Lara moved across the silent museum room. Gunderson’s men, the galleries under siege, and a gas mask had been left behind. Now she could breathe at last, but the apparent calm only put her on guard.
That did her little good, for suddenly a weapon similar to those she’d only seen before in booby traps she used to dodge in temples and tombs appeared - a rotating, multi-edged blade. It spun through the air and glowed with strong orange sparks.
Lara turned her face to dodge the shuriken, which stuck to the wall behind her. She looked forward, raising her gun, but then, when feeling the barrel of another gun resting against the back of her head, she cursed herself for falling into a trap.
The British explorer couldn’t see her attacker, who held her from behind and brazenly caressed her with one hand, sliding his fingers down her arm to reach her hand and throw her gun to the floor. Then he reached around her waist to remove the other gun. All this he did while pressing the barrel against her neck.
Lara’s heart pounded against her ribcage and her vision blurred, her teeth clenched in rage as she felt the intrusive hand thrust into her backpack and snatch away the Obscura Painting which had been so hard to get.
If there was something that enraged Lara more than anything else in the world, it was having a rascal before her - in this case, behind her - stealing the fruit of her efforts.
She turned on her heels sharply, ready to twist the thief’s neck, but he was quicker and targeted her again, this time on the shoulder.
For the first time, attacker and victim looked at each other face to face.
Lara recognized him. The man sitting in the corner of Café Metro; the one who, according to the owner, had been listening to their conversation. The same one who’d asked about Bouchard, the same man riding the motorbike, who watched as she dove out of the sewer by Rennes’ pawnshop in flames.
Dammit, Lara thought to herself, he’s been stalking me.
The intruder let her go and slowly backed away. His hair was dark, his eyes blue - and the sullen face of a scoundrel, she thought.
The strange shuriken detached itself from the wall and returned to its owner’s hand. The moment the man turned and ran, Gunderson entered the room. Seeing Lara, he ordered one of his men to shoot.
Lara didn’t stay to take the gunfire - she ran after the man with the shuriken, amidst exploding showcases and precious vases and papyruses being destroyed by the gunfire. For a second, Lara looked back to meet Gunderson’s eyes - then she left the room and didn’t look back.
That insane chase continued - Lara after the thief, and Gunderson and his men after Lara.
She was swift, but to her frustration the fugitive was too, and there was no way to catch up to him.
The man was thinking quickly. He extended his hand and, as if by magic, the doors to the next room flew from their hinges and fell to the floor. Then he threw the rotating blade and cut off two chains linking a beautiful Tibetan gong to the ceiling. The huge disk fell to the floor and began to spin heavily towards the door.
Finally Lara managed to catch up to him, but she didn’t reach him, for suddenly he turned and put one of the blades to her throat, making her stop in her spot.
Again they faced each other. Now the intruder was smiling - with a mocking grin of self-sufficiency that made her rage.
The gong kept rolling inexorably. He removed the blade from Lara’s neck and slipped between the gong and the door frame. Lara slipped after him, but she turned, horrified, when she heard the frightful sound of ribs breaking. One of Gunderson’s mercs had tried to sneak in after her, but the gong had caught him, crushing him against the wall.
Gunderson stepped forward and slammed his fist against the gong, making it ring. The bloody woman had escaped!
Lara ran at full speed down the corridor, no longer seeing the young man. She ran so fast that as she turned the corner, she slammed into the wall.
And then she saw him.
The man was there, quietly sitting on the stair railing. He waved the shiny weapon in one hand, provoking her with his twisted smile.
That scoundrel was making fun of her!
Lara lunged at him, but the thief waved goodbye and fell backward. Lara witnessed, astonished, how the stranger fell down three floors and landed on his feet without even scratching himself.
She hurried down the stairs while he calmly waited for her. Again he was serious - just staring at her.
As Lara got to the first floor, he sped out the door. She jumped over the railing and ran after him – she wasn’t willing to let him escape.
Suddenly she stopped short - the man lay face down on the street. He was unconscious. What had happened to him? Lara approached slowly. If he was playing possum, she wouldn’t be fooled twice. She touched his head with her hands.
The British explorer didn’t see the blow coming. Lara fell to the floor, unconscious, and her body laid beside the thief’s in that cold Paris alleyway, while one of Gunderson’s mercs - or was it Bouchard’s doorman? - watched them.