„Dies Irae", chapter 1 – Memories

It was already long after midnight as Lara Croft left her bedroom and, her body wrapped into a soft blanket, aimlessly wandered around the dark, long hallways of Croft Manor. She had not even been able to sleep an hour before woke up and found herself in all-embracing darkness, helpless, vulnerable. A thin layer of sweat covered her body, an obvious indication of the fear she had felt in her chest only a few minutes ago; but she did not even bother to take a shower this early. Though she knew that she would not be able to fall asleep again, she had given up on trying to wash the dreams away – they always came back anyway.

Carefully, the young archaeologist opened one of the doors that led to the western wing and harkened. Even though the entrance to the catacombs had been bricked up after the reconstruction of the manor some of the undead thralls seemed to find a way to the surface now and then – and being unarmed as she was now, she really did not want to be surprised by one of them. She could use a small fight if she was completely honest to herself, if only to get her thoughts in order, but in her current condition she would not even make it three minutes, if at all. The sleepless nights had obviously worn her out, had stolen almost all of her strength; and apparently that would not change in the future.

Zip had often tried to get her to travel the world again, had always brought up new artifacts she could search for. One time he had located an unknown Maya-temple over satellite, another time he had told her of some mythic artifacts, … his wealth of ideas had delighted her for sure, and his struggle had also made her smile from time to time, but since she had come back from Prague she had not cared for archaeology anymore. Instead of working on a new project to keep herself busy or cleaning her equipment, which still laid on the exact spot where she had placed it months ago, she only studied the Chirugai, which she had picked up in the arena, a few days before Interpol had blown up the whole building and forced her to absolute discretion. Normally, Lara did not talk about her missions anyway, but she had accepted Interpol's offer without thinking twice about it; after all, it was by far better than having to stay in a cold prison for the rest of her life, even though she felt miserable for not having done anything to deserve this "gift" while Kurtis, whose blood had coated the entire arena, had died after saving her life so many times. He would have been the one to deserve a cancelation of his records instead of her. His reasons to fight against Karel had been so much more noble than hers, but still he had given everything he could just so that she would survive, no matter if he would have to pay for that with his own life.

Shaking her head, Lara tried to get rid of the horrible pictures that tried to force their way into her mind all over again. She had been searching for him for hours that day, the man that had protected her like no one before, had shouted his name over and over again, without caring about whether she was actually save in the Strahov or if Karel had actually died. She had waited hopefully in one of the upper corridors of the arena, had calmed herself down with thinking about the healing powers the Lux Veritatis possessed – but he had been nowhere to be found. Even his Chirugai, which, as far as she was concerned, only reacted to the sound of his voice, had not been able to help her. Shortly after it had lit up and led her into another darkened corridor, in which she thought she would probably find Kurtis, she had found a door, and exit, that led to a tiny lift. The American had most likely tried to get her to leave, had tried to protect her from the various dangers of this old building. Again, he had tried to save her from something she would have never discovered if she had just followed his silent plea.

A cold shiver went through Lara as she recalled the giant hound dog that had followed her over four floors until it had backtracked and hid himself in a dark corner to find another, easier victim. Just thinking about the fact that this animal had been so sure that he would have been able to kill a prey of Lara's height had made her realize that her search for the Lux Veritatis was hopeless and forced her to get to the exit he had shown her before; although she had felt like a traitor as soon as she had felt a fresh, cold breeze stroking her skin. She had not even bothered to clean herself up before she entered the nearest police station to make a few calls – the first one being a message for her lawyer. But what other option did she have? Interpol had waited a few weeks until they first contacted her in prison; plus, no one would have believed that a man, who, if you trusted the documents, had died a long time ago was lying in the Strahov, wounded and probably fighting for his life. They did not even believe her that she had been a victim, not the murderer.

"Can't sleep?" The sound of Zip's voice caused Lara to recoil. With time, her best friend had actually learned to move quietly – something that could probably save him if mercenaries broke into Croft Manor. But she could not feel glad about that, not while he was watching her as worried as he did now. She would have thought that her "rambles" would have been a secret she kept hidden from Winston and him, but it seemed as if he was way more attentive than she had guessed; he had actually learned something from her.

Unsure, Lara shrugged and wrapped the blanket tighter around her shaking body. "I was able to sleep for a couple of hours… but the nightmares woke me up again."

He raised his eyebrow and scrutinized her for a few seconds, then he suddenly smiled and softly threw his arms around her. Usually she did not allow anyone to get this close – and he knew that, of course – but currently she was just grateful for every heartfelt affection, especially now, after her thoughts had wandered to that dark day once again. And Zip was like a big brother for her; he always listened when she wanted to talk, cared for her, supported her. He was the only one who knew about her strong, yet confusing feelings for Kurtis and whose opinion had actually been relevant to her, particularly because he did not think that the Lux Veritatis died that day either.

"Did the Chirugai light up again?", he mumbled gently. "After all it moved a few inches last month; that's indicating that he tries to call it, isn't it? Maybe he needs to be closer for it to work correctly?"

Shrugging, Lara looked up. "Even if that's correct, how do want to find out about it? There are no documents about the powers of the Lux Veritatis, unless they had a secret library hidden somewhere – and it would be idiotic to try and break the Chirugai open. It's nothing more than metal and meteoric rock."

"I'll think of something", Zip said, pushed the archaeologist a few inches away and lifted her chin. "We'll find him. As long as we have his favorite weapon he can't run away, right? He'd have to get it back if it – as you said – really means that much to him." A smirk appeared on his lips. "And you'd be better off not walking around the manor at night, unless you want to get eaten by zombies."

She laughed and softly punched him. "And what about you, don't you want to get eaten by 'zombies'?"

"No, I'm just looking after you." Tenderly, he wrapped his arms around her and carefully squeezed her shoulders. "And now, for you're able to laugh again, you should really get back to bed and sleep a little bit more. You have already stayed up way too many nights; I'm not going to let you do that anymore! Besides, I do have a surprise for you tomorrow."

"A surprise?" Doubting, she lifted an eyebrow. Zip's surprises often ended in a giant mess; back in the day, when Alister was still alive, he had often complained about his best friend's androids messing up his room.

Zip's smile only widened, while he slowly guided Lara back to the main wing of the old manor. "Yeah, and you'll like it."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course!", he shouted so happily, that it turned her stomach. She hated it when someone tried to act happy just so that she would feel better about herself – she had had to endure way too much of that when her parents had died, when everyone – whether they had known her personally or not – wanted to know if she was okay. After two days, she had turned off all the telephones and had asked her bodyguards to not let anyone pass the main fence. How Zip had gotten to her doorstep, only a couple of days after her nineteenth birthday, was a mystery for her; and probably also for him. "I know you'll love it, and if not, I'll just change it." For a few seconds, he looked concerned again. "Time to leave this shit behind, girl. Your birthday is coming up, and instead of thinking about celebrating your twenty-five years on this earth, you're still stuck in Paris and Prague. You have to start living again."

His words aggravated her, but she knew that she would get nowhere if she started to argue with him about anything; he just ignored things like that. But what else should she say? He knew how important it was for her to find Kurtis, starting to talk about that would only kill some more time.

"Let's talk about that tomorrow, okay?", Lara mumbled silently and hurried, without waiting for an answer, to her room upstairs. She knew that he was right and she would have to let go of her memories, but there were still too many doubts inside of her. Was Karel actually dead? What did this all mean anyway? Why had Kurtis stolen her weapons in Paris and how had he been able to get to the other side of the room without being shot? She would probably never get an answer. Plus, she really had to get some sleep.

Silently cursing, the young woman wandered through the long corridor that led to her bedroom and took a deep breath. She really needed more sleep if she did not want to faint within the next days – and she had a lot of other things to do than just lying in her bed. What if Karel was not dead after all and suddenly showed up in front of her? That could happen; after all, she had not seen his death. And if the Chirugai would light up again, she would not be able to fall asleep again and hope that Kurtis would tell her about it if he took it. She had to rest, as long as she could.

But just looking at the huge bed made her shiver. Since she had come back from Prague, she had not felt comfortable in it – and not even the flowers Winston had placed on the small desk besides the mattress could change that. Even if Lara was able to sleep through a night they did not remind her of nature's beauty but of the loveless decoration of the hospital she had spent quite a long time in. They caused her to feel helpless, but she did not stop her butler from bringing them in. He only wanted to help her and she would accept his effort.

Tired, Lara sat down on the soft mattress, lifted her legs and reached for the Chirugai under her pillow. A few months ago, it had often lid up, sometimes brighter, sometimes very dimmed – but now it seemed as if it had given up on finding its master. Or Kurtis had given up on calling it.

"I'm going to bring you back", the tomb raider whispered, placed it on the other side of the bed and lay down again. "I don't know how, but I'll bring you back."