When Lara woke up, her head hammered and her eyes were cloudy. She tried to sit up, but was too dizzy and fell back down onto something soft and pillow-like.
“Better you don’t move.” She heard Kurtis’ voice.
He was squatted in the corner of a tunnel. He’d lit a small bonfire and was cooking something that didn’t smell very good. She saw four shapes in the corner, resembling bodies. “You’re not cooking what I think you are, are you?” Lara whispered, putting her hands over her eyes.
“Manticore meat.” Kurtis confirmed. “The only antidote for its own poison.” He approached and offered her a piece of grey flesh. Lara felt sick. “I’m not eating that.” She said, stubborn. “I feel better now. I’m not going to die.”
“Maybe.” He said. “But you’ll be blind in a couple of hours.”
Lara growled and put the meat into her mouth. Fortunately, despite its horrible appearance, manticore meat tasted like chicken.
She fell asleep immediately after.
Kurtis got up and looked around. The incident with the manticores could disrupt his plan, but not if he acted quickly. After killing the last manticore - made easy due to the Chirugai’s great accuracy - he’d placed Lara in a secluded corner of the tunnel. However, the manticores’ bloodstains, the bonfire remnants, and the corpses would betray them if Gunderson’s men didn’t discover them before that.
Kurtis’ mother, Marie Cornel, was a descendant of the Navajo Native American tribe. Kurtis had spent most of his life with her, and Marie, who was a strong woman like Lara, had taught her son the trade secrets of their people: how to track someone without being detected, to move with secrecy and discretion, and how to erase all signs of having been somewhere. That’s how Kurtis was able to move about unnoticed anywhere; he never took part in an event unless necessary and he always remained in the shadows. So he’d been able to take advantage of working among Gunderson’s men.
He quickly pushed the manticores’ corpses out and put them in the centre of the tunnel, near a junction. He carefully picked up the bloody dirt and spread it over the corpses. Then he buried the bonfire’s remains and flattened the dirt, so it looked as if no one had been there. If the plan succeeded, Gunderson’s men would take the right hand path, where there were signs of battle. However, according to Selma’s map, the path that led to the exit was on the left.
Satisfied, Kurtis came back and sat down next to Lara, put out the flare and waited.
“Hey!” Shouted one of them. “Here!”
“What the hell is that?”
The mercenaries were looking, shocked, at the beheaded and skinned manticores.
“They’re demons!” He shouted again. “I’m leaving!”
“Fuck that!” The other shouted. “You stay here like the others!”
The dead manticores were lying at the right hand tunnel’s entrance. There was a trail of blood starting from their bodies that disappeared into the dark.
“They must have fought those creepy things and then gone straight ahead.”
But another mercenary hesitated while looking at the left hand tunnel. “What if it’s a trick? Better to divide us.”
“The boss told us not to do that. The fewer we are, the more dangerous it is.”
“But it’s only two of them!”
“Two? The woman alone is worth at least four! Look what they’ve done with those monsters!”
Finally they decided to take the right hand path. Kurtis smiled, hidden in the dark. No problem.
Gunderson went back to the excavation’s entrance to catch his breath. His men were wearing gas masks, but he was already half-suffocated by the damn petrol.
Then he saw Kurtis standing in front of him. He immediately aimed his gun at him while noticing at the same time he wasn’t trying to defend himself.
“Are you looking for this, Gunderson?” He said with a mocking smile and stretched a hand towards him. The Golden Seal rested on his risen middle finger, and the mercenary wasn’t sure which meaning Kurtis was referring to.
“Well, I see you finally dare to face me, Trent.”
“Selling yourself to the highest bidder as usual, shitface? Who are you working for this time? Karel, isn’t it?”
“I have a life-mission, but your only purpose is to die at my Meister’s hand.” Suddenly, he heard a sound behind him, and when he turned he saw Lara pointing her gun at his face. What the hell…?“Don’t move.” Said Lara. “Don’t shout, don’t breathe. If you do anything, by the time your men arrive you’ll be dead.”
It had been a trick. Kurtis had distracted him so she could creep up from behind.
“You can’t win.” Said Gunderson. “The Nephilim has planned everything for you, and he’ll find you wherever you hide.”
“Who said we’re hiding?” Lara asked.
Gunderson smiled. “When you know what he’s going to do with you, darling, you’ll want to hide for the rest of your life.”
Lara frowned. What on earth had any of this to do with her?
“Cut the crap.” Kurtis said, taking out his weapon. “Get into the tunnel.”
Gunderson dropped his weapon, and forced at gunpoint by Lara, headed toward the tunnel, passing the big pool of gasoline. His men couldn’t help him now, and his five most trusted ones were in one of the chambers; it was too risky to call them.I’m without a doubt surrounded by idiots, he thought.
“Go on, Lara,” Kurtis suggested.
She lit a flare with an evil smile.
“You filthy whore!” Gunderson yelled.
Lara dropped the flare into the pool and the petrol set on fire immediately. The mercenary ran away and disappeared into the dark.
“Nice.” Said Kurtis, putting away his weapon.
Lara had to agree: the fire would block the entrance for a while, forcing Gunderson and his men to retreat. As for the rest of the mercenaries, they probably would be lost in secondary tunnels, and the exit was blocked by another explosion.
“We should have killed him.” Lara said as they walked to where Kurtis somehow managed to stash his bike without it being noticed.
“Kill Gunderson?” He said. “I guess so… but I still have some level of respect for him. He was at one point my boss and something like a friend, even if it were a long time ago. If I have to kill him, I won’t do it that way.”
Lara shook her head. Damn men and their ridiculous sense of honour. “You know what I don’t like about your plan?” She said. “Since the beginning I’ve constantly been insulted, and it’s all been planned by you.”
Kurtis laughed. It was the first time she heard him do so… and it changed his face completely, Lara thought. “I’m sorry. I promise to compensate you for every offense.”
“Well,” she sighed, “as emperor Caligula said: Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”They left the excavation and went back to Istanbul. Lara’s plan was to return to Selma’s apartment in order to find more information about the Seal. But they were ignorant of the fact that their every movement was being watched by Karel, who had allowed them to gain the upper hand over him up until then. The strategy of one who knows he’s going to win.
Kurtis parked the motorbike in front of Selma’s apartment after a tiring journey from Cappadocia. Lara went towards the door, but she stopped short of entering.
“What’s up?” He said.
She put a finger on her lips and pointed to the door. It was ajar. The two of them went on either side of the door and drew their weapons…
“One, two, three!!” Lara opened the door with a kick and they entered aiming with their weapons to each side.
Selma’s apartment was a mess: it was hard to explain how such a small space held so many things. There was nobody there… but the last visitor had left a message for them. On the wall there was a text written with a dark substance, made of symbols like those in Von Croy and Vasiley’s apartments: The Nephilim writing.
“It’s blood again.” Lara said, approaching the wall. There was no body, no police intervention, as if Karel had used his own blood.
Kurtis was studying the symbols, and Lara heard him whispering in a strange language. “Do you understand the writing?”
“My father taught me the enemy’s language.” He answered. “’And Yahweh said: My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh.’”
Lara exclaimed: “That’s a Genesis’ verse, the same one that mentions the Nephili! He seems to be very proud of being eternal while we’re only simple mortals.”
She started searching among the shelves and papers in Selma’s study to find information about the Seal or any sort of clue. At the moment, they were stuck. “Go and have a rest,” she said, “I can handle this.”
Kurtis certainly didn’t know how he could stay on his feet. “Tell me if you find anything.” He said.
He went to the bathroom and had a quick shower and shave, maintaining his trademark goatee. When he removed the dirty bandages from his torso, he examined the awful wound there. He touched the stitches. Boaz’s sting had gone through his back and came out near the centre of his belly while managing to completely bypass any major organs and the spine. If he’d believed in miracles, that would’ve been a real one.
For a moment he stopped thinking about himself and remembered the rest of Karel’s message, worried. He hadn’t told Lara about it, since he knew she was very clever and probably would’ve figured out what he was starting to suspect.‘Arise, come, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.’It was a verse from the Song of Solomon. It could sound very romantic under the right circumstances, but said by that demon those words had a cruel irony. And he also recalled Gunderson’s words: When you know what he’s going to do with you, darling, you’ll want to hide for the rest of your life.He definitely wasn’t telling Lara about it. It wasn’t worth worrying her. They had plenty of other things to worry about.
Lara spent all night surrounded by papers. She looked over all the study of the young archaeologist, and “borrowed” what she found interesting. She read and read until her eyes strained, but she didn’t find very much. Maybe Karel had destroyed the information, or maybe it didn’t exist in the first place.
That was until she found Selma’s diary. The little notebook was full of anger and pain because of tragic events that happened in the girl’s life the last few months, before she had fled. But then she discovered something interesting:
We’ve found a Hebrew inscription on one of the necropolis’ walls. The inscription mentioned something known as the Golden Seal. According to what we’ve translated (the inscription was seriously damaged) it’s an object which holds a clue. Who discovers that clue - which is called “the True Option” - shall have the choice to choose between Good and Evil, between the triumph of either the Light of Truth or the Fallen Angel. The inscription also mentioned an Amazon, but I couldn’t understand this part. Unfortunately, we can’t find out much more. The inscription contained a map which was supposed to show the place where the clue is, but those Cabal’s members attacked my workers and destroyed the inscription.
Lara tore the page out and called Kurtis, who was getting up after having a long rest. She showed him the paper and said: “Light of Truth alludes to Lux Veritatis. The Fallen Angel is Karel. All this confirms what Gunderson told me when he broke into my house.”
“But we don’t have the clue or the map…” Kurtis said, but suddenly he stopped talking.
“What is it?”
Kurtis took the Seal off his finger and gave it to Lara. She took it and examined it carefully. There was an engraving on the ring. It had a rounded shape, but it was easy to distinguish a map from it.
“I can’t believe our luck,” Lara said, “but there’s still something that bugs me. If Karel hadn’t wanted us to discover the map, he would’ve turned over Heaven and Earth to steal the Seal from us.”
“Why bother?” Kurtis said. “He has the advantage over us. He already knows this, and now he wants us to follow his plan.”
“Does that mean the Seal hasn’t any value by itself? That it’s only good for telling us the location and nothing more?” That made sense. Lara turned towards the map. There was a mountainous place, but there were no names engraved on it.
“Those are the Carpathians, or at least that was what my father told me.” Kurtis pointed. “I’ve always asked myself about that star on the left corner, it reminds me of an X-mark on a treasure map or something.”
Lara gave him back the Seal and tried to remember something about that place. She kicked herself when it suddenly came to her: “Of course! Count Dracula!”
“The Carpathians go across Romania, the ancient Transylvania! Count Dracula’s land!”
“That’s right! And according to some sources, Dracula was actually a Nephilim.” Kurtis laughed. “Sounds good to me.”
To prove her words, Lara brought out an atlas from the shelves to study the place. Things became clearer when they discovered the little star was exactly on the ancient county.
“So the clue is at Dracula’s castle,” Kurtis said. “And who says there’s never any truth to legends?”
“Legends are never just legends.” Lara said, then she smiled. “Next destination: Romania!”