Hey everyone! :)
I'm sorry for letting you wait again... :/ Hopefully you will still have fun reading this chapter. :)
As some of you, my great readers, have noticed ;D, through this whole story, I've been occasionally following images and information concerning TR AOD and it's cancelled sequels. That's also true for this chapter. I guess that some of you will recognize exactly where the inspiration/ideas came from this time. :)
Again, I'm happy to thank gyikhu (very much!) for the beta-reading. The chapter is far better thanks to you. :)
Please enjoy! :)
Chapter 20: In Eckhardt's Footsteps
"Where exactly is the shaft supposed to be?" Lara, walking ahead of Kurtis, asked as she turned to him.
"Just keep on goin'. It's right over there." Her partner vaguely pointed somewhere to the left in front of them.
But Lara Croft could see nothing reminding her of the way out. As even the shine of her flashlight didn't show anything distinct in the room, the British woman took several more steps and demonstratively stopped in front of the plain wall. "Well...?" Again, she tilted her head back to the American with raised eyebrows. "A wheel on the wrong side problem, maybe?"
"Here we are," Kurtis stated.
Now they both were standing in front of the solid stone. Lara looked at the smooth texture of the wall and then back at him. "We'd better find you a doctor as soon as we get back to the surface. It seems to me that the hit on the head has left you affected a little bit."
"Excuse me," Kurtis said as he gently pushed her aside and then hit the wall with a strong kick. Nothing. The second try was aimed a little bit more on the left. The thin part of the stone crumbled this time, revealing a clear way. "Right here. See? No kidding." He bent to the newly uncovered opening and removed the major part of debris.
Lara kept watching him with narrowed eyes. "How did you know the entry was right there?"
"I usually tend to look for the back door in advance if possible, especially with the Cabal's mercenaries breathing down on my neck. On top of it, don't tell me that you, the famous Tomb Raider, didn't notice there was something odd about that wall," he teased her. "Or wasn't it?"
"The only odd thing is that there was a way hidden behind it, and you knew it."
"Exactly. It's weird, right?" He winked at her. Kurtis was obviously enjoying this game.
Lara shook her head, trying to guess what the American was up to. "So, where's the catch?"
"Why should there even be any?"
"I seriously doubt that you would be walking around here for hours and knock on walls. That's all."
"Why not?" he asked, looking genuinely interested in her answer now.
"Someone like you definitely wouldn't have the patience for something like that."
"You're completely right about this." Kurtis seemed to be sincerely amused now. "Another point goes to you, Lara."
The Tomb Raider grimaced. It didn't go unnoticed to her how easily her companion had changed the topic. However Lara decided to let the issue go for now.
He will eventually tell me anyway, she thought. Or I'll make him...
Kurtis insisted on leading the way in case some of the Lux Veritatis knights were still guarding the place, saying that he knew how to deal with them. Also because of the fact that Lara had already experienced that it was not easy to get rid of these guardians, she agreed. Her partner also revealed to her that it was not Karel but he neutralizing the knight she had stumbled upon entering the room with the altar. He didn't seem to be happy about that whilst telling her, but explained that it was impossible to evade the guardian.
Another piece of the puzzle fitting nicely, she thought. Exactly like Kurtis said before.
The American-British duo climbed through the narrow shaft and got into another long hallway. Then their way continued. Sometimes they were trying to find or make the needed space to push themselves through between the partly collapsed tunnels. On other occasions, they cooperated whilst climbing, or pushed heavy boulders out of their way together. Kurtis moved the ones that didn't budge out of their way by the telekinesis, one of his Lux Veritatis powers.
After some time the pair got to a crossroads leading into five directions. As they briefly peeked into each of the tunnels, they could see that all the ways were partly collapsed. It would be possible to squeeze through, but moving away the rubble would be hard work. On top of it, they weren't even sure which tunnel to pick.
"How does it look over there?" Kurtis asked Lara, already without much of a hope in his voice.
She was standing in front of the last two tunnels, checking them out more carefully for the second time. Instead of an answer, Lara only shook her head.
As they were looking at the entrances, Kurtis was still frowning at the sight of the blocked hallways, thinking.
"Well, I haven't expected this to be easy." Lara sighed. "There seems to be nothing that could point us to the right way. Unless you have a better idea or another ace up your sleeve," the British woman eyed him, "we'd better split up, each of us taking one tunnel at the time," she eventually suggested and looked at her companion.
Kurtis smirked. "If I'm not mistaken, this has been about the third time you are driving me away. Aren't you worried that maybe I'll start to take this personally?"
"If I really wanted to get rid of you, you'd notice it," Lara cut him down. "So, shall we divide and go?"
The American seemed to come to the some sort of conclusion. "No need for that," he said, slightly nodding his head to himself.
"So that you'd be given a chance to hold me at gunpoint again later?" Kurtis gave her a somewhat annoyed glance. "No thanks. Just stand and wait right here for a moment. Don't go anywhere." He outstretched his hands in front of him, trying to evoke another of his extraordinary abilities.
Lara looked around and then back at him. "What are you planning? That wall is not going to give you a hug, no matter how pitiful you look whilst doing that."
The urge to laugh was too strong that he grimaced and had to relax his hands. But Kurtis Trent was very good at dealing with his feelings so the majority of the obvious signs of his amusement passed quickly. This was definitely not the time for laughs. "Just hold on for a minute, will ya?" Then he raised his hands again and concentrated.
There was a silence in the room for a while.
With hands on hips, Lara impatiently tapped her foot. "So, I'm supposed to just stand here and do nothing? No way. What. Are. You. Doing."
Her question was left without an answer.
"Look, I've had enough the secrecy. It's only led us to this disaster." Then she sighed in irritation. "This is not funny."
Again, silence was the only reply she got.
"Are you ignoring me?..." Lara started to sense that something was definitely off. She went over to him, put a hand on his shoulder and looked at his now stiff face. "Kurtis...?"
But Kurtis Trent already didn't hear what she was saying.
Kurtis' mind left his body as many times before. Again, he experienced the familiar feeling of the blurred vision together with perception of muffled noises. The state reminded him of diving in some sort of thick liquid.
Unlike in Prague, instead of screams, moans and other sounds like in the Sanitarium which would scare some people - but definitely not him or Lara - to death, only the familiar woman's voice, thrum and an occasional sound of falling sand and stones could be heard.
Like this, his inner sight fell on Lara. For a short moment of scanning her now concerned face, he was wondering what the hell the woman did wrong in her life so she ended up here, trapped in the underground with him in his dark world. And how it all happened that they were made to cover each other's backs. Again.
A lady from England. Who would have guessed...
Turning the vision away from her, his sight continued towards the tunnels. Kurtis could hear Lara talking, but was unable to figure out what she was saying. But the tone of her voice didn't sound too alarmed. Supposing everything was okay, instead of coming back into his body now, he decided to progress.
His mind wandered through the tunnels and back one by one, checking out their accessibility and estimating the stability. He was doing his best to fulfil his task as fast as possible, supposing that Lara would be worried.
The first tunnel was clearly not going to be their way out. The explosives did their job well so the hallway was completely collapsed after a few metres. Other two tunnels lead to the dead end. The next one was hiding a trap with spikes.
Ow. Not this way either... I'm fed up with this kind of blades already.
One of the ways led to the door, but behind it there was only a Lux Veritatis knight with a prepared sword in its bonny hands, obviously fulfilling his last and only task and waiting to get rid of all intruders.
It took Kurtis several more seconds than he had planned, but he finally found what he was looking for. Their way supposedly leading to freedom. Trent internally rejoiced. Finally now it was the time for his 'inner eye' to get back.
With his mind coming back to his body, he stumbled and quickly leaned by his hand against the wall to prevent himself from falling. The return of his conscious was somehow more demanding this time. Kurtis knew that it was not the best idea trying to perform this ability whilst being exhausted, on top of it leaving his body for a longer time like this. But he concluded that there was no other choice. They couldn't afford to dig through the whole place.
"What the hell?!" He could hear Lara's surprised scream welcoming him back.
Kurtis ignored it though, expecting the sort of reaction. "The second tunnel from the right," he uttered before taking another breath. "We'll turn left, then climb among some rubble and then turn right. Twice. That way we'll get to the pit."
"Are you okay?!" she asked him still startled, trying to support him.
"It's nothing," he only gave her a short side-glance.
The Tomb Raider was watching him for a minute. "What was that?" she asked with narrowed eyes. "And I require an immediate and clear answer this time."
Kurtis could only sigh. He always knew she would ask. But he was reconciled with that. Even though he didn't enjoy talking about things concerning the order, he had already made his decision earlier. "Farsee."
"It's also the answer to your previous question concerning how I knew about the ventilation shaft behind the wall back there. Another special ability of mine you could say. It's called Farsee. And now it will save us plenty of time."
"I see..." Lara didn't seem too surprised. "How does it work? Like... You can see through the walls?"
"Calm down, no snooping on the way. It doesn't work like that," he partly lied about the distant theoretical possibility the power could actually enable him to do. "But if you insist, we'll have a time for this kind of conversations later."
"As soon as we'll finally get outta of this place, 'kay?"
"Alright then... Can you walk by yourself?"
He chuckled as if her concern amused him. "Yeah. I'm pretty sure I can. Since the very young age, actually," he smirked. "Don't worry."
"Are you really sure? Because a few seconds ago you were close to fainting."
Kurtis seemed somewhat offended. "Guys like me don't faint. We only lose consciousness. And that happens only on specific occasions such as being stabbed through by the giant bug, thrown against the wall by the enraged Nephilim and so on."
"Of course. Guys like you would rather fall dead straight away instead of letting anyone to help them. And that's what I would prefer to avoid today."
"I'm okay, really. It's just that this ability of mine takes quite a lot of energy. But it always gets back rather quickly."
"If you say so," she said, still not very convinced.
"I'm fine. Let's move, shall we? I don't need a babysitter."
Lara smiled in mischief. He obviously hated his abilities being questioned.
But then her smile disappeared in an instant. She wondered if he could read minds too. The idea reminded her of the fact that there were still way too many things she didn't know about Kurtis Trent. She was eyeing him with a careful caution. However, eventually considered that her partner had never shoved any signs of possessing such ability. And the assumption was supported by the logical trail of thoughts.
No, no way... Lara assured herself finally. Otherwise we wouldn't have ended up here like this.
They continued climbing, crawling, crouching and sometimes cleaning their way for several long minutes. Finally the pair got to a wider hallway where they could comfortably walk side by side.
"Everything okay?" Kurtis asked Lara after the long moment of silence had passed.
"Yes. Basically. Why shouldn't it be?"
"You're suddenly too quiet. No new question, no irritated remarks..."
"Well, I'm just thinking... About all what I gave away to Karel," she replied sincerely.
"None of us could predict that," he tried to console her. Unsuccessfully.
"I should have. I should have known that the explosion wouldn't be enough to kill the Nephilim. And it's also my fault he has the map now."
"Stop blaming yourself. Karel would have found the map sooner or later. Don't forget the creature has had all the time in the world for the search."
Lara gave him a little bit surprised glance.
"Yes, I've also made some research about the Nephilim race, especially during the last days," he answered her unsaid question based on her expression. Then continued: "Anyway fortunately they were doing quite a lousy job here until..." Kurtis hesitated and then made a grimace. "Well—"
"Until I took part in the search?"
"Yes," he admitted. "Kinda. But your presence is our advantage now. We have your skills on our side. And we'd better make our best not to let him win the second round. Or the third? I've lost the count already."
She chuckled sadly. "It depends where one starts counting I guess."
"I've been in this stuff for way too long, so it's difficult to keep an overview."
"Either way, it's good that you're not unconsciously working with Karel anymore... Actually, I was quite surprised myself how you managed to get so far so quickly even without having a single look on the writing on the wall, for example. Quite impressive. No wonder he hired you, of all people."
She stopped for a moment. "So it was you who destroyed the writing on that wall?"
Kurtis also paused. "To slow down Karel's progress, yes. I wonder if my ancestors would be too mad 'bout it, considering the circumstances," he shrugged.
They started walking again. "I'm sure they would understand and even appreciate the effort."
The American didn't react to Lara's assurance in any way. "We are here," he uttered instead.
The Tomb Raider was facing the giant door for the second time today. The duo came through, looking over the whole place. Lara noticed Kurtis' sight lingering on the stained armour in the centre for a longer time. "What are you thinking about?"
He shook his head. "Just that this once fancy suit fit Eckhardt well. Too bad he ever stopped wearing it."
Lara kept watching him. She supposed her partner was likely thinking about his deceased father.
"Are you alright?"
"Yes. Eckhardt's escape will help us now. He would have been so pissed off. Just the idea is quite satisfying to me."
She grimaced a little. "It is... satisfying, indeed," she said, nodding her head. "That would have certainly hurt his pride."
"Okay. We need to get down first."
"How do you know that's the right way? There could be several floors..."
"I was here earlier. Hence the damaged door," he noted by his head slightly. "It was jammed."
Lara turned to the entrance door forced open and then back to him. "Again, that doesn't answer my question."
"In fact it does." He smirked. "You wanna find out by yourself?"
She seemed to be taken aback by his statement. "But how?"
"Well, I can show it to you. Here and now."
"Excuse me? To show me what exactly?"
"How it looked here. All these years ago. Eckhardt's escape. You weren't hopin' for anything else, were you, Miss Croft?" He smirked and then raised his hand with the open palm and slightly waved his fingers. "Do you dare?"
"You are very sharing all of the sudden. What has changed?"
He shrugged. "It's just a starter before later. That was our deal, wasn't it?"
Lara made a step towards him, taking up on the challenge. "What should I do?"
"Just stand still."
Lara watched him extending his hand towards her.
"It won't hurt you. But it can be... confusing at first."
As soon as he placed his palm on the top of her head, the image in front of her changed. She was not in the room with Kurtis anymore. Lara wasn't aware of her body being present in the place either, but she still could see everything around her. As if being in some kind of a dream state.
The surroundings were basically the same, only it didn't seem so old and damaged. Instead of empty, rusty and half-broken shackles, she recognized the trapped Black Alchemist was hanging there in the middle of the dark room. His restrains were complete and undamaged now.
Unexpectedly the image changed. Several old planes emerged from the clouds in the darkened sky. Their engines roared into the otherwise quite surroundings of the woods and the stand-alone object. Lara recognized the war machines used during the Second World War. She immediately recalled of the information she had stumbled upon earlier concerning the attack at the castle, which eventually allowed Eckhard's escape. Now Castle Kriegler in its full glory was still looming over the woody hills just as she remembered it from the painting she had caught a glimpse of in the Lux Veritatis vault in Prague, as well as in Margot Cavier's office at the Louvre.
The aircrafts flying right above the castle dropped several bombs on the building. The following detonations left Kriegler's several parts in ruins and fire. Broken and burning trees, craters, debris and smoke were seemingly the most of what was left of the castle.
Now the scene was taking place back at the pit. She could see Eckhardt again. Lara somehow knew that the enigmatic power keeping him imprisoned suddenly weakened until it disappeared completely. And The Black Alchemist was aware that it was his – and likely the only one - chance. The opportunity to take a bloody and cruel revenge on his captors and the main enemies. She could actually feel that the wrath and hatred toward the Lux Veritatis order, his captors, was enormous. But so was Eckhardt's will to get free.
Parts of irons broke and the weight of his body let him fell all the way down. Back on his feet and without any serious injuries, the Black Alchemist got rid of the now useless remaining chains and tore off the mask still covering the majority of his face. Suddenly Lara was able to see the Black Alchemist's eyes from a close distance. She involuntary shivered.
The scenery switched again. She saw a figure limping from exhaustion in the darkness, entering a tunnel. And then, finally, after many years, Eckhardt spotted the daylight again. He was free.
Lara gasped and blinked several times as the flashback ended. She noticed that Kurtis also looked a little bit worn out, holding his fingers curled in a fist, with his head bowed. She wondered if it was because of the exhaustion, or the hate towards the man who got free in the just seen vision. Or the fact that he couldn't change the event in any way.
"I... What the—," she staggered.
"I fast-forwarded it. This is usually extremely exhausting and confusing to anyone outside the order." Now Kurtis seemed to be alright again, unlike the still somehow disoriented and confused British woman. "That currently means everyone except me, naturally."
"This ability of yours... It definitely is," Lara said, breathless, "amazing..."
"You'll be okay in a few seconds." Kurtis started going around in circles, looking over the place.
Lara supposed he was giving her some time to calm down and settle her whirled thoughts. "That was... I'm out of words."
"Finally," Kurtis murmured with a smirk and glanced at her. "It took quite an effort." Then he walked over to the deep abyss and looked down.
The Tomb Raider stood beside him, and threw down a flare. The light revealed a potential over 80-feet long fall. "Keep in mind the promised questioning time planned for later," she didn't forget to add.
"Yeah, I count on it," he turned back and passed her, now inspecting the walls and the floor again. "Okay. Let's try to find a safe way down for you. There should be a hidden ladder somewhere."
She lifted her eyebrows. "For me? You are staying or so?"
Based on her harsh tone, Kurtis concluded that she was feeling good already. "Well, there is a shortcut. But only for me. I could just simply take it," he pointed downwards, "straight down, y'know? Just... jump." The American seemed to be perfectly okay with the idea of leaping into the dark abyss.
"Then what are you waiting for?"
"I'm not sure it'd be a wise thing to do. Somehow I doubt I could get us both down safely like that."
"That's not what I mean. Go ahead. I will find a way myself."
Kurtis frowned. He obviously didn't like the idea very much.
"No time to waste... Sounds familiar? You might still catch up with Karel. We should try."
"Okay..." He said after a short time of hesitation. "I'll make sure that the coast is clear down there at least. And that we'll have a free way to leave."
"If I'm fast enough, I'll try to get the map."
"I will join you as soon as possible."
Trent paused. "Are you really sure I can leave you here? There might be the Lux Veritatis knights guarding the place and also traps... The majority of them is likely not working anymore but—"
"You seem to be forgetting that it was me who got the painting and the shard." Then Lara smiled dangerously. "Do you need me to help you down there? I can assure you I would have absolutely no problem with that," she said with a false kindness in her voice. "Just. Ask."
"No need," he grimaced. Now Kurtis seemed to be ready to jump. "Alright. See ya down there, then. Your time to shine again. Hopefully you won't make me climb back here for you. That'd be quite a hassle."
"Wait!" Lara stopped him hastily in the last moment.
He turned to her with raised eyebrows. The American didn't think she would get offended in real. And he was right.
The Tomb Raider was already thinking in advance. "How will I recognize you? After we reunite I mean."
Immediately Kurtis understood her worry of confusing him with Karel again. "I'll just, I dunno." He thought only for a second and smirked to himself. But finally the American only waved his hand. "Whatever, I'll just ask you about the weather."
"How original," she uttered.
Trent laughed. "Well, I'm open to your suggestions. Would you rather wanna use something spicier or so? If that's the case, I'm all up for it," he added with a sparkle in his eyes. "In fact, I have even several more interesting ideas worth consideration."
"Forget it. I'll reply that..." she threw up her hands, "it's English and rainy."
The American chuckled with a shrug. "Okay then. Your choice, your loss." Then his smile faded and he seemed to hesitate for a moment again.
Lara guessed he felt somewhat bad about leaving her alone. She didn't appreciate the act very much, though. "Scared of heights? So suddenly? Or are you afraid of the dark?"
"Just tryin' to concentrate. You're too noisy." He made a step backwards into the nothingness with a smirk. "See ya later."
Lara lost him from sight. In the very first moment, she had to stop herself from running towards him and reaching out to try to catch him as she had attempted at the Louvre. Carefully looking over the edge, she spotted the small figure landing comfortably as if it jumped down the small platform only. Lara felt relieved at the sight.
As Kurtis looked up to her, the flare died out and his figure disappeared in the darkness deep below her.
"Good luck," she said quietly.
26th June is a special day! Happy birthday, Kurtis Trent! :) :) :)