The Unexpected Gift
“Find her immediately! Porca miseria!”
Monteleone, furious, had ordered to pull up the camp in seconds. Suddenly, there was no point in remaining in Turkey a moment longer. The Scepter was gone - that treacherous bitch, Bathsheba, had taken it. And for days they had been attacked by those horrible creatures who smiled and adopted the contorted face of its victim. They were done.
But as they prepared to leave, the capo received worse news – for his most precious jewel, his lovely and sensual Maddalena, was also gone. And worst of all, she’d taken the precious Vatican documents. It was an unexpected blow to him. Outraged, he’d ordered for Bay Li to be brought to him and harassed her with questions, but she stood with downcast eyes and said only: “I don’t know where she is, signore. I last saw her yesterday, at night.”
“Damn you, woman! You were her friend! Don’t you know anything?”
That infuriated the capo, because Maddalena had had the nerve to rob him and run away while he was sleeping - and that was something he couldn’t bear. How could his Maddalena leave him? Was it possible she’d been offended by the punishment to the point of running away?
He gathered his men and said: “To this day you know that no one leaves me, but I do. Maddalena couldn’t have gone too far. The only thing she’s known in life so far is Syracuse’s port and the shadow of my protection. She won’t make it alone, so find her immediately. Capisci? And you must know those documents are my life.”
And they had come to fetch her - they tracked all around, even making an unprecedented effort of courage, they had dared to approach the necropolis, but to no avail. There was no trace of the beautiful redhead.
For the first time, Daniele Monteleone had to accept defeat. In a fit of rage, he ordered to set fire to the remains of Selma’s camp and went back to Sicily, taking his men and his harem with him.
In fact, Monteleone had underestimated the cunning Maddalena. A woman who since her childhood survives in a port learns to lose fear of darkness and loneliness, to flee when the situation requires it and to hide anywhere, and even know how to pass unnoticed if necessary. She wasn’t only cunning but also clever - and had reached the limit of her patience. She decided to leave her protector and although she was in an inhospitable environment and in an unknown country, she’d enough courage to shake off the chains with which her master had bound her for some time.
Maddalena was a woman who knew how to wait. She’d waited patiently for the proper time. Now, she would never return.
She left the camp in deep night, carrying no more than a bag with some clothes and personal documents. She entered quietly into Monteleone’s tent, who slept peacefully, and reached to the closet where he kept all valuable documents, opened it and began to take all the folders and put them in her bag quickly. At that time, she heard the capo’s sleepy voice growling: “Is that you, carissima...what are you doing here?”
“Oh Daniele...” She muttered, trembling. “I feel so miserable. Don’t take me away from your side. Forgive me for my offence.”
Hidden in the darkness, the man had smiled. “Ah, bella mia...don’t torment yourself. We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Now go to sleep.” And he’d turned in his bed. Maddalena remained motionless until she heard him snoring. Then she took the rest of the documents and left.
She walked through the camp with a heavy heart. Deep in her heart, leaving him hurt her - there was a time when she’d loved him...but that had been so long ago. She also regretted having to leave without saying goodbye to Bay Li... she expected that at least, due to her departure, the Chinese woman would become the leader of that particular harem. At least, she no longer had to put up with Sciarra.
The Italian woman crossed the stream, shuddering at the memory of Kurtis: with bare torso and cooling his face. She promised to find him, wherever he was - but first she had to run away.
No one saw her leave. Half of the Italians slept, and for the other half, some were drunk, and others with prostitutes. Nobody was interested in her.
She walked down the road, carrying the bag, while the beautiful rock formations of Cappadocia greeted her along the way. The sky was starry and a cool breeze was blowing.
And Maddalena felt good and had no fear. She was free after many years.
She walked all night. More than once she wanted to lie down to rest, but she knew she should not, they might find her as well. She needed to leave the desert; even if she wasn’t sure where she was going...she simply followed the road.
It was the beginning of dawn when Maddalena found the cottage. She’d removed her shoes from her bruised feet and was exhausted. Then she found a house literally shattered, turned upside down, inside and out. Beside it was a van. The redhead entered and toured the rooms, but found no one. Everything was destroyed.
Then she took some food and clothes - almost all of them fur coats and pants, and headed decidedly to the truck, while quietly thanking the Sicilian saints for granting her a better way of escape. Thank God, she knew how to drive; Monteleone had granted her the opportunity as a mere whim. Of course, she’d never had the chance to drive - now she could.
Getting behind the wheel, she noticed a small object on the seat. She fumbled it with her fingers and pulled it out. To her surprise, it was a necklace made of wood and twisted threads, which had feathers hanging from it. The clasp was broken.
Maddalena immediately recognized the object. It was a dreamcatcher, one of those little Indian amulets used to filter evil. She hung it from her neck and pulled the truck out.
The Cabal’s exodus ended on the Turkish coast, where they expected a ship to take them to the Island. Kurtis observed the massive ship with apathy. So, those murderers had enough money to pay for that - unbelievable.
Since he’d voluntarily surrendered to his pursuers to set Lara free, Kurtis was shackled like a criminal and escorted by two heavily armed mercs. But he’d refused to use his psychic powers - Bathsheba had plucked that oath from him. If he tried to use them, his mother would be immediately executed.
Marie Cornel, fifteen feet away from him and also being escorted, looked distressed at her son. They hadn’t allowed her to approach him – not that she could say anything to him. And now a greater grief would be added, for the second part of the deal was to be accomplished.
Those men began to rise and carry luggage as they loaded the vehicles to the cargo hold. Kurtis turned to Bathsheba, who’d arrived quietly. She was veiled no more, but kept her face hidden in the depths of her hood.
“Keep your word now.” He told her. “Release her.”
The Nephilim turned and made a gesture to the men who escorted Marie. These, on the spot, removed the woman’s handcuffs, while Bathsheba added: “You’re free, Marie Cornel. However, you’ll remain in my thoughts. I know you’re a worthy person and you know where your Shard is. But all this I’ll ignore for the moment, as a sign of my great benevolence.” She omitted to say, of course, she would continue searching for the Shards and, if necessary, she’d resort to any means to find them.
Then the beauty turned to the men escorting Kurtis and made another gesture. They pushed him to the access platform and made him go up on the deck, and then they handcuffed him to the railing of the board.
At that very moment, Marie lost her temper. “Kurtis!” She stretched her trembling arms out to her son. “Kurtis!”
“C’mon, oldster, you already heard!” Muttered one of the mercs, pushing her back. “Get the hell outta here!”
Several guns turned towards Marie and she went back, yelling: “Curse all of you! You’re so bloodthirsty you’ll drown in blood! Damn you all!” She extended her finger towards Bathsheba, who was staring at her quietly. “You monster! Your time will arrive, as it arrived to all of your kin! Freak! You won’t overcome it! You’ll never, never have peace!”
“Get her out of here.” The Nephilim ordered wearily.
Between shouts and insults Marie was dragged beyond the pier and left locked in a hut of fishermen. Then, the ship cast off.
Kurtis had watched the scene in silence. Nothing was left to say. He simply couldn’t understand how he’d come to this situation. But he wasn’t invulnerable - he’d been defeated many times, and this time would be the worst.
They sailed to the south and the second day turned to the east. During this time, Kurtis remained on the deck, handcuffed to the railing, for Schäffer had thought he might be able to cast himself into the sea.
Against all expectations, Sciarra hadn’t been punished for trying to rape Lara. On the fourth day, very proud of himself, he began to boast about the explorer’s beautiful body, making sure that Kurtis heard it. The Italian hoped he’d have a tantrum, so the Lux Veritatis would try to pounce on him. It would be funny to see him tugging at his handcuffs.
However, Sciarra felt disappointed. Kurtis wasn’t willing to enter the game. He answered to his provocations with a sneer. Infuriated, the Italian promised himself to bring that proud man down a peg when the rest weren’t watching.
The journey took six days. Bathsheba rarely slept - she wandered along the deck drinking in the sun and breeze with delight. The sea charmed her cold heart. Even she relaxed, and dropped the hood to get the sun on her white face, oblivious to the voracious male gazes which devoured her in silence.
Kurtis wasn’t at all indifferent to her beauty. From the first time he’d been confused by that face - there was something familiar in her. That fresh young beauty with a strange, ancient maturity. Not only because her features, her black hair and green eyes, but also because of the feeling she conveyed. The Nephilim acted like a woman who’d lived centuries on the Earth, but her body, her face, her charm was absolutely young.
“Oh, you’ve guessed it?”
Kurtis looked up. Bathsheba was there at his side, her hair dishevelled - she’d released it and it went beyond the waist. Her cheeks were flushed by the sun. “At first I thought you were blind and you’d never recognize me.” She smiled. “But I know it was hard - your instincts prevented you from a pure Nephilim, born of the Great Goddess and I... I wasn’t born directly from Her.”
She looked at him silently for a moment, and then she shook her head. “How can you be so calm, now that you have your mortal enemy in front of you again? You don’t move, you don’t fret. You’re an ice floe. Don’t you wonder how it’s possible that, despite two years ago you doomed the Not To Be the last Nephilim; you have in front of you a female Nephilim, a maiden whose face brings to memory Kristina Boaz as she must have been before both Eckhardt and the acid razed her in body and mind, but whose aura and essence will, no doubt, bring you the name of Joachim Karel?”
She walked over to him and stretching her white hand, put it on his arm. “You don’t even tremble at my touch. Maybe because I’m beautiful? It’s easy to hate the ugly. It’s easy to kill demons. Your hand didn’t tremble when killing my father - for I’m Karel’s daughter. Would you now hesitate if you had to destroy this beautiful creature? Would you stab me the same way you stabbed him?”
Her hand reached up to his shoulder, her slender, long-nailed fingers hooking the edge of his shirt’s sleeve and lifting it, revealing his burned shoulder. “Here he hurt you. He erased your order’s symbol before you killed him. Oh, I know everything - I’ve seen it. I know many things, but there remains a great mystery for me, which is you. I don’t understand how you’ve been able to fulfil your oath. I’ve been told you were cunning, treacherous and deceitful. I’ve been told you didn’t know what honour is. And if it’s not honour what you’ve done...what else is honour, then? You’re going to the slaughterhouse. And I know you could sink this ship right now if you want, using that Gift you have. You would sink with all of us inside - why don’t you try?”
Kurtis looked at her for a moment, then he turned his face towards the ocean. Bathsheba slipped her hand again, and he shuddered...in pain.
“Would you let me heal these wounds, Kurtis Trent?” She said. “The Nephilim have always been great healers. A touch of our fingers, a breath of our mouths, and there was no harm, however serious it was, which couldn’t be fixed...”
“That’s funny, isn’t it?” He suddenly said with sarcasm. “You had the power to heal...but you only destroyed.”
The spell was broken. Bathsheba went back, tight-lipped, furious. “You really must have loved this woman to surrender in exchange for her freedom, right? But now the world will never be safe for her or for anyone. Perhaps she will also be destroyed, if she interferes in our way again. Although you won’t see it!” She turned and walked away - the wind ruffling her clothes and hair.
“My Lady!” Then shouted Schäffer. “We sight the Island!”
“Lara...how are you? The doctor says she can’t believe you’ve endured so many days with that wound...I said to her you were really, really tough. You’ll see, you’ve revolutionized the hospital, as soon as you get better, many will come in to ask for some autographs...”
But she wasn’t listening. She neither desired to answer - and it wasn’t anything physical, because she had almost recovered after many transfusions, except from some nausea and vomiting. She felt not strong enough to keep on fighting.
“...you see, not every day you can meet Lara Croft!” Selma was saying, sitting beside her bed. “Zip spends his days entertaining the people and has even forged your signature to sell some autographs for his part...”
What to do now? She had to think of something. She couldn’t stay idle, but returning to England was not an option, though in Turkey there was nothing left to do.
“Selma.” Lara murmured, interrupting the Turk’s happy chatter. “Thank you for trying to cheer me up, but I remind you that Kurtis has been taken by the cult which wished to kill him since he was a child, his mother hasn’t yet appeared, and Radha has been kidnapped from Surrey. You really think something worse could happen now?”
The Turkish archaeologist narrowed her beautiful black eyes and muttered: “Surrender. That would be worse.”
Lara smiled bitterly. Suddenly, she punched the mattress: “They took me for a fool! Is that it? I’ve been gently released, but Radha’s abducted - a teenager who’s in a foreign country and hasn’t had an easy life! And she was under my custody. What do they want me to do? To ignore that just because they spared my life? To stop chasing them just because Miss Perfect has decided to spare me, because they have Kurtis to torture? Over my dead body!” She stopped, altered. Selma watched her in silence, her face solemn.
“We’re still the Shards’ keepers.” The young girl whispered. “Marie, you and I. They will come after us, sooner or later.”
“Of course.” Lara hissed. “But I won’t be waiting for them! When will I be dismissed?”
“Two days more or less.”
“In two days we must be prepared, Zip, you and I. We’ll contact Ivanoff and Charles. We must find Marie. Then...we’ll see what to do.”
“Will they keep their word and release her?”
I hope so, thought Lara, discouraged, I hope so.
“May I enter?” Said the doctor smiling after knocking on the door slightly.
Selma had left to rest and finally Lara had some moments of peace – a peace that wouldn’t last too long.
“Not sure if you were aware of this.” The doctor started to say, flipping a few documents in her hand. “Still it’s my duty to let you know.”
“Is something wrong?”
The doctor smiled. “Wrong? Not at all. It’s pretty surprising you were able to get over this so fast. That bullet could’ve pierced your heart or at least severely damaged your lung - but you reacted like...like if you already knew you were going to get shot right there.”
“Somewhat, I knew.” Lara smiled. “What happens then?”
“Well, you’ll probably already know, but as that period of nausea and vomiting made it so difficult for us to treat you appropriately, I took the trouble to order tests to rule out more serious problems, and well, this is what we got.” And she delivered her a printed sheet. Lara took it and examined it carefully. Then she paled at seeing that, and lifted her stunned face to the smiling doctor.
“But...this is impossible! Are you sure..?”
“We’re professional, Miss Croft - and perfectly able to distinguish a pregnancy from gastritis.”
“I see you didn’t expect this to happen. Cheer up. Considering how bad you came to be, not having had a miscarriage is more than being lucky. It’s almost a miracle. Another miracle.” She turned and walked toward the door. Opening it, she turned to leave, and when looking again at her, she laughed. “Don’t pull that face! Expecting a baby is not like being diagnosed with terminal cancer.” She closed the door, still laughing, and walked down the aisle.
Lara spent a long time stiff, motionless, staring at the positive on the sheet.
“Lara? Are you awake?”
Upon hearing Selma’s voice, the British explorer made a ball with the sheet, put it under her pillow and sat on it. The tireless Turkish archaeologist was back there to keep her company.
But Lara didn’t hear anything she said. Her head was spinning and she felt nauseous again. Pregnant! She was pregnant!
How is it possible? she thought, desperate. You took precautions. You had everything in control. You thought that wouldn’t fail. And it failed! Now what? What to do?
It was as if the earth was opening under her feet. Never, ever, ever, she would’ve wanted nor expected this. Then she remembered...the first time with him...the longing, the anticipation of desire, not thinking about anything except having him finally...one mistake was enough to regret it now. Great! Lord Croft’s daughter, a fully-grown woman, just screwed it up like an inexperienced teenager!
“Lara, are you okay?” Selma was looking at her, worried.
Why did she never leave her alone? Why was she always so concerned? For a bullet wound? For a broken arm? For having almost bled to death? Or because he was now in the hands of his enemies and she might not ever see him again? Or...?
They shouldn’t know - no one ever should know that. In silence, Lara considered the possibility of undoing the wrong. Get rid of that new burden, that unexpected gift. But if she did, she must hurry - and nobody had to know. At heart, she knew it couldn’t go on - she had to get rid of it. She had to find Kurtis.
“Selma, I’m exhausted. I need to rest.”
“Agreed. But call me if you need something, okay?”
As soon as she closed the door, Lara jumped into the bathroom to vomit again.