It was midnight in England. Winston, after checking each one of the Manor gates, closed the door and quietly went upstairs. “Miss Deli?” He called softly.
Radha appeared at the railing. She had grown up a good stretch since being in Surrey. Winston was sure it was thanks to proper feeding and the friendlier climate. It’d had taken more than a month, but now she was taller and with rounder forms, and little was left of that faded skinny girl who’d come all the way from the tropics. She was about fifteen years old - although obviously she didn’t know for sure - and it seemed she’d turn into a pretty teen.
Since Lara’s departure, Winston had looked after her with dedication, as when he’d been responsible for Lara. He’d taught her some music and literature, besides English, in which the girl had made remarkable progress - hopefully, since no one understood hindi there, but she still had a strong native accent.
“Miss Deli,” the butler announced, “it’s about bedtime.”
Radha nodded and stepped into the room immediately. Winston was surprised of such docility and obedience, after how difficult it had been to control the rebellious Lara. But that was another of the lessons Radha had learned in India...to be docile and obedient, to avoid trouble.
The Indian girl undid her braid – her adopted, more comfortable hairstyle and began to brush her black hair while looking out the window. Sometimes, that sky, so dark at night and usually overcast during day, frightened her. She was in a strange country and among strangers. She missed Lara, but she also realized she herself was a stranger too, and so was that kind old man, who was her tutor and teacher at the same time. But there was no turning back. There was no longer a place for her in India - she would have to find a place in England.
Radha turned off the light and went to bed. She laid for a while staring at the ceiling. After half an hour, she heard a sound downstairs. Must be Winston, she thought. Then, she heard a shatter of breaking glass. She jumped.
Despite his old age, Winston wasn’t shabby at all and though he may tinkle cups and trays in his hands, he’d never cast them on the floor. The old man used to proudly tell the girl the story of how he’d knocked down a burly mercenary with a single blow on the head using an old candelabrum - although Radha found it hard to believe such a thing.
The girl went towards the door and opened it. Below, everything was dark, but then she noticed a shadow moving upstairs...the sound of footsteps...and it wasn’t Winston, judging by its size and agility.
She didn’t scream, but closed the door and ran across the room onto the balcony. When she was younger she’d played by climbing the walls and trees in her village and had come to jump from roof to roof, so it wasn’t difficult for her to get into the courtyard by traversing down the drainpipe.
When reaching the yard, she heard what was coming down the door of her room. Someone turned on the light and then...
“Where the hell is she?” She heard a voice growling...a male’s voice.
“On the balcony!” Another voice hissed.
Radha held in a scream and began to slip against the wall, towards the kitchen door, which was by the assault course in which Lara used to hone her skills. The young girl slipped through it at the time one of the two thugs, with a grunt, dropped into the yard by jumping from the balcony.
Who were these men? What did they want?
Radha went running into the kitchen, crossed it like a bolt, and suddenly screamed in pain and staggered. She’d just stepped on a broken glass, probably the same one to produce the sound which alerted her.
She limped to the corner of the hall and, biting her lower lip, touched her injured foot and pulled out the embedded glass. The kitchen light went on then, and Radha realized in horror her pursuers had only to follow the blood trail to find her.
The girl went upstairs again in panic, although her foot was profusely bleeding. She reached Winston’s bedroom door and opened it.
“Winston!” Radha yelled in anguish. “There are some men...!”
She received no reply. When switching on the light, she let out a cry of horror. The old man lay face down on the ground motionless beside the bed, still dressed in his butler uniform. Had they been able to kill him?
“Gotcha, little bitch!” Hissed a voice from behind, and suddenly Radha felt lifted into the air and held between two huge arms.
She started shrieking and kicking, but a huge hand covered her mouth.
“Quick.” Hissed the other. “Let’s get the hell outta here.” It was a harmless-looking man who gave orders to the muscular one.
The hand covering her mouth was replaced with a handkerchief soaked in a liquid that smelled horribly wrong...Radha felt the world spinning around...and passed out.
“Roger.” Schäffer spoke into the walkie-talkie. “Excellent work, Hugh! I’ll report immediately to the Lady. Over and out.” He hung up and headed for the van parked next to the rocks. Sitting in one of them was Bathsheba, her face covered by a white veil. Around the area Schäffer’s men were scattered, with their respective vehicles, as she didn’t like to be stared at. She showed just her face to whom she considered and only when she wanted to.
“My Lady.” Schäffer bent his torso. “I just received Hugh’s report. Everything went off without a hitch. They already got the Indian girl.”
“Perfect.” She said calmly.
“Now I want to...introduce the man you demanded.”
“Bring him to me.”
Schäffer turned to the soldier’s group and made a sign to Sciarra, who came slowly. Bathsheba looked at him through the veil. Decidedly, he was a sly, nasty and heartless scoundrel. But what mattered was he’d worked for Monteleone. He’d be useful.
The Italian stopped a few steps away and looked intrigued at the veiled lady. He hadn’t seen her the day she visited Monteleone.
“This is Lady Bathsheba.” Said Schäffer. “We serve and obey both her and Dr. Boaz. If you’re still breathing, it’s because of her, for she demanded your release.”
Sciarra peered with suspicion the veiled face, and said: “I’d rather see the face of my new boss, if you please.”
“Insolent! The Lady only shows her face to whom she chooses...” But Schäffer hadn’t finished when, with an elegant gesture, Bathsheba lifted the veil and showed her smiling face to Sciarra, who gasped in astonishment and went two steps back, eyes wide. “Would you devote to me your life and will, Giacomo Sciarra?” She whispered.
He swallowed hard before answering. “Yes, L-Lady.”
She dropped the veil again. The interview was over. Schäffer grabbed Sciarra’s arm and took him to the mercenaries’ group, busy cleaning and assembling their weapons, although all of them had glanced as she had lifted her veil.
“I know what you’re thinking.” The German smiled, looking at Sciarra with sarcasm. “You think you’ve never seen such a beautiful woman. Well, listen carefully: you’ll never see another like her in this world...or the next. She owns our lives from the moment we start to serve her. But don’t dare to think of her as a common woman...for she’s not. The loveliest woman on the Earth is dust at her side. Nor should you ever think of her as fuckmeat. For I know from your former boss, you’re pretty annoying. Here your whims won’t be satisfied...here we only need your services. Now you’re in the Cabal, and if you dare to disappoint the Lady, or myself, you’ll be punished.”
The Italian nodded, too stunned to answer.
Father Dunstan rang the bell outside the gate again and again, but found no answer. “Winston is becoming increasingly deaf.” He snorted impatiently.
He used to go every day to give religion lessons to the little Indian girl. He was convinced her pagan soul had to find her way to Christ’s light...it was unthinkable that a child who was supposed to be raised in England continued burning incense before the statue of a goddess with an excess of arms!
Not that he’d been successful...since when he spoke about the Gospel, she was staring at him in amazement, and at the mention of Mary’s conception through the Holy Spirit, she’d laughed. That had required Winston’s intervention, who’d said very politely to him: “Patrick, you should wait a little...the girl has her own religion...perhaps this is not the best way to...”
But the priest was stubborn, he’d insisted to be back every day, despite he’d the impression that Radha struggled to not burst out laughing every time he talked about the Mother of God’s virginity.
“Good Lord!” He sighed. “Is anybody here? Is that child also deaf?” He rounded the house and went into the crypt. Wishing no one to pass nearby, he put the Bible under his arm, adjusted his hat, rolled up his robe and began to climb the ivy. Halfway down, he lost his footing and had to rely on Von Croy’s tombstone, who rested there. “Forgive me, Professor.” The priest whispered to the buried archaeologist. He pushed, threw one leg over the wall and landed on the other side. Panting from the effort - he was no longer a young man - he went into the Manor.
The door was open. He paused, suspicious, and then he saw the trail of blood coming out and crossing the yard. Crossing himself, he quickly ran into the house. “Winston! Ra-rra!” He still couldn’t manage to pronounce the girl’s name properly. “Are you okay?”
The only answer was silence. Distraught, he ran upstairs. At that time, he heard a weak, small voice. “Patrick?”
He turned. Winston was there, sitting on the floor, her hair dishevelled and his uniform unkempt.
“Blessed be the Lord, Winston! What happened to you?” The priest bent down and helped the old man get up, accompanied him to a chair and gave him a glass of water.
Winston drank the water and, after releasing a sigh, he began to sob: “The girl...alas, the girl...the little one...”
“Wait, what? Where’s she?”
“They’ve taken her...oh...what will my Lara say? Oh...what will she say about this!” He said no more. He buried his face in his wrinkled hands and wept, heartbroken.
Bathsheba arose and approached calmly to the van. Watching her move, Schäffer went immediately next to her: “My Lady...you shouldn’t...he could react violently...”
She smiled: “It was me who captured him.”
He nodded, but went ahead and opened the back door. With one hand, he helped her to come up and then he went after her, closing the door. Then he placed himself between her and the prisoner. Although everyone knew she was perfectly capable of self-protection, Schäffer was determined to serve her.
In the back of the van, Kurtis was sitting - he’d awakened. The brutal blow on his head had left a crust of blood on face and neck. He was supposed to be in shock, but Schäffer, not known for his tenderness, had ordered his arms to be tied...with barbed wire. To his surprise they were bleeding, which meant he’d tried to escape, despite those spikes tearing the flesh.
Well, well, Schäffer thought, seems the guy’s an idiot, or really tough.
Bathsheba sat down and lifted her veil. Kurtis looked at her without uttering a word, strangely calm and inexpressive.
“I hope this make you think.” She whispered then. “If you insist on fighting us, you’ll only increase your suffering.”
Kurtis didn’t answer. It was impossible to decipher what was going through his mind - and it was off limits even to Bathsheba herself, which fascinated and annoyed her at the same time. She quietly observed her prisoner, not knowing why he was so quiet. He should’ve panicked...or maybe he’d not yet realized what was awaiting him. “Do you know why we’re looking for you?” She continued.
Kurtis shrugged. “You tell me and spare me the saliva.”
Then Schäffer stepped forward and brutally punched him in the face. Kurtis bent over, letting out a gasp, but straightened up immediately.
“Next time you talk to her like that, I’ll break your legs.” Said the bully.
Kurtis set a defiant glance to the rough German and spat to one side with contempt. His lower lip was bleeding profusely.
Bathsheba looked at the mercenaries’ leader and said: “Leave us alone, Schäffer. I’ll call you when needed.”
He bowed respectfully and left, closing the van door.
Kurtis had leaned against the wall. A trickle of blood ran down from his lip, chin and throat, soaking his T-shirt. Along with the gap in the head and his torn arms, he was a sad picture, but he was still serene as a calm sea.
Bathsheba stared at the running blood. She got up, walked up to him and bent to his eye level. He held her gaze.
The beautiful woman hesitated. Then she stretched her hand and brushed his lips with her fingertips. She turned away and sat back; watching with fascination the blood staining her fingers. Suddenly she looked up, smiled...and put her bloody fingers to her mouth, slowly licking the red liquid with the sharp tip of her tongue.
Kurtis didn’t move. Nothing was said - but he kept holding her gaze. He was quite daring, since few men could endure looking at her for so long - and certainly none had had the privilege of meeting her in private.
“Red blood.” She whispered. “Salty blood. Strange. Your blood shouldn’t be like that. You’re not like any other mortal.”
“What the hell are you?” He said then.
Bathsheba smiled, baring her white teeth. “Does it really matter? I just want you to know why you’re here. Two years ago you killed a divine being...and now you’ve reached the day of revenge.”
Suddenly someone knocked at the door. The woman was quick to drop the veil over her face. But it was Schäffer. “Lady...Dr. Boaz wants to talk to you...on the phone...”
Of course, that was well understood by Kurtis. So Dr. Boaz...when she withdrew to take the call, Schäffer stood looking at him for a moment. Truth be told, he felt a bit sorry for him. It was pretty awful what was awaiting that wretch, but no doubt he deserved it.
“By the way, sorry for the punch.” Schäffer scoffed, turning away.
“If I were you, I’d worry about the barbed wire.” Kurtis replied calmly.
“Why?” Laughed the other. “Because it hurts?”
“No. Cuz I’ve released myself.”
Schäffer turned, stunned...to see Kurtis jump from his seat and elbow him in the temple. He fell against the van door, which burst open, and fell to the ground.
Kurtis wasted no time. He jumped down and ran towards the rocks. Behind him, he heard Bathsheba shouting: “Stop him!”
There was a commotion at the place. Suddenly, everyone began to quickly load their weapons. Schäffer arose from the ground, still stunned by the blow, to meet Bathsheba’s indignant face.
“Forgive me, my Lady, I didn’t expect he’d be able to...”
“Bring him back.” She said, quietly. “This is a desert. He can’t get very far. And I want him alive.”
Kurtis had disappeared among the rocks, but after there were still only dust and stones. It was true - he’d nowhere to go in that great vastness.
“Move out!” Shouted Schäffer. “Let’s go for him!”
The men gathered around him, others brought their vehicles.
“My pleasure!” Hissed Sciarra, loading his gun.
Kurtis felt an excruciating pain running from shoulder to hand, mixed with a hot and sticky sensation of blood sliding down his arms and dripping from his fingertips. There were areas where his flesh had been cut to the bone. And on the left arm, a strip of skin was literally hanging like raw meat. Was it worth that terrible struggle to break free?
Crouched behind a rock, he waited patiently, feeling his heart beating in his chest like a drum. He could hear the screams and the manoeuvres of his pursuers, the engines of their vehicles. He had to move, only to divert his mind from the constant urge to scream in pain.
He got up and ran. There was no point in staying here, they would arrive soon - nor he wanted to hide. The blood trail would betray him anyway.
He heard shouts behind him, and suddenly, shots rained around, but those lads had nothing to teach him. Kurtis already knew how the Agency worked - they were very able to scare someone into believing he’d be shot down, when in fact they wanted him alive. He knew that trick only all too well.
Unfortunately, Sciarra didn’t. Excited about the idea of hunting down a fugitive, he shot to kill - and he was a very good shot indeed.
At the time Kurtis stopped next to a mound to catch his breath, the Italian, crouching, aimed and fired. The bullet plunged deeply into Kurtis’ knee.
“Touché!” Sciarra said triumphantly when he saw him stumble and fall. When reloading the weapon, a colleague stopped him: “Are you nuts? We must not kill him!”
Kurtis grabbed his knee, panting, and after examining the wound, muttered softly: “It’s over. Enough.”
They approached. They could see him in the distance, like a tiny figure crouched beside the mound. “C’mon.” Schäffer urged by the walkie-talkie, jumping from the truck. “And be careful. He’s dangerous.”
He wasn’t wrong. Suddenly and without explanation, there were shouts and immediately, he witnessed a scene that would remain in his memory for a long time.
One by one, his men were being disarmed. The pistols and machine guns were torn from their hands as if a strong arm threw them away and sent them flying out to land on the ground very far away. The mercenaries, most of them young, retreated in panic.
“Dammit!” Schäffer yelled, running towards them. “Don’t fear his tricks! Seize him...!”
He didn’t finish the sentence. Above his head a mercenary passed by flying, screaming terrified, waving arms and legs. He landed on the windscreen of the van, which shattered. Then he saw another, and another, flying by the air like projectiles.
How the hell could he do that? He was still there, hidden behind the rock!
“Hey, boss!” Shouted Sciarra. “Better if we kill him.”
Schäffer snorted and took two steps. Suddenly, he felt a cool breeze at his back...and pivoted on his heels, terrified. The van lifted in the air, and after two roll-overs, landed a few feet below, crushing a group of mercs.
The rest of them didn’t think twice - they turned and ran away.
Schäffer cursed those cowards. But then, how to blame then? That bastard was wiping out his men!
“Sciarra!” He shouted, picking up a shotgun. “Come with me!”
The Italian complied, although he kept looking in horror at the van now on fire, consuming the remains of those crushed underneath.
They arrived to the rock...
“Enough, Kurtis Trent!” The German shouted then. “You won’t scare me with your magic tricks! Been there, seen that! Maybe you don’t remember me. I was an apprentice when the boss Gunderson lost it in chasing both you and that slut Lara Croft in Romania, Egypt, and Germany, until she killed him in Greece. But I remember all that! Now I’m the leader and you don’t scare me!”
“Lara Croft is not a slut.” Kurtis’ voice answered, calmly, as he arose and appeared before them. “And you’re not a leader.”
Sciarra watched in disbelief the carnage that madman had made to himself in order to escape, and then noticed he was limping as well.
“You failed in your attempt.” The leader said then. “Accept your defeat and face the consequences like a man should do.”
“I’ve been defeated many times.” Kurtis said. “And I will be many more. You and yours, however, will be defeated once...at your death.”
“Let’s end this!” Sciarra snorted in exasperation. “This chit-chat makes me feel sick!” He went towards Kurtis and with a rude gesture, grabbed his arm and pulled, viciously digging his fingers in his torn flesh. However, as soon as he touched him felt like an invisible slap go across his face and fell backwards. He bumped into Schäffer so both ended up on the ground.
Kurtis started running again but he had no more strength. He’d lost too much blood and the use of his psychic skills had left him exhausted. But then he heard an engine roar, and to his astonishment, Selma’s Jeep seemed to come out of nowhere – and driven by Zip.
“Kurtis!” The Turkish girl yelled, holding out her hand. “Let’s go!” With an impulse, she took him to the Jeep at the same time the shrapnel slammed the car’s doors.
“Fuck!” Zip cried, covering his head with his hands.
“Start!” Selma ordered.
The boy stepped on the accelerator and raised a cloud of dust that cut off the persecution. The Jeep was gone in seconds.
“Well.” Sciarra coughed. “Seems that nice lady will get mad at us.”
“Oh my God, Kurtis!” Selma moaned. “Your arms!”
The man dropped into the back of the Jeep and sighed in exhaustion. “How did you find me?”
“Just by chance.” Zip answered nervously, staring at the road. “We were nearby and then we saw a van and lots of guys flying through the air. I figured that was your doing...holy shit, man! If only I could do that kind of hocus pocus!”
Selma was frantically searching in her hand luggage. “Isn’t there a first aid kit or something? He’s bleeding a lot!”
“Luggage is up to you, princess. I just had my laptop.”
Kurtis leaned against the trunk wall and closed his eyes. He hardly noticed the girl bandaging his arms with dedication and making a tourniquet to his leg. When finished, Selma was soaked with blood and twice as hysterical as before starting. “Hope this helps...I’m so sorry! Those fucking animals!”
“Zip.” Then Kurtis murmured, opening his eyes. “I’ll lead you to a place. But whenever we get there, you need to go away immediately and leave me there.”
“Where at?” Asked the boy.
“Where both Lara and my mother are. They’ll escape with you.”
Selma and Zip looked to each other, concerned, but neither dared to reply.