A dirge filled the air, the only sound in the monastery, while the first flicker of dawn was breaking on the horizon.
Lara went through the trapdoor. This time it was Minos who guided her, still dizzy because of the mystical experience. Upon seeing the group of monks kneeling in the center of the yard, whose walls and floors were charred as if it had been on fire, she frowned. “What are you doing?”
“We pray the office for the dead,” Nikos said, standing up. “We’ve lost the Lux Veritatis warrior.”
Minos cried in dismay. “Impossible! The ritual was fulfilled! Miss Croft...”
“What happened?” She interrupted with a commanding voice.
Nikos looked at her doubtfully. “He killed the Nephilim, sinking the Shard in his heart. But the devil took his last boost to drag him down,” he pointed to the window, still splattered in white blood. “Both fell into the void.”
Lara turned and walked away with long strides.
“Where are you going?” Said Minos.
“To find him.”
The monks looked at each other. “She’s lost her mind!” said one. “No one can survive that fall!”
“He can,” Lara insisted with a cold and calm voice.
Nikos and the hegumenos went after her. “My child,” Minos said sweetly, “you must face the truth. You were too late. Everything you did was very noble and brave, but it’s better to let the dead rest.”
Lara turned sharply and glared at him. Minos went back, intimidated. She was quiet, peaceful; enlightened. Something told the hegumenos she was right, and not crazy after all. “Whether you like it or not, I’m going to look for him,” Lara said with determination. “If he’s dead I’ll bury him. Nobody needs to follow me.” And she went quickly towards the exit. Then she took off the robe - she worn under her explorer clothes, and started climbing down the rock.
Nobody tried to stop her.
The descent seemed to last for hours, but she finally reached the bottom of the chasm. There, amid sharp stones, she found Karel’s corpse, shattered by the impact, the Shard’s handle still sticking out his chest. Beside him was Kurtis. He seemed intact.
Lara leaned over him, extended a trembling hand and checked his pulse. He was breathing. He was alive.
Sighing in relief, Lara sat on her heels. Then she noticed a burn had disfigured his shoulder tattoo - the Lux Veritatis symbol was distorted. She brushed the hair from his forehead and stroked his cheek. Then she lowered her hand across his neck, sliding her hand down an arm dirty with a mixture of red and white blood.
“It’s wrong to abuse the wounded,” a voice said suddenly. Lara withdrew her hand. Kurtis had opened his eyes and smiled with that cynical grin of his.
“Are you okay?”
He sat up and stretched. “I’ll survive. Of course, I gotta ask for a raise. I’ve outdone myself. Twenty feet...Dad would be proud of me,” he concluded with sarcasm.
“How did you…?”
“It’s called mental suspension. You fall at full speed and within seconds you gotta convince your mind that your body doesn’t weigh anything and it’s not gonna hit the ground. It’s not easy, and I as sure as hell did not expect to achieve it.”
“So you can fly?”
“Wish I could. Just slowed the rate of fall.” He quietly looked aside at Karel’s remains, then at Lara. “You did it,” he whispered with admiration and respect.
“Of course I did,” she said proudly. “You doubted me?”
“I never harbored a single doubt, M’lady,” he answered, and then approached his face to hers and kissed her. Lara put her arms around his neck and surrendered to the kiss.
Annoyed voices were heard from above. “Don’t eat her, man!” “If you insist in behaving like this, you better leave this sacred place.”
Lara looked up and said: “I suggest we hang all the monks inside the elevator net.”
“Agreed,” Kurtis said, before bringing her back to him.
They left the monastery some days after, when Kurtis had recovered a little from his wounds. Lara left the Periapt on the Oracle’s altar - if that wondrous sphere belonged somewhere, it was certainly there. Only Nikos and Minos came to say goodbye, to the great relief of both. The hegumenos hugged and blessed them both, then watched them in silence, climbing down the rock, slowly and patiently.
“Do you think we’ll see them again, patéras?” Nikos said, with arms folded into the robe sleeves.
“I think not. Not me, at least. But I’m glad of having met them. Those two might be by far the most extraordinary people in this world.”
Nikos kept a moment of silence, after which he said: “How do you think the Lux Veritatis warrior managed to survive the fall?”
The hegumenos smiled, and after a few seconds he replied with a quote from the Gospel of Matthew, taken from the Psalms:
He will command His angels concerning You,
on their hands they will lift You up,
So that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.
Inspector Köhler ran into the building. It wasn’t even five minutes ago he’d been informed that the suspect had surrendered peacefully to the police. He found her sitting surrounded by agents. However, she seemed calm and confident. “Miss Croft?”
“One and the same,” she replied with a charming smile. “Sorry if I don’t shake your hand.”
He caught a fine irony in her voice. Her hands were cuffed.
“Well, miss,” said the inspector, “I guess you know you’re in trouble. You’d better find a good lawyer, since you’re related to crimes and atrocities of all kinds and your runaway attitude doesn’t look good.”
“I know,” she said. “But I had far more important unfinished business.”
Kohler looked stunned. The girl has bollocks. Is she making fun of me? “Watch your attitude. You could face a long prison sentence. If you were in the United States, you could even face a death sentence. Many months of trials are awaiting you, anyway, and you don’t want to spend them in jail, do you?”
Anyone else would have collapsed or burst into tears upon hearing this, but Lara just sighed and said: “The sooner we’ll fix this, the better. Go on, inspector. I’m in your hands.”
As the German inspector had said, trials lasted for months. It was the first time someone as famous as Lara Croft was facing such serious accusations, and the public soared. As always, there were those who judged her guilty and worthy of life imprisonment and also there were those who believed she’d fallen into a trap.
If this long process was an ordeal for her, she didn’t show it - she was always calm and confident. The facts were seemingly against her, but she was helped by Jean, Selma, Ivanoff, and of course Kurtis’ declarations, once he was also acquitted of being her collaborator.
Finally, against all odds, Lara was acquitted too, as it was proved that the Monstrum’s murders and crimes had been committed by a cult known as the Cabal. She proved her innocence and was released. Nothing was said about the Lux Veritatis or fallen angels - everything concerning that was considered to be mystical ravings and assumed to be Neo-Nazi scientific aspirations.
The day she finally left the court, glowing and surrounded by her friends, Lara saw Winston waiting downstairs. Startled, she went to meet him. “You’ve come here!” She said, hugging him warmly.
“Yes, miss,” he sighed - the long months of confinement of his godchild had also affected him, for he was pale and aged. “I came to pick you up and bring you home. But first I wanted to give this to you. It arrived the day after you left for Turkey.” And he handled her a mailing envelope. Lara took it, transfixed. The letter was from Werner and, according the postmark, it had been mailed the same day she flew to Paris to talk to him.
She quickly opened it and extracted a letter. All around her - Selma, Ivanoff, Jean, Winston, squeezed in to peer over her shoulder. Only Kurtis remained apart, leaning back on his beloved motorcycle and waiting in silence.
“My dear child:
I guess you’ll wonder why I call you such, after so many years. Why I write this now, when I’m calling you and you’ve resisted until reluctantly agreeing to come to Paris. The answer perhaps is that I’m old and I regret all the mistakes I’ve made. Maybe I don’t have the courage to tell you this to your face.
Lara, my best pupil, my hardworking apprentice. From the first day I saw you sitting at your desk and looking at me with those challenging eyes, I knew that life had prepared great things for you. I did my best to make you a good archaeologist, a great explorer. I didn’t expect for you to become the best, unbeatable. Perhaps that’s why I treated you with arrogance and condescension. I was just a jealous man whose pride was his greatest sin. The accident in Cambodia, which left me crippled, taught me about my inflated egotism. But even then I didn’t truly open my eyes. Furious, I blamed you, because you fled when the Iris closed on me.
From mentor and protégé, we became bitter enemies. But again in Egypt you showed me the pride which corrupted me and made me an execrable being. And when the pyramid collapsed on you, I knew you had taught me a great lesson. So I invested all my time, my money, and my efforts to rescue you.
Lara, listen now, because I know you won’t listen when you see me. I didn’t abandon you. I’d have never left you. I was forced to quit. The Government estimated that the conservation of the pyramid was more valuable than your life, and they cancelled the excavation permit. I was forced to leave you buried alive. I was forced to leave you for dead.
As soon as I knew you were alive, that the Bedouins had rescued you, I tried to contact you. But oh, girl, you’ve inherited my pride and stubbornness, and you didn’t want to hear me. You’re angry and you’ll never forgive. It’s fate: in Cambodia you were forced to flee for your life, so I thought I’d been abandoned. The roles are reversed now.
A great danger hangs over me. I fear for my life. I’m looking forward to your arrival. I’ll try to talk to you, but I know you won’t hear the babbling excuses of an old crippled man. At least, you’ll have this letter.
Your mentor, who finally feels proud of you.