Two Lives Intertwined
The path of the crucified had been left behind. Lara wanted to say something to Kurtis - but no words came out from her. She’d suggested to bury the remains, but that sounded preposterous. Where could they dig one hundred twenty-one graves? Then she asked if he wanted to bury his father.
“Why?” He sighed with abandonment. “They nailed him there. He died as he lived. No tomb would do better justice to him than that cross.”
Lara looked at him in horror. Maybe Kurtis was losing his mind, but she didn’t insist - they had to go on, although a shiver went down her spine imagining what could be there worse than the putrid pit or the crucified.
The city no longer seemed so attractive - yet there it was, wrapped in a stunning beauty. Nevertheless, maybe Tenebra wasn’t the most appropriate name, because although the buildings were carved into black rock, the light-blue water tinted everything in silver. Overall, the whole city seemed to glow like liquid crystal. The architecture was fine and elegant, sinuous as its former inhabitants.
They left the bridge and had reached the main gate when Lara noticed an inscription carved on the lintel of the entrance. Trying to take Kurtis out of his melancholic reverie, she asked him to translate that Nephilim language which only he knew. “Just says: Until Paradise is returned to us.”
It had a lot of sense, argued Lara. Until they could return to heaven, Eden would be their home. Kurtis, instead, shook his head and said: “I don’t think so. The Nephili were the offspring of fallen angels. They had no paradise to return to, as they had never left it.”
Lara shrugged. They passed through the doors, leaving the bridge decorated with huge statues of angels, each with its name, as Kurtis translated: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, and the cursed Samael, the Lucifer of the biblical tradition.
The lake shone blue and the light blinded them. Lara leaned over the edge of the bridge to examine that luminous water until Kurtis, pulling her gently with his arm, reminded her that she was risking too much.
Once inside the city streets, Lara forced herself not to check building by building, in order to not spend more time than expected. Everything was beautiful but empty, dust and cobwebs covered all the interiors. Tenebra, or Eden, had long become a dead city. Nothing and no one was there.
Lara, followed by Kurtis like an automaton, arrived finally to a large square. At the streets was arranged some kind of circular canals that conducted the water and formed a ring around the square. “Of course!” She suddenly exclaimed, excited. “The water’s not an ornament or a pool of urban living: it is, quite simply, a lighting system for the city. No candles or lamps, nor anything that serves to turn on light - water was what illuminated them!”
Her partner didn’t answer. In the end, after all, who could think of Nephili’s lighting systems after leaving behind an actual cemetery of slaughtered people?
But Lara was still an explorer, and all that kind of stuff fascinated her. She leaned toward the water stream, determined to take a sample. She took the water bottle from her pack and emptied it without hesitation, then she filled it with that luminous water and kept it happily.
She turned, startled, and then noticed that Kurtis had disappeared. How was it she couldn’t keep him in sight? But what was that sound? Pulling out a gun, she walked into a large building nearby, maybe a temple, a marketplace, or a manor. She reached the door frame and looked inside, but saw only darkness and a silver flash in the background. What had cracked couldn’t be wood, because the whole city was carved from the rock and not a single piece of wood, any doors or windows or glass, could be found there. Only stone.
Lara walked along the wall on the inside of the room, heading for the silver flash. She groped her backpack again and lit a flare. The circular room was empty, except for the beautiful statue of a female angel. This one, unlike the male archangels on the bridge, was naked and had her long hair loose, huge wings and thin arms risen. Despite being completely carved in marble - and its whiteness contrasted with the blackness of the walls - it seemed about to take flight, with only one foot resting on a pedestal, leaning gracefully forward. Her body was coiled with small serpents, surrounding the breasts, waist and thighs. On her left arm she carried a short silver scepter, flashing in the dark.
The flare was consumed and Lara lit another. She climbed up the statue - which was much bigger than her, and reached to the angel’s neck, stretching an arm towards the rod.
She jumped, startled, and hesitated, about to fall off the statue. She grabbed just in time onto the slender waist of the angel.
Kurtis was standing in the middle of the room.
“Why on earth did you do that?” Lara snapped, furious. “First you disappear and now you scare me to death! Why...?”
“Don’t touch that.” He warned, rapidly approaching her.
Lara frowned. Who was he to say what she could or could not do? Nuh-uh! He would find out who ruled here... Her fingers stretched back to the beautiful silver scepter.
Almost instantly, Kurtis climbed the statue and with considerable gall, grabbed Lara around the waist and tried to pull her away from there. But she had already taken the scepter, and with a squeal, took it out of the angel’s hand.
There was a flash. Lara felt like falling back, but she didn’t let the scepter go. Then, a blinding light surrounded her, and passed out.
At first it was like a white curtain spread before him. Then he saw himself on those snowy mountains, swept by the winds. However, he couldn’t feel the wind’s cold whip, as he wasn’t really there - even though he saw quite clearly what was happening before his eyes.
There was a plane crash a few meters away, its remains still smouldering. And through the blizzard of snow, he saw a figure dragged away from the debris and laying half torn down in the snow. She was, more or less, a young woman of about twenty years.
He walked slowly towards her – not sure how, since he couldn’t feel his feet sinking into the snow, but he arrived soon at her side. The girl was slightly injured, but didn’t seem serious - a few bruises and a broken arm at most, which she was holding while moaning, with her face buried in the snow. The hair, a golden brown tone, had been loosened and flew around her bowed head, while shivering cold and numb with pain. She slowly lifted her face, and overwhelmed, he recognized her: it was Lara! A young Lara, on the threshold between adolescence and adulthood, a terrified Lara who looked wide-eyed at the burned and shattered plane as she sobbed quietly: “All of them...dead! Am I alone?”
He reached out to touch her, to tell her she wasn’t alone, but his hand couldn’t reach her nor could she see him. That had happened so long ago, and he hadn’t been there then - as he wasn’t really there now.
Lara, injured, began to crawl through the snow. Her skirt and stockings were ripped and her jacket torn. She wouldn’t survive in the cold. But she still crawled slowly, without looking back, pressing her lips together hard, tears bathing her face....
At first she saw only darkness. Then the shadows began to take shape. She heard a persistent leak in the hole and knew that the air must be moist and breathless, but she still felt nothing. Her eyes wandered over the walls of stone and she concluded that it must be a kind of dungeon or old cell.
In one corner, there was a mother huddled with her son. At first she didn’t recognize them well, because the woman had dark skin and was well-covered with furs. A nice dreamcatcher, which she remembered seeing before - ah, but where? hung around her neck. The boy was still very young, not more than 6 years old and not really alike to the woman – he had dark hair and blue eyes.
Suddenly they heard a violent blow from the wooden ceiling. The kid trembled and let out a groan, so the mother rushed to cover his mouth.
A deep, dark voice echoed in the upper chamber. She recognized it immediately: it was Eckhardt!
“You’re not being of much help, my friend.” Whispered the winding Black Alchemist’s voice. “Give me both, mother and child, and I’ll set you free.”
After a few moments, she heard a cry, a gurgle, and the quavering voice of an old man who replied: “I don’t...I don’t know where...”
There was another violent commotion and then a sickening crunch of bones being broken. The scream of the unfortunate tore the walls. The mother closed her eyes and began to pray silently, while pressing the child against her chest.
“I’m willing to forgive a life.” continued Eckhardt, “After all, you, old Master, you’re not dangerous to me. But I need that mother and her child. Moreover, I could even leave the mother alone, if you beg, but give me the child.”
“No... I can’t...”
Another brutal blow. More broken bones. The kid, drenched in sweat, was trembling in the arms of his mother, while she fixed her eyes at the wooden ceiling, from which fell a gentle dust.
“The child, the child...” Eckhardt insisted.
And then the patient Alchemist, inflexible, ordered to prolong the torture for a long time. But the Master, the old Master, who’d taken that mother into his home and had played with the child in his arms, said not a word. Finally, Eckhardt killed him...
Lara, clad in the thick fur of Tibetan natives, looked with troubled expression at Zhong Yi, the hunter who’d rescued her while she was semi-conscious and had taken to Tokakeriby’s village, near the mountain. The man had just thrown a heavy gun at her feet.
“This?” Said Zhong Yi, revealing toothless gums with a horrible grimace. “This is a gun!”
Lara’s brown eyes sparkled and for a moment her aristocratic manners came out again. “I know it’s a gun, silly! But why give it to me?”
“To use it, no doubt.” He gave a dry laugh and threw down the birds he’d caught that morning.
She was furious at him. “I’m not going to hunt with you! I want to return to England!”
Another abrupt laugh. “But, my little fool, you’ll never again be in England if you don’t start firing that thing! Do you understand?”
“Obviously not! “
“You’re so naive! Do you really think the plane will come for you here in Tokakeriby? No, my little fool, if you want to return to your homeland, you have to cross Nepal, you have to reach Kathmandu. And once there, do as you can manage! But until we get there, how the hell do you defend yourself, eh? How do you deal with wolves, bandits, huh? Do you think they will respect you because of your pretty face?”
Lara blushed with rage as the Sherpa mocked her. She got up; ready to leave the cabin, but Zhong Yi stopped her with a hand gesture. “Stop right there. We’ll walk to the border of Nepal. But once there, you’ve to make the journey alone, and if you can’t shoot a gun to defend yourself, my precious, then any animal or person you come across will tear you apart. Now take that gun, I’ll teach you to shoot like a man should do.”
“But I don’t want to kill anyone...” She whispered softly.
For a moment, the hunter was silent. Then he again showed his ugly smile.
“Oh my dear, but you’ll have to kill sooner or later, if you want to survive. This is not England. Here life is paid with blood. The first time you kill a man, you’ll suffer. You’ll stop sleeping. But trust me...as you get used to it... you’ll like it...yes, you’ll like...you’ll like it, you’ll like it!” And burst into grotesque laughter, as the girl, pale, went up. Frowning, she took the heavy gun and stood to face her stern teacher.
Again, she saw the woman who was a mother. Now that she saw her at daylight, she noticed she was a Native American, not sure of which tribe. She was beautiful with such elaborate hair, artistically woven in a lovely way. She seemed a little more adult, but glowed with happiness. The appalling scene in the dungeon appeared to be left behind and now she smiled widely to the man coming towards her.
For a moment, Lara felt her heart skip a beat when she saw that burly man looked a lot like Kurtis: same skin, same hair, same eyes. The woman threw herself into his arms and kissed him on the mouth. “I’ve waited so long...” She whispered, eyes full of tears.
“I couldn’t come before.” He answered. “How many years...?”
“Fifteen, Marie...fifteen. But I’m here.” He frowned. “Where is he?”
The woman smiled, pleased. “You won’t recognize him. He’s so tall now.” And turning towards the house, she shouted: “Kurtis!”
Then Lara saw him, and felt a glimmer of recognition. He was young indeed, about seventeen. He’d only a hint of beard on his face and showed his father’s characteristic expression - a frown. They were like two drops of water.
“Well, well.” Said Konstantin Heissturm, jokingly. “Last time I saw you, you were still in diapers.”
That comment didn’t amuse the young teen at all, who kept looking at the stranger who was his father. It was the first time he saw him, but no doubt it was him. Sometimes it seemed he was a legend, that his mother had invented that Lux Veritatis hero who made the impossible and possible for the survival of the Order and liquidate the Cabal - but in the end, he was real, there he was.
Although he’d taken a long time without seeing his wife, the most important for him was his son. So he rounded his shoulder with his strong arm - ignoring the sign of retreat, by sheer distrust, made by the boy - and took him aside to talk with him. “Your mother told me by letter.” He whispered. “You have the Gift.”
The Gift - so they called those horrible powers that had driven him crazy for some time. Crystals exploding when he was angry, tables turning alone, situations and people that only he could see through time and space. The Gift.
“It’s time to teach you how to control it.” Konstantin interjected, determined. “If not, you won’t ever truly be one of us.”
“What if I don’t want to be one of you?” Said he in adolescent rebellion.
The man turned slowly, and Lara shuddered, because he showed the same sardonic grin which years later his son would imitate with complete accuracy.
“You can’t reject the Gift. It’s not a present, it’s a must. We’ve been protecting you all these years for it. Remember the old Master, who died to keep you and your mother away from the Black Alchemist. Your mother and me have sacrificed our lives for you and the entire Order. In fact, you should already know that.”
“I know how to handle firearms.” Kurtis insisted, stubborn. “That’s enough.”
Konstantin laughed again. “That’s fine for average men. But for you it’s only the beginning. Now you must learn to use...this.” And with his index finger tapped the boy’s forehead. “When you learn to use this well, you’ll be more powerful than any firearm in this world.”
“Lara, I think you’ve lost your mind!”
Outraged, Lord Croft twirled across his luxurious office, glancing at hisdaughter, who stood in front of him with defiant eyes. She was dressed in trousers and a jacket, an outfit hardly considered appropriate for a lady of her age, as well as that brave mare air which they tried in vain to control since her teens.
Sitting in a chair, the delicate Lady Croft, her mother, looked open-mouthed at her daughter, wondering what had gone wrong in her education, so that the result would be that.
“I made my decision.” Lara said, crossing her arms, another gesture too masculine for the firm’s high society etiquette.
“No, no, and no!” Roared the lord, out of himself. “No, Lara, you can’t do this to us, you can’t betray us like this, and if you do, you’re no longer our daughter...”
“Enough, Henshingly!” Murmured the mother in a low voice, and turning to Lara, she spoke softly. “Lara, dear, I understand that incident in the Himalayas has upset you. You’ve been hungry and cold and you had to do horrible things to survive...but now you’re back at home with us, and we won’t let anything bad happen to you again...”
“You don’t understand.” Lara said, through clenched teeth. “I’m fine. I want to be an archaeologist, to travel as an explorer throughout the world.”
“That’s no life for girls like you!” Cried the lady, shocked. “That dirty, low paid work is only for paupers, for tomboys who spend their lives wearing trousers and sleeping without a roof! We, Lara, we’ve raised you to be a worthy woman, a lady!”
“Well, I don’t want to be such a thing anymore!”
“Remember your oath...” Lord Croft hissed softly.
Lara turned to her father, daring him, livid, accusing.
“Remember your oath.” He repeated. “You gave your word to marry the son of Lord Farrington. Will it seem nice to him to see his wife going tumbling around the world like a prostitute?”
“I’m not marrying Farrington.”
The father slammed his fist against the table, making the glass bulb vibrate. “You’re crazy! How could we break such a commitment? Do you want your mother and me to drop our heads in shame? How can we present ourselves to society with your attitude?”
“That wedding,” Lara continued, trying to stay calm, “was decided without my approval.”
“Lara!” Lady Croft protested. “He’s the best match for you! We’ve worked hard for that commitment! And you gave us your word!”
“Yes…yes, I did.” She sighed. “But I don’t want to get married anymore. Go and tell Farrington to look for another woman for his son. I already told you what I want to do with my life.”
“Never!” Yelled Lord Croft. “I prefer to see you dead and buried rather than wearing man’s clothes and sleeping in the dust at the other end of the world!”
Lara looked at him coldly for a moment. Months ago, before the accident, she would have still trembled before him. But not anymore. Not anymore.
She turned and strode away, heading for the door.
“It’s your fault!” She heard her mother moan, turning to her husband. “You gave her permission to go on that adventure with Von Croy, you filled her head with that nonsense!”
When Lara grabbed the doorknob, she heard herfather saying: “Lara Croft, this is your last chance. Cross that door and I swear on my grave I will never call you my daughter again.”
She hesitated only a moment. Then, without looking back, opened the door with a jerk and left, closing it with a slam.
In her chair, Lady Croft began to mourn.
One shot. And other. And another.
Kurtis looked down and saw a red dye on the fabric of his shirt. He touched his chest and knew he’d been shot. Before bending, he felt the wound and knew that the bullet had exitedfrom behind, towards the shoulder, without damaging the lung. He’d been lucky.
Collapsing on the floor, he dropped the gun and closed his eyes, while shrapnel was raining all around. Why was he there? Why?
“Hey, hey man!”
He opened his eyes. There was Clarkson, looking at him with his pale Yankee face, as he dropped his gun running and knelt beside him. “Damn, Trent! You’ve been fucked up, huh?” He examined the wound a few moments and said. “C’mon, it’s nothing! Get up!”
Flipping him, he made him stand up. Kurtis saw the blood spattered over the arms of his companion, who began to pull him.
“Let’s go, Trent. For a while now we’ve all been in retreat. That Iraqi pig will know about us, you’ll see. When we return with reinforcements, we’ll really mess things up…” And then his face brightened. “Hey, look, there are our guys! Hey, you!”
He released Kurtis and took a few steps away from him, who, too weak to move, remained in his place; covering the bullet hole with his dirty hand.
Clarkson didn’t get very far -just a few meters, and then everything exploded.
Kurtis woke up hours later in the infirmary of the base. He opened his eyes; finding the sergeant major of his regiment looking at him.
“Soldier Trent?” He muttered.
He nodded weakly.
“How lucky, soldier. You and Clarkson were too close to...”
“How is he?”
“Clarkson? He’s dead. He stepped on a mine, poor guy.”
Kurtis closed his eyes. It wasn’t the first time he lost a friend, but he turned increasingly to feel that sense of abandonment. All died…excepthim.
The sergeant peered him with his stern look, rubbing his stubble. “How old are you, soldier Trent?”
“For God’s sake, the hell are you doing here? What crime did you commit?”
He said that because the men who served in the Foreign Legion used to be criminals who exchanged prison sentences or even death sentences for a dedicated military service.
“I rebelled and disobeyed my superiors.” He said with a grimace, recalling his father’s face.
The sergeant raised an eyebrow. That didn’t sound like a crime an obedient and faithful soldier like Kurtis Trent would commit. Of course he’d no right to pry further into his crimes if he didn’t want to tell him.
“Well.” He said, rising heavily on the bed. “I’m sorry for Clarkson, but that’s life. War is shit, Trent, and we’re all fools to clean up this shit while our bosses sit their rich arses in armchairs. But I feel even sorrier for you; I’ve just been informed they’ve run out of morphine. You’ll have a bad night, kid, but...” He fumbled in his old jacket and pulled out a flask and threw it to the patient. Kurtis caught it on the fly. “The best Russian vodka!” The sergeant crooned with a festive voice. “Two drinks and you won’t even remember your own mother, Trent. I hope you’ll recover soon.”
Kurtis returned the military salute - which seemed kinda ridiculous when lying on a stretcher, and spent several hours staring at the ceiling. In the end, when the pain of his wound became unbearable, he opened the cap of the flask and brought it to his lips.
He opened his eyes slowly, and the first breath was painful, as if what came into his lungs wasn’t air, but fire. Lara was a few feet away, crouched against the wall, clutching the silver scepter in her right hand as she peered at him, frowning. “You!” She exclaimed. “Why did you do that?”
“What?” Kurtis muttered, rubbing his neck.
“You pounced on me and made me fall! Why the hell did you do that?”
“I only tried to stop you from fiddling with that damn rod!” He said, frowning.
The explorer watched him suspiciously, as she turned the rod with an elegant wave of her hand. “Well, you see, it doesn’t burn. No thunder or lightning from the statue, nor has it has come to life to kill me. You’re overreacting!”
“Could have been dangerous.”
“You think I can’t take care of myself?” She stood up and stood dominate him from her high stature. “Get away from me!” And she turned in disgust, as if repelled by him.
As she walked away, her heart pounding, Lara wondered if she wouldn’t be losing her mind. Was it real what she had just seen? The dungeon, the mother and her child, the Legion on the battlefield? Was it Kurtis’ doing...or that damn rod’s fault?
She looked down. The beautiful silver rod, oddly shaped and finished in a strange scroll, seemed just what it was, a silver scepter.