Meteora’s valley was plunged into silence, the winter cold scraping the rocks. At the top of one of them stood majestically the snow-capped monastery of Ayios Stefanos.
The hegumenos went to the entrance to contemplate the vastness of the valley and brushed off some snowflakes from his dark robe. But he froze when noticing a figure, dressed in black and sitting patiently at the edge of the precipice.
“Who are you and why are you here?” He asked.
A soft, warm voice answered from the depths of the hood. “Geiá sou, patéras. I’ve come on a pilgrimage from far away, looking forward to finding rest.”
The monk frowned. The fact that he lived in celibacy didn’t stop him from recognizing the timbre of a female in that voice. “You’re mistaken, my dear. Ayios Stefanos is not a center of pilgrimage. We don’t allow tourists or visitors in, much less women.”
“You allowed one.” The voice seemed to smile. “Two years ago, you opened the door to a woman. Where’s Minos Axiotis?”
The monk was now stunned. How could she know...? “Our beloved patéras passed away three months ago in odor of sanctity. Now I’m the new hegumenos. My name is Nikos Kavafis. What’s yours, child?”
The figure stood up slowly and removed the hood covering her face. Then Nikos felt a strange burning sensation in the center of his chest, for before his eyes appeared the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.
“Bathsheba.” She replied, dropping her long lashes. “My name’s Bathsheba.”
It was the name of the temptress who had made King David fall into sin, so that didn’t bring good omens. But the hegumenos was unable to leave that beautiful creature at the entrance in such a cold night, as tired as she seemed to be.
While leading her to a free cell, he didn’t stop scrutinizing her angelic-looking face. Two years ago, they had, in fact, tolerated Lara Croft’s presence. The British explorer was a beautiful and fascinating woman, whose sharp tongue and sassiness had been too much for some monks. But that was far exceeded by Bathsheba, so sensual and disturbing that, in no way, he’d have her to be seen by any brother. Nikos wasn’t as permissive as Minos had been, so he announced her she’d leave at dawn, without giving her time to talk. He closed and locked the cell door and went to pray at the church, trying to calm the fire consuming him at the very sight of that woman.
But he couldn’t focus. When trying to fix his gaze on the Panagia’s silver icon, her beatific face decayed and was replaced by the stunning image of Bathsheba’s limpid green eyes, and a very little Christian fragrance, the sweet aroma of lavender, wrapped him up in flooding his lungs.
The object of his desire still was in the cell. She got up slowly from the bed and walked to the door. It had been a while since the hegumenos’ steps were gone along the corridor.
She reached out the door and touched the doorknob. Indeed, the monk had locked her, but that didn’t stop her. She touched the lock with the tip of her fingers and it melted like hot cheese. She opened the door and headed for the inner yard. The dark hair waved around and over her back. No need to cover: she didn’t fear being discovered - someone looking in her direction wouldn’t see her, for she was now as ethereal and transparent as air.
She descended into the darkness of the crypt without being accompanied by any light. The darkness was her ally. She walked the aisles filled with old skulls without scaring herself by the presence of those who watched at her with empty sockets everywhere.
The Angels’ Oracle was silent and dusty. No one had gone down there since the Amazon summoned the celestial beings. But it wasn’t dark, since the faint blue glow of the Periapt stained the frescoed vault in a silver tone, ranked by the severe archangel.
Bathsheba slightly touched the Periapt. For just a moment, she felt a fury indescribable towards the Amazon, that Lara Croft, who not being more than an ordinary mortal-mill, by the designs of fate she had been worthy of talking with the angels. And she, she who was born of the same seed of an angel, she couldn’t talk to those who were her equals!
She bit her lower lip, but then forced herself to calm down. She’d come for the Periapt. She took it in her hands, wrapped it in a fold of her dress and hurried.
Bathsheba turned sharply. With the rage she’d experienced, her transparent shield had dissolved and now was clearly visible to the angry eyes of Nikos, who cut off her way. “How dare you, daughter of Satan, steal this precious relic? For this you’ve come! Give it back, it doesn’t belong to you.” He held out his arms towards the Periapt, but Bathsheba calmly went away. Nikos was still young and strong, and out of himself, violently grabbed the woman – almost experiencing a surge of satisfaction at seeing her lips half-opening in surprise because of his brutality. A strange scent wrapped him and almost made him lose his head, forgetting that he was a monk, torn between the rage for the Periapt’s theft and the powerful attraction he felt towards her.
“Let me go.” She ordered, her voice soft but firm.
The hegumenos, out of himself, grabbed the scrap of fabric where she had the Periapt hidden and brutally tore it, not knowing if what he wanted to see was the precious crystalline object or just her young skin.
She reacted by uttering a strange word. Suddenly, Nikos left out a heartbreaking scream that reverberated throughout the monastery. Almost all the monks jumped from their beds. The first one that came into the yard found a gruesome sight.
Nikos writhed on the floor at a woman’s feet, throwing up bile, screaming in a language nobody could understand but that froze their blood. The woman, tall and with an overwhelming beauty, was holding the Periapt with her hands, and her long dress was slightly torn.
They didn’t dare cross the threshold; since her frozen green eyes scared them and made them feel flooded with a strange scent of lavender floating in the air. But how could they possibly smell flowers...when it was winter?
Then she spoke in such a sweet and magical voice that dulled their senses: “He has just received the punishment for his lust. He won’t die, but only one man can now heal your hegumenos. You know him. He’d been here and was the one who killed my father. Tell him that his fight is not over.”
She turned, slowly walked away and disappeared between the columns, carefully holding the Periapt. No one could move until they lost her from sight completely.
Now that European police finally had stopped looking for her, Giselle could return to the Old World. And since the bases in Prague and Munich had been dismantled and closed, the few remains of the Cabal were now installed at the only place still not located: Moscow.
There were so few members left...the old Gertrude, the priestess who’d been intimate with Eckhardt in her youth and rejected by him as she aged; Adolf Schäffer, ex-mercenary of Gunderson, one of the few survivors of the Munich disaster, who now had taken the lead and assembled a new team of cutthroats; and the bald man, Hugh, who served as a spy.
They were the leaders, with a few dozen supporters. Yes, there were very few in comparison to what they had been under Eckhardt’s aegis, but they now had Bathsheba, their Lady - the name “Mistress” had been dismissed as unsuitable for such a beautiful creature.
The other Cabal members hardly believed that Giselle might be able to create something so beautiful from her own experiments, her own genetic material mixed with a sample taken from Karel. Nobody would say such an embryo could go on, and nobody would’ve been as foolhardy as Giselle to implement it in her own uterus. Who knew that the result could have been something other than an abominable monster like her sister Kristina’s Proto-Nephilim?
But no. Bathsheba was just the opposite. In two years she had become a perfect looking woman, with even better intelligence. When being next to Giselle they seemed siblings more than mother and daughter. Giselle had always been a beautiful woman, but the beauty of her daughter darkened hers. However, that filled her with pride and like the rest of the Cabal members, she couldn’t stop staring at her adoringly. She knew her daughter, more innocent than she actually seemed, involuntarily aroused fierce sexual instinct in men, but fortunately she had her own ways to protect herself from any abuse.
And she, Giselle, was the creator of this marvel, of that Nephilim more perfect than any thoroughbred angel!
Ah, if Karel could’ve seen you...!
If Karel could’ve seen her, he wouldn’t have wasted his time looking for a chimerical prophecy. She, and not the Amazon, was to be the High Breed’s mother.