rhythmically. Both male and female voices; children, youth, adult, and elderly voices. All kinds of supernatural voices around her.
“What did you swear?” Lara said, curious despite the urgency of the situation.
We vow to fix the mistake we made when allowing our brothers to come down to Earth and beget the half-angels, the servants of Good, the Lux Veritatis, and the servants of Evil, the Nephili. A woman begot them, a woman will destroy them. Tell us the True Option, Amazon, and the choice is yours.
That numerous voice fell silent and waited for a response. Lara hesitated - she was pretty sure about what to say, but the magnanimity of that presence disturbed her. What if she was wrong?
Hurry up, mortal woman. For us, time means nothing, but for them it’s running out. Tell us whom the mortals worshipped first, to what divinity they consecrated the first altar. Draw the symbol with your blood so we can read it.
Lara took a deep breath. Taking the Shard, she made a cut on her hand and stained her fingers with red. Then she slowly drew the symbol on the altar, mixing her blood with the dust on the surface.
“This is the True Option,” she said while her voice sounded firm and confident in the shadowy crypt. “Gea! Gaia! Geb! Earth! The mother of all mankind. The first goddess to be honored. Earth. She was the first, before male heavenly gods were worshipped. For millennia, she was the only one venerated.”
The symbol had been drawn - a circle split into four sectors. The oldest symbol on the planet. Earth. The origin of all religions.
For a moment the world seemed to hold its breath. Then, the multiple voice spoke again.
That is the True Option.
Karel collapsed on the floor. The wound on his side was bleeding again, and so were many other wounds crossing his body. He no longer had the strength to float.
The nebula insulation dissolved around him. He saw several monks witnessing in horror the scene. Enjoy the show while you can.
A wave of energy hit and sent him against the wall, beside a window overlooking the void. Foolish and stubborn, that Lux Veritatis. Doesn’t know what awaits him.
He stumbled up, just to see how Kurtis moved slowly, with the ready Shard. He also was hurt, with several burns from Karel’s beams, but seemed willing to endure to the end.
Gurgling through the blood that filled his mouth, Karel said:
“Idiot! You will die slowly and badly. You want to kill me? Go on! I’ll end quickly while you endure a long agony.” He licked his bloodstained lips and spat to one side.
Kurtis fell upon him and cornered him on the windowsill. “This is for my father,” he said through clenched teeth. “This is for Lara and for Loanna. This is for those who you’ve killed, you and your goddammit Cabal. Rot in hell, bastard.”
The Nephilim held his arm to hold the blade, but it was slick with blood and slipped away. The blade sank into his heart. Karel howled with rage and defeat, and with his last strength, grabbed his opponent’s neck with both hands and pulled him as he fell backwards.
You succeeded, Amazon. Make your choice.
Lara didn’t think twice. “I choose Kurtis Trent!” She yelled. “I choose the Light! I choose the Truth! A life for a life. Like him, I want revenge for those who died because of the Nephili.”
The multiple voice fell silent for a few seconds, then said solemnly. A life for a life. Revenge for the innocent. Be as you say.
The golden light danced wildly around the altar and Lara felt absorbed and overwhelmed. She hesitated, lost her footing…and fell unconscious next to the altar. The light flickered and went out.
Minos, trembling and astonished, looked at that extraordinary woman and crossed himself.
Again there was silence in the crypt. Silence and darkness.