A Masterful Move
Radha huddled in a corner, trembling. Still, she struggled to stay calm and avoid giving cues to her captors that she was terrified. Suddenly, the terrible images of the Foreign Legion attacking Kusuma Bharadji came to her mind. But this time was different - she was alone.
She had awakened in a bright white room, with a bed in one corner and a table and a chair in the other – and that was all. The door was made of metal and well bolted. Her kidnappers had left her there after having travelled miles completely sedated.
She couldn’t hear the sound of footsteps coming down the hall, for all sound was insulated by the door. When she saw the vast bulk metal opening, Radha gasped and feared the worst.
But it was just a woman - and the man who’d kidnapped her. He exchanged a few words with her in a rough language which she didn’t understand, and then he withdrew, closing the door. Then the woman sat quietly in the chair and looked at her.
Radha peered at the woman from her corner - she was young, no doubt about it. Dressed in a white coat over a sweater and a skirt, stockings and heels, she was quite attractive and it could even be said she’d a kind face. Her eyes were blue and her blond hair was the lightest she’d ever seen, and very short, like a man’s.
“Do you speak English, kid?” The woman said suddenly.
Radha didn’t answer.
“I’ll speak in English since I don’t know your mother language. My name’s Giselle and I’m in charge of these facilities. Maybe you think your abduction has been cruel and unfair, but you’ll find some answers as the days go by. Or maybe you won’t find them. It all depends on your behaviour.”
The girl didn’t understand quite well all what she was saying, but at least she managed to get the idea. Comprehensive, Giselle explained it in a clear and basic English, and spoke to her slowly and with proper pace to be understood.
“What have you done to the butler?” Suddenly the girl asked, weakly.
“We haven’t hurt him. He was just sedated, like you, and right now he should be OK. We don’t seek unnecessary victims. Every life we take, we do it in a justified way.”
Of course, she omitted to say that if Winston was still alive it was because it concerned her plans. The old man would warn Lara Croft about the girl’s abduction - and that was just what Giselle was looking for.
“I want to leave.” Radha said, firmly and simply.
“That depends on how willing your friends will be in cooperating with us. From now on, the decision is in their hands.”
“Lara will come for me!”
“If she does, she’ll have problems. I’m the owner of this place. No one leaves and no one enters without my permission. And of course she doesn’t have permission to enter, so if she does, she won’t have permission to...leave.”
The way she said it made Radha shudder. The girl narrowed her eyes and murmured: “You’re an evil woman.”
Giselle smiled, and in doing so her face became dramatically beautified. “I’m neither good nor evil, child. I do what I must. I can’t afford else. I’ve more important issues to worry about.” She arose from her chair and made a sweeping gesture with her arm. “This will be your place. You won’t leave while you’re here, but if you open the window, you’ll have a beautiful ocean view.”
“Where are we?”
The woman smiled again. “C’mon, little one, if you don’t even know how to recognize your country on a map...how can I explain where you are?”
“You can tell me anyway.”
Giselle slowly shook her head, then she turned to leave the room. “Oh, by the way.” She said before leaving. “We don’t want to hurt you. But if your friends refuse to cooperate with us, we’ll have no choice but to assert a compelling reason to force them to do so. For the damage you’ll receive, you’ll also know how much they care about you.”
The door closed with a metallic crash, and all was silent.
Radha went to the window and pulled back the curtain. Through the bars, she saw a huge cliff, and down below the waves crashing against the rocks, and the vast blue sea. A beautiful sun was shining and she could hear the screeching of the gulls.
That, and the sound of the sea, would be the only sounds to accompany Radha from that time.
“What do you mortals say? If you want something done right, do it yourself. I must say that’s the only smart thing I’ve ever heard from you.”
Schäffer, embarrassed, didn’t dare look up. His Lady had spoken calmly and hadn’t got angry at any time as predicted by Sciarra.
Sitting in the back of the van, she spun in her hand the roll of twisted wire which had tied Kurtis. Her fingers went through the spikes without getting pricked, and, truth be told, the German couldn’t understand how that beauty could play with such a thing without feeling disgust, since it was smeared with that man’s blood, and had even bits of his skin attached.
“We’ll get him.” He said hastily. “He was bleeding and will be weakened by now. And the ones with him are just an archaeologist and a hacker. It’s a long way to Izmit, so...”
“What’s the report?” Bathsheba asked then, looking at Sciarra.
“A destroyed truck and twenty men killed.” The Italian laconically replied, looking fascinated at that veiled face.
She nodded slowly. “We won’t try to seize him again. That’s what he wants - to run away until killing all of you one by one.” She pulled the wire to one side. “We’ll strike him where it really hurts.”
Schäffer nodded. The mother and the British explorer.
“Dismissed.” She ordered. “Move out. You must get to them before he does.”
Marie was sweeping the porch when she noticed a figure far away - a black man wearing a cap and carrying an empty water bottle.
“Stop!” She shouted, raising her hand to her belt, where she had a holstered gun. “Who are you?”
“Are you Mrs. Cornel?” Stammered the man.
“What do you want from Marie Cornel?”
“Thank God!” Sighed the boy looking up to heaven, and went on decidedly towards her.
Marie took the gun out. “Don’t dare to take a step further...!”
“Whoa whoa whoa!” He cried, raising his hands. “I come on behalf of your son! The one called Kurt…is!”
“I haven’t another son.” Grumbled the old lady, lowering the gun. “You could’ve started out with that! Who the hell are you?”
The door opened then and Lara appeared, her arm bandaged, and rested against the doorframe. “Zip!” She exclaimed.
“Hey, babe!” Ignoring Marie, Zip went toward her and patted her healthy arm enthusiastically. “Glad to see you’re OK!”
“You can trust him.” Lara said to Marie then. “He’s our computer technician.”
Marie came in and poured water for him, as Zip hastily said: “Geez, been walking for an hour! The Jeep’s outta gas, Kurt ain’t lookin’ too good and Selma wanted to stay with him...”
“What happened to him?” Marie jumped, startled.
“Shot in the leg - but he’s a tough guy, he’ll make it.”
“Where are they now?”
“An hour from here, going south.”
Marie nodded. “I’ve a truck in the backyard, I’ll prepare it.” And she left the kitchen.
Lara waited until she closed the door and then turned to Zip. “Talk to me openly. What happened?”
“Whole thing looks ugly, girl.” Zip sighed, and told her about Tenebra, how Kurtis had found them, how he’d disappeared and how he was finally rescued by them from the Cabal’s hands.
“Well, well.” Lara murmured. “Seems you’re quite the hero after all.”
“Actually,” Zip blushed, “wasn’t up to me alone, you know...Selma also...”
Suddenly, a scream filled the air. Lara jumped from her chair and walked to the window. What she saw made her freeze.
Outside, everywhere was crowded with armed men. The vehicles were parked pretty far away, so she’d not heard them. The one who appeared to be the leader brutally held Marie by her arms while dragging her away from her truck, and beside him Lara recognized Sciarra.
“Shit shit shit shit!” Zip gasped.
Lara was thinking at full speed. “Zip.” She commanded. “Beyond this hall, you’ll see a room - that’s where I sleep. Under the bed there’s a trap door hidden by a rug. Open it and hide in it.”
“Whaddya mean?” The boy was shocked. “Ain’t hidin’ like no coward...!”
The explorer pivoted abruptly and shook him by the shoulder with her healthy arm. “Listen to me, dammit! Kurtis is going to need you to know what happened here. Got it? Now hide and don’t come out, no matter what you hear!”
Someone started banging on the door. Zip nodded, pale and sweaty, and went into the hallway.
The door came down and Sciarra appeared. When seeing Lara, he approached her and tried to grab her, but she pulled him away. “Don’t even touch me, runt.” She hissed, and passing in front of him, went calmly to the outside, looking down on the squad.
Schäffer let Marie go, who came towards Lara, and then he said: “Well, well. I see you’re both healthy, though you, Miss Croft, could be better, right?”
“What do you want?” Lara said quietly.
“Well...to bring a reckoning to Kurtis Trent. We already had him when he dared to challenge us. We’re not ones to take everything, so we’ll hit him back twice as hard as he hit us - and you, ladies, you’ll help us with that.” He snapped his fingers and both women were pushed into a van and forced to climb. Lara, still recovering from her wound, couldn’t think of resisting. Meanwhile, Marie had fallen into a painful silence.
Within minutes, the mercs ransacked the whole house. Lara hoped they wouldn’t find Zip - they didn’t. After a while, they went out carrying out the stuff they had found useful.
“Did you find it?” Schäffer asked then.
“Nothing, sir.” Replied one of the mercs. “And you’ve already registered the woman.”
The German turned, his face angry, and shouted: “Bring her here!”
They grabbed Marie and made her come down from the truck. In a last moment, the old woman, desperate, held out a hand to Lara, but she could only touch her fingers before being pushed forward. The British explorer remained in the truck, held by Sciarra, who enjoyed digging his fingers in her bandaged arm.
Marie was placed in front of Schäffer, who asked: “Where is it? Where’s the Periapt Shard you have in your custody?”
The Navajo woman remained silent.
“Lady Bathsheba claims that Shard! Where did you hide it, you old hag?”
The German turned and shouted: “Bring her gun!”
He was obeyed instantly. The boss confirmed the gun was loaded and then, without further ado, put the barrel against Marie’s forehead.
Lara screamed in rage and tried to move, but Sciarra grabbed her tightly.
“I’ll repeat it just once more.” The German spat again. “If you keep quiet again like the bitch you are, I’ll blow your brains out. Where’s the Shard?”
“Where is it, where is it!” Marie then exploded, furious. “Where’s the Shard! Where’s Konstantin! Where’s Kurtis! Where’s this, that, the other thing! You’ve spent your whole life wondering the same thing, and you’ve not made any progress! Killer snakes! You’ve neither law nor country! You serve demons just because you get paid! Scum! Want to know where’s what you seek? I’ll tell you: in a place you’ll never find! For you’re so blind that even if it was right in front of your nose you wouldn’t see it. Now shoot me if you want - I don’t care. I’m old and tired. You’ve ruined my whole life, but you won’t ruin it a day longer.”
Marie’s speech was followed by a heavy silence. For a moment, the German’s finger trembled on the trigger. Then he smiled, and slowly lowered the gun. “Get her to the truck.” He commanded, and turned around. “We’re going to the coast!”
Marie was placed again next to Lara, still strongly held by Sciarra, not by her bandaged arm anymore, but by the other. He liked to touch her - his fingers were groping her soft skin.
But Lara wouldn’t listen to the Italian’s crude remarks. She exchanged glances with Marie, who couldn’t seem to believe she was still alive. The old woman smiled triumphantly.
They tore out and left behind a desolate house. After a while, Lara felt a warm and sticky wetness in the chest - the gunshot wound was open and bleeding again.
“Look, Kurtis! Here comes a van!”
He looked up and saw, in fact, a trail on the horizon. But soon he noticed it was not his mother’s van - neither the mercenaries’ one.
The vehicle stopped in front of them. To his astonishment, the novice Pancratios was driving it, accompanied by a few armed monks.
“Thanks to the Blessed One we’ve found you!” He shouted. “Since many days ago this has been a living hell!”
The novice cast his eyes on the now useless Jeep and fixed again his eyes on Selma. “Is that a Muslim?” He asked.
“She’s Turkish, and you better call her by her name.” Kurtis said, irritated. “I’m not dealing with your shit right now. Why are you here?”
Pancratios clenched his jaw. “Then you don’t know yet...we’re bearers of bad news - but I see you’re hurt.” He turned off the engine and made some signs to the other monks, who came down and started loading into the van everything that was in the Jeep.
Selma helped Kurtis to stand on his feet, not daring to look up. As a cultured and educated woman, she was aware of the problem posed by her presence. The Greek people had suffered greatly under the Turkish yoke, and the deep wounds of the Greek War of Independence remained unhealed. The horrible massacres and raping committed by the Turks continued to weigh on the minds of many Greeks, and in that place, at that very moment, Selma wasn’t only a Turkish among Greeks, but also a woman between monks and a Muslim among Christians - so she kept her eyes lowered.
“We came because since several days ago, our hegumenos is dying from horrible attacks.” Said Pancratios. “The demon that dwells in him is, in the end, killing him. We know you couldn’t do anything, so we thought to talk to the sorceress who bewitched him, to make her lift the curse on him.”
“What makes you think she will be so willing?” Kurtis said with a grimace.
“Well...everything is possible with faith. But certainly now, that’s the least of our problems. We arrived to where your mother lives... but I fear a disgrace.”
Selma, who still held Kurtis, noticed how he suddenly stiffened. She forgot her silence and said: “God! What happened?”
Pancratios glared at her, as he hadn’t expected that woman could speak Greek, but added: “The house has been looted and vandalized. We found hidden, a man with black skin...”
“He’s fine - he’s in a second vehicle which is about to come. But he told us your mother and Miss Croft had disappeared, abducted by the Cabal’s men.”
Kurtis released abruptly from Selma’s arm, closed his eyes tightly, and after putting his hand on his forehead, turned and walked four steps to nowhere in particular. At the fifth step, his injured leg gave out and he collapsed on his knees, in the dust. His head was still reeling from the brutal blow against the rock, and the wound was pounding him like a drum. He bent in half.
He noticed Selma kneeling at his side. “Kurtis.” He heard her saying, but her voice sounded very far away. ”Kurtis. Calm down. They’ve seized them, but they’re alive. They haven’t hurt them.”
You idiot, seemed to say another voice, which sounded louder in his ears than the Turkish woman’s sweet voice, you wanted to keep them away from danger and instead you’ve served them to the enemy on a silver platter! The only important people you have in this world, and you’ve thrown them to the wolves! Bravo, Trent! You’ve outdone yourself!
“Kurtis, you hear me?” Selma became increasingly worried.
“I’m fine.” He gasped, looking up.
“No, you’re not.” Turning to the monks, she said. ”Is there a doctor among you?”
What to do now, huh? How to get them back? How to set them free? You know. Give them what they want. Pay the price, and perhaps you may save them - or maybe not.
“Brother Domenikos is a nurse.” Said Pancratios. “He’ll assist you. But we need to leave.”
Then the second truck arrived. Through the haze that clouded his eyes, Kurtis saw Zip jumping from the truck, warmly hugging Selma while speaking hurriedly, gesticulating towards the monks, from whose speech Kurtis only got: “...have said they’re taking them to the coast! Maybe if we follow them...!”
“Absolutely not!” Pancratios said, speaking in English to be understood. “We have only very few weapons! We can’t face such...!”
He stopped when seeing Kurtis rising, determined, limping to the truck and opening the driver’s door firmly.
“Kurtis!” Selma yelled, alarmed. “What are you doing!”
“I’m going to the coast, of course.” He replied. “Don’t try to follow me.” And without more, he hit the accelerator and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
Among the group of people standing near the second truck, Selma remained shocked and Zip scratched his head, confused, while the monks looked at each other in disbelief.
“By Great Martyr Barbara’s hair!” Pancratios gasped. “That man’s insane!”