Daniele Monteleone sat down, satisfied, in the wide and comfortable sofa of his huge living room. It was nearly one o’clock and he’d bid farewell to all his men to meditate awhile in silence as usual. He’d also bid farewell to his wife, his eight children and his grandchildren, in a long and complicated hand-kissing ceremony more akin to a royal family. His eyes had fallen in love with the youngest of his granddaughters, Agata, who at her five years wasn’t yet aware of which family she was born into and the dark future awaiting her.
He reclined on the couch while he passed his finger along the gums emptied by Kurtis’ punch. Seven teeth were broken, chipped, and one knocked loose. If the American hadn’t already been doomed, the Sicilian capo would’ve given him an exemplary punishment.
So focused was the Italian in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the furtive shadow that suddenly took shape in the silky curtain of his window. By the time he sat up, alarmed, Lara Croft was out of the darkness, pointing a gun at him, smiling and moving quietly. “Don’t move.” She commanded. “Get that gun I know you have in the lining of your jacket out and leave it on the table. If I remember well, you didn’t want to waste any more silver bullets on my filthy person. Let’s honour that decision.”
With clenched teeth, the capo obeyed, though he said: “I’ve two men watching out there...”
“Oh, those? You can hire funeral services for them now.” The woman leaned over, took the pistol from the table and hooked it in the belt of her jeans, while looking at him wryly. “What’s wrong, Monteleone? Looks like you’ve seen a ghost. By the way, I notice something’s missing, where’s your ever-present Martini?”
“I don’t drink at this time of night.” He replied hoarsely, lisping because of the lack of teeth. “How the hell...?”
“...Did I survive? Well, you said it yourself - I’m strong, and proud, and I also consider myself very clever. The first one helps me survive, the second one prevents someone like you from pissing me off, and the third one helps me get what I want. Now you’ll tell me about the documents.”
“Which documents?” Sputtered Monteleone.
“Your uncle the cardinal’s ones. You showed me the most irrelevant of them, I suspect, and saved the best part for yourself. Give me those documents and perhaps I’ll turn a blind eye and I’ll leave without killing you, although that’s the least you deserve right now.”
Monteleone coughed, and tried to loosen his collar. “You’re late, darling. I don’t have those documents anymore.”
A shot rang out - muffled by a silencer and a bullet hit the velvet gorse wood chair, right next to the mafioso’s head, exploding in a cloud of foam and splinters. Monteleone shrank like a frightened rabbit.
“Don’t piss me off, Daniele.”
“I’m telling the truth! I don’t have them anymore. They’ve been stolen! That whore Maddalena has them. A few days ago she disappeared from my camp and she took my documents. I’ve men still searching for her, but nothing at the moment.”
Lara laughed. “So that’s your faithful concubine. I feel sorry for you, Monteleone. The problem is now I’ve no reason to spare your life.”
The other set his few teeth and hissed: “If you kill me, my men and my family are bound by a blood oath to avenge my death, by giving their life if required. They will chase you and kill you.”
She rolled her eyes. “I’ve heard that a hundred thousand times. I’ve fought the Italian mafia before...and also the Chinese, Japanese, Russian and all the gangs you may say. You can’t scare me with that, Monteleone. In any case, it’s useless to threaten me if you’re dead within three seconds - unless you offer me a minimal compensation.”
The capo had begun to sweat. He took a silk handkerchief from his pocket, he wiped his neck and muttered: “My uncle, Cardinal Ercole Monteleone, knows by heart the content of these documents. He’s studied them all his life, from his youth. No portion or paragraph, no matter how old, he’s unable to remember precisely. He currently resides in the Vatican, although his health hasn’t allowed him to exercise his duties objectively, but the new pope has appreciation for his services rendered in the past, and therefore grants him the same rights and honours as that of an active cardinal.” He stared at her and added: “If you want to know about these files, go to him. I just got to translate a part and not much else, so he’s your man.”
Lara nodded. “Well, well.” She admitted. “It’s the first time you behave properly. All this without wasting formalities and manners. And therefore...”
“...and therefore you’re not going to kill me.”
A charming smile crossed the woman’s face. “When did we come to that agreement?” She said, raising her weapon.
Shrieking, Monteleone jumped off the couch and pounced on her. His reaction caught her off guard and knocked her on the floor. The gun flew from her hand and suddenly a punch in her stomach made her bend in half. She pulled the man off herself with a kick and rolled to the side, recovering the gun.
Again he threw himself on her and grabbed her hair. With a nudge, she shook him off, but was brutally pushed against the wall. Her head was buzzing and felt a warm thread of blood running down from the corner of her lip.
Shocked, she saw Monteleone crawling to a wall and releasing a weapon from it. Lara felt the world spinning around when seeing it was Kurtis’ Boran X, which she could’ve recognized out of all the guns in the world. A glance was enough for her to see, hooked to the side, the Chirugai. “Bastard!” She gurgled in the blood filling her mouth. “Thief! That’s not yours!”
“Well, that was unexpected.” Monteleone smiled. “Lara Croft, the plundering par excellence, calls me a thief. Come on, signorina, this is not a robbery. I saw your dear friend parking his motorcycle in front of the excavation entrance shortly after you disappeared. So I hastened to report to Bathsheba he was there, and I even offered to capture him myself and deliver him to her...”
“Bastard!” Lara repeated, advancing towards him.
“...but of course she wanted to do it alone. I can’t imagine how she did it, so delicate as she is and so brutish as he is, but anyway, not my business. So, then I asked for some compensation and she said to me, You can have his weapons. And I really appreciated that! The gun’s beautiful, right? But I don’t know what the hell that disc is…”
Lara threw herself head-first into him and they re-rolled on the ground. Monteleone shot but only managed to blow up glass fragments and lamps. The Boran was a noisy weapon and surely they had already been heard by someone.
She began to struggle while Monteleone was still emptying the magazine. The noise was horrible. Finally, Lara dug her knee into his crotch and got the Boran in hand, while the man was writhing in pain on the floor.
Like a shot, Lara ran towards the Chirugai, unhooked it from the wall and set it to her belt, retrieved her own gun and kept the Boran. “Y’know what?” She said, turning to the Italian, who was on the floor. “I never swallowed your shtick of courtesy and kindness. You’re pathetic.”
“Already noticed that - you’re also bad at pretending.” And suddenly, he arose and threw himself back on her, but it wasn’t enough. Lara shot, striking him in the forehead. He collapsed on the spot.
“Good riddance, maggot.” She hissed, and then hastened to jump out the window. She already could hear his men shouting and the barking of their hounds.
Maddalena felt it would be useless to do that. She couldn’t...she couldn’t!
She walked with her heart stuck in her throat to the gangway of the ship anchored in the harbour. There were those men whom Safie had spoken, carrying goods. “They come to load and unload, and hire us.” The little prostitute had told her. “Sometimes people are taken - I’ve seen them. They catch the unwary and they drag them away. And sometimes they accept volunteers. But they never return. We believe they’re killed. At that Island a hidden terror dwells. None of those who leave, voluntarily or not, return. Only those soldiers. Never go to the port where their ship is at anchor, Madda. Never.”
But Maddalena had nothing else to do at the Turkish port of Cyprus. She neither wanted to stay there nor go back. In either of these two cases, Monteleone could find her. There was only one option: to go forward.
She walked with trembling steps towards the group of soldiers guarding access to the ship. She had taken care for not being recognized, at last, after all, Schäffer had seen her when he negotiated with Monteleone the release of Sciarra, and of course, he was now with them. So the woman who appeared before them seemed more a helpless pretty girl than a prostitute. Leaving behind the sexy dresses Monteleone had given her – anyway, they weren’t appropriate, going by the sad rags worn by most of the Turkish prostitutes. She’d chosen to wear jeans with a simple loose sweater to hide the beautiful curves which made her so desirable. She’d cut her opulent hair up to her shoulders and had tied it in a bun. That, along with the complete lack of make-up, made her still a pretty woman, but far from looking like a prostitute. Therefore, the group of three mercs who saw her arrive didn’t consider her as such. “Well, well, what a cute girl!” Said one. “What’s a beautiful redhead like you doing in a place as dirty as this?”
“I want to go on that ship.” She said.
The mercs looked at each other and suddenly burst into laughter. “She wants to go on that ship! She wants to go on that ship! Let’s see, how useful could a beauty like you be in the horrible place we’re going?”
“C’mon, shut up, Martin.” Said another one, and turned towards her. “I guess you come as a volunteer. Have you some knowledge about science or health care?”
Maddalena’s mind worked at the speed of light. Science? Health care? Of course, it suited her well! “I’m an emergency medical assistant.” She blatantly lied. “I think my services could be helpful.”
The merc looked her up and down. “Look, Martin! You think she’s what she says?”
“Maybe. The doctor is always interested in having new volunteers. Also, a pretty girl will appease her patients. Okay, beauty, what’s in that bag?”
The documents, thought Maddalena, terrified. She pulled the strap of the bag tightly and flushed so the men laughed.
“Look at that! C’mon, let’s not pick at her underwear. We may be some animals, but we don’t play with decent people. What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“Giulia Manfredi.” She quickly answered, and then she thought: God, I can’t believe it...I’m using my real name! That cheered her.
“Italian, huh? Okay, you can pass.” And they departed from the ramp, clearing her way.
Maddalena came to the deck and looked at the mercs loading goods into the boat. Those packages seemed more than suspicious - she didn’t recognize the symbols, but that was probably hazardous material.
So they needed both nurses and scientists. She didn’t know whether to feel imprisoned or feel like she’d just made the play of her life. Whatever it was, in all likelihood, would lead her to Kurtis.
Her heart began to beat faster.
“Son...boy, are you okay?” Marcus tried to touch Kurtis through the bars, but he’d been thrown at the other end of his cell, so the old man’s trembling arm couldn’t reach him - and it was so dark he couldn’t see anything. He just knew he wasn’t moving. He wasn’t moving at all. But if he were dead, they wouldn’t have left him there again. Moreover, reasoned the elder, he can’t be dead. This one can endure so much. So much. “Kurtis...” He tried again. “Kurtis, son, can you hear me?”
Nothing. Marcus wondered if he was unconscious, in shock or even comatose. Bastards, the old man gritted between his teeth, damned bloody bastards.
He crawled to the bars and hugged his knees, willing to wait until his cellmate recovered - if he recovered. But he was a Fighter, right? They were roughly treated when trained in the Order. Yes, he’d recover.
A mild, sweet scent reached his nostrils - and it wasn’t normal. The cell stunk, especially of moisture and salty sea water. It also smelled of decay, pus from wounds and excrements. It smelled of rust and enslavement, and the air was thick and hot, but when the tide was rising, the cold permeated his bones. Marcus wondered how he could be still alive in that filthy den.
The smell intensified and then the old man glimpsed a clear light. He smiled. “So here you are, Lady. You come to behold your enemy’s suffering and defeat?”
He saw Bathsheba in Kurtis’ cell, leaning over his motionless body. Now the woman’s body seemed to shine - hell, the Nephili were also errant lamps? He could see Kurtis, lying naked face down, with strange burns on the back of the arms, legs and neck. The Throne’s marks.
Bathsheba put two fingers in Kurtis’ throat and muttered: “His pulse is very weak. They had no mercy with him.”
“What you’re pretending, Lady? You weren’t present enjoying the show?”
The woman turned towards him. She smiled sadly. “No I wasn’t present, no desire to be. Unlike you mortals, my people never enjoyed others’ suffering.” She unleashed her dark cloak from around her shoulders and covered Kurtis with it. Then she went through the bars as if they were made of air and entered Marcus’ cell.
He didn’t move, but looked at her askance. “You don’t enjoy others’ suffering, that’s true - but you do something much worse. You’re indifferent to others’ suffering. You’re indifferent to everything: joy, pain, love, hate, all the feelings humans can experience. And as you all are indifferent, you’re guiltier and holders of greater cruelty. Your indifference is to blame for the suffering of this man. Although you haven’t hurt him, your indifference will cause his death. I know you could save him, save us all, since nobody in this Island has power over you - but as you’re indifferent, we’ll all die.”
Bathsheba looked calm. She was no longer smiling.
“Why did you come then, my Lady? To make fun of this poor old man, of this unfortunate, who’s going to be smashed like that poor kid?”
“I come to hear your poems, Marcus.” She said.
For months, Bathsheba had gone down to the cell to talk with Marcus. There was something in that old man, in his acid sarcasm, which amused her. At first she’d received insults and thrown stones from him. When they killed that boy, the other Healer, he went berserk and tried to attack her repeatedly. But over time Marcus was resigned to be visited by her. At the end of the day, when she was there, her fragrance covered the stifling stench of the prison, and her beauty made him forget the horror around him. Although she was his ancestral enemy, Marcus had to tolerate her presence.
To amuse her, the old Healer, who was fond of literature, dedicated poems to her in which he both praised her and also criticized her severely. Bathsheba caught that two-way meaning and had fun with it. The sooner he’d make her angry, the sooner she would go, so Marcus worked in them.
“You want a poem? Well, I’ve one which suits you perfectly, my Lady. It’s Beauty, by Charles Baudelaire, from his beautiful play The Flowers of Evil.” And he recited off by heart:
I am fair, O mortals! like a dream carved in stone,
And my breast where each one in turn has bruised himself
Is made to inspire in the poet a love
As eternal and silent as matter.
On a throne in the sky, a mysterious sphinx,
I join a heart of snow to the whiteness of swans;
I hate movement for it displaces lines,
And never do I weep and never do I laugh.
Poets, before my grandiose poses,
Which I seem to assume from the proudest statues,
Will consume their lives in austere study;
For I have, to enchant those submissive lovers,
Pure mirrors that make all things more beautiful:
My eyes, my large, wide eyes of eternal brightness!
Bathsheba laughed. “Today you’ve been particularly delicate, Marcus. I don’t know whether to take this poem as a compliment or a criticism.”
“Take it as you like, Lady.” Grumbled the old man under his breath. “But go away and leave us alone.”
The beautiful lady turned and again passed through the bars. Her beautiful body began to fade with the darkness of the cell. “Why don’t you think you’re still alive just because you amuse me with beautiful words?”
When her scent disappeared moments later, Kurtis began to regain consciousness, slowly and laboriously.
“You sure about this?” Father Dunstan whispered, hesitantly, as they crossed the vast St. Peter’s Square.
“Of course.” Lara said, adjusting her glasses on the bridge of the nose.
“But...Lara, we can’t threaten a cardinal of the Holy See...”
“Hush. Trust me.”
Having “settled” the problems with Monteleone, Lara had gone to Rome with the intention of meeting the mafioso’s uncle. And probably another mafioso again, despite his cassock, she thought.
However, although she’d excellent relations with the Holy See because of numerous services provided in the past, Lara had no desire to be recognized this time. Furthermore, those favours had been with the previous pope. She didn’t know how Ratzinger would take her presence there.
Therefore, she’d requested Dunstan’s presence, who besides being a Catholic priest allowed her for wandering freely by the Vatican. Of course, Lara decided to pose as a “devoted companion” of the father...hence the horrible puff-sleeved blouse, a plaid skirt that reached to her ankles, her hair tightly in a bun at the nape and huge old glasses.
Of course, they had to pass through the control of the Swiss Guard. One of the men in their colourful uniforms questioned them shortly after they exceeded the threshold that limited the access of tourists.
“We’ve an audience with Cardinal Ercole Monteleone.” Dunstan announced solemnly, feeling this lie should be severely purged. “I’m Father Abraham Patrick Dunstan, from Ireland.”
“And this woman?” Asked the guard, nailing a suspicious look at Lara, who’d chaste eyes directed towards the ground.
“She’s a secular virgin who helps me in my work, rendering outstanding service to the cause of Christ.”
The guard raised his eyebrows and let them pass, but they sent a guard around them as they walked through the beautiful blocks of buildings surrounded by gardens - the dependencies of the cardinals.
“Cardinal Monteleone’s old and sick.” The guard said when they reached the cardinal’s waiting room. “Please be brief and don’t distress His Illustrious.” And he opened the door, revealing a wonderful room lined with expensive fabrics and velvets, gold chandeliers and works of art decorating walls and corners.
A vulture’s home, Lara thought with a shudder.
Sitting in a vast chair, a thin and bent old man whose wrinkles testified a long passage through this world, looked at them with sharp little eyes through round glasses. He was wrapped in cardinal purple and caressed the edge of a tea cup he had on a nearby table. Lara smiled, wondering why she’d expected him to have a Martini instead of a tea cup.
The door closed and they were left alone with the Cardinal. Dunstan stood guarding the door as she’d told him, so Lara moved to sit on a chair in front of the elder.
“Well?” Monteleone cleared his throat with a hoarse voice. “What insult is this? You know you’re not allowed to meet me. If I’ve you let in here is because I was curious about what some bold, insolent persons might want.”
Lara pushed her glasses to sit on the top of her head as she watched him with suspicion. “Cardinal, better not beat about the bush: we’ve come to talk about the documents you gave to your nephew Daniele.”
The old man paled and stared into her eyes, hard and inquisitive. “You’re not a secular virgin, right? And that man’s not a priest!”
“Father Dunstan has been a priest since long before I was born.” Lara smiled. “I can’t say the same about the first part of your ask.”
Monteleone was rocked in his chair. “Get out of here immediately! You’ve sinned!”
“We won’t leave, Ercole...may I call you Ercole? It bores me always repeating the same surname.” Lara leaned towards the old man and in doing so, a few strands of hair released from her bun. “You delivered to your nephew Daniele some documents...ancient manuscripts of the Middle Ages, handwritten papers by several knights of the Order Lux Veritatis...documents saying something important about artefacts known as the Periapt and Lilith’s Scepter...”
The old man hissed, as if the name of the goddess would’ve pierced his chest like a hot iron.
“.. you stole them from the Vatican Library...and gave them to your nephew...am I wrong?”
“Worthless papers!” Gasped the old man. “No one’s interested in those fantastic and absurd stories! Nobody believes in that anymore!”
“Well, your nephew told me you passionately studied them for years and now you’d be able to recite them by heart...isn’t that right?”
Violent coughs made the cardinal bend over and get a flushed face. Dunstan went two steps forward, worried, but Lara made him a gesture with her hand, ordering him to stop.
“You’ve nothing to do here!” The old man cleared his throat as he could speak. “These files are a up to the Holy See and its members! Why did you come here, slave of Satan?”
“To make you tell me everything about those documents. Many people’s lives, but especially an innocent man’s life, depend on what you reveal to me now.”
“Never!” Choked the old man. “Get out of here, you harlot! Go atone for your pride!”
Lara jumped from her seat with a terrible expression on her face. For a moment Dunstan feared she was about to strike the old man, but suddenly she pivoted on her heels and ran swiftly towards the door. “Okay, Ercole.” She hissed. “You asked for it.”
“What will you do?” The cardinal jumped when her hand touched the knob.
Lara turned, her eyes sparkling. “I’ll now request an audience with His Holiness Benedict XVI. Although he’s been Pope since a very short time, he certainly will remember the great affection his predecessor, John Paul II, had towards the British explorer Lady Lara Croft, who so many valuable artefacts and fine arts she recovered for him and for the Vatican. For I am that woman!”
“Lara...” Dunstan murmured in a choked voice.
She didn’t listen and kept saying: “I’m going now to tell the Pope that one of his cardinals has contacts with the Sicilian Mafia and has been plundering the Vatican Library for years and delivering confidential archives and manuscripts of great value to a bunch of thugs and murderers! That these files, because of your corruption and incompetence, Ercole, now are in the hands of an Italian prostitute lost in the vastness of the Mediterranean! Do you think the Holy Father will be interested in hearing that? I do!”
There was silence. The Cardinal seemed close to having a heart attack, according his flushed face. He put his hand on his chest in a gesture of pain. But at the very moment Lara clutched the knob and spun it, he croaked: “No! Okay, you win, hag! You’re a wicked woman, no doubt inspired by Satan.”
Lara dropped the knob and turned slowly towards him. “There are lives at stake, as I told you.” She said, recovering her manners. “As you’ll understand, I can’t afford being a good Christian right now.”
The cardinal snorted and reached out a trembling hand to the tea cup. Dunstan, scarlet red, ran towards him and handed him the cup.
“What do you know about the Lux Veritatis?” The cardinal asked then, after taking a long sip.
“I’m the one asking the questions.” Lara sat again. “You should assume I know absolutely everything about the Order.”
Ercole Monteleone shook his head and chuckled. “No, woman, you wouldn’t know everything about them even if you were born in that Order and lived with them until the end of their days. I studied for years this wonderful community and I still don’t know enough...I, who am - and I can guarantee it, the most knowledgeable man in this Order alive right now...except for the members themselves, of course.” He took another sip and sighed: “You told me there are lives at stake. I don’t know what you’re speaking about.”
“Innocent people are going to be butchered. That should be enough.”
The old man began to twist his knuckles and then whispered: “Just tell me one thing...has the Scepter been found?”
“Yes, and I can tell you it’s in the wrong hands.”
Monteleone groaned and shook his head. “Bad news...you see, I found these files as a bishop, long ago. I loved the history of the Order and took it seriously. For years I devoted my life to try to find even just one member of the Lux Veritatis...but if I met one, I never knew. They protected themselves fiercely, as if wishing to be invisible. Then I learned what a terrible threat was the existence of the Black Alchemist, a man of wicked heart and unnatural longevity. But even more my soul was shaken when I heard the worst threat: the Nephili...and their poisonous Mother, the impure Lilith.” He paused and sighed again. He seemed to have aged many years in a few seconds. “What do you know, Lara Croft? What can tell you this old man?”
“Tell me about Lilith and the Scepter, specially. For what purpose could my enemies want it?”
The cardinal arranged the folds of his robe and declared: “The Scepter’s a weapon of great evil and power. According to the legend, Lilith, who gave birth to the High Breed of Nephili, conceived them with the seed of Lucifer; then came into dispute with her Children and fell out with them. The reasons aren’t known, but apparently these damned committed the sin of pride against their Mother, who enraged, created a terrible weapon that could lead them to victory...or destroy them.” He licked his lips as he reflected and said: “For centuries, the Orthodox monks of Meteora’s Greek community kept a carved spherical object known as the Periapt. An arcane object, delivered by the angels it’s said, which had reflected as if by magic, one after another, all the symbols of Christian and pagan cults that have existed on Earth. Lilith stole the Periapt and destroyed it, dividing it into four Shards.”
“But the Periapt’s indestructible.” Lara objected.
The cardinal laughed dryly. “For the divinity of the Underworld nothing is indestructible. She can wipe out life from the face of the Earth with one blow of Her hand. She broke the Periapt and divided it into four pieces, then she regenerated it and made it indestructible for every mortal and immortal...except for Her. And then, with these four Shards which also became indestructible, she carved three daggers and a stick coated with silver.”
Lara looked at him, speechless. Then she gasped in surprise: “The three Periapt Shards and the Scepter! Then She was their maker...but it makes no sense!”
“Yes, it does. Lilith’s cunning and cruel. She’s a mother but she has no motherly feelings. She hates Her children almost as much as She loved them before, and when they disappointed Her, she devised a punishment without limits.” The old man’s eyes were covered with a sarcastic shadow. “Do you understand this, woman? The Scepter’s a device capable of controlling all the demons of the Earth. Who possesses it will have the power to dominate the will of those creatures. It has other properties, such as opening people’s hearts and mixing dreams to cause both good and evil to who dares touch it, but its greatest power is this: with the Scepter in your hands, you can control the armies of Hell.”
“Sounds like a horror movie.” Hissed Lara.
The cardinal shrugged. “You can believe it or not. But this is it. She handed the Scepter to Her children, and from that time they were the most powerful immortals and demons were subjected to their yoke. But they didn’t suspect that the wily Lilith had created three daggers which, wielded by a Lux Veritatis, would kill any Nephilim put in front of them. And, not content with Her cruelty, She gave these Shards in person to the Order.” He bent and started laughing, as if that was funny. “It’s so typical!” He guffawed. “What do they know, those infernal beings, about God’s love? She’s cruel and cunning so, at the same time She gave them the greatest gift, She condemned them to the worst curse. Having angered their Mother, She gave to their enemies the weapons that could destroy them. It’s so typical!”
He went on laughing while Lara was thinking fast.
“So with the Scepter, you can master the demons...and of course, the Shards are still able to kill a Nephilim.”
“No! Only if it’s wielded by a warrior of the Light!” The elder croaked. “And there are no Warriors of the Light left...alas, no longer are!”
Lara frowned and hissed: “That’s what you think, old man. The Order hasn’t entirely disappeared, nor their ancestral enemies.”
“Tell me what you know!” The cardinal gasped, staring at her wide-eyed. “The Scepter has been found! Who found it? Was my beloved nephew, to whom I delivered the documents to ease his search?”
“It was me.” Lara sentenced. “But it was stolen and now they’re trying to steal the Shards also. You know anything more?”
“Who stole it? Who!” The cardinal was increasingly upset.
Dunstan peered down the hall, fearing the old man’s screams attracted the Swiss Guard.
“Who stole it from me is a female Nephilim creature. Two years ago, I believed I’d wiped out the last of her kin, but seems they were able to breed...and finally, now that creature’s old enough to fight us. She has the Periapt and the Scepter...and now she wants the Shards, which are in my possession. They’re also destroying the last Lux Veritatis...so that their revenge is complete.” Lara took a deep breath after releasing all those words. She needed to control herself. She shouldn’t show how much pain it was causing to her saying that. Kurtis. “Can you tell me what this creature’s plotting, Ercole? Something written in your documents?”
The cardinal had been thoughtful. “No...and yes. Anyway...seems like the Scepter will grant her mastery of all demons. It’s also clear she seeks to kill the only one on Earth that could defeat her. But she also wants the Shards...perhaps to destroy them.”
Lara sighed wearily. “The Shards can’t be destroyed...”
“Yes, they can! She can destroy them! The One that created them can also destroy them!”
Dunstan coughed politely. “Excuse me, Your Illustrious; I’m just an ignorant priest who, however, has had contact with some of those...infernal beings. The creature, of which you speak, Lilith, is probably only a mythological character. The proof is the many faces we have from her. To our Christian tradition, she was the first wife of Adam, who was doomed because of her rebellion with Lucifer and as they fell into Hell, she became a devil with him. But to the ancient Babylonian civilization, she was a goddess of great power, not necessarily related to Evil, but...just as dangerous. She’s likely only a myth.”
The cardinal smiled and looked at Lara. “A myth? Do you think that, woman explorer? I see the truth in your eyes. If your eyes have behold the immortal Periapt, you know it’s impossible to break. How it can’t remain broken for longer than a sigh...is it that a myth? Did you see that magic? If that magic’s real...the Witch who created it is real too!”
Dunstan paused, frowning. Lara shook her head and said: “You mean...it’s possible this Nephilim’s trying to reunite with her Mother to make Her to destroy the artefacts?”
“And with that, to erase her last chance of death.” Hissed the cardinal. “When all them had been destroyed...she will be fully immortal. The most powerful force on Earth couldn’t stop her.”
Dunstan returned to hawking. “I think you’re rambling. Even if all that were true, is not that Mother angry with Her children? Why then would She do her this favour?”
“She was angry centuries ago. Since then, She’s slept in the darkness of Her abode. We don’t know what’s in Her mind now.”
Lara shook her head and said: “I think this is missing something. Too complex. Should I consider Lilith as a real person living in a real place? Where then dwells this goddess of darkness?”
Ercole Monteleone’s eyes narrowed. “I’ll tell you...it was also mentioned in the documents.”
(The poem “Beauty” by Baudelaire has been extracted from: William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954).