Tomb Raider: Lilith's Scepter

Memories In The Distance

The British Museum was full of life and activity. However, it wasn’t time for visits – as it was then ten at night. That night the museum held an academic conference for the most prestigious figures of archaeology and all sorts of historians. And for a good reason: Lara Croft had returned from India with the statue of Durga, and far from keeping it for herself, as rumoured by evil tongues, she’d kept her promise to donate it to the museum.

Everything was ready for the event. One of the rooms had been set up with a platform and a pulpit with microphone, in front of several rows of seats occupied by various celebrities who whispered to each other.

The whispers stopped as soon as the British Museum director came to the pulpit and turned on the microphone. “Good evening.” He said as an opening. “As you know, tonight we’re gathered here to witness one of the greatest donations to our museum in recent years. The statue of Durga was lost for years and many people assumed it was a non-existent treasure. Now we have it here, but it’s not me who will talk about this historical jewel. Ladies and gentlemen, here she is: Lady Lara Croft, Duchess of Saint Bridget.”

There was a round of applause.

Dammit, thought Lara as she climbed on stage with her most charming smile. She hated with all her forces to be called by her title, which sounded pompous and bombastic, lacking any personality. But it was a necessary evil she was forced to use in those high places, as the British aristocracy tolerated no commoners among their ranks.

When she got to the microphone, a horde of flashes almost blinded her. She heard murmurs and whispers as she was being analyzed in detail. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” She said cheerfully, still smiling, showing off her impeccable oratory. “I’m delighted to be here tonight.” She threw them a kind glance while thinking: Hope you like what you see, you bunch of picky sycophants.

Truth be told, her looks were captivating. Nobody knew for sure how old she was, but everyone agreed she was touching the forties. However, Lara seemed almost ten years younger, tall, beautiful, slim and lovely. That night she wore a blood red evening gown and her hair was piled on top of her head, with two small wavy tresses framing her face.

Lara was loved by many and hated by many others. The UK’s single aristocrats were still sticking to capture a minimum of her attention and it was said she received thousands of daily marriage proposals from around the world – and that she always rejected them all. Some paired her with that serious and mysterious man who’d been with her two years ago, during a trial for Werner Von Croy’s murder on which she was the main suspect. But she hadn’t been seen with him anymore, and she kept silent about that as with all personal aspects of her life.

“Well,” she continued. “As Jack the Ripper said, we’ll go by parts.”

There were some chuckles and many others felt shocked. Delighted with the fuss, Lara made a sign to a couple of workers who were ready to place an urn covered with a velvet curtain at her side. She approached and, removing the cloth, uncovered the beautiful statue and left them all silent.

“Flash photography is forbidden from now.” She sternly warned. “It could damage the statue. This is one of India’s most beautiful pieces. According to ancient Sanskrit texts, this statue of Durga, goddess of war and revenge, was at one of Khajuraho’s temples, built during the Chandella dynasty between 950 BC and 1050 AD. But the statue was stolen, probably by bandits, worshipers of the goddess, and hidden in a lost temple somewhere beyond Lucknow. I studied some maps and came to the conclusion that the temple should be there because it was a place where no one except the bandits would have dared to approach. I found the temple, and hidden in a false room, the statue.”

If that fussy public expected some rough details about the dangers she’d faced, about potential enemies or traps harbored at that place, they were left unfulfilled, as Lara moved quickly to examine the statue.

“As you can see,” she said presenting it with a broad movement of her hand, “the fact that its value is incalculable is something obvious. The goddess is carved entirely out of pure ivory, opaque due to its age, while the tiger which she rides on is carved in mother-of-pearl. So these are two assembled parts. The tiger’s eyes are rubies, and emeralds are the goddess’. The exquisite filigree which the clothes are carved in and trappings of Durga are dotted with small sapphires. The arms of the goddess seemed to have been broken down and reassembled with great success. Each scimitar-wielding arm is forged in gold. In fact, it’s a jewel of Indian art.”

After a murmur of approval, a new round of applause and a warm handshake by the satisfied Museum director, Lara prepared to leave the stage, but then she heard a voice saying: “What could you tell us about that little girl you’ve brought from India? Is she adopted?”

Lara frowned. Of course, it was a journalist gossip from the press. “Her name is Radha Deli, and she’s not adopted.”

“Why then did you bring her? Would she not be claimed by anyone?”

“In India she’d achieved the status of a grown woman; and she’s a widow, so nobody will be interested in her.”

There were pleased murmurs. Lord Croft’s daughter didn’t know what to do to get attention. Now she devoted herself to rescuing Hindu widows from their doom!

“Some mouths have said she’s your daughter, born on your previous trips to India. Is that true?”

“Some mouths like yours, right?” Lara snapped, quite dry. “According to these kind of mouths, Mr. Nobody, I’ve more than twenty children scattered throughout the world, and as many abandoned lovers.”

“But then...?”

“Another question like that, and I’ll take no longer than five minutes to find out who you are and whom you work for. And once I find out, you won’t work as a journalist for the rest of your life.” The cold, sharp tone of Lara’s voice silenced every murmur. The unfortunate journalist raised, red as scarlet, and left the room muttering incoherent excuses.

The tension in the atmosphere was dissipated when the director immediately adjourned, and then people moved to another room to dwell with a dance. Lara, though she was an excellent dancer, politely declined all offers by hopeful men, and went to one of the balconies to breathe and get rid of some of that stifling aristocratic atmosphere which chased her everywhere.

Selma Al-Jazeera was leaning against the railing. Lara leaned next to her.

The Turkish archaeologist had changed a lot. She was a pretty girl, with bronzed skin and dark eyes and hair, like most of Turks, and she’d become more cheerful and active, but the veil of sadness that clouded her eyes hadn’t withdrawn at all. The loss of her beloved ones and her work in Cappadocia was still a sorrow that corroded her inside.

“You’ve been wonderful.” She said with a twinkle in her sweet black eyes. “I love when you put those rabbles in their place.”

“Oh, well.” Lara said, making a fuss. “You know how those people are. They look at me drooling but deep down they’re thinking: Here goes that harlot Lara Croft! She lives like a thug while her family dies of shame.”

“That’s not true.” Protested Selma, who loved Lara. “And so what if it was? You’re better than all of them together, with their titles and their armorial bearings. But let’s leave this. You’ll tell me where you got that girl.”

Lara thought for a moment. “I don’t know why I brought her. I came across her and she was willing to let herself die. Some people there are like that, they say it as if it was a joke but if you lose sight of those, they soon are already dead. I guess if I had left her, she would now be dead, or would’ve been found by her people and be given a worse death.”

“Poor child!” lamented Selma. “Sometimes I think I’m very lucky.”

Lara looked at the moon, absent. She thought to entrust Radha’s custody to some institution - since she hardly saw herself taking care of her, and she barely heard what Selma said about women’s abuse in different parts of the world. After a while, however, these words got her out of her reverie: “Haven’t you seen him again?”

“Huh? Who?”

“Don’t play dumb with me, Lara. You know. Him.” Selma exhibited a mischievous smile. The Turkish woman was a hopeless romantic and she enjoyed trying to coax from Lara what she meant to hide.

“No. I haven’t seen nor heard anything about him.” She replied, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable.

“It’s been two years, Lara. Two years! Seems like yesterday when Meteora’s monks brought him to me, wounded and burning with fever. What do you think happened to him?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t even asked myself about that,” Lara lied, rather willing to be slapped before recognizing she hadn’t spent a single day without thinking of him, and sometimes even dreaming of his mischievous smirk and his piercing blue eyes. “He surely has forgotten about me. He’d too many problems and concerns.” She shrugged, as if she didn’t care, then turned and left the balcony. She didn’t want to talk about him.

Selma’s last words came to her mixed with the rhythm of a waltz: “I don’t think so!”

Marie Cornel went to the courtyard and shaded her eyes with one hand. Mexico’s blazing sun fell without mercy on the dark and leathery skin of the Navajo woman.

Marie was close to sixty, but nobody would’ve said she was an old woman. The long hair, which in her youth was black as a raven’s wing, was now streaked with silver strands, but her body was still slim and firm, because of having spent most of her life fleeing to save both her and her child’s life in a tireless pursuit.

Living such a hard way, toughened by suffering, continuous risk and fears, with nothing but her own instinct inherited from her Navajo tribe. Marie Cornel, wife of a Lux Veritatis and mother of a Lux Veritatis, had survived when the War of the Shadows had swept away the entire Order and their families. And she’d made it because by being the only one with the courage to separate from the man she loved, hoping to give her child a chance. Others were afraid, remained with their people...and died with them. Not Marie. She fled and kept on running away, as her child grew up and became strong, in the same way she’d learned to harden in order to not succumb to pain and despair.

She sighed and shook her head to ward off dire thoughts. She shouldn’t feel sorry for herself; she was the lucky one, not like those who’d died. “What do you see, Kurtis?” she murmured with a smile.

In the center of the courtyard was a man in his thirties, crouched next to a motorcycle, dirty with motor oil and a wrench in his hand. Upon hearing the familiar question, totally a slogan for him, he turned to Marie and growled: “I see a damn engine pissing me off.”

She laughed and sat on the porch top step, playing with the dreamcatcher hanging from her neck. “I don’t know what you see in this hellish machine...doesn’t give you nothing but trouble.”

“Black horses are not fashionable anymore, so I’ve to make do with this.” He replied sarcastically, getting up and wiping the dirt on his pants.

Two years ago he’d returned and released Marie from her long captivity, not as real as a mental one, an obsessive idea to run and hide from an enemy that no longer existed, that wouldn’t chase her anymore. Then Marie discovered she had got used to living in hiding, mixed with people of her tribe in an unpleasant reserve. Reintegrating into the world had been difficult and somehow she was still a lonely soul, so lonely and closed off to the outside as her son was. In those two years Marie had established herself at that rancho in Mexico and was engaged in cattle breeding and being a healer and midwife for the locals, who respected and loved her. Kurtis visited her at times, but never stayed for long. Marie never spoke of him to anyone and for the rest of the world it was like he didn’t exist. There was no physical resemblance between mother and son, and therefore nobody could relate them. He truly resembled his father.

“When will this end, Kurtis?” She sighed, again discouraged. “For years you hadn’t been in peace. Did you seriously plan to kill all the demons in the world? Even by living a hundred lives you couldn’t make it. When will you rest?”

“When dead and buried.” That was his dry response.

Marie got up and approached him. He was again focused on the engine. “I’ve had enough with losing your father, and I didn’t even have a body to bury.” She said with a steady voice. “I did not fight for years to protect you from the Cabal so that you can now ruin your life in a struggle that has no end. The debt to your father is more than paid off; you killed his murderer and ended the Cabal. That should be enough.”

Kurtis didn’t answer, and Marie knew she wouldn’t make him talk. He’d always been frugal to talk and when he insisted on not doing it, he was like a brick wall.

“Where are you going this time?” She tried again.

“New York. The press reported strange creatures in the sewers and some petrified corpses have been found.”

“Basilisks?” She suggested.

Kurtis shook his head. “Basilisks wouldn’t leave the sewers to hunt, even at night. The attacks were deliberate. It’s a Gorgon.”

“A Gorgon!” Marie gasped. “It’s too dangerous!”

“If I don’t find her before others, it will be a mess. Also, you know I’ve dealt with worse. Well,” he happily announced, rising and dropping the wrench, “this is it. Let’s not wait any longer for that damned Gorgon.” He put his arms into a barrel of water and washed his face.

“Y’know? Lara Croft has appeared on television today.” If Marie expected some reaction from her son, she was disappointed. Kurtis kept on by washing himself as if he’d heard nothing. “She seems to have returned from her travels with a statue. I heard a story about the recent donation to the British Museum. She’s such an extraordinary woman. The Amazon’s prophecy could’ve only been referring to her, since it was amazing how...”

Kurtis turned slowly, grinning, halfway between weariness and sarcasm. “Please, mother.” He said, emphasizing the last word. “Tell me what you’re getting at or I’ll die of curiosity. And that would be a shame, after all I’ve survived.”

Marie sighed. How well he knew her. “You’re like your father. He might have had as many women as he wanted, but he only loved one. And even if you’re not an expert in giving details, I know you still remember her. I don’t know how you could...” She hesitated.

“Let her go?” Kurtis finished the sentence.

She said nothing. She had noticed in his voice a dangerous tone.

“Can’t believe you’re telling me that at this point.” He said. “You abandoned my father to save my life and you didn’t see him again for years.”

“I did it because the Cabal was attacking our beloved ones to torment the Order’s members, as you well know! I had to leave him to avoid them hurting him through us. But I never, never stopped loving him.”

“Well, that’s why I want Lara away from this. I won’t ever have peace, you know.” Marie lowered her head when he said that. “She’d already done too much for me. She doesn’t deserve what I’m going through every day.”

“So I ask you to leave this way of life.”

He shook his head, smiling bitterly. “Already tried that, remember? The Legion. And yet there they came for me and you know I’m not talking about the Cabal. They won’t leave me until I die.” And throwing the rag he had been using to dry his wet hair, he went inside, slamming the door.

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