Cappadocia was a semi-arid region noted for its exceptionally beautiful rock formations. Lara didn’t find a single soul in the wilderness - fortunately, she thought - and it took her little time to slip into the excavation and crawl through the tunnel. At the end lay the discovery.
The necropolis was structured in multiple continuous circular chambers, each chamber consisting of twenty bulbous stone niches housing a Nephilim. Selma’s team had undergone a careful drilling in order to see inside the “sarcophagus”. Nothing like the bungling activities of the likes of Carter and Schliemann; archaeology was now more advanced. Lara, taking care to avoid touching them, looked into the holes and watched those creatures, lying in their final resting place.
The Nephili were tall and rather lanky, and their remains skeletons covered with strips of skin. Dead to be sure, and likely killed after being placed there. Lara figured it out while seeing an etched mark found in some skulls: A Lion’s face surrounded by the three Periapt Shards; the insignia of their ancestral enemy, the Lux Veritatis. After the warrior monks discovered the place, the Nephili, temporarily lethargic, had embraced their eternal rest. The only one who escaped was the Sleeper, whose former location was the only empty hole... Lara wondered how he managed to elude the Lux Veritatis.
When she reached the last chamber, the tunnel suddenly went down. Lara lit a flare, and after a few steps, she saw a signboard: Danger. Unstable ground. But it was too late. As she was trying to move back, the old, cracked floor disappeared from under her feet. With a scream that echoed through the darkness, she began to fall into the void, cursing her stupidity. But before she fell to far a strong arm came out of nowhere and grabbed her tightly.
Then she heard a familiar voice: “Always getting into trouble, aren’t we, Miss Croft?” Lara, hanging over the abyss and suspended only by the arm, looked up. It was Kurtis.
Joachim Karel sat quietly on the couch where, only hours earlier, Lara and Selma had been talking. He looked around the Turkish archaeologist’s tiny apartment, wishing he could have caught her. It had been a while since he’d killed somebody, and he felt frustrated… since this woman knew too much and had managed to escape alive.
Suddenly, the phone rang. Karel looked with disgust at that mechanical device that humans were so proud of, but begrudgingly admitted they turned out to be more helpful than not on many occasions.
He walked slowly on purpose towards the phone. If the call was not important, it would stop ringing soon. However, the sound persisted. That was the signal. He picked up the phone.
“Meister.” Answered Gunderson’s voice. “We’ve found them. Both of them. In Cappadocia’s necropolis.”
The necropolis...his former home. The place he took the only living Nephilim save for himself, and escaped to Prague; laying all his hope in it…and all for nothing. “Excellent.” Said the Nephilim.
“What must we do?”
“Take them. Both of them. I want them alive.”
Gunderson sounded doubtful. “Meister, the woman will be trouble...”
“I said I want both of them. And don’t hurt them either… or you’ll be wishing I was as merciful as Eckhardt.”
He hung up. Karel, satisfied, left the apartment. His plans had been ruined by Lara Croft and her unexpected intelligence; she’d been easy to manipulate...but turned out to be impossible to defeat. This time nothing would fail...he had everything going for him.
What Gunderson was ignorant of - in fact, only Boaz, Eckhardt, and Karel had known of it - was that the Sleeper had been a female specimen. She was meant to give birth to a new Nephili breed; and yes, by the traditional way, that method that humans went crazy for. Her destruction had wiped the chance of creating a pure race. Now he had to find a human woman...one worthy of giving birth to a second Nephili generation. In fact, Karel had already chosen her. He smiled.
“And when I’m done with you,” he whispered, “you’ll see what I did to your mentor was a blessing in comparison…”
As for the man, Karel was neither worried nor scared of his Golden Seal. It would be a great pleasure to strangle the last Lux Veritatis to death with his bare hands.
It was said that Nephili were a cruel race. Well…this was only the beginning.
Lara pulled herself up and climbed, helped by Kurtis.
“You owe me an explanation.” She gasped.
“And a Painting.”
She laughed. “Forget about the Painting, it’s hopeless.” She sat on the floor and lit another flare. Maybe it was a trick of the green light mixed with the shadows, but Kurtis really did look ill, if his pale face was anything to go by.
“Why did you come here?”
“Actually, I fled. I assumed you were being chased by Gunderson, so if I stayed in Istanbul we would’ve been caught by his men.”
Then Lara looked at his hand and saw the golden, square-shaped ring with the engraved map, and said: “What do you know about all this?”
“Not much.” He said after sitting next to her. “Last thing I recall was that bitch’s head rolling on the floor, after being skewered like a Turkish kebab. I was an idiot. One should not underestimate his enemies.” His voice sounded bitter and frustrated. “Then when I woke up, I was in some Turkish woman’s house; she started screaming her head off when she saw me jump out of bed. She told me everything she knew, and then I hoped you’d received my call and come soon.”
“But you were unconscious.” Lara said. “How could you call me?”
“With that.” He said, pointing at the Chirugai, which was tied to Lara’s belt. “May I have it back?”
She gave it to him. Kurtis lovingly caressed the weapon before affixing it to his belt again. Seeing Lara’s suspicious look, he said: “I won’t ask you to believe me, and I don’t expect you to understand how I did it. I contacted you; let’s leave it at that. Call it a miracle, if you want. There’s also the ‘miracle’ of me being alive.”
“The people who helped you...”
“I have no idea who they were. After Eckhardt killed my father, I’m the last one.” In fact, Kurtis had never told her what he was. She had figured it out watching the strange display of his mental powers and the information he had of his ancestral enemy. And he was aware she knew it. “Now tell me everything.” Kurtis said, very seriously. “What I told you is all I know.”
And Lara told him. Although he was frowning, she saw admiration in his eyes when she told him how she’d killed Eckhardt. She told him about Gunderson’s visit, the Golden Seal’s story, everything she’d discovered recently.
When she finished, Kurtis sighed. “So this ring on my finger is called the Golden Seal and can decide which of us wins and which of us dies?”
Lara gasped. “Didn’t you know that?”
“Well, no.” He said. “All I know is that my father gave me this ring when I was sixteen. He never told me about its purpose, even though he was so proud of being a Lux Veritatis.”
A sudden noise made them jump. They heard hurried footsteps above on the surface of the necropolis, some orders shouted aloud, and the clicking and sliding of metal-on-metal as machine guns were readied...
“Dammit.” Lara cursed, “Gunderson!”
To her surprise, Kurtis kept calm. “It’s about time. I was waiting for them.”
“Oh, really? Are we going to start negotiating with them?”
“No.” He said with a smirk, while loading his Boran X. “We’re gonna set a trap.”
Gunderson delivered some quick instructions to his men. “Spread out by the cameras. You have enough lighting. And remember, don’t hurt them.”
“What if they fire?” Said one of them.
Gunderson growled. That was the problem. That pair was indomitable, especially the woman, who was a real fucking bitch. And he knew enough about Kurtis to be sure he wouldn’t surrender easily.
“Don’t give them the chance.”
Kurtis jumped to his feet and ran to one corner of the hallway. “Help me with this.”
Lara saw he was tugging at something heavy... “A can of gasoline?”
Then she understood. “You’ll make a mess.”
“Just what you like, don’tcha, Miss Croft?” He threw the can and began to spread gasoline on the floor. Under normal conditions, the sand would have absorbed the gasoline - but the ground had been swept and polished by archaeologists, leaving a bare, uneven rock - and as a result some puddles formed. “We’ll have to run,” said Kurtis, “and let’s hope they follow us.”
“What are you up to?”
“Trust me now.” He jumped over the hole that Lara had almost fell down, which luckily was not very wide. Lara followed him, hoping the soil wouldn’t sink again. It didn’t.
On the other side Kurtis pulled out a tiny explosive device with a detonator and tied it against the hole’s edge. He activated it and then they both started to run.
“Where are we supposed to go?” She gasped as they ran along the dark tunnel.
“There’s another exit.” He said, handing her a map taken from Selma’s apartment. “We’ll exit on the other side and try to catch them at the back of this tunnel.”
The plan was clear... “How long before we leave?”
“A couple of hours.”
Suddenly, they heard a loud boom and the sound of crumbling earth.
“Now the hole’s a little wider...it’s difficult, but not impossible to follow us.” Lara said. “But the gasoline...”
“With that we’ll cut off their way back. They won’t be able to turn back.”
“Then they will just come where we are!”
Before Kurtis could answer, a shout of rage was heard in the distance: “That fucking bitch!”
Lara frowned. “To whom is he referring?”
“Hmm,” Kurtis smirked, “I certainly don’t think that’s addressed to me.”
“Well, not me, either. After all, I’m not the one to blame.”
“That damn slut used a bomb and now there’s a gap!”
Some mercenaries were looking at the hole in the centre of the tunnel. Gunderson frowned. Bad business. And there was spilled gasoline. He quickly scanned for any outbreak of fire, but there was nothing. It seemed the can was tipped over by accident...
“What are you doing?” He shouted. “You know how to jump a damn hole, don’t you?”
The dumbasses reacted and began to prepare the grappling hooks to access the other side. Gunderson turned towards his five favourite mercenaries and said to them: “You’ll stay here with me and stand guard. If I really believed this container was tipped over by accident, I would be an idiot.”
They had spent some time running when Kurtis suddenly stopped and seemed unable to take a step further. He clutched his stomach and doubled over.
“You okay?” Lara asked, still ready to go on.
Kurtis shook his head. The wound in his belly was burning like fire. “It’s nothing.” He said.
“You’re very bad at lying.” Lara said, and went towards him.
Suddenly, his eyes fixed on something behind Lara. She turned and immediately drew her weapons.
There were a pair of orange eyes glowing in the dark. Then another pair. And another and another. And suddenly they heard a strange sound, like crackles and pops, that reminded Lara of a dolphin squeaking. Dolphins in a desert cave?
Kurtis seemed to recognize the creatures. He straightened up, tense. “No matter what you see,” he said, “don’t panic.”
“Panic?” Lara snorted. “I won’t pan…” Her voice trailed off into silence when she saw the first creature emerge from the darkness. She gasped. Lara had seen many horrible things in her eventful life. But that thing...!
It was a four-legged creature which reminded her of a lion, but its tail was an appendage ending in a sharp stinger. The neck was long and wavy...and the head was a humans’. The face was a mirror image of Lara’s’, but with a ghastly twist: instead of her sensual lips, it had an extended jaw full of long, sharp, fang-like teeth that clacked together when opening and closing.
Lara stepped back, and was surprised to see that she was shaking like a leaf. “It’s me!” she gasped again.
“No!” Said Kurtis, who was still behind her, “they only take your likeness to terrify you. Just ignore their face!”
But that wasn’t easy at all. Kurtis shuddered when the second creature came out of the darkness: it had his own face disfigured by that grotesque sharp-toothed jaw.
“What the hell are they?” Lara said, loading her guns.
“Manticores. Stay away from the stinger, it’s poisonous.”
She remembered having read that name in Father Dunstan’s Bestiary when she was a teenager.
Suddenly the first manticore attacked, leaping towards her. Lara fired and was met with the unsettling vision of her own head exploding...but then the head completely regenerated.
“Guns are useless on them!” Kurtis shouted, throwing the Chirugai towards one of them. “You must behead them!”
“Dammit.” Lara hissed, and took the knife she had in her boot.
Kurtis’ incredible weapon spun in the air, lighting up the darkness with orange flashes just like the manticore’s eyes, and beheaded one of them.
Lara smashed a kick in the face of another one, and taking advantage of the beast’s disorientation, slit its throat. Damn, now she was covered in blood. She hated that…
“Lara!” Kurtis yelled as he returned the Chirugai back to himself, “behind you!”
She turned too late. A Kurtis-faced manticore threw her to the floor. Lara plunged her knife into its throat, but then felt a burning pain in her thigh, and saw the manticore’s stinger had cut open a slit in her skin. She pushed its corpse away and stood up, but then everything began to spin before her eyes. Stunned and feeling dizzy, she leaned against the wall; and without any more strength, slid to the floor.
The poison, she remembered.
The last thing she saw was Kurtis kicking a manticore away from her. Then everything went black.