The Woman Of Mist
Lara woke up early. As she always did when this happened to her, she put on a tracksuit and went for a run.
Surrey was a set of several hills which were green in summer and in autumn they turned to golden brown. Lara liked to run right at dawn while the air was still cold. A dense fog floated all around her so she neither saw where she came from nor where she went, which gave her a great sense of isolation and freedom.
She stopped in the middle of a meadow, panting and sweaty. The fog began to dissipate and the first rays of sunlight began to seep through the clouds.
Suddenly, she seemed to distinguish something in the fog - a tall and slender figure. “Who’s there?”
Those lands were her property and no worker should be there at that hour. She started to follow it, but the fog didn’t allow her to distinguish who it was.
The figure moved forward, then walked away, but she didn’t even hear the sound of feet touching the grass. A strange white mist seemed to be flying around the figure, was it a dress?
Lara ran. She was very fast and in a few seconds she should have reached it. But something strange happened - the figure didn’t move, however, she couldn’t reach it. Always away from her, always out of reach, even running, but it didn’t move!
And suddenly, it was in front of her.
Lara screamed in surprise, and amid the mist, a beautiful intricate stained face framed by dark lines and albino hair glanced at her with a pair of empty eyes. A pair of white hands stroked her throat, cold as ice, and the intense perfume of lavender completely flooded her.
Lara squirmed and tried to grab the apparition, but her fingers grasped only cold air. And yet there it was, before her and its albino face which was suddenly horribly familiar to her.
But then she felt like strong pincers on her temples, lost her balance and fell backward, not knowing why she’d lost all her strength. Laying on the ground, she saw the albino lady leaning over her, and then she passed out.
Lara opened her eyes. Surprised, she felt a metallic taste in her mouth and, when she came to, the blood that filled it slipped out from the corners of her lips and thin streaks ran down her neck. She had bitten her tongue when falling.
With gurgling breaths and sore muscles, she looked around - the fog had cleared off the grass and the sun shone fully. Slowly she arose, after checking her tongue hadn’t been damaged severely. The green grass was far too bright and she still smelt the fragrance of a familiar scent...
Upon awakening, an object fell from her lap. She bent down, picked it up, and stared at it for a moment, wondering what it was doing there.
It was a lavender flower.
“Winston? Where’s everybody?” Lara looked around, surprised. There wasn’t a single noise in the house, and that was strange, because although she didn’t want to admit it, she already was used to the fuss made by the Indian girl – who was gradually regaining her childhood while running from one room to another, or hearing Selma humming a few poems in her native language.
The butler feigned an air of innocence. “Miss Deli’s still asleep. Yesterday she ended up very tired by the events and...”
“Yes, yes, yes, but...what about Selma?”
Winston looked down, blushing. He was terrible at pretending. At the end of his small mouth he mumbled: “She’s gone, together with Mr. Trent...”
The venerable Irishman raised his eyes then to fix in sight his mistress’ stunned face, and then saw the dried blood around his mouth. “Miss, you’re hurt! Let me...”
“Forget that, Winston! Selma and Kurtis left? Without saying anything?”
He said nothing more. Choking with rage, she turned and went upstairs like a hurricane. Winston followed her to calm her. “You see, miss, I can explain...”
“I hope so!”
“...Mr. Trent got up this morning ready to go. He wouldn’t say why. You were already gone and Ms. Al-Jazeera had been talking to him for a while. She finally packed up and joined him.”
“But why? After having welcomed them at my home! Both she and that...that...!”
Before she dropped some atrocity, the butler stepped in quickly: “They have left for Turkey.”
Lara couldn’t get over her indignation. She began to strip off the wet tracksuit with fury, forgetting that Winston was still there. With courtesy, the old man opened the door of the closet to hide her from his sight. “Let’s see...” He continued, more and more nervous. “Mr. Trent planned to go to Turkey to solve...some unfinished business. Something about Cappadocia’s necropolis. As you know, Miss Al-Jazeera worked there as an archaeologist...in fact, it seems like she’s offered to help him. And they have left, taking the Periapt Shards with them, just as you wanted...”
“Just as I wanted!? They’ve left without saying a word! Without telling me! How dare they?”
“Well...if I dare, miss...I recall you suggesting Mr. Trent to leave as soon as possible...since you had no interest at all in his business...”
No answer. The closet door moved slowly and revealed Lara’s face, red with rage. She was pretty scary. “I hope you haven’t had anything to do with this plot, Winston.”
But the butler kept staring at the tips of his shoes. Suddenly, Lara felt sure he did have a lot to do with it. Blackmail, of course! But why was she upset? Didn’t she want him to leave? Or might be what really bothered her was that Kurtis had left without saying goodbye, that Selma joined him, giving her a slap to her very face, or might it be that they had undertaken an adventure on their part and left her aside, knowing that was what would most hurt her pride? Or was it all at once?
A bit calmer, Lara said: “I’m going to Turkey. Take care of Radha until I return. If they think they can do this to me, they’re mistaken. Whatever they have to do in Cappadocia, they won’t leave me out of this. Nice to go without me! We’ll see who has the last laugh...” As she got into the shower grunting under her breath, Winston, still with his head down, smiled triumphantly.
Marie returned home at dusk, carrying her bag of old rags. She was exhausted, not having expected one of her patients to go into labor that day, but at least it was all over happily. To be still so skilled at her old age filled her with pride.
The sun had set and a red mist wrapped the house. As she approached, the silence thickened and she heard only her feet rustle against the gravel floor. She was entering the backyard when she saw a white shadow in the corner of her eye.
Marie swerved, and thought she saw a foggy figure melted into the darkness barely moving. “Who’s there!” She shouted.
Silence. Marie left the basket on the floor and walked slowly to the porch. Then again saw a white flash, this time on the other side.
Her instinct, used to react at the slightest danger, prompted her to run for the door. When she yanked and turned to close it, she saw in the doorway a pair of empty sockets in some kind of cerulean face staring at her. With a cry of horror, Marie tried to close the door, but it was unable to move, it seemed to have been barred. The white figure came wrapped in a strange mist.
She didn’t stay to pray or to beg for her life. Realizing this was a matter of seconds, Marie ran into the room, pulled a rifle from a chest and chambered a round at such speed any experienced soldier would’ve envied. Then she pointed to the sinuous haze beginning to enter the room.
“Stay away! Go away or I’ll shoot!” She howled, even though she knew that a firearm might not hurt that thing. An intense aroma filled the air, and she went back, dazed. “Stay away!” She repeated, trying to control her voice’s tremor. An intense cold seized her. Her sight began to cloud. Finally, she pulled the trigger.
There was a dull roar, the bullet melted into mist. Suddenly, the white aura contracted and Marie thought she’d heard a slight groan. There was a deep sound of suction and, as it had come, the apparition vanished.
Marie remained a moment, trembling, her rifle still held up. Then she slowly lowered it. The silence was awful and a strange fragrance filled the room.
Finally, she dropped the rifle and put it on the table. Pressing her lips tightly, she prepared to take her essentials. Used to fleeing, Marie knew that, whatever was that thing, it was looking for her and if it returned, it would be better for her not to be there.
Istanbul, the beautiful, serene city, welcomed her the same way as years before. As she walked through the streets, inhaling the scent of saffron market, Lara remembered. On those same streets she’d headed to contact a young Turkish archaeologist who was taking care of a sick and badly injured man...
Lara shook her head, annoyed. This was no time for longing! This time was different. She felt offended and insulted. Perhaps she hadn’t been exactly polite with Kurtis, but Selma, whom she had taken to England because of her moral trauma of returning to Turkey - how dare she do that to her? She’ll see!
When she reached the door of Selma’s apartment, she was again so upset that she pounded without mercy, shouting: “Selma Al-Jazeera! Open immediately!”
A turbaned old man looked out the window of a neighbouring house, attracted by the screams. He stared, mouth agape, at that blatant British woman making such a fuss. Lara saw him and snapped: “What the hell are you looking at!” The old man hurried to close the window and went inside, shocked, at the time Selma slowly opened the apartment door.
The Turkish girl’s face appeared in the doorway, with a slightly guilty expression on her face. “Lara? But...”
The British explorer pushed past her impatiently, went in and closed the door. “I bet you didn’t expect to see me here, right? But you know that for me halfway across the world is like going for a walk. You can’t escape from me, and I expect a good explanation for this. You didn’t seem so poorly mannered to leave my house that way, as if I were your enemy, after all I’ve done for you. Unless everything has been plotted by that lout Kurtis! By the way, where is he?” She peered over Selma’s shoulder. “Come here and face the consequences like a man!”
“Lara, please.” Selma said with difficulty. “Look at you. For some time now you’ve had terrible behaviour. And stop yelling - Kurtis isn’t here.”
“What a surprise!” Lara laughed sarcastically.
Selma sighed: “Lara, I beg you not to blame him. Everything was my idea...well, mine and Winston’s.”
“I knew it!” Muttered Lara. “What on earth is the meaning of this show?”
“Lara, believe me, this has been the result of your attitude...I’ve much appreciation for you, but, admit it; you’ve been really...unbearable.”
“And seeing you could stand me no more, you left this morning without telling me a word. Not a good way of doing things.”
“We wanted you to reflect.”
“You wanted...? I see, a real conspiracy! Anyway, I’ve not crossed Europe to go back empty-handed. What are you up to?”
The Turk didn’t answer. She went to the lounge and Lara followed her. There she noticed a table covered with maps, drawings, and templates. “Watch...it’s my material. My notes from Cappadocia’s excavation. Remember? I was unable to resume my task. Eckhardt’s attack...Ahmad’s death...I tore it all and destroyed my dreams and expectations. Then I had to flee because Gunderson’s men would have killed me. Now is the time to resume the work I left half-done.”
Lara looked at her as she stroked the schemes of Cappadocia’s stratigraphy, spellbound.
“Last night...” Continued Selma, “Kurtis knocked on my door and told me he was leaving. He wouldn’t give me details, but he was mad at you, Lara. You did wrong by him...yes, I know it’s not my business, but...it really felt bad to witness that. I asked him where he was going...especially because I knew that at dawn, you’d hopelessly wonder about him, even though, in theory, you didn’t care about him at all anymore.”
“How well you know me.”
Selma chose to ignore the ironic twang in Lara’s words and continued: “Kurtis took the Shards. To my surprise, he said he was willing to enter Eden.”
The Turkish archaeologist bent over her papers and took one, which she handed to Lara. She took it and noticed it was a sketch of the galleries in the Nephilim necropolis in Cappadocia. “You see, Lara, the gallery that ends in a cross? The cross points out the exact location of a deep well whose bottom we failed to reach. On that day, we believed that this could well lead to Eden.”
“And Eden is...?”
“What’s that, Lara? Don’t you know? Eden is the name that the Nephilim gave to their great city.”
The silence weighed on the room for a moment, while Lara was still staring at the huge cross. “Eden...” She murmured. “So there was a city under the necropolis. Why didn’t you tell me about this?”
Selma was now as red as a tomato. “Because I was ashamed of it. Ahmad and I believed in the existence of the city, but everyone laughed at us. In theory it was only a myth. But Kurtis told me it’s real. He knows because...because his father had been there.”
Lara briefly rolled the note and dropped it on the table. “So Kurtis has asked you to help him access the dig, as you’re the lead archaeologist, and you wouldn’t want to miss the opportunity to confirm your ambitious theory. So you embark on this without even consulting me, me, Lara Croft! You know how much I love discovering lost places and you wanted me out of that!”
“I knew it would hurt you, Lara. So we left. We wanted you to follow us...well; I wanted you to follow us. Not Kurtis. He’s really mad at you, and he’s right, Lara.” She said throwing her a reproachful look.
“I don’t care about what Kurtis may think about me and of course it’s none of your business.” She replied tartly. “Seriously, how couldn’t you tell me anything?”
“You wouldn’t have listened. Look at you, Lara! Look what you’ve become! You’re beautiful, charming, brave and admirable, but you’re destroying yourself. Why do you behave like that? Why are you doing this to him?”
Lara’s eyes narrowed and after a moment, she whispered: “You can’t understand.”
“Right. I don’t think a single human being could understand you, Lara.” Selma sighed, and changing the subject, she added: “Would you be willing to help me with the campaign, Lara? You’re the best in this matter, and I can’t undertake the search for Eden alone. If you don’t want to do it for him, at least do it for me.”
The British explorer looked again at that cross on the map. Eden. A lost city in the bowels of the earth. Why not? Was this not what she always wanted? Was this not her way of life, was this not that for which she’d been born? She smiled. “Of course.”
Selma’s sweet face brightened. Elated, she pounced onto Lara’s neck and gave her a loud kiss on the cheek. “I knew you wouldn’t let me down! Eden, here we go!”