I'm so sorry for the delay in getting this up! I recently started back at university and my schedule has been so hectic I haven't had a whole lot of free time. There was also a ton of editing that needed to be done on this and it took a lot longer to finish than I predicted.
Having said that I hope this chapter was worth the wait :) Thanks once again for all of the encouraging reviews, guys. There is just one more chapter of this story left so if there are any lingering questions then they shall soon be answered. Or will they? Curiouser and curiouser...
As her own tomb had crumbled around her Lara was consumed with terror. She felt no such fear now.
Death. Desert. Destruction. They had haunted her dreams for so long, she did not know how to live without the shadow of death hanging over her. Everybody that she loved was gone. It would be so easy to join them, to simply give up and embrace oblivion.
Karel raised his glowing hand.
"Send my regards to your lover," he said.
Lara's heart was racing despite the calm of her thoughts. The air pulsated with heat as Karel set loose the searing blast of energy. She could feel it bearing down upon her as it scorched the line of carpeting beneath her feet.
Death beckoned her once again. This time she was ready for it.
Lara opened her eyes.
"Send them yourself."
She picked herself up and dove aside to avoid the blast. Green energy smashed into the pew behind her and shattered it into pieces. The force of the blast propelled Lara clear across the space and slammed her into the opposite wall, knocking over several icons resting upon one of the side altars. Nothing but a smoking hole remained where she had been only a few seconds earlier.
Lara tried desperately to stand up again, but her back was in agony. Somehow she managed to latch a hand onto the edge of the altar behind her and pull herself towards it. She could not see Karel for the cloud of smoke which now arose from the gaping hole in the floor, but she knew that he was nearby. She would die if she did not reach a weapon soon. She knew that she needed to live through this.
Shards of glass still pierced her hands and her back. Lara felt the blood running down between her fingertips as she hauled herself onwards, dropping down onto her knees to crawl along behind one of the pews. Karel had focused a lot of power into his attack. Perhaps his energy would be spent. Perhaps she might be able to head him off at the pass and retrieve her gun from the street outside.
"Where are you going?"
Any thoughts of escape were cut short as a hand seized Lara by the throat. She choked in terror as Karel's sneering face loomed over her. His grasping fingers tightened as she was dragged unwillingly onto her knees.
"Why do you both insist on making me hurt you so?" he hissed. "Why do you wish to suffer instead?"
Lara's theory about his powers did not seem to hold much weight. Darkness was beginning to overwhelm her vision as she felt herself being dragged from the glass-strewn floor with frightening strength. In desperation she kicked out and caught Karel in the stomach with the heel of her boot. It was not a particularly powerful blow, but it caused Karel to stumble backwards and release his grip in surprise. Lara landed hard as he dropped her to the floor, and her legs crumpled beneath her.
Her lungs were on fire as Lara struggled for breath, scrambling backwards in her desperation to get away from Karel. Pain was still shooting down her right arm.
"Give it up, mortal," Karel scoffed. "You are only delaying the inevitable."
Her hands were slippery with blood as Lara reached out and snatched up something beneath her. As Karel bore down upon her she rose onto her knees and lashed out with the shard of glass in her fist.
It made contact with more than just air, and Karel gave a hideous shriek. The shard of glass fell ringing from Lara's hand. Blood began to pour from a horrible gash which ran all the way down to Karel's chin. It had barely missed his eye.
"What I can say?" Lara retorted fiercely. "I guess I had an epiphany."
Karel staggered blindly as Lara hauled back and slugged him in the face. He went down hard. She ignored the pain screaming down her arm as she threw herself on top of him, plunging her hand inside his jacket as she searched desperately for one of the Periapt Shards. It was not long before her fingers brushed against a cold hilt. Before she could grasp it Karel seized her pale wrist and pulled her towards him.
Blood was running freely down the side of his face. In the moonlight his sinister expression was only enhanced by the shadows playing across his features. He held her fast and savagely twisted her wrist with a gloved hand. Lara bit back a gasp. She thought that the bones in her injured arm might break.
"I can see why my race insisted on taking human brides," Karel growled in a low voice, staring deep into her frightened eyes. "So much pleasure to tame."
He kissed her furiously then, his mouth crushed violently against hers. Before she could even react he had shoved her aside and leapt back to his feet with a triumphant smirk.
Lara lay sprawled upon her side, raising the back of a palm to her mouth in disgust. She felt dizzy from pain and just a little bit sick. Above her Karel touched a hand to the bloody gash which ran across his features, his jaw set in frustration. Lara watched in abject horror as the gash closed up and vanished beneath his fingertips, leaving nothing but a line of dripping blood without origin.
Karel had healed himself with only a touch. It was hopeless.
Lara dragged herself backwards upon her bleeding hands, cradling her right arm to her chest with a sharp intake of breath. Despair washed over her as she collapsed back against another pew. She was running on nothing but pure adrenaline. Her face may have been tear-streaked, however, but she was not crying now.
Karel observed her quietly as his hand dropped back to his side. It seemed as if he was about to say something for a moment, but instead he turned around and approached the altar at the head of the church. It was an elaborate structure, mounted with saintly icons and topped with a crown and sceptred cross flanked by angels. Moonlight streamed down from a window set on high as Karel paused before the altar, running a reverent hand across the head of one of these angels. A few dust motes sparkled in the air above his head as they caught the shaft of moonlight.
"Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth," Karel intoned, "and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart."
Lara watched as Karel reached inside his jacket and withdrew the three Periapt Shards. He left two of them resting upon the altar as he turned around and advanced upon her with the third. It began to glow with a strange blue light as he approached, just as it had done during that final battle in the Strahov so long ago. Lara realised what this meant with frightening clarity: the person wielding it was preparing to strike a final blow.
Somehow she pushed herself up onto her knees and punched Karel with all of her might. It did not even slow him down. Her injured arm buckled under the strain of her exhaustion as she attempted to throw another punch. Karel simply caught her bloody fist in his palm. In his other he held aloft the Periapt Shard.
"Did you think it would be so easy?" he hissed. Lara stifled a cry as his fingers tightened their grip and he wrenched her arm behind her back. Karel pulled her close to his chest as she felt the hiss of the cold dagger at her throat. "You cannot fight this, Ms. Croft. A sacrifice is needed. Those who destroyed the Sleeper and doomed my race to extinction must pay the price for their folly. Then the entire world shall burn."
The blade of the Periapt Shard broke skin and drew blood. Lara grimaced in pain and then threw back her neck, smashing Karel in the forehead with the back of her skull.
He let her go with a howl of pain. Her loosening braid whipped across her shoulder as Lara spun around and kicked the Nephilim squarely in the chest. She followed this up with a fierce kick to his face which brought Karel down heavily onto one knee.
"I'm not quite sure you understand the meaning of 'extinction'," Lara shot back. She touched a hand to her injured neck as her opponent struggled again to his feet, the Periapt Shard still clutched in his hand. "Keep pushing me and I will gladly clarify it for you."
"You bitch," he snarled at her.
Lara raised her eyebrows in contempt.
"Perhaps it's just me," she said, "but I think that there are some serious abandonment issues you need to work through."
Karel growled in displeasure as his human features slid away. It was not long before his pale skin was covered in the grotesque markings and indentations of a true Nephilim. Rage burned in his red eyes as he raised the Periapt Shard. His hair had turned a shocking white.
"Enough of this charade," he said. "Let us end this."
Lara stood firm. A smile quirked at her lips.
"Catch me if you can."
And as he came at her again Lara dodged his frantic blows and spun around, landing another hard kick to his midsection. His momentum remained unchecked in his anger. Lara dropped and avoided a second blow with the Shard, rolling with each of his lunges, feinting left and right in order to keep him on his feet. If she could tire him out then he might make a fatal mistake in his anger. It was her only chance.
Yet this game of cat and mouse could not last forever. Lara felt a vicious blow narrowly miss her head as she dodged another of Karel's lunges. She staggered and her rhythm faltered. Karel snatched a fistful of her hair. Lara was brutally yanked backwards with a cry. The pain of it brought tears to her eyes as Karel forced her down onto her knees before him.
If this was death she would face it with her head held high. Her last fleeting thought was of Karel's face twisted in anger above her as he raised the glowing dagger. It flashed sharply in the moonlight.
"Die!" he screamed.
A blast pierced the still air. Lara blinked in confusion as hot blood sprayed across her face. It was not hers. Karel gave a grunt of pain. The glow emanating from the Shard dissipated, and the weapon fell and clattered to the floor.
At first Lara thought that death had already claimed her, and that she was lingering in the beyond with those other lost souls who had died this day. How else could she explain the sight now before her? She tried vainly to calm her rising dread as her eyes focused upon the figure standing in the doorway of the church.
It was Kurtis.
Dark blood ran down his neck and past his collar, staining the white shirt beneath his leather jacket an ugly shade of red. The pentagram upon his cheek was steadily dripping blood as his chest rose and fell in anger. He looked to her like a ghost, his features pale and heavily drawn. Those eyes, however, told a different story. She saw a spark there which frightened her more than anything. She knew that look of vengeance; she had worn it ever since she had been buried in that Egyptian tomb. It was the look of someone living who was already dead.
Kurtis' hands were trembling as he blasted off another shot with Lara's discarded gun. Karel collapsed to his knees as the bullet ripped into his chest. A third blast slammed into his left arm and harmlessly ricocheted, leaving a blackened bullet track an inch from one of her boots. Lara stared in disbelief as Kurtis lowered the smoking gun. Blood billowed across Karel's chest and painted a bloody swathe across the floor. It seemed that immortals did bleed after all.
Lara did not waste a second snapping out of her stupor. She lunged for the Periapt Shard lying nearby and struggled back to her feet. A feral yell ripped from her throat as she thrust the Periapt Shard into Karel's chest.
Her yell cut short as Lara stared down into Karel's eyes. They were haunted and pained in his death rattle. She had buried the Shard in his flesh right up to the burnished hilt. It was just inches from his heart.
Lara took a faltering step backwards. Her sweat-soaked hair was falling across her face as she pulled a difficult breath. Karel choked and rasped as blood rose gurgling to his throat. Blue energy crackled and leapt in sparking bolts from the Shard as it protruded from his chest. There was a disquieting look upon Karel's face which gave her sudden pause.
A small gasp escaped her as Kurtis touched his hand to her shoulder. It felt strangely cold against her warm skin. Lara turned in disbelief and met his blue eyes. She could hardly believe that he was real.
"It's okay," he said. "I got you. Where are the other Shards?"
Her answer caught in her throat. She simply nodded her head in the direction of the main altar. Kurtis gently squeezed her shoulder and then slipped away from her side to retrieve the Shards. Lara remained inert where she stood.
Blood was running down his arm as Kurtis pushed the gun into the waistband of his trousers. A dull clattering echoed about the church as he rummaged amongst the articles sitting upon the main altar. The fingers of his right hand looked mangled beyond comprehension.
Eventually Kurtis turned back again, clutching a Periapt Shard in either hand like two daggers. He approached Lara without a word and paused before Karel where the Nephilim knelt, his face frozen in a rictus of pain.
The church was deathly silent. If Karel was attempting to speak then the words were lost as Kurtis towered over him, casting his shrinking form in shadow. The grip he had upon each Shard was so strong that Lara could see every tendon in his pale fists standing out like vines.
"You son of a bitch," he said quietly. "I saved you a seat in hell."
Kurtis stepped back and slammed the Periapt Shard deep into Karel's chest. This time it stuck in his flesh even past the hilt. Kurtis wrenched his bloody hand free with a grunt, leaving the Periapt Shard quivering where it had lodged in Karel's chest. The Nephilim's face was twisted in silent agony.
Kurtis' shoulders were heaving with effort at the power he had focused into that last blow. Lara studied him warily, her face flecked with blood.
"Kurtis," she said. "Are you okay?"
He simply stood there, the final Periapt Shard hanging at his side. He was staring down at Karel without a hint of pity. She noticed that his hands were still trembling.
Lara reached out and touched her fingers to Kurtis' bloody wrist. He did not resist her movements, but glanced down as Lara's hand slowly enveloped his own. With a nod she indicated the Periapt Shard nestled in their entwined hands.
Their linked arms rose in unison. Blue light engulfed the Shard as they turned back to Karel and plunged it into his forehead, right between the eyes. It slammed home with a violent flash of energy.
This time Karel did make a sound. An abominable howl escaped from his throat, echoing about the church and reverberating for several moments before it died. Lara and Kurtis both staggered backwards after delivering this final blow.
The triad of Periapt Shards ignited with a blue glow. The resultant light branched off from the hilt of each and shot off in different directions, linking each Shard with a line of living flame and converging into a symbol which resembled a spearhead. It was the symbol of the Lux Veritatis.
The symbol vanished with a flash. Karel threw back his head and screamed towards the heavens as a blinding white light engulfed him and shot out from his eyes. It arched upwards and blasted an immense hole in the ceiling far above. Lara's hair was swept back as the winds came whistling in through this gaping fissure.
It was not long before Karel's body began to shudder and disintegrate. At this point Lara seized a fistful of Kurtis' leather jacket, pulling him back towards the safety of a pew near the ruined doors of the entrance. Kurtis did not protest but seemed to come almost unwillingly, his eyes fixed upon Karel as he writhed around in his agony. Lara tugged at his sleeve and forced him to crouch down beside her. She could have simply fled into the night and left this desolation behind, but Lara did not wish to make the same mistake twice. This time she had to see Karel's destruction for herself.
A dull rumbling echoed throughout the church, disturbing the artefacts upon the main altar and the golden icons affixed to those which lined the walls. They both watched in awe as the white energy reached a crescendo of noise and heat. Karel's dying scream echoed in their memories long after the energy had finally vaporized the Nephilim into a pile of ash. In the silence which followed the Periapt Shards clattered to a rest beside the dark shadow that had once marked his presence.
Slowly Lara came to her feet, staring at that place where the Nephilim had once been. Her knees felt so weak she thought she might collapse at any moment. She stood frozen in place as Kurtis rose beside her. Shattered wood and plaster continued to fall in bits and pieces and drift down from the ruined ceiling above. It looked like the wreckage of a bomb site.
It was not until the sirens rose in the distance that reality crashed down around them. Karel was dead. His barrier was long gone.
And so they ran.