Marie Cornel left the tent and scanned, worried, the desolate landscape. I hasn't past a single day since Lara disappeared, following Kurtis through the ruins that were the Temple of the Sybilla. She knew nothing and doubted about having news of what was going to happen, or would happen at that instant, but her life experience did not bode anything well.
Sighing, she turned and was about to enter back into the tent, where Radha was waiting asleep, when suddenly something caught her attention out of the corner of her eye.
A figure emerged from the ruins and walked slowly, slowly towards her. He was wrapped in a kind of torn fabric, which seemed to be taken from anywhere, and also carried a body wrapped in a similar garment in his arms. When he was close enough to recognize him, Marie went to the 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 did not realize, when touched him, she did not feel the typical warmth of her son's body, his higher temperature, compared to ordinary mortals, due to his Don. Neither she had realized he was rather cold, icy, and almost shivering.
The figure in his arms, wrapped, had her head against his chest and was still. She half removed the cloth that covered her and found the familiar face, relaxed, covered by a long, thick brown hair.
- What happens to Lara? - she 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. - By the moment she won't wake up, and it's better not to disturb her.
Then she realized that the man was shivering. Marie looked at him, dumbfounded.
- Are you cold? - she stammered - You? But it can't be...
- It doesn't matter now.- he said, and walked towards the tent. Oblivious to the questions and protests of his mother, and to the surprised and lively glance of Radha, he entered the tent and climbed to Lara on one of the cots, and clothed her well with the fabric he had used to wrap her, because – they noticed at that moment - she was naked underneath, like him.
Then he turned and dropped himself into a nearby seat, without a word.
- For all spirits' sake! - Marie yelled, exasperated - What has happened?
He stared at her for a moment. He was cold, very cold. And also he seemed surprisingly young. She noticed, stunned, that his age marks, 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 are fine. - he merely added – The three of us.
Hours later, when Lara opened her eyes and turned to the world she had left, safe and sound and with a gap in her memory she could not fill, another figure emerged from the ruins, also dressed in what she could find. She staggered out, stunned by the sounds and sensations of the world she was beginning to feel differently. She collapsed on the sand, searching for something that hurt, took a sharp stone, and cut her forearm. A sharp, new, pain shot through the skin, and then the blood, red, warm and bright, flowed from the wound that did not heal right away, as she had expected.
Bending over herself, she screamed.
- You're cold.
Lara reached out and grabbed Kurtis' wrist. He smiled.
- I'm frozen for hours.
- You were a boiling furnace.- she scanned his face - and I remember you more...
- Older. You seem to have rejuvenated several years.
- That's 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 herself, startled.
- You see. You've also won several years.
Lara frowned, pushed the mirror away and snapped:
- You gonna 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.
- That's all?
Kurtis leaned back in the chair.
- Perfect, then.
And then he doubled because 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 seem younger!
- Those are so many questions at once.
Lara stood up, furious, and tossed aside the cloth that wrapped her. Then she began to dress furiously.
- Doesn't matter. I'll find out.
- I doubt it.
- Where are the others? - she broke again.
- Why do you ask? They're dead.
She looked at him in astonishment.
- Maddalena - recited him, sadly - old Marcus, even that harpy of Giselle. Only both of us have survived ... three of us, sorry.- he corrected, smiling, pointing to Lara's emerging - and intact - womb.
- Why they have died? - she murmured - Wait, no... I was the one who died ... right?
- 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. I guess my temperature will stabilize soon at normal level of an ordinary person.
Lara looked at him inquisitively. Then, already dressed, she took a brush and began to fix her hair furiously.
- You lost the Don.
- Very clever.- he smiled.
- Why? Something tells me you've given it voluntarily.
- It's possible.
He was making fun of her. How dare he?
- You've renounced to the most valuable thing you had. Why?
- It wasn't the most valuable thing I had. I have given something I hated in return for the most valuable I really had. I say it was a good deal.
- Your Don in exchange for our lives? - Lara said, stunned.
- No. - he smiled calmly - My Don only in exchange for the opportunity to return. You see, in that world I wasn't that exceptional. 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 that choice long ago, when he knew how all would end. And Maddalena, poor thing, she seemed to decide 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, by the hopes and dreams he had put into him. But who gave it for me?
They looked at each other, and then Kurtis smiled with a bitter grimace.
- You see, in the end, even Giselle served to her purpose.
- That bitch? She wouldn't have willingly given her life for me, nor in her most atrocious dreams.
- You said it. She has not given it... willingly.
A thick silence fall in the tent. Outside, Marie and Radha were also suspiciously quiet, listening attentively.
- How can we be 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, he was 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 Don he had. 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 let me be. I had never felt so relieved. - he smiled without opening his eyes - Now I can say that everything is settled.
She took a long time to coax all from him, but there were things he never got to tell her, despite threats, shouts, and even punches used. Kurtis never told her how she had died, or what had happened with Bathsheba. Furthermore, some of those details were left to matter when they learned that Selma had awakened from his 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 on her memory was a merciful gesture, a given grace, from which one Kurtis was not sure whom to thank.
Anyway, they had other things much more crucial to think about.
One year later
Lara and Radha were sitting on a park bench near London's center. 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 amputation.
- That was not your fault.
But Lara didn't want to discuss more and relaxed, waiting calmly. She had 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, alsovery elegantly dressed, with her face hidden by a hat. She was up to them and politely greeted a nod. Radha, her eyes full of tears, barely looked at her. Lara then elbowed her.
- Radha, here's the person who will take care of you from now on.
Trembling, she 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 had 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?
She had been paralyzed, to immediately identify her voice. Was it possible? However, she remembered her face, torn, disfigured. She had to hide behind a veil to not scare away the soldiers she needed to visit to survive, because her family had given up her feeding. She seemed that face was not there, it was as if it had been uprooted and replaced by another.
- I'm your sister Sita, Radha, do you remember me?
Without saying anything, she 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 proposed her to collaborate with them. During all this time she has 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 I assure you she is your sister. I struggled to find her, but here you have her. She had been searching you tirelessly. Now she'll take care of you.
Radha didn't need further confirmation. The face did not matter. It was her, her hands, her eyes, her voice... and overgrown, turned into a woman. Beyond the disgrace, they had returned to rediscover.
Sita looked over her younger sister's shoulder and looked at Lara:
- You didn't want money or any kind of favor. So, how to thank you for what you've done for us?
- Neither know nor want it. I won't deceive you: the encounter with your sister was pure, totally accidental. It never entered into my plans. The reality is that I have not done much.
Sita shook her head - she had the same beautiful black hair than her sister- and smiled.
- You have done more than that. She could have died in the jungle. You picked up my sister, you dealt with her, when nothing forcing you to it. You kept her at your hand, and then you sought out me.
Lara shrugged her shoulders again and smiled. She would not say she had no idea why she had done that. Then she shifted uncomfortably, because Radha had thrown herself on her, giving her many thanks, and she was unaccustomed to hugs.
When watching them for a while after the two sisters, embraced by the waist, went away, she sighed contentedly, but couldn't help but grin at the thought she would probably not see that lovely girl again.
- If I get to see myself so few years ago... - she muttered, smiling mockingly. Again she stalled her hat to cover her face, and made her way back.
Another huge surprise was waiting in her manor's hall at Surrey when she arrived. She 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 ensure the crib that, a year ago, was at one of the superior rooms.
Therefore, when she closed the door of her home and turn around, Lara was shocked to see her mother, Lady Angeline Croft, sitting stiffly in her guests chair. She was dressed entirely in black and wore a hat with a rack veil hanging on her upper face. She raised her face 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 that she had inherited.
- I came to see my granddaughter. Or did you think you would succeed in hiding that?
Lara stared at her a moment. Then she shrugged and led her upstairs.
Winston had fallen asleep on the sofa, but Lara's daughter was awake, clutching the bar of the crib and looking curiously at the old man snoring peacefully.
- It's good he plays the role of a grandfather.- muttered Lady Angeline, and bent to pay attention to the child, who initially looked at her with suspicion, but then got used and began to smile- Oh, what a smart girl. She recognizes her grandmother. What's her name?
Lara, who had been watching the scene silent and reflective, said:
- But nobody in our family has such 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 the criticism - It's short, sounds good and it's nice. Another advantage is that we have no one called like this, neither in the family, nor in her father's.
She didn't said that Kurtis had chosen the name, that Anna means "mercy" in Hebrew, and that she had been called like that because he considered her a gift, a sign of piety, of someone who had given them a second chance.
Lady Angeline took the child in her arms, sat on a sofa next to Winston, who did not wake up, and played with her, watching her intently.
- She's beautiful. - she granted – She have your hair, like mine before I got old. But these very blue eyes are not ours...
- They're of her father. - Lara said, and smiled, thinking of the immense displeasure of that father when discovering the girl had inherited his eyes' color. However, and this made her smile again, she had been born a girl, which would have upset Marcus – may he rest in peace - who had sacrificed awaiting the birth of a boy, a new Lux Veritatis. But the Done who was gone in the father was not present in the daugther.
She saw that her mother frowned.
- 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 she saw her mother opened her mouth to protest - as for a high-society matron like you, no one would look good for your beloved daughter. Why you mourn?
Lady Angeline played with the child, who was tugging her veil, and then whispered:
- Your father is dead. - as Lara was speechless, she said – He died not even a week ago. I would have told you for his funeral, but you would not 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 did not even recognize me. I feel so sorry about what we did to you. In the end, I never agreed with him, but I could not resist his authority, you know how he was...
- Too late for that, is not it, 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 educate her my way and you won't interfere.
The lady nodded and looked at her granddaughter, who stared at her with her big, beautiful blue eyes.
My name is Anna. I'm the daughter of Lara Croft and Kurtis Trent.
It took me many years to find out the long history that surrounded 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 did it very soon and widely, since a very young age she began to take me with her, to her travels and excavations, to the scandal 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 was tortured. Gradually I was taking from him what I could, which was less than obtained from my mother, but he filled gaps about things my mother didn't know. I spoke with 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 should be filled by one last person.
That was Bathsheba.
Neither my father nor my mother never knew what had become of her. My mother assumed she had met with her infernal friends. My father did not assume anything, because 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 excavations in Mexico. It was there that 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 kept their eyes far from her. When I approached to 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. She, who had been half-immortal first, then, for the briefest moment, absolutely immortal, she had been sentenced 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 had 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 the old Marcus predicted, who gave his life for me, hoping I was going to be a boy with strong superpowers.
Life is never what we expect.
Bathsheba, who was not evil or perverse, but who had been simply manipulated by some and others, agreed to tell me what neither my father nor my mother knew. She had seen and heard everything when being a Nephilim. Therefore, and taking advantage of my mother's absence, who surely would have killed her at her sight, I sat beside her during many nights, in Mexico City's 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...”