Ten o’clock at night. Thames dock in London’s heart.
Lara waited patiently, sitting on an old bench with the box containing two Shards - hers and Selma’s - on her lap. After so much discussion with Marie, she’d convinced her to stay in Surrey. Lara was taking no risks concerning the Navajo woman.
While twisting her braid absently, the British explorer noticed a small shadow moving quickly. Two large figures escorted it, and when coming into the light, Lara saw a short and funny looking man, as comical as the two bodyguards looked threatening. She looked him up and down.
“Who are you?”
“Hugh will be enough, Miss Croft.” Said the other with a piping little voice. “I serve the Cabal, as you’d probably have guessed. You won’t be wise in judging me by my size and appearance, you’ll regret it.”
Lara twisted her mouth and looked at the two goons with their huge arms folded across their broad chests.
“Well?” Hugh said. “Where are the Shards?”
For answer, Lara held out the box. Hugh took it and opened it. He immediately frowned and said shrilly: “Only two Shards! You take me for a fool?”
“Not yet.” She mocked. “Of course there are only two Shards. One’s mine and the other is Selma’s. I know nothing of the third, as you’ll understand.”
Hugh closed the case with a snap and hid it inside his coat. “You must be an idiot”. Hissed the man. “You really think I care? You really think I don’t know the third Shard is owned by Mrs. Cornel, who according to my sources is with you?”
Lara’s eyes darkened. “I’m not an idiot -. but you are, Hugh. You really think I was going to give you all the Shards without proof of Radha being alive? Where is she now? Is this your way of trading?”
“I don’t make trad...” He didn’t finish the sentence. A dozen of armed men emerged from the darkness. The two thugs reacted by pouncing on them, but were gunned down in seconds. Hugh, terrified, tried to flee but a burly soldier grabbed him by the neck and lifted him in a twinkling. “Well, well, Lara!” He sang. “Is this a Cabal member? Boring!”
“You can let him go, Justin.” She smiled.
Hugh was thrown on the floor, but he got back up with a jump, while Justin took back the box with the Shards and handled it to Lara.
“I didn’t expect this to be this easy.” She mocked again. “So many mercs you have, and you didn’t even bring one with you. Who’s the idiot here?”
“Oh, excuse me ma’am!” Hugh spat sarcastically. “They are all busy tearing Mr. Trent’s skin to shreds, so I had to come with such a small escort.”
Lara’s smile faded as she stepped forward but Justin stopped her by grabbing her arm. “Okay, runt”. She gasped, controlling herself. “I’m now putting conditions. If you want the Shards you’ll free both Kurtis Trent and Radha Deli and you’ll forget about us forever.”
Hugh laughed dryly. “Your Kurtis is almost dead, just a wreck...we’ll return him for burial, or maybe you’d like to use him as manure for your manor gardens...” He didn’t see Lara’s fist arriving, but it hit him in the mouth and threw him spinning to the ground. Next thing he noticed were her hands gripping his throat and shaking him like a puppet. He breathed again when the soldier named Justin pushed Lara backwards. The spy choked with his own blood and began to spit teeth.
Suddenly he felt himself lifted and strongly bound by Justin. “Well, little man, you know now not to piss off the lady, right? Now behave.”
Lara, panting heavily, collapsed on the bench as the soldiers surrounded Hugh, while others were hiding the bodies of the thugs. Stunned, she held her head, suddenly feeling dizzy. “Well.” She said at last. “Since you won’t do this by hook, you’ll do by crook. You won’t get the Shards. If Bathsheba wants them, she must come for them. Now you’ll tell us where you have Radha and Kurtis.”
“Never.” Hugh replied.
Another fist like steel struck again, this time in his chin, and wasn’t from Lara but from Justin. The blow split his flesh and a trail of blood began to flow.
“Where are they?” Lara repeated.
“Fuck you, bitch!”
A third blow sank the bridge of his nose. Hugh began to howl and writhe. Justin kept hitting him until his face was a mess. Then he knocked him on the ground and said: “Keep pissing her off, you dupe, and I’ll trample the remains of your face with my boot.”
Hugh spat blood and seeing the soldier’s boot rising to hover over his face, began to whine.
Lara, who hadn’t moved from the bench, insisted: “Where are they?”
“On the Island!” The spy gave in.
“It has no name! It’s simply the Island..! There’s the hospital, the laboratory and some dungeons!”
Lara shook her head. So that was their base - another Strahov, another centre like the one they had in Prague and then in Munich. The rat’s nest had been rebuilt again... this time on an island. And yet again, people were dying there... and among them washim also...
A retch made her bend, but she controlled it. She was getting worse, and she knew what it was. It was that. She hadn’t had the heart to get rid of it, she hadn’t felt entitled to destroy what wasn’t hers alone, but when the symptoms disappeared and she felt well again, she’d come to believe she′d imagined that, it wasn’t real, that test was wrong, there was nothing growing or expanding within her... but there it was once more: the feeling of dizziness and nausea. Again.
“Lara?” The soldiers looked at her, waiting.
She took a breath. “Tell me where that island is and I’ll let you go.”
“I will not...!”
There was a crack, and Justin lifted his foot. This time Hugh swallowed so much blood that he barely had voice to scream. “Okay, okay... God! It’s near Cyprus, in front of Cyprus’ coast, to the north, three days at sea! God, let me go now!”
Lara remained silent for a moment, then nodded. Justin hauled him to his feet with a stretch. Sobbing, Hugh faltered.
“Very good. You’ve cooperated and therefore I won’t bother you anymore.” Lara said. “But now you’ll guide me there.”
The spy looked at her, horrified, and then the British explorer smiled sarcastically. “Of course, darling... I’ll give your superiors the honour to greet me in person. I′ve some little things to deal with them.”
Giselle looked up and froze. Before her was the sweet Giulia, as she used to call her, with a suspiciously swollen chin which began to acquire a slight purplish tinge. Her eyes were red from crying and she was holding in her grasp a sheaf of papers.
“God, what’s that? Who hit you?”
The scientist had left the torture room so quickly, furious and disgusted, that she hadn’t seen anything. Now she just wanted to be alone and rest a while in her office, but Maddalena’s sight, who seemed totally disturbed, couldn’t be ignored.
The redhead threw the wad of papers on her table, without further ado. Giselle took a sheet of manuscript, adjusted her glasses, read a few lines moving silently her lips, and suddenly raised her green eyes and gazed at her new assistant above her glasses. “Giulia, what the hell is this?”
“Those are manuscripts dating from the XV century which talk about the Lux Veritatis and demons, about the Ne... Nephili or something like that and many other things...”
Giselle had remained stiff.
“I know...” Maddalena continued. “Perhaps a woman of science like you may not be interested in this, but I’m certain that someone on this place wanted these documents... I know, I swear, I think that...”
Suddenly, someone appeared behind Giselle, as if she’d materialized out of pure nothingness. Maddalena screamed and jumped back, terrified.
“Giulia, this is my daughter, Bathsheba.” The doctor said calmly.
“We already know each other.” The beauty was similing. “So Giulia, huh? You were right to take back your real name. The other was good for your former lifestyle, but didn’t suit you.” She slowly walked around the doctor’s desk, patting her lightly on the shoulder, smiling as she walked towards Maddalena. She, in a panic, had retreated to the door. When trying to grab the doorknob, she noted, horrified it was gone. There was no knob on the door.
“I should punish you for what you’ve done.” The Nephilim murmured. “Making fun of my men, lying to my mother about your background and your name, infiltrating our stronghold and talking to the prisoners. But let’s quit - say what you intend to do with these documents.”
The Italian woman was so close she could smell Bathsheba’s sweet perfume. Suddenly, Maddalena knew she was doomed. It’s over, now they will kill you, but at least, just end what you started. “These documents are extremely valuable.” She mumbled. “I know from Daniel Monteleone that both you and your people were interested in things having to do with what’s written here. I came to... to offer them in exchange for Kurtis Trent’s freedom.”
And then something amazing happened - that woman, that wicked witch so beautiful that was painful to stare at her, smiled sweetly, and it was a sad and compassionate smile.
Giselle, however, frowned. “Just what I need! That son of a bitch’s life’s not worth a lot of useless papers! Bullshit about a goddess and things like that...!”
“Careful, Mother.” Gently whispered the other. “Don’t blaspheme. The documents are valuable and maybe worth that man’s life...”
Maddalena’s golden eyes moistened. Hopeful, she went towards Bathsheba and bowed the knee, took the hem of her garment, and whispered: “I’m only a scorned woman and all I want is to save him... you who are gentle, have mercy on him - I beg you.”
There was a severe snort from Giselle. The beauty smiled even more - it was amazing how her smile could wide without actually seeming unnatural, and said: “I promise you Kurtis Trent won’t die here. He won’t be tortured anymore and soon I’ll get him out of prison. Is that enough for you, Giulia?”
“Bathsheba!” Giselle jumped, shocked. “What are you saying?”
“Yes...” Maddalena gasped, stunned. “Yes, that’s enough for me.”
The Nephilim’s smile faded then, and the redhead saw a cold twinkle in her green eyes. “Since you’re so in love with him, from now you’ll take his place and get in your own flesh what was prepared for him.”
Giselle was speechless, shocked, while the Maddalena’s pupils widened in horror.
“It will be easy to suffer, now that you know you’re doing it for him.” Bathsheba concluded, smiling wickedly. “This will be your punishment for your boldness, but anyway, thank you for having provided such valuable documents.”
Maddalena turned around and suddenly, her fingers found the knob which wasn’t before - but she couldn’t open the door. A wave of darkness swallowed her and saw nothing more.
“I want you to explain all of this to me immediately!” After the mercs dragged Maddalena’s motionless body to the dungeons, an enraged Giselle faced her daughter, shaking the bundle of documents in her hands. “These papers are very old, Bathsheba! Where did that slut get them from?”
“They belonged to her former boss, Daniele Monteleone, a mafioso who, in turn, had got them from his uncle, Cardinal Ercole Monteleone.”
“Vatican archives! Nothing less than that, Bathsheba! Why were these files in the hands of a whore?”
“A move she made against her boss, but that doesn’t matter anymore. Give them to me.” And she reached for the papers, but Giselle pulled the bundle away from her reach.
“No, I won’t! I’m mad at you, Bathsheba! You know what’s here? Bullshit! Myths and legends about that Order and that goddamned Lilith...”
Bathsheba’s eyes sparkled. “It’s the second time you blaspheme. Beware; there mustn’t be a third.”
“For heaven’s sake, daughter! All this is affecting your brain!” Giselle threw the papers on the table and took her daughter by the shoulders. “Look, honey... try to understand me. I’m a woman of science and I don’t care about these obscure myths. Gertrude had already managed to poison your mind with these fantasies and so I got rid of her.... I thought you’d forgotten about all this crap!”
Bathsheba looked at her relentlessly... and for the first time Giselle was scared. She feared her. She ran her hand across her forehead, stunned. “What have I done to you to hate me in this way, my daughter? Didn’t I granted you everything you asked? The kidnapping of that Hindu child, to send Hugh with her mutilated fingers together with a message to the British explorer...what did I do wrong?”
“You don’t trust me, Mother. You’re failing me.”
Giselle slumped in the chair. “You know why your father died? He died because he was dazzled, like you, by prophecies and other claptrap. He thought his only chance was to seize Lara Croft and breed a child with her! You can see he was wrong. He didn’t need that British bitch to breed you, my daughter, Karel’s daughter!”
Bathsheba shivered, since she was repeating the Goddess’ words.
“And what about releasing that bastard?” Giselle continued. “Why did you bring him to me? Sounds good to punish that insolent redhead, but you know he’s mine... he’s mine! And I won’t let you to take him away.”
“He no longer belongs to you, Mother. He′ll die soon if you keep torturing him. He’s sick and severely damaged.”
Colour rose to Giselle’s serene face, which suddenly contorted into a grimace of hysteria. “I won’t leave him until seeing him cut into pieces, did you hear me? I’ll snatch up his last breath of life. I don’t know what happened to you, Bathsheba, but for the last couple of days you’ve been too rebellious... remember we’re a team, okay? You risked a lot to find and capture him in Cappadocia... Don’t tell me after that, you’re thinking of setting him free!”
“I never said anything of freeing him.” Argued Bathsheba, smiling enigmatically.
Giselle sighed. The beauty reminded her Karel himself so much with that attitude, so mysterious, so cold and at the same time... so contemptuous. As if she no longer served. As if she couldn’t enter her game. “You talked about stopping his torture and taking him out of the cell. Not going to play cat and mouse with you, daughter. I’m tired of trying to decipher what you say and what you mean. Whatever you say, that prisoner’s mine and he must pay for what he did...” She walked up to her and took her by the shoulders again. Bathsheba always wore long flowing robes that left her soft shoulders bare, and when touched, the cold felt was as if ice rather than blood ran in her veins. “Sometimes, I think, Bathsheba, your father’s death doesn’t mean anything to you. I say this because you stay pretty neutral about it...”
“I don’t feel love nor hate, as you know. These fits of rage and passion you have are very picturesque, but they don’t suit my kind.”
“Your kind! Your kind who are dead! Who died because of murderers like that goddamned Kurtis Trent! Why don’t you realize you’re alone? Why don’t you realize when I grow older and die, and so all us, you’ll go on living forever, and you’ll be alone because there’s no your kind?”
For a moment, the serene expression of Bathsheba’s beautiful face was replaced by one of bewilderment. Yes, she knew, but she’d never thought about that so... seriously. “If that’s what it must be...”
Giselle smiled triumphantly. “No. It won’t be.” She stepped back a few steps and looked at her: “Every time I see you, you gladden my soul. You’re the most perfect creature on Earth. I created you... and now it’s time you knew the truth.”
But Bathsheba didn’t need her to say that. It was written in her mind, very bright, shining wrapped in wisps of smoke. “No!”
“My experiments are trying to create another being like you, Bathsheba. A partner. A male Nephilim to take care of you and to provide you offspring.”
The beauty recoiled, her eyes glowing like green embers. “You can’t be serious!”
“Of course I am! What did you think I’m doing, undergoing development, tissue reconstruction, studying of the mechanisms of pain and healing? Learning about cancer? No, daughter, I was serving the Cabal, as always!” She smiled and walked over to her, but Bathsheba went back, as if disgusted with her contact. “It’s true I don’t have your father’s wonderful genetic material anymore, but I no longer need it, since I have yours! I finally managed to isolate enough material to mix it with my own material and repeating the experiment...”
“Will you get pregnant again?” Bathsheba couldn’t believe her ears.
“Of course! And I’m sure this time I’ll have a son! A brother and husband to you...”
Incest, then thought Bathsheba, Cosmogonic Incest. What did Aunt Gertrude tell about that? Demons were born of incest...
“... in two years, maybe less, he’ll be ready for you. You’ll never be alone again and you won’t be in danger. You can breed and grow again. This was Karel’s dream, and Eckhardt’s, and all of ours dream! And I, a humble woman who nobody took seriously, will perform it. Aren’t you glad?”
The Nephilim looked at her, dumbfounded. Should I be happy, mother? You have decided to deliver me as a concubine to a creature yet to be created. You decide for me without consulting me. “Mother, you swore you′d never do that. Only I can be Lilith’s daughter. There won’t be another. Loneliness doesn’t matter. But I won’t be a simple womb to breed beings like me.”
“Yes, I swore... but I lied. You wouldn’t have let me go on... c’mon, Bathsheba, you must consider that...”
Without deigning to keep listening, the beauty turned and crossed the wall, but not before seizing the documents. She was so absorbed she forgot to go invisible and Ralph saw her coming out through the wall. The shock prevented him from sleeping for several nights.
“Bathsheba!” She heard her mother yelling in the distance. “Someday you’ll thank me!”
It was night at Bran’s castle, and its three occupants were sleepy, but none of them felt like going to bed.
Zip, to whom the continuous glow of his laptop’s screen had left dark circles under his eyes, absently rubbed his ear as he heard Marie’s voice over the loudspeaker: “... we prefer not to risk the three Shards by putting them together.” Said the Navajo woman, whose face appeared on screen. “If Lara fails in her mission and she’s captured, at least they would be still missing the third one, so that even if they destroy the other two, the Nephilim would still be at risk...”
“...if they don’t kill poor Kurt.” Zip sighed, rubbing his eyes this time.
Marie shook her head sadly. “Of course. Lara captured the spy sent by the Cabal and has forced him to reveal the location of their new stronghold. They will depart within two days and I’ll go with them, so for some time we won’t be in touch...”
“That’s madness!” Suddenly exclaimed Selma, appearing behind the hacker and scaring him to death. “They have all their men there...!”
The Navajo woman took a solemn expression. “We’ve no choice, Selma. Looks like Kurtis’ badly injured or even dying. In addition, Justin’s squad will escort us. If we need to go into battle, we’ll do.”
“Can I quit now?” Then asked Marie. “I’m not used to this kind of stuff and I’m getting nervous.”
“Just saying to you,” Selma said, lifting a finger, “Vlad has already got the precise coordinates for the location of the Vortex’s entrance. If you let me... another madness.”
“You think I don’t know?” Marie sighed, exasperated. “But it would be easier to convince a stone! Lara’s more stubborn than me!”
Selma pushed Zip aside and half sat in his chair: “Couldn’t they have located that Hell’s entrance elsewhere? Please, Marie! You know the number of permits, visas, steps, fake names, identities and garments need to...?”
“I get the picture, Selma, but it takes what it takes. Both Vlad and you are good at getting this kind of stuff. Don’t fail us.”
The Navajo woman hung up and Zip sighed. “Finally, princess.... just you and me again.” He stroked her hair flirtatiously, but Selma wasn’t feeling like cuddling. She got up, upset, and said: “I’ll keep company with Vlad for a while. Poor thing didn’t sleep last night.”
Zip snorted. “I’ve slept as little as Mr. Smarty-pants. Who’s been connecting you these two weeks?”
“I know, I know.” She said absently, kissed him on the cheek and hurried to leave the room.
The hacker sighed, put on his screensaver of topless girls and headed to the couch to rest a while.
Maddalena slowly began to regain consciousness. At first, finding herself lying in a wet, rocky ground, surrounded by a heavy, stifling atmosphere, she panicked - she could see nothing. Crawling and touching around her, she felt what seemed to be thick iron bars. She stepped back, stunned, and then she stepped on a motionless body on the floor. She yelled in terror.
“Careful, darling.” A hoarse voice whispered at close range. “You fall over him, you’ll kill him off.”
“Who’s there?” She cried hysterically.
“Calm down. My name’s Marcus and I’m a prisoner like you, so I’m not going to hurt you. That man you stepped on is my partner in misfortunes and the only time he can rest is when he’s unconscious, so I suggest you to lower your voice.”
“Where am I?”
“In the Island dungeon. I’m sorry, my dear, but abandon all hope. Now you’re among the losers.”
Now that her eyes became used to the darkness, she began to outline some shapes. She saw Kurtis lying on his side at her feet, motionless and silent, and through the bars, in front of her, a decrepit old man in rags looking at her curiously. “You’re pretty... shame such a lovely girl down here with these two wretches. The Lady has come before and told me what you’ve done. Why have you been so foolish? You were supposed to be seen and not heard, and you’d continue wearing nice white coats and sleeping on a mattress. Now nobody can help you. You’ve been very, very foolish.”
She sat down next to Kurtis. “What I did, I did it for love.”
“Ah!” Marcus sighed. “That explains a lot. But love won’t save you.”
“It will save him.” She replied, and although she seemed to be reassured, her eyes were filled with tears.
The old man approached to the bars and stretched his arms over Kurtis’ body. He closed his eyes and moved his hands as if to caress him, but his hands were actually well above the body.
“What are you doing?” Maddalena murmured, surprised.
“Trying to help. Now hush, don’t distract me.”
Poor man, thought the Italian, he’s lost his mind down here!
Marcus spent some time moving his hands over Kurtis’ body as he dropped some Latin chant under his breath. And even as she watched, fascinated, she realized Kurtis seemed to breathe better and even his skin colour went from grey to pink. It was as if his lungs were clearing. She moved closer to him and felt his skin sweating if expelling the fever out of his body.
“Don’t touch him!” Marcus said softly. Then it was over - he withdrew his hands and sat down, exhausted, as if he’d make a great effort. Kurtis shuddered and sat up slowly. In the darkness of the dungeon, Maddalena heard his deep voice next to her: “Told you not to waste your Gift on me, old man.”
“I’m supposed to do this for you, not for anyone else. Without me you’d be already dead.”
“You’re not doing me a favour.”
“It’s the most I can do. Wish I could heal your wounds completely, but I’m not a Nephilim. I’m sorry for your hands... they’re destroyed.”
Kurtis shook his head and then noticed Maddalena, sitting against the wall, staring at him. “What are you doing here?”
“Taking your place.” She whispered. “It’s over, they won’t hurt you anymore. They promised. It’s me who will pay for you.”
“What the hell does that mean?” He said confused.
“They... I mean, she... wanted documents owned by Monteleone. I found this place and I pretended to be a medical assistant... then I saw what they did to you and offered to exchange the documents for your safety. And they will, but unfortunately, I’ll pay for you.”
The Lux Veritatis shook his head again, still confused, and said: “Wrong, Maddalena. You can’t trust them. I told you to leave... what have you done? Give them something to ease their way... for me?”
“Stop lecturing her.” Marcus said, sleepy. “Damage’s done and the girl can’t go back. I wouldn’t complain if I had such a pretty woman that crazy for me.”
Maddalena blushed violently and pressed closer against the cell’s wall, but Kurtis said no more. She heard him moving and then noticed he was putting a soft cloth in her hand. “Cover yourself. If not, within days you’ll catch a fever and Marcus won’t be able to take care of both of us.”
“It’s you who should take it...”
“No, thank you.” He cut with a mocking tone.
The cloak was wide, soft and warm. Maddalena wrapped herself in it and fell asleep while thinking how wonderful it was what Marcus just did with his hands...
“There it is.” Hugh said, exhausted. “That’s the Island.”
Lara nodded, left the handcuffed man on his seat and told to the pilot: “Don’t come any closer. They could see us.”
Justin, sitting in the passenger seat, looked at her concerned.
“What about the other aircrafts?” The pilot said.
“Stay high.” Lara replied. “I’m going to jump.”
Justin unbuckled his belt and went to the fuselage’s gate, where she was adjusting the parachute over the wetsuit she wore.
“Did I already mention that’s madness?”
“Not you, but Marie did a hundred thousand times.” Lara said, pointing over her shoulder to the Navajo woman, who guarded the captive spy with sulky expression. “Don’t worry, Justin. If they discover me, I’ll switch on Zip’s communicator and you’ll come for rescue.”
“Are we supposed to shoot at discretion?”
Lara paused for a moment. Then she just adjusted the straps. “There are probably lots of people imprisoned in there. Don’t shoot unarmed civilians.”
“Got it. Well, girl, good luck. Hope that Kurtis is worth the risk we’re taking!”
Oh yes, he’s worth it, thought Lara as she opened the gate and fixed her gaze on the wide sea in which she was going to sink, of course he’s worth it.
She fell for a few meters with arms and legs stretched out, and at some point opened the parachute. The water hit her hard, and soon she’d detached the chute pack and was diving at full speed toward the Island, hoping no one had seen her fall.
The closer she got, the more fascinated she felt with the untouched appearance of this rocky outcrop. While swimming, she kept thinking how great was the perseverance of those bastards... they had been defeated twice and regenerated like a severed liver. It was time to finish them... forever.
After a while and feeling already exhausted, she saw the rocks of the cliff, the foundations of the Island. She plunged further and looking up towards the surface, she noticed someone throwing something to the water from the cliffs - something like elongated bundles wrapped in strips of cloth. She quickly deduced what it was when a group of sharks pounced on them and tore through them with their teeth... the water instantly turned red and she thought she′d seen a human arm floating in the water.
At least, she thought in disgust, these poor wretches will get the sharks away from me.
Lara swam until the flow dragged her into a kind of inner cavern. Out of the water, she spat out the nozzle for the oxygen tank and left it against the rock. She groped her way through the slippery rock and lit a flare. The British explorer had no idea about where she was going, but logic told her that if there was a vulnerable point in that particular Alcatraz, it must be this one.
She walked through a narrow tunnel slipping with moisture, and after a while, she bumped against thick iron bars. A prison? She couldn’t go further - to access, she would’ve had to blow it and that meant being heard. Then Lara thought better and risked to call.
“Hello!” She said. “Hello! Anyone can hear me? Is this a dungeon?”
You silly, she scorned herself, of course it’s a dungeon...
She would’ve recognized that deep voice, now broken by pain, among thousands of voices around the world. It was Kurtis’ voice.
“Kurtis!” She yelled, peering through the bars, but she couldn’t see anything beyond her own nose. A blast of stinking hot air struck her in the face. “Where are you?”
“You too, Lara!? Have you gone completely crazy?” His voice sounded distant, and apparently something prevented him for coming near, since she still didn’t see him.
Suddenly, an old man’s voice sounded, someone she didn’t know: “Are you another woman in love with this martyr of the Order? For then we’ll be four down here...”
“Lara!” It was Kurtis again. “What are you doing here?”
“Cut it out.” She growled. “I haven’t come alone...”
“A rescue!” Jumped the old man, excited. “You hear? They’ve come to save us! Wake up the beautiful redhead; we’ve got to tell her...”
Lara step back from the bars, bewildered. Redhead? “How many are you there?”
“Three.” Gasped Kurtis. “The one you can hear is Marcus, and there’s also Madd... Giulia. We’re in a cell complex enough away from where you are, we can hear but not see you. And we can’t come closer.”
She nodded. “I’ll have to blow up the entr...”
“Son, I know you enjoy playing the martyr’s role,” Marcus groaned, “but I wouldn’t mind to be rescued. And so this pretty girl, huh?”
Kurtis sighed, frustrated. “If you blow up the entrance, within minutes they will come. Lara, there must be another way...”
Suddenly they heard a metallic screech. The dungeons’ door opened and at the time, a hated and feared voice rang in the dark. “What the hell’s the meaning of all this racket?” Giacomo Sciarra shouted.
Radha climbed to the window using just her right hand - the left one was so swollen she even couldn’t scratch herself - and scanned the serene sky.
One moment ago, a matter of minutes, she′d just seen a shadow falling from the sky and landing in the sea. Of course, all this would’ve seemed a vision to her village people, but those people hadn’t seen the sea as she was seeing it now and, if there was a vast expanse of water so blue and so pure, sure there were shadows that fell from the sky and crashed into waves.
The Indian girl had been on the lookout for if she saw more shadows. She wanted to confirm her theory, so she waited patiently but saw nothing. When she was about to leave, disappointed, she noticed something in the clouds. They were like birds... huge birds, with stiff wings. Radha had good eyesight and sensed that those birds weren’t normal. She stared open-mouthed at things no one had been privileged to glimpse into her village.
What Radha was seeing were British Army aircrafts.
“You like them?”
Letting out a shriek, the Indian girl broke loose and fell, overturning the stool she was supporting in. She turned and began to tremble.
There, in one corner, was the beautiful lady who sometimes visited her - especially at night. Radha feared her more than the evil woman who’d cut her fingers, because she spent minutes staring at her in silence and smiling - and that was creepy. Worst thing was she′d no idea how the lady came in. The door never opened when she went in there.
Radha stood still while the Lady approached, her sandals making a soft sound when touching the floor. She withdrew the curtain with her fingertips and scanned the sky. “Aircrafts, Radha.” She whispered softly. “Specifically, war aircrafts. These are machines that people use to fly... mortal people who claim to enjoy a skill that nature hasn’t given to them.” She dropped the curtain. “You know who are on those aircrafts, Radha?”
The kid didn’t answer. She watched her in silence.
“Friends of your beloved Lara. She has come to rescue both you and Kurtis. Now she’s in the cells trying to find a way to release the prisoners.”
Radha continued looking at her with that anguished face, typical of those who have suffered in silence for a long time.
“Yes, dear child, you were right. She has come. But I fear she won’t make it.”
“Leave her alone!” That was a cry of anger, resentment. The girl had risen.
Bathsheba looked at her: “Oh yes, I intend to leave her alone, little one. Yes, I’ll leave her really, really alone...” She smiled coldly while Radha glared at her. “You want to go with her?”
And then the door opened. No one had opened it - the bars simply withdrew by themselves and slowly separated from the metal jamb, revealing the empty hallway.
Bathsheba extended her arm. “Go. Run, little one. You may have chance to meet and greet her...”
Radha didn’t think twice - her heart and mind, still childish despite the early maturity of her body, didn’t see the hatched deception and threw herself at full speed down the hall. When she realized, in horror, she didn’t know where to go in that huge building, she stopped, stunned, and then she heard again the beauty’s sibilant voice: “If I were you, I wouldn’t waste time. It may be your last chance to see her... before I take her away.”
The metal door slammed shut, preventing her from returning to her room. Bathsheba was gone, and Radha was alone in the hallway. Free, but not knowing where to go.
“Doctor...” Ralph looked hesitant and frightened at his boss. The rest of the staff who contributed to Giselle’s experiments was there in the boardroom: alternative medical assistants, orderlies, scullery - all in awe, looking at her. “Doctor.” Ralph repeated, clearing his throat. “Let me tell you... this is absurd. Patients are alone in their chambers and...”
“The doors are closed and locked, right?” Giselle replied dryly, raising her green eyes from the table.
“Then they can’t leave there. Security systems are operative and guards are in place.”
Giselle sighed, rolling her eyes blank. She rose gracefully from her chair and rested her hands on the table. A focus light from the ceiling was making her shine so white and blonde. “Have I ever given you any reason to mistrust me? In what have I missed you? In what have I disappointed you?”
“In nothing, Doctor.” Hastened to say another scientist, who’d great admiration for Giselle.
“If you all place such confidence in me - and I’m human and I can be wrong - the more you should trust my daughter, who isn’t human and therefore doesn’t make mistakes. If she has said the Island will be attacked and we must take refuge and stay here, so be it. Got it?”
Everyone nodded, and then Giselle left the room and closed the door. With a discreet movement, she locked and keyed the security code.
In the corridor she met Schäffer, who was waiting patiently.
“Are all your men warned and at their positions?” She asked.
“Yes, Mistress. Except for that spitfire Sciarra, I’m afraid he’s walking through the cells.”
“She’s there.” A soft voice murmured. Bathsheba had appeared close to them. She wore a long white dress with wide sleeves and a golden cloak with hood. Giselle had never understood her flamboyance in dress; rather than get a modern attire to avoid suspicion, she preferred to dress like a feudal lady of the Middle Ages. The doctor thought the Nephilim might feel more comfortable with clothes that allowed her to hide her delicate face, as Karel had always felt comfortable wearing black.
Neither needed to ask who she meant by “she”.
“That Italian goon caused all sorts of problems since I took him for service.” Muttered Schäffer. “I don’t know, Lady, what you saw in him. Yes, he’s strong and relentless, but he’s tolerated very little discipline. He spends his free time picking fights between my men when he doesn’t go down to the dungeon to annoy the prisoners. Not that I complain about this, but I’m not used to giving so much freedom to one of mine...”
Bathsheba stopped him by raising a hand. “Giacomo Sciarra is, like Giulia Manfredi, an essential piece in my game. Both are in place on the board, and where they are placed is where I want to see them. Don’t question me, Adolf.”
He bowed respectfully. “Never, my Lady.” Then he reached out with the secret hope of touching her fingers, but she pulled her white hand back and made it disappear into the sleeve fold.
“Heaven knows I allow this because I believe in you.” Giselle muttered then. “But I don’t understand the purpose of this pantomime. Let’s catch that insolent bitch and give her an exemplary punishment before her lover’s eyes.”
“That’s what you would do, Mother, but be patient. Lara Croft has carved her own perdition, as Kurtis Trent. She’s fallen into the trap because she’s clouded with human passions.”
“And did you need to use Hugh as bait?” Giselle. “What if that British hag kills our best spy? He’s very dear to me!”
Bathsheba smiled, baring her white teeth. “Gertrude was very dear to me also, Mother.” She hissed.
The doctor paled, upset, but before she could answer Schäffer said: “My Lady, when should I give my men the order to intervene?”
“Lara Croft will decide.” The Nephilim smiled, mysterious.
“What the hell does all this hubbub mean, huh?” The Italian growled. “You want another session with the press, to see if you stop howling?” He went on, turning on lights, and froze when seeing Maddalena huddled on the floor and wrapped in a beautiful cloak. The woman had woken up and looked at him with an expression between fearful and surprised. “Mamma mia! The slutty redhead! You came to serve our guests?”
“Vaffanculo!” She hissed.
Sciarra, in reply, came up brandishing the bar. “Now I’ll show you who rules here...”
“Hey, you!” Cried a voice near the cave. “Why don’t you mess with someone your own size?”
The Italian paused, surprised, and as he approached, he saw Lara through the bars.
“Mamma mia!” He mocked again. “It’s a fucking family reunion! You care if your friend Sciarra entertains you for a little while?”
“Doesn’t look like you can do much through these bars.” Lara triggered him.
“Watch this,puttana!” Sciarra wasn’t very clever and the little intelligence he had was spoiled when triggered. He fell easily into the trap and pulled out a false bar - the only weakness of the gate. He threw the bar down and said: “Come here you fucking bitch - if you dare!”
Lara dared. She slipped through the gap and ducked in time to dodge the first blow. Then she headbutted and knocked down her opponent.
Maddalena had stood and watched the scene with wide eyes. Above the metal rings of Sciarra’s bar she could hear Marcus whispering: “Son, if you don’t try now, it will be late!”
“I know.” Kurtis whispered, exhausted.
Lara was struggling with Sciarra, trying to snatch the bar. He was stronger, but she was swift and pulled him off with a kick in the stomach. The Italian rolled on the floor.
“Well done!” Marcus cried, enthusiastic. “Beat him for me, darling!”
“Giulia, get away.” Kurtis said, standing in front of the cell’s door.
“What are you up to...?”
Then a shriek pierced the air. Sciarra had been hit on the groin. It was enough for Lara to push him back and grab the bar. “You’re all talk.” She gasped. Her lip was bleeding. “I beat you once and I won again.”
Suddenly, he stood up and ran to the door.
“Don’t let him raise the alarm!” Marcus shouted frantically.
Lara went behind him, but he’d slipped away.
“Go after him, honey! He’ll bring the others!”
She nodded and disappeared down the corridor. It all had happened so fast she’d no time to notice the prisoners, all the while she’d been guided by their voices.
At that moment the cell door violently disengaged from its hinges and crashed against the opposite wall. Maddalena screamed in terror. “What was that?”
“Congratulations!” Marcus shouted. “Now my turn!”
Kurtis nodded and after a few seconds, also the other cell door went flying. Then he stumbled and fell, exhausted, as if he’d trouble in breathing.
“Dio!” The redhead screamed again horrified. “What’s happening?” But nobody listened to her.
The old man sped away from his cell and patted Kurtis’ shoulder. “Perfect, perfect! That was pretty nice considering your weakness. Although you could’ve done this from the beginning...”
“We had no chance before.” The American gasped. “Now, if it’s as she says...”
Maddalena was looking one to another, without understanding anything. She just knew they had to move, since apparently her only option was no longer to be tortured and die to save the man she loved. Theother woman had come to save him by herself.
“Turn off that bloody light.” Kurtis grumbled to the old man. “It’s burning my eyes - and I’d rather Lara not see me like this.”
“If she manages to save our skins, she’ll end up seeing you anyway.” Marcus obeyed and looked to the hallway. “Uh-oh. Here she comes.”
Lara’s shadow appeared in the gloom. Kurtis recoiled instinctively, hiding himself in the dark.
“He escaped!” The British explorer muttered, wiping blood from her mouth. “That Italian closed a door in my face and has blocked it. We’re now at their mercy.”
“You shouldn’t have risked yourself.” Kurtis murmured.
“I wasn’t willing to let him beat you...” Then Lara noticed the woman beside Marcus and muttered. “Maddalena? What on earth...?”
The redhead just stared back at her with her serene amber eyes. Lara felt an unpleasant tingling in the neck, as if looking up from her bed sheet and finding a snake there. What was she doing there?
The old man cleared his throat: “Darling, time will come for presentations. You′ve now to think how to get outta here, because this coward will alert the entire Island, so I propose to proceed by way of the cave. We can go around the Island by the rocky coast. Will give us time.”
“I can’t swim!” Maddalena cried, aghast.
“And I hardly remember how to.” Marcus scoffed. “But as I can’t go through walls, I’ll have to try my chances.”
Lara sighed and said: “I’ve a British Army aircraft unit hovering over the Island. They’d better not to threaten us.”
The redhead groaned and Marcus laughed dryly.
“I expected you’d do something like that.” Kurtis said.
“That’s fantastic! Brother, I really like this new friend of yours. C’mon!” Marcus started walking towards the grotto. “Let’s take a race to those sharks!”
“Sh ... sharks?” Maddalena gasped. Suddenly, the idea of escaping didn’t seem so nice to her.