Marcus became a pleasant company the first few days Kurtis spent in prison. They didn’t touch him yet - but no one went downstairs to leave food.
“They make you starve first.” The old man said. “And when you begin to find the leather of your boots appetizing, then they start.” He knew much of what was happening on the Island, almost everything, except the exact location of that lost rocky outcrop. Judging by the weather, in the Mediterranean...but the sea was vast.
On the evening of the second day – though they didn’t know for sure, for they were living in a permanent shadow, a storm broke. The thunder echoed in the cavern of the cliff, tearing the ears of the two prisoners, and after a while, the waves began to flood the cells, as Marcus had predicted. The cold and frothy water was rising...and when it reached the neck - Kurtis’ neck, since poor Marcus was floating long ago - they had to grab the top of the bars and fight against the tide and the weight of the chains, which threatened to drag them to the bottom. All the while the desperate struggle lasted - hours, maybe, Kurtis came to fear the water would completely cover them, but it didn’t.
“Nay!” Marcus said, spitting water after sinking and being rescued in a flip by Kurtis through the bars for the umpteenth time. “Those bastards have this well-timed! The water level won’t rise anymore - and be grateful sharks can’t pass through!”
Kurtis, who could feel the salty water in each of his wounds, had no time to worry about sharks. At least that excruciating pain meant cleansing.
Hours later, the water level fell and the tide retreated, leaving them soaked and shivering. Kurtis started to take off the wet bandages from his arms - he couldn’t resist the itching anymore. Some daylight was finally coming into the cells and Marcus stared at the horrible cuts.
“Oh my! How did you do that?”
“I was tied with wire strand and I freed myself.”
“Well, son, you’re insane. You could have lost your arms - and you see, you’ve ended up here anyway...” The elder lowered his voice. “Yes, we’ve all ended up here.” Then sat in a corner of his cell, splashing on the wet floor, and began to scratch a wound near his shoulder.
Kurtis squinted through the dim light and noticed a strange mark on his shoulder. “What’s that, old man? A tattoo?”
Marcus smiled and came over to show him. “There was a time when this was my whole life...now, it’s just a passport to my end.”
Kurtis looked back at that symbol, and then laughed softly. “No way!”
The man looked up and pointed to the tattoo: “Luceat eais in materia virentis...”
“...Volare incipit ab initio ad scopus, maxima vires ad incrementum.” Marcus finished, looking at him stunned, staring stupidly at Kurtis, who was still laughing.
“But...I thought I was the last one!” Marcus sputtered.
“So did I.” Kurtis calmly. “Healer or Fighter?”
“I’m a humble old Healer.” Marcus said, smiling at last.
The young man laughed. “Congrats. Seems you’re the last after all. The last Healer.”
“So you’re a Fighter. Holy Light! I’ve a Fighter in the cell next door -my prayers have been answered!”
“You can get us out of here!”
Kurtis studied the old man’s face, protruding forward between the bars. “Now you’re the insane one, Marcus.”
“I think not! You can pop these bars, tear down that damn door there! We’d leave, son, we’d escape.”
Kurtis made a sneer. “And then where would we go? Assuming I could fight all those men, which I can’t, then what? We jump into the sea, swim to nowhere?”
Marcus opened his mouth, then closed it. He was right - they were trapped, hopelessly trapped. “I’m just a Healer. I can’t see neither future nor past, I can’t alter objects to my will. Only you Fighters could do that.”
Dammit! Kurtis growled to himself. Why he doesn’t get it? It’s useless! We got nothing. Always the same, fuck, with these damned Healers, believing we were superheroes or something like that just because we can...destroy what we like...and see things we can’t understand.
“If we don’t escape,” Marcus insisted, “we’re lost. These people are mad...especially that blonde scientist. Scientist...ha! She’s a psychopath. She makes savagery with people...with children. Some years ago, I heard she was the purest of all of them...that she didn’t know what she did, that she wasn’t like the others. But now she’s worse than all put together! Sometimes I hear the mercenaries talking about her...yes, I’ve heard a lot...and that beast Schäffer...” He stopped - somewhere he heard a metallic ringing which became more strident. Marcus took a deep breath and continued: “Listen, I’ve spent many months here - but I wasn’t alone at the beginning. They seized another Healer with me...we escaped Tenebra’s slaughter - we didn’t fall into their nets. Obviously the Black Alchemist was fond of saying he’d crucified all of us...whatever. The other Healer was a young boy, who wouldn’t reach his twenties. I don’t remember his name, poor boy...I’ll tell you what they did to him to give you an idea of what awaits you.”
“Why were you kept alive so long?” Kurtis interrupted.
“Oh...that was up to the...to the Lady. She wanted to see our powers. But we were soon disdained- Nephili’s healing powers are stronger, as you know.” Another metallic blow. Marcus shook. “They tortured me, but not for long - I’d have died. But he was young and endured. They made atrocities with him – specially that monstrous Schäffer. The doctor doesn’t engage herself in torture - she lets him do it. It’s like a bonus added to his salary. She just tortures her patients...but prisoners are for Schäffer. When the Lady got tired of us, we fell into the hands of Schäffer and his thugs. A savage...have you heard about the Throne?” He added suddenly.
Kurtis sighed. “Must be nothing cool.”
“It’s their electric chair. They call it the Throne, those bastards. They gave me a few jolts, but him, they almost killed him. They glued his eyelids to his eyebrows so he couldn’t sleep at night. I pulled the adhesive from his eyes - I earned a few beatings for that, but I couldn’t see the poor boy like that...”
The metal hits accentuated. Kurtis tried to find out where they came from - they seemed to be over them.
“...and then they said, You want him to sleep, oldster? Now he’ll sleep a lot... and stitched his eyelids. They didn’t put out his eyes to pierce them while sewing.”
Kurtis sharpened his hearing. Yes, no doubt - the blows were coming...
“Why they didn’t do that to me? There was no fun with an old man. They almost electrocuted him to death and then they mutilated him. They castrated him with scissors and...”
The door opened with a bang.
“Oh, no, this guy again.” Marcus sighed, seeing Sciarra.
“I’ve been sent to announce you’re gonna have some fun.” The Italian said with a smile of happiness.
“Sit here, asshole.” Kurtis said, raising his middle finger.
There was a thud, like guffawing. Marcus was laughing.
Sciarra went to the bars. He brought a metal rod in hands - where the hell did he get it? So with that he’d been making that fuss. “Well, seems the bird chirps before hatching! I thought you were dumb. Piss me off and I’ll caress you with this.” And he brandished the bar.
Kurtis then heard footsteps - someone was going down. Several voices were heard. Ignoring Sciarra, Marcus crawled to touch the bars and hissed: “They’re coming for you! Good luck, son, but I’ve no hope. Maybe when you pass the first day, you’d agree to escape. Better to die than endure.”
Sciarra lashed at the bars by him and he had to withdraw. Kurtis was taken out the cell and he let himself be led quietly. The Italian followed them, with a look of pleasure on his face.
“May the Holy Light protect you.” Marcus muttered, and began to pray.
Marie blinked as sunlight hit her in the eyes. She looked at the charred remains of the camp and noticed a group of soldiers moving in the remaining pockets of flames while extinguishing them. One of them turned around and went towards them, wiping sweat from his smeared forehead. “Damn!” He exclaimed. “So you’re the arsonist? What a miracle to have found you alive!”
The Navajo woman stared at him and turned her face away.
“She’s not feeling well. We’ll talk later, Justin.” Lara apologized, then she took her to one of the Jeeps and sat there. “These you see are a British Army brigade.” The British explorer explained. “Justin and I were partners in an expedition some years ago and he owed me a favour. You see, we got some help. When we heard the sites of Cappadocia were on fire, we tried to come as soon as possible...you could’ve died down there!”
Marie touched her face and winced in pain. Her forehead and eyebrows were scorched - but she’d not even noticed until now. “Your friend Selma will be mad at me...I destroyed her life’s work...but I can’t deal with this anymore, Lara...I can’t...this is the end.”
Lara frowned. “This will be the end for them, anyway. You can’t give up now.”
Marie ducked her head and her face disappeared into the silver and dark locks of hair. “I was released on the coast. I don’t know where exactly. They took a ship. Lara, we’ve no idea where they went. We don’t know where they have taken him. We have no clue. We’ve lost him.”
But Lara smiled. “We still have the Shards - and they still want them. We can work with that. Listen to me: when I returned from India, I brought a teenager under my custody. They’ve kidnapped her, and surely they will ask an account for her. Justin and his men will help us. We also have Selma and Ivanoff, two very good thinking brains, and Zip’s ability to keep us connected. They won’t defeat us, Marie - and if they do, it wouldn’t be because we haven’t fought.”
She turned. Justin had returned. He was a man of medium height, dark haired, wearing a neatly trimmed moustache and a military uniform which didn’t suit him very well, but no doubt he liked to wear like a second skin. Marie expected him to be reliable. “What do you want?” The man added, showing her two different rifles. “L85 or MP5?”
“L85.” Lara replied. Justin threw her the weapon and she caught it on the fly. She began to inspect the chamber and check the magazine.
“A-are we going into battle?” The old woman stammered.
Lara smiled again. “I’m not one to wait for luck. I make my own luck - and if this is the only language those bastards are willing to understand, so be it.”
“Lara.” Zip said, adjusting his headset. “Lara. Lara? You get me? Lara! Lar...!”
“Yes, yes! I got you!” He heard Lara answering. “Any news from there?”
Zip wiped the sweat from his brow. “Well, Vlad’s sifting through his notes...but nothin’ about that freakin’ Scepter yet. The Lux Veritatis files don’t talk about it...”
“Wait.” Selma said, picking up another handset. “Let me...Lara, you hear me? Yes? Look, if the Lux Veritatis knew something about the Scepter, and not what Monteleone told us about Van Der Brieck twins...that’s certainly not in anything held by Vlad - and he’d been gathering stuff for years. You don’t know the amount of information this man has here!”
“Means we need to look elsewhere, babe.” The hacker concluded.
Lara paused for a moment. Then she added: “Agreed. I think I know where to look. By the way, Marie’s here with me.”
“Was she released? Is she okay?”
“Yeah, okay...we’re gonna hide the Shards in a safer place. I’ll call you as soon as we know more. Meanwhile, we’ll keep in touch. Perhaps there’s something that may interest us, apart from the Scepter.” And she hung up.
Zip snorted and touched the table in search of gum. Not finding it - he’d chewed all of it - he grunted.
Ivanoff put his glasses on again and murmured: “I’m going back to the library. I’m sure something is beyond me...”
When he left, the boy stared at Selma with affection. “Frowning suits Lara, but makes you look ugly, princess.”
Selma sighed. “I’m worried about everyone. This...this is a nightmare. For me it started three years ago. For Marie, much earlier. And Kurtis has lived it all his life. When we thought it was over...God! Why so much hate? Why can these people never forgive, never forget? When will the killing stop? When wiping each other out?” She ducked her head and her soft and shiny hair slipped across her shoulder.
Zip had to force himself not to reach out to pet it. He then remembered Sciarra, who wanted to abuse her, and felt disgust and anger. “Lucky for us, we got Lara.” He said to distract her. “She’s tough and knows what to do. We’ll teach those bastards who rules here. And Kurt...well, he’s a tough guy too.” He smiled. “You know? When I met him I thought he was a psycho. I thought he’d kill me. I later learned his Order required the elimination of witnesses to...prevent them from blabbin’ about seein’ chicks with snake hair in the sewers of New York.” He laughed. “But he didn’t kill me. He let me go. He said he was tired of killing.”
“Hope he’s not tired of living.” Selma murmured, closing her eyes.
The Turkish port of Cyprus was full of sunshine and scent of salt - a port which reminded of Syracuse. But the island on which Venus was born had a very different picture. There, the blow of Turkish-Greek war had left deep scars even in Greece and Turkey. The Cypriots hadn’t overcome the horror, and even then, the island was still separated into two sectors, Turkish and Greek, divided by a high concrete wall, lined with strands of barbed wire and guarded by soldiers armed with machine guns. If someone got too close...goodbye.
Therefore, Maddalena, although she felt uncomfortable among Turks, wouldn’t attempt to cross. She wouldn’t risk her ass. She remained in the harbour, reviewing those documents suddenly interesting her.
Sitting in the sun with legs in the water, she went over the sheets. Her Latin was poor - the bit Monteleone had taught her - and it wouldn’t let her to understand many things, like Luceat eais and other phrases often repeated as if they were an invocation. Lux Veritatis’ Latin writing was too complex for her.
The beautiful prostitute had already learned who the Nephili were, and so the Lux Veritatis, the Periapt, the Scepter and more. Everything wouldn’t have been too far away from being the most delicious fairytale or the most terrible horror story, but deep down, she knew it was true. If Monteleone, Bathsheba and that British explorer had fight each other to know what was that...
Suddenly a shiver went down her spine. Monteleone, Bathsheba and Lara Croft had fought each other for that! Those documents were more valuable than she first thought! And now, they were in a dirty Cyprus port, in the hands of a whore... She threw her head back and laughed. One of the sailors turned and pointed at her. Yes, better for her they thought she was insane - they would leave her alone.
Indeed, those documents were important. They contained ancient legends, terrible things. For long nights she had dreamt of warriors in shining armour who could move things with their mind, to heal wounds with their hands, to fight great powerful albino demons. She imagined glass spheres in the hands of elderly monks, transparent crystal daggers plunging into damned flesh...and she was the one who had the documents.
Maddalena put all of them in her bag and stood up. She’d come to Cyprus, but she didn’t know how to proceed. If she wanted to find Kurtis, or at least where Bathsheba and her people had gone, at least it was something to do. Perhaps she could set Kurtis free by exchanging him for those documents.
Don’t be an idiot, she scolded herself, you’re not born to be a hero. Use your head.
For days and weeks she wandered around the port, paying attention to each conversation. She didn’t understand Turkish but some people spoke in Italian and lots of English. But they were neither tourists nor the fishermen who provided the first clue to Maddalena, but the prostitutes.
There were several of them on that port and hadn’t welcomed the arrival of that lovely Italian. Her white skin, golden eyes, and over all, her flaming red hair were a threat to their dark bodies.
But there was one who appreciated her - a little, skinny girl, no more than eighteen, and with a glance, Maddalena knew that syphilis was eating her from the inside. Her name was Safie and the redhead used her affection to find out what she wanted.
They sat near the water when nobody was looking and then Safie began to play with her hair and look through it with the light, fascinated by its colour. “Is this you? Is it natural?” She mumbled with her poor English.
Maddalena smiled - everybody had always wondered that. “All my hair is red.” And laughed since it was obvious what she meant.
After many talks, when she thought she’d won her confidence, Maddalena risked to ask. At first, Safie glanced at her, distrustful, then she murmured: “A beautiful woman surrounded by soldiers? You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen since I got here...and I’m here since my elevens, when I ran away from home, leaving that pig of my father. But now that you mention it...a week ago there were a lot of soldiers around here.”
“How were they?” Asked Maddalena.
Safie’s small sunken eyes narrowed. “They were...soldiers. I didn’t like them. Padme and I went to serve them - weren’t less gross than the port’s sailors but they paid well.”
“Did they speak any language?”
“Huh...a rare language. It seemed some kind of barking, much shhh...schfrrrr...”
German. They spoke German, the redhead thought, shuddering.
“Others spoke Turkish, but it wasn’t their language, it seemed. And now that you mention it...they arrived on a ship, yes...but left at dawn.”
“You know what tumble did they take?” Asked Maddalena, excited.
Safie looked at her a moment and then laughed. “Please Madda! I’m just a whore! How could I know!”
“Well, you get the customer drunk and make him talk. Who hasn’t done that?”
The girl looked at her from the corner of her eye, suspicious, and then whispered: “I’m asking for trouble if I tell you. Yes, I know where they went. They come and go often. But only the prostitutes approach them, because we need to eat. If not, I’d rather have my father’s fists and the breath of a drunk.”
“Why? Where do they go?”
Safie licked her thin lips and whispered: “To the Island.”