The main tunnel was wider and taller than the intersecting crosscut through which Lara and Ryan had traveled. Lara swept her infrared light up and down the tunnel. About fifty meters down from them two men were seated behind a low wall of sandbags. They were looking in the opposite direction. So Benjamin was right. Carlos didn’t know about the crosscut.
Lara turned to signal to Ryan about the guards but he had already seen them. He dropped to one knee, aimed the Micro Tavor and fired two bursts of three rounds each. The suppressor limited the sound to mere pffft-pffft-pffft. Ryan picked up the six spent 9mm cases and advanced in a careful half-crouching run towards the position of the dead guards. Lara turned to face up the tunnel in the event that reinforcements were headed down. A few moments later and Ryan was at her side. He was carrying an H&K G3A4 assault rifle and a radio.
“Hold this,” he whispered and handed her the radio. “Let me know if they do a check-in.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to lay a little trap for the trappers.” Ryan pulled the detcord from his pack and headed back down to the sandbag emplacement. He was only gone for a minute according to Lara’s watch but it seemed so much longer to her mental clock.
“Get ready to fall back to the crosscut,” said Ryan.
“Are you sure it’s wise to use explosives down here?” Lara whispered.
“Don’t worry, I know my stuff. It’s just enough to get them off balance. Now move.” He fired several bursts from the G3 down the tunnel and then followed Lara into their hiding place. The radio traffic picked up immediately.
“Who’s firing?! What the hell is going on!” Ryan smiled as he listened. Lara could tell why. Their voices betrayed anxiousness and the immediacy of their radio traffic betrayed a lack of discipline. Whoever was down here they weren’t professionals. They were just pretenders with guns. But pretenders with guns are still deadly, Lara reminded herself.
“Everybody check in!” an authoritative voice finally demanded. The check-in was far from orderly with a few groups having to call in two or three times after being cut off by others. Lara counted six groups.
“Pires, check in…Pires, check in!”
“How the hell did they get past us?” another voice shouted.
“Never mind that. Wilson, Oswaldo, get down to Pires’ position. Tavares double back and we’ll catch them in the middle.”
“Or shoot each other dead more like it,” Lara whispered. Ryan gave a little snort. It took two minutes for the men to come to the position.
The radio came to life shortly thereafter. “Pires is dead. Alexandre too.”
The authoritative voice on the other end swore. “Tavares you didn’t see anything?”
“Nothing. This man has to be a damn ghost.”
“He’s not a ghost dammit! There is no such thing!”
“Let’s change his mind,” Ryan smiled. He detonated the detcord. Lara followed him back into the main tunnel. One of the men had been thrown clear of the blast. Ryan dispatched him with two shots. He then fired off a few more bursts with the G3. “That should leave them wondering.”
Lara heard footsteps behind them. “They’re in the tunnel! Seal it! Seal it!” The man in charge had sent an additional guard unannounced. Perhaps they’re not pretenders after all. The guard dropped his radio and brought up his rifle. Lara dropped to one knee and fired a burst up through his abdomen.
Boom! Lara heard the sound of explosives being detonated just before she felt the compression shockwave knock the air out of her. She struggled to breathe and then came another sound that poured adrenaline into her blood. Falling rock.
“The tunnel’s collapsing. Run!” shouted Ryan. He grabbed Lara’s arm and yanked her to her feet. They sprinted ahead. The falling rock was so close behind Lara could feel the dust in her mouth. After a few seconds it was over.
“Ryan?” Lara coughed.
“Yeah, I made it,” Ryan sputtered. “That sounded pretty big. I think my trap might have weakened part of the tunnel.”
Lara waved her light over the rock fall behind them. It was hard to make out with all of the dust but the rock appeared to go all the way up to the ceiling. And judging by how far they’d run Lara figured there was no way they were digging their way out any time soon.
“We’re trapped down here,” Lara said flatly.
“I was afraid of that,” Ryan replied. “I shouldn’t have let you come.”
“And who was going to get you through the traps?”
Ryan fumbled in the darkness and took hold of her hands. “That’s just it. Neither of us had to come. We could have run away. We could have found some place to escape from it all.”
“And let the demons control the world?” Lara whispered.
“That wouldn’t matter, as long as we were together.”
Lara squeezed his hands. “But we’re together now. And that’s enough.” She leaned towards him. In the darkness she could tell that he was doing the same.
“They made it through!” shouted a voice. Shots rang out in the dark confines of the tunnel. Lara felt a searing heat at her neck and another in her abdomen. Ryan cried out. Reflexes born from many hours under Lott’s tutelage kicked in. Lara brought up her Tavor and fired bursts in the direction of the attackers’ muzzle flashes. Ryan had done the same. Lara felt another bullet graze her leg. She kept firing until all the flashes had stopped.
Lara’s ears were ringing. The smell of powder hung thick in the air. Ryan was coughing next to her. “Lara?”
“Ryan, are you hurt?”
“I think it went clean through my shoulder.”
Lara pulled out the medic’s kit and placed it by him. “We’ve got to move quickly. There are sure to be more on their way.”
“Lots more,” Ryan replied. “Lara! You’re hurt!”
Lara had been so worried for him she’d forgotten her own injuries. “I’ll bandage you up and you do me. Deal?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Ryan chuckled and then groaned. “Let’s do you first. Yours are more serious.” Lara sat down and Ryan knelt next to her. He gave Lara a shot of morphine and then applied a hemostatic dressing to her neck. He checked her abdomen. “I don’t feel an exit wound,” he said softly. “I don’t think I can get the bullet out. Not in time.”
“So patch me up and let’s go,” Lara ordered.
“If you move the bullet might shift. It’s damn close to your liver as it is.”
“You’re not leaving me here,” Lara growled.
Ryan undid his vest and jacket and applied a dressing to his shoulder. “I’m not going to risk losing you.”
“Ryan, there’s little chance of any of us getting out of here.”
“A small chance is enough for me.” Ryan set the medic’s kit in her lap, shouldered his Tavor, and set off up the tunnel.
“Ryan!” Lara yelled. “Damn you!”
She reached into the kit and pulled out a pair of forceps. She carefully inserted them into the bullet hole to probe for the bullet. The morphine had kicked in but it was still very uncomfortable. Up the tunnel Lara heard the throaty chatter of G3s on full auto.
“Dammit!” Lara pulled the forceps back out. It was no good. Without light and some way of seeing what she was doing there was no way of safely removing the bullet. She was already losing blood and risking infection as it was. Lara rubbed down the entry wound with antiseptic and applied a hemostatic dressing. She repeated the procedure for her leg.
“Let’s make a fine end to this whole mess,” Lara groaned as she gingerly got to her feet. She heard more G3 bursts, this time farther away. I’m coming Ryan. If nothing else we’ll be together in the end. Lara shoved a fresh magazine into her Tavor and moved up the tunnel at a half-limp, half-run. After about 100 meters she found three men dead. None of them were Ryan. Lara heaved a sigh of relief and kept limping ahead. After another 100 meters the tunnel opened up into a large chamber about ten meters wide and fifteen tall. Several dead bodies lay on the floor, illuminated by the glow from dozens of torches set in brackets along the walls. In the center there was a tower of old scaffolding leading upward. Parts of it had been recently reinforced with new rope or replaced altogether with aluminum ladders.
Lara started to ascend the tower. Her leg and side were throbbing. She pushed it out of her mind and kept going. Lara was half-way up when she saw someone coming down. She grabbed her Tavor and took aim…
“Ryan?” Lara whispered.
“Lara, I told you stay put,” he said through gritted teeth. “Why did you come?”
“Why? I-I—what are you doing? Did you find Carlos?”
“Get out of here, now!” Ryan growled. He was almost down to Lara’s level.
“Ryan, what’s going on?” Lara demanded. Then she saw that he was carrying his katana unsheathed. His jaw was clenched, his eyes were no longer steel blue but rather a shade approaching black.
“Go, damn you!” Ryan spat. He swung at Lara with the naked blade. Lara stumbled backward and the sword stroke narrowly missed her neck. Ryan swung again, this time straight down. As Lara dodged to the left one of the old scaffolding planks gave way and she tumbled down to the next level. The force of landing knocked the Tavor out of her hands. Her side was pounding now. Ryan began to climb down.
“If you don’t leave, I’m going to have to kill you Lara.” Ryan sounded detached and cold now. His face and tone of voice didn’t match at all with the words he was speaking. It didn’t match him. Lara felt like someone had poured a bucket of ice water all over her.
“Ryan, you don’t want to do this,” Lara insisted. “This is not you.” Ryan landed on her platform, sword in hand. Lara shambled backward. Ryan struck again. Lara cried out involuntarily as the tip of the blade sliced her left arm.
“Of course this isn’t me,” Ryan grated. “What are you going to do about it? Kill me?”
“I’ll think of something.” Lara jumped backward and, grabbing hold of the platform edge, swung down to the next level. Ryan started to climb down. As soon as he was on the ladder Lara heaved at the base and toppled him. He landed, rolled and was back on his feet. He aimed a stroke at one of the ropes supporting the planks below Lara. The whole platform gave way dropping Lara and Ryan onto the chamber floor. Lara coughed and clutched her side. She could feel fresh blood soaking her shirt and jacket. Ryan slowly got to his feet. He fished through the wreckage of the platform for his katana. Lara rolled onto her knees and then crawled for the nearest scaffolding pillar. She pulled herself to her feet. Ryan pulled the katana from under a mess of boards and started toward her. Lara’s right hand automatically dropped to her hip. It found the reassuring grip of the H&K USP Tactical. Has it come to that? Lara wondered. How else do I stop him?
Suddenly the contents of an old leather-bound tome that reeked of musty air and relentless decomposition leaped into her mind. It seemed like ages ago that Ryan had showed it to her—the Rules of Demonry.
Lara knew what she had to do.
Lara picked up one of the broken boards and held it out in front of her like a shield. Now it was all in the timing. She couldn’t go toe to toe with Ryan, not in her current state. Ryan aimed a left-to-right cross-body stroke at Lara. She parried with the board. Ryan struck again with a high diagonal cut. Lara blocked and then sidestepped in an effort to get around Ryan but her leg gave way and she stumbled, landing heavily on her back. This is it, thought Lara. Ryan brought the katana behind his back and then brought it straight down in an executioner stroke. Now!
Just as the blade came to her head Lara shoved the board up and forward into the stroke. The katana—designed for slicing not chopping—stuck into the board. Lara rolled to her knees and then half-hobbled to the nearest scaffolding pillar. Summoning all that remained of her gymnast’s body, Lara began to climb. Ryan put his foot to the board in an effort to dislodge the blade. The middle platform was almost in Lara’s grasp. She reached for it but blood from the cut on her arm had slicked her hand and she couldn’t hold on. Seeing this, Ryan left the katana and started to search the floor for where Lara’s Tavor had fallen. Lara stepped out onto a broken crossbeam that was barely jutting out from the pillar in an effort to get closer to the platform. She reached out with her good arm and caught hold of the nearest board. Just then the crossbeam gave way and Lara was left dangling.
“There you are!” exclaimed Ryan. From under a jumble of boards and rope Ryan pulled the Micro Tavor. He shouldered the weapon, aimed at Lara, and squeezed the trigger.
Ka-Chick. Ka-Chick. “Come on you piece of--.” Ryan swore. He tore at the magazine and the action to try to unjam the weapon.
Lara took a deep breath and performed one of the most difficult pull-ups of her life. Lara clawed her way onto the platform and collapsed onto her back, her chest heaving with exertion. She heard the Ryan reload the magazine and this time the action came back cleanly. Time to move. Lara willed her body into an upright position and she started on the ladder as 9mm bullets slammed into the platform below her. One penetrated the wood and hit the small toes of her right foot. Lara gritted her teeth and kept ascending until she was at the platform below where she assumed Carlos was projecting his demon. She heard Ryan moving around below her, trying to get a better shot but given the dimensions of the chamber, there was none. Lara drew her USP Tactical and climbed up the last ladder.
Carlos was kneeling in the middle of the topmost platform. His eyes were closed. His face was contorted and sweat poured down his cheeks and nose. The Idol sat by his side. Lara took aim and Carlos’ eyes shot open.
“Lara! Watch out! He’s released me!” Ryan shouted from down below. Lara squeezed off one round that hit Carlos’ forehead. She knew it wouldn’t kill him but it was cathartic.
“Turn around,” Lara heard a voice inside her head say. She turned around.
“Go down the ladder,” the voice ordered. Lara went to the ladder and started down.
“Kill Ryan Caruso,” the voice commanded.
No. Another voice countered. I won’t do that.
“Kill Ryan Caruso,” the voice insisted.
I don’t want to.
“Kill him!” the voice screamed.Lara looked down. Ryan had reached the first platform. She took aim with her pistol. No. No. No. Lara fired. The bullet grazed Ryan’s head. He staggered for a bit, looked up at her, and then started on the next ladder. Lara fired again. This bullet hit him in the calf. Ryan cried out and struggled up the ladder.
No. I can’t. I love him.
Ryan made it to Lara’s platform. His face was bathed in sweat and blood. Lara could feel the muscles in her arm and hand convulsing. It felt like someone was trying to push her arm upward and she was trying to keep it by her side. Ryan hobbled to the final ladder. “Lara, whatever happens to me, you’ll keep going. You promised me.”
“Don’t promise him anything. Kill him you fool!”
“I promise,” Lara forced the words through clenched teeth.
Ryan started up the ladder. Just as he disappeared out of sight Lara felt her arm relax and the voice leave.
“Lara, help!” Ryan pleaded.
Lara climbed the ladder as quickly as her wounded body would allow. Her side was on fire now. The bullet had probably done its final damage. If this is to be my end, I will make it a worthy end.
The sight that met Lara’s eyes at the top of the ladder was a ghastly tableau vivant—a motionless, Herculean struggle of good against evil. Ryan stood, sword in hand, looking straight at Carlos. His arms were tensed like he was trying to crush the hilt. His lips were pulled back over gritted teeth in a feral snarl. Carlos knelt, eyes screwed shut, face twisted into a gargoyle’s grimace with the hint of his shark-like smile at the corners of his mouth.
Lara clambered up the remaining ladder rungs. She rested on one knee, panting, before she raised her pistol and fired three shots straight into Carlos’ chest. Ryan was released. He pulled back on the sword and sliced Carlos’ head clean off. In one motion, so concerted as to appear rehearsed, the freshly decapitated Carlos’ slumped over, Ryan sank to his knees, and Lara collapsed.
“It’s over,” Lara gasped. She turned her head to look at Ryan. He was muttering something in Latin that she couldn’t quite make out. “Ryan what—.” A dark cloud began to emanate from Carlos’ headless body. It covered Ryan. His body began to convulse. He fell on his face—his mouth open, forming soundless words.
“Ryan!” Lara screamed. She crawled over to him. His writhing became more violent. He was on his back with hands outstretched one moment and the next he was on his face with arms and legs twitching and twisting. He howled like a wounded animal and then gasped like a fish trying to draw breath on dry land. Tears fell from eyes that appeared to see nothing.
“Ryan! What do I do? Tell me what to do!” Lara cried. Ryan continued to writhe. Lara grabbed her pistol and shot Carlos’ body again and again. She fired two rounds into the head and sent it flying off the edge of the scaffold. She spent the rest of her magazine firing into the Idol to no avail. Ryan suddenly thrashed his legs sending Lara sprawling. She flipped over just in time to see Ryan draw his pistol and force it to his head.
“NO!” Lara lunged forward to grab the gun. She tipped the barrel as Ryan squeezed the trigger. Ryan’s body relaxed. “No. No. No,” Lara whispered. She put one hand over the wound but she knew it was too late. Her last second gambit had only delayed the inevitable. Ryan’s eyes met hers. They were the same sad steel-blue eyes that she remembered.
“Natalie?” Ryan whispered. He extended one hand and touched Lara’s cheek.
Tears flowed from Lara’s eyes. “Yes, Ryan. It’s me.” She closed his hand in her own.
“I-I—,” Ryan gargled. Blood from his wound was beginning to fill his throat.
“Shh,” Lara whispered. “Rest now. We’ll be together soon.”
“I…love you. F-forgive me.” Ryan let out a long exhale and then he was gone.Lara felt totally empty. She didn’t even have the strength to cry. She lied down next to Ryan and watched the torchlight dance over the ceiling. “We’ll be together soon,” Lara whispered. Just before everything faded to black Lara thought she heard voices in the tunnel below her.