Marie Cornel left the tent and worriedly scanned the desolate landscape. It hadn’t been yet an entire day since Lara disappeared, following Kurtis across the ruins of the Sibilla temple. The Navajo woman knew nothing since then and didn’t expect news any time soon - her life experience didn’t bode anything cheering.
Sighing, she turned and was about to enter back into the tent, where Radha was waiting, when suddenly something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye.
A man emerged from the ruins and walked slowly, slowly towards her. He was wrapped in a kind of torn fabric, randomly taken from somewhere, and also carried a body wrapped in a similar garment in his arms. When he was close enough for her to recognize him, Marie went on to race and overtook them.
“Kurtis!” She cried, and clutched his arm. “What ...?”
For a moment, she was so surprised by his sudden appearance that she didn’t realize when she touched him that she couldn’t feel the usual warmth of her son’s body, his higher temperature, compared to ordinary mortals, due to the Gift. She also didn’t realize he was rather cold, icy, and almost shivering.
The person wrapped in his arms had her head against his chest and was still. Marie half removed the cloth that covered her and found the familiar face - relaxed, covered by a long, thick brown hair.
“What’s wrong with Lara?” The Navajo woman muttered, and without waiting for an answer, checked the pulse in her neck and breathing. She seemed fine, but...
“She’s only unconscious.” Kurtis replied laconically. “She won’t wake any time soon - better not to disturb her.”
Then Marie realized that he was shivering. She looked at him, dumbfounded. “You’re freezing?” She stammered. “You? It can’t be...”
“Doesn’t matter now.” He interrupted, and walked towards their tent. Ignoring his mother’s questions and protests and before Radha’s surprised and lively glance, he entered the tent, laid Lara on one of the cots and wrapped her well with the cloth because – they noticed at that moment - she was naked underneath, like him. Then he turned and dropped himself into a nearby seat, without uttering a word.
“For all spirits’ sake!” Marie yelled, exasperated. “What the hell happened?” Kurtis stared at her for a moment. He was cold, very cold – and he also looked surprisingly young. The Navajo woman noticed, stunned, that his age marks, his grief, and even his old scars, like the one across his eye, had disappeared. He seemed ten years younger. And he was shivering, even though they were in the desert and the sun had risen.
“We’re fine.” He merely added. “The three of us.”
Hours later, when Lara opened her eyes and returned to the world she’d left, safe and sound and with a gap in her memory she couldn’t fill, another figure emerged from the ruins, also dressed in what she could find. She staggered out, stunned by the new earthly sounds and sensations she was beginning to feel. She collapsed on the sand, searching for something with which to injure, took a sharp stone, and cut her forearm. A new sharp pain shot through her skin, and then red, warm and bright blood flowed from the wound - which didn’t heal right away, as she’d expected.
Bending over herself, she screamed.
“You’re freezing.” Lara reached out and grabbed Kurtis’ wrist.
He smiled. “I’ve been frozen for hours.”
“You used to be a boiling furnace.” She scanned his face. “And I remember you more...”
“Older. You look younger. Like, several years younger.”
“Nice.” He was still smiling. Was he making fun of her?
The man reached out, picked up the small mirror he used to shave and put it before Lara’s face, who looked at her reflection, startled.
“You see. You’re also younger.”
The British explorer frowned, pushed the mirror away and snapped: “Tell me what happened.”
“What do you remember?”
She pursed her lips and then said: “I... a demon attacked me, broke my arm. Then I was dragged up to an altar...” And she shrugged in frustration.
Kurtis leaned back in the chair. “Perfect, then.” And suddenly he winced, for Lara had unloaded a punch against his shoulder.
“How dare you? Tell me what the hell happened, why we’re back, where the others are, why you’re cold and we look younger!”
“So many questions at once.”
Lara stood up, furious, and tossed aside the cloth that wrapped her. Then she began to dress furiously. “Well then. I’ll find out.”
“I doubt it.”
“Where are the others?” She insisted.
Kurtis sighed. “Why do you ask? They’re dead.”
She looked at him in astonishment. “Dead?”
“Giulia,” he recited, sadly “the old Marcus, even that harpy Giselle. Only the both of us have survived...the three of us, sorry.” He corrected, smiling, pointing to Lara’s emerging - and intact - belly.
“Why did they die?” She murmured. “Wait, no... I was the one who died ... right?”
He shrugged. “Me too, and the child, if you insist. Doesn’t matter anymore. We’re here.”
“Don’t say it doesn’t matter.” She reached again. “You’re icy. What happened to you?”
“I’m cold now. Guess my temperature will be descending to the normal level.”
Lara looked at him inquisitively. Then, already dressed, she took a brush and began to fix her hair furiously. “You lost the Gift.”
“Clever girl.” He smiled.
“Why? Something tells me you’ve given it voluntarily.”
“Maybe.” He was making fun of her. How dare he?
“You’ve renounced the most valuable thing you had. Why?”
“It wasn’t the most valuable thing I had. I delivered something I hated in return for the most valuable thing I really had. Good deal.”
“Your Gift in exchange for our lives?” Lara said, stunned.
“No.” Kurtis smiled calmly. “My Gift only in exchange for the chance to return. You see, in that world I wasn’t that special. The death of the others is which allowed us to return. A life for a life.” And then his expression turned into sadness. “I’m so sorry for them, but I’m afraid Marcus had made his choice long ago, when he knew how all would end. And Giulia, poor thing, she decided that at the last moment.” He looked away and shook his head.
“She gave her life for you.” Lara muttered, braiding her hair quickly. “And Marcus did it for our child, for the hopes and dreams he’d put into him. But who gave it for me?”
They looked at each other, and then Kurtis smiled with a bitter grimace. “See, in the end, even Giselle was useful.”
Lara laughed. “Giselle? She wouldn’t have willingly given her life for me, not even in her most atrocious dreams.”
“You said it. She hadn’t given it... willingly.”
A thick silence fell in the tent. Outside, Marie and Radha were also suspiciously quiet, listening attentively.
“Why are we so calm?” Lara said bitterly. “This is horrible.”
Kurtis leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. “I know. But what can we do.”
Lara looked at him carefully. He was younger, even more attractive than before if possible, but now he was a man like any other. There was nothing special in him... nothing compared to that fabulous Gift. He’d gladly delivered it as payment for the price of blood.
“You have to tell me more. All of it.”
“I will. But now gimme a break. I’d never felt better.” He smiled without opening his eyes. “Everything’s settled now.”
She took a long time to coax all from him, but there were things he never would tell her, despite threats, shouts, and even punches she used. Kurtis never told her how she’d died, or what happened to Bathsheba. Furthermore, some of those details were left to matter when they learned that Selma had awakened from her coma, and apart from a slight confusion, she was well, as well as could be expected.
Lara was furious at being unable to remember, without knowing that gap in her memory was a merciful gesture, a given grace, from which one Kurtis was not sure whom to thank.
Anyway, they had much more important things to care about.
One year later
Lara and Radha were sitting on a park bench in downtown London. The young Indian girl was elegantly dressed, and beside her, Lara looked like a distinguished, but unrecognizable lady. It seemed a good time of rest, except that Radha was crying.
“You let go of me. Now that you have a baby, you don’t want me anymore.”
“Don’t be silly, Radha. I took care of you while I could. But you know we’re not the right people for you. Look what we did to you.” She lifted the girl’s hand, revealing her terrible mutilation.
“That was not your fault.”
But Lara didn’t want to discuss more and relaxed, waiting calmly. She had it all thought out. She was satisfied with her efforts - finally, she’ll do something good for Radha.
A white silhouette walked through the park, towards them. She was a woman, also very elegantly dressed, with her face hidden by a hat. She was up to them and politely greeted with a nod. Radha, her eyes full of tears, barely looked at her.
Lara then elbowed her. “Radha, here’s the person who’ll take care of you from now on.”
Trembling, the Indian girl looked up. At first she thought she was dreaming. She wiped her tears and studied with attention that face. There was something wrong with it, no doubt. Her expression was rigid, strange, as if she’d changed her face to one that was not hers. She was not pretty, she seemed spoiled, however, those eyes were powerfully familiar to her.
Then, the woman spoke in urdhu. “Radha, my little Radha, do you recognize me?”
The girl had been paralyzed, to immediately identify her voice. Was it possible? However, she remembered her face, torn, disfigured. That woman had to hide behind a veil to not scare away the soldiers she needed to visit to survive, because her family had given up feeding her. That face was not there, as if it had been uprooted and replaced by another.
“I’m your sister Sita, Radha, do you remember me?”
Without saying anything, the girl jumped into her arms, laughing and crying at once. Lara stood in respectful silence for a moment, then said, addressing to Radha: “Your sister survived, as you can see. Shortly before you were given in marriage to the old man, an NGO working with marginalized women in India asked her to collaborate with them. During all this time she’s been working with them and trying to help people in their hard daily life. A year ago, a plastic surgeon proposed her to restore her face as far as possible. She’s not the face you remember, but she’s her. I struggled to find her, but here you have her. She’d been searching for you tirelessly. Now she’ll take care of you.”
Radha didn’t need further confirmation. The face didn’t matter. It was her - her hands, her eyes, her voice... overgrown, turned into a woman. Beyond the disgrace, they had reunited themselves again
Sita looked over her sister’s shoulder and looked at Lara: “You don’t want money or any kind of favor. So, how to thank you for what you’ve done for us?”
Lara shrugged. “I neither know nor want it. I won’t deceive you: meeting your sister was totally accidental. It never entered into my plans. I haven’t done much.”
Sita shook her head - she’d the same beautiful black hair as her sister- and smiled. “You’ve done more than that. She could have died in the jungle. You picked up my sister, you dealt with her, when nothing forced you to. You kept her at your hand, and then you sought me out.”
Lara shrugged again and smiled. She wouldn’t say she’d no idea why she’d done that. Then she shifted uncomfortably, because Radha had pounced on her, giving her many thanks, and the British explorer wasn’t used to cuddling.
After watching them for a while after the two sisters, embraced at the waist, went away, Lara sighed contentedly, but couldn’t help but grin at the thought she probably wouldn’t see that lovely girl again. “If I could to see myself years ago...” She muttered, smiling mockingly. Again, she put on her hat to cover her face, and made her way back.
Another huge surprise was waiting in her manor hall at Surrey when she arrived. Lara hadn’t been told about it because Winston, very old, lay in bed and was relieved of his duties, although no one could prevent him from constantly checking the crib which since a year ago was in one of the upper rooms.
Therefore, when Lara closed the door of her home and turned around, she was shocked to see her mother, Lady Angeline Croft, sitting stiffly in her guest chair. The old lady was dressed entirely in black and wore a hat with a rack veil hanging in front of the upper half of her face. She raised her eyes and looked calmly at her daughter.
“Mother?” Lara exclaimed, astonished. “What are you doing here?”
The lady pressed her lips in a gesture of indignation her daughter had inherited. “I’m here to meet my granddaughter - or did you think you’d succeed in hiding her from me forever?”
Lara stared at her for a moment - then she shrugged and led her upstairs.
Winston had fallen asleep on the sofa, but Lara’s daughter was awake, clutching the bars of the crib and looking curiously at the old man snoring peacefully.
“It’s good he plays the grandfather with her.” Lady Angeline muttered, and bent to look at the child, who initially stared at her with suspicion, but then warmed to her and began to smile. “Oh, what a smart girl. She recognizes her grandmother. What’s her name?”
Lara, who’d been watching the scene silent and reflective, answered: “Anna.”
“Nobody in our family has that name.” The lady objected, but then she added with a pout. “Although you never cared about the family.”
“Anna’s a strong name.” Lara said, ignoring her remark. “Short, sounds good and it’s nice. Another advantage is that we’ve no one with this name, neither in the family, nor in her father’s.”
She didn’t say that Kurtis had chosen the name, for Anna means “mercy” in Hebrew - and so he considered her a gift, a sign of mercy, as they had been granted a second chance.
Lady Angeline took the child in her arms, sat on the sofa next to Winston, who didn’t wake up, and played with her while watching her intently. “She’s beautiful.” The old lady granted. “She has your hair, like mine before I got old - but these very blue eyes are not ours...”
“Her father’s.” Lara said, and smiled thinking of the immense displeasure of that father when discovering the girl had inherited his eyes. However, and this made her smile again, she’d been born a girl, which would’ve upset Marcus – may he rest in peace - who’d sacrificed himself awaiting the birth of a boy, a new Lux Veritatis. But the Gift which was gone in the father wasn’t likely to be present in the daughter.
Lara noticed her mother frowning. “Her father! Who’s her father? And where is he?”
“He’s now absent, resolving some issues. I’m not talking about him.” She cut abruptly when seeing her mother opening her mouth to protest. “For a high-society lady like you, no one would look good enough for your beloved daughter. Why do you mourn?”
Lady Angeline played with the child, who was tugging her veil, and then whispered: “Your father’s dead.” As Lara was speechless, she added. “He died not even a week ago. I’d have told you about his funeral, but you wouldn’t have come.” And then her eyes welled with tears. “Can’t we start over, Lara?” She begged. “You now have a daughter, and I’ve spent so many years alone... in his last days your father didn’t even recognize me. I feel so sorry about what we did to you. In the end, I never agreed with him, but I couldn’t resist his authority, you know how he was...”
“Too late for that, Mother.” Lara muttered sourly.
Lady Angeline sighed. “At least, don’t deprive me of my granddaughter... allow me to come here and see her...”
“Of course.” She said, shrugging. “Whenever you want. But you let me raise her my way and you won’t interfere in her education.”
The old lady nodded and looked at her granddaughter, who stared at her with her big, beautiful blue eyes.
My name’s Anna. I’m the daughter of Lara Croft and Kurtis Trent.
It took me many years to find out the long story surrounding my birth, and how it all started long before I was conceived accidentally by human standards, but also predestined if you look otherwise.
I say it took me a long time, not because my mother refused to tell me, which she did very soon and widely, since a very young age she began to take me with her, to her journeys and adventures, to the indignation of my grandmother, Lady Croft. And not because of my father, who doesn’t speak even under torture, as I often say jokingly, to the chagrin of my mother - because we all know that at some point he’d been tortured. Gradually I took from him what I could, which was less than from my mother, but he filled gaps about things my mother didn’t know. I talked to Selma and Zip, even I managed to find Radha and Sita, always busy with NGOs, to go filling gaps.
Yet there was still a huge gap in the story, which had to be filled by one last person.
That was Bathsheba.
Neither my father nor my mother knew what had become of her. My mother assumed she’d met with her hellish friends. My father didn’t assume anything, for there was nothing to assume.
But the truth is that Bathsheba had also survived, despite the immense, promised punishment hat Lilith had discharged on her. The Mother had not forgotten Her threat. Not being death more than a brief and painful process and after, eternal peace, She had known how to punish in a worse way Her wayward daughter.
I met her when I was about seventeen, while wandering in an Aztec art gallery that my mother had opened after recent diggings in Mexico. It was there where I saw her, taking notes in front of one of the windows. I recognized her right away. She was already a grown woman and not the young virgin whom my parents had described to me, but she was still immensely beautiful. In fact, all the guards in the room couldn’t keep their eyes far from her. When I approached her, she showed no surprise, but looked at me calmly and even smiled. She knew me very well, as I knew her. I shook her hand, I felt it warm, and I noticed she was wearing a bandage on the wrist, with a slight trace of blood. Red blood.
You see, Lilith had punished her with mortality. Bathsheba, who’d been half-immortal first, then, for the briefest moment, absolutely immortal, had been condemned to be a mortal woman as anyone: exposed to disease, to injuries, accidents, the fragility of human life as it was. The amazing thing is that she’d survived, and I can’t imagine what she must have suffered at first, or if she would have tried to end her life. But there she was, after all, redeemed, as predicted by the old Marcus, who gave his life for me hoping I was going to be a boy.
Life is never what we expect.
Bathsheba, who was neither evil nor wicked, but who’d been simply manipulated by some and others, agreed to tell me what neither my father nor my mother knew. She’d seen and heard everything when she was a Nephilim. Therefore, taking advantage of the absence of my mother who surely would’ve killed her at the spot, I sat beside her during many nights in the Mexico City consulate, and took note of what her sweet voice was telling. Starting, of course, with the thoughts of her mortal mother, the spoiled Giselle, which began thus: “Listen, my little one, because I’m going to tell you a story...”
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