The Great Goddess' Power
Just a few hours later, Kurtis decided they had rested enough.
“What should we do with the corpse?” Karen asked ruefully.
“Leave it here. We can’t do any more for him.”
They went across the city in silence as Kurtis ordered them. Luckily, they hadn’t needed to go back across the pit of decay. In fact, Kurtis didn’t mind dealing with that awful thing again; what he didn’t want to do again was pass between the Lux Veritatis’ crosses. He wouldn’t admit it, but every time he saw them, standing there high and grotesque, blood boiled in his veins. He couldn’t stand it.
So, the Lux Veritatis chose an alternate route, the one both Lara and him had used to return with the Scepter. The tunnel was rising from the right side of the city to join another tunnel a couple miles later, that led to the same well to the necropolis.
There were several hours of path ahead. A journey done in the most deadly silence. Selma walked with Kurtis, who held the Scepter in his hand. Although he didn’t quite trust it, no creature attacked them.
They walked for hours to reach the circular walls of the large pit. Fortunately, there were ropes hanging, which had previously been used both by mafiosi and operators to ascend and descend.
“Can we take a break now?” Zip complained.
“Take a rope and climb.” Kurtis ordered, ignoring the hacker.
Selma frowned, looking at the ropes. “And you?”
“I’ll go last.” Kurtis said. “Go on!”
They obeyed and started to climb. The man reached and put down the light that had served to guide them in the dark: a plastic bottle filled with murky water. It had been an excellent resource when the batteries in the flashlights died out.
Kurtis watched in silence while they were climbing. Soon they disappeared from his sight, but he heard Zip’s groans and the others’ grunts for a while. They were going one by one, all twenty, until he lost view of the last one. Then he went over and took hold of a rope.
Suddenly he heard a click behind him. The Lux Veritatis turned abruptly and a second later he’d grabbed the Chirugai in his hand. No more was needed to recognize what was attacking him.
The manticore moved quietly towards him, grinding its three rows of teeth. Then Kurtis thought why not? and raising his hand, take the Scepter and showed it to the creature.
The effect was immediate - the beast’s eyes widened and it stopped. Then it began to emit a small noise like a groan, and its front paws bowed. Another one, which had appeared after the first, also stopped short.
“What the hell do you see in this thing?” Kurtis murmured in surprise.
“They see the Great Goddess’ power.” Answered a sweet, musical voice from the deep darkness that lay behind the manticores.
Kurtis eyes narrowed. “Who are you? Show yourself!”
He heard a series of soft steps on the sand, and then, stained with the blue light from the bottle, a young woman appeared before him.
She wore a long white robe tied at the waist with a narrow strip of silk skirt, which covered her to the feet. She also wore a dark cloak over it, with the hood thrown back, and her hair fell across her body like a black veil. She smiled sweetly, then stretched one arm towards the manticores: “Come here, my little ones. He’ll harm you if you get closer.”
And those terrible beasts suddenly become tamed puppies and approached her. One laid at her feet and another rubbed affectionately against her leg, while she stroked its head with her white hand. She was so beautiful, like a pagan goddess, like a Triformis Hecate.
“Manticores only fear two things.” She said then. “Nephili’s wrath...and the Scepter you’re wielding. But it’s been so long since they’ve last seen it. One chance was enough for them to feel its bite again, to remember it. Oh, how naive were my ancestors, who forgot such a powerful weapon was laying here below. But at last I recovered it.”
“We’ll see.” Kurtis snapped. “Are you Bathsheba?”
She smiled again. “Yes, and you’re Kurtis Trent. I’ve searched for you for so long...too long for me, for I see beyond minds and hearts. You’re cunning and clever and you’ve managed to elude my vision...until now.”
“Why did you steal the Periapt and curse a helpless monk? Why did you attack two women who did nothing against you?”
“Because they were the guardians of what I wanted. Your helpless monk tried to rape me, but that doesn’t matter anymore. The Periapt is mine and now so are both you and the Scepter.”
“Really?” Kurtis grimaced. “What you gonna do to me? Tie my hands and gag me? Or maybe you’ll knock me out with one punch?”
She smiled even more. “You say that to provoke me, because you’re a strong man and I’m a frail and delicate maiden. But you’re smarter than that, you know I sent a demon to enter into a monk’s body and you see how the manticores lick my hands and kiss my feet. Don’t provoke me, for I can crush you with a single gesture. You’ll come with me.”
“Well then!” Kurtis said. “Come at me!” And dropping the Scepter, he raised the Chirugai, displaying its sharp blades. She stared at the multiple edges of that weapon, without saying a word. The manticore which was at her feet lifted and ruffling its hair, it began to growl.
“So this is the Chirugai.” She said at last. “I’ve heard of this weapon almost as much as I’ve heard of you. It’s a legendary device...it’s said that no wound caused by this will ever be healed. Did you know? I think not, because you do more than hurt with it. What you do is carnage. Well, are you going to cut me in pieces with it?”
“Only one way to find out,” Kurtis murmured, “come here.”
Suddenly, a manticore pounced on him. He hadn’t expected so, however he reacted immediately. The demon’s severed head rolled on the ground and Kurtis pushed off its corpse with a kick. The other manticore let out a squeal, but Bathsheba stopped her by taking her by the throat. “Quiet, little girl.” She said.
In launching the Chirugai, it had lodged itself in the wall, still vibrating while the manticore’s blood slid along its edges.
The woman watched it as interested as fearless. “You must come with me,” she repeated, “whether you like it or not. You can come willingly or I can force you to do so. I know where you hide your mother and the wounded explorer...you wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to them, right?”
“Don’t even dare threaten me.” He reached out and the Chirugai returned to his hand.
“So, enough chattering.” She said, and extended her arms forward.
Kurtis jumped back, preventing a possible attack, but she remained in that position, with clenched fists, while the manticores retreated slowly. Then she opened her hands and dropped a few rose petals, while uttering four strange words.
Before he could even prevent it, a wave of darkness hit Kurtis and threw him back. He hit his head against the wall and everything went dark.
Sciarra remained tied to a lamppost for one day and one night. Meanwhile, he swore, insulted, and cursed all the hookers from all over the planet since the dawn of mankind.
At noon, Monteleone deigned to visit him. “Dear friend.” He said in his cold courtesy. “You’re my favourite and I’ve always held you in high esteem. But your attitude doesn’t help your situation. You know what I do with those who behave like you?”
And Sciarra could picture himself castrated and hanging from a light post, or rolling down a rocky cliff in that desert, or shot to death.
“Yes, you do. But you’ve been very, very lucky.” Then whispered the capo.
The minion saw someone approaching behind him - a tall, white man with a square jaw and a short moustache.
“This is Adolf Schäffer.” Said the mafioso. “He’s the head of the mercenary squad working for Bathsheba.”
“For the Lady, if you please.” Schäffer replied sourly.
Monteleone shrugged. “I leave you to him. Farewell, my friend. Ciao.” The Italian man turned and walked away.
Schäffer stayed a while watching him, with the typical expression of hardness seen in some German officers in times of Nazism. “Your name?” He asked then.
“Giacomo Sciarra. The hell you want from me?”
“If I were you I’d be more polite. I’m the one who saved your ass. I’m very interested in acquiring you as part of my men. You have information about Monteleone’s files that interests me. And incidentally, let’s say I paid a huge amount of money to make your boss spare you.”
“What if I don’t want to?”
“Your boss will give me back the money and in return, he’ll be happy to hang you himself. You choose.”
Sciarra remained silent, while studying that individual with suspicion.
“Just as expected. Farewell.” He said, turning around.
“Huh, no, no, wait! I-I-a-accept the deal! I say I agree, dammit!”
Schäffer turned, displaying a cruel smile. “Will you kill anyone without asking me who or why?”
“Will you have any qualms about revealing things only your former boss knows?”
“No, no! I’ll say whatever you want!”
“Perfect.” He pulled a knife, opened it and cut his ties. Then he turned and walked away. Sciarra went after him. They crossed the camp, but nobody looked at them.
Except for one person. On the corner of his eye, he saw a red flame. He turned his head and noticed Maddalena standing there, watching him in silence.
Sciarra smiled and dragged his finger across his throat at her. I’ll find you again, puttana.
She turned around and returned to the tent.
“Kurtis! Kurtis!” Leaning over the pit, Selma never got tired of shouting. Zip, terrified, looked around, expecting to see an Italian appear. But there was no one there. The others had gone - Selma had authorized them to leave, discouraged.
“C’mon, princess, you can’t stay here forever!”
“Then I’ll go down to find him!”
“What? No, no, no!” The Turkish girl had already taken back the rope, but Zip snatched it from her hands. “Er...I’ll go down.” And he began to descend.
Selma waited, trembling on the edge of the pit. After a while, she heard a scream in the bottom - something like: “Ooooh fuuuuuuck!!!”
The rope began to shake severely, and soon the boy appeared as if the devil was chasing him up...which wasn’t entirely false, because after him, Selma glimpsed a manticore chasing him by climbing up the wall.
“Hold on!” Selma cried, holding out her hand. She helped him to come up and then he pushed her down the hall. “C’mon, run!”
They ran through the tunnel as they heard the manticore going after them. When they finally came outside after four days of being in the dark, the daylight hurt their eyes, but they didn’t stop.
“God, what should we do?”
“Get to the Jeep, princess!”
Sure! The bloody Jeep. They practically threw themselves on the vehicle, jumping over the doors, and Zip nervously grabbed the steering wheel.
“Do you know how to drive?” Said Selma.
“That’s if I find the keys to this thing!”
“They’re in the tent, with the maps!”
There was a bang! that made them turn. In the rear a manticore was slowly climbing the trunk, smiling cruelly.
Selma jumped off the Jeep and ran towards the tents. The demon didn’t hesitate and jumped after her, momentarily forgetting Zip.
“Heeeeey!” Cried the man to Selma. “If you get a sec, pick up my laptop!”
The girl went running into the tent at the same time the manticore reached her. Luckily, the monster hit the canvas and hooked its claws, so it took a moment to smash the tent. Selma, with a heavy heart, frantically rummaged maps, looking for the car keys. At last she found them...fixed in the corner of Zip’s laptop screen. She jerked them, but they didn’t release. She took another pull, and still nothing. Hysterical, she closed the laptop shut and put it under her arm at the same time the manticore finally destroyed the fabric, entering the tent. It pounced on Selma and its claws scratched her shoulder, but she was already running away back to the Jeep.
“Wow!” Zip cried, seeing the laptop. “Thanks!”
“Start it at once!” She cried, falling sitting on the passenger seat. “How the hell did you stick these keys on it?”
“With gum.” Zip said while in a split second extracted a key, put it in the lock and started the engine. “Here we go!”
The manticore had been bunched up in the shattered tent, but hearing the engine roar, it freed itself and rushed back to the vehicle.
“Hold on tight, princess!” Zip shouted and hit the gas...towards the manticore.
Selma screamed and covered her face to see the monster coming to them...but then it suddenly disappeared and she felt the Jeep brutally bounce up and jerk about.
She took a moment to realize what was happening. She turned and saw the monster flat on the ground. “You’ve run over it...!”
“I’m done with those fuckers.” Zip growled, slapping the wheel.