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It may have been almost sixteen years since she'd first been there, but Selma Al-Jazeera's apartment was still a mess. Lara unexpectedly stumbled over a thick book that only-God-knows-why was on the floor, and as she staggered, struck a fragile table with her hip and overturned a glass of juice next to a pile of papers, spilling it over the sheets. The British explorer caught the glass in time before it tumbled to the ground, and after looking around, tossed it into a nearby wastebasket and covered it with scraps of wrinkled papers. Then she simply plugged the whole mess with a few more books and papers.
“I saw that, babe.” Zip murmured while not looking away from the screen, in front of his new server at one end of the study.
"What Selma doesn’t know won’t hurt her." Lara said, glancing sideways at the slow dripping of the sticky liquid that began to trickle beneath the pile of papers.
“Yeah, sure.”  Zip shook his head. "But if the princess finds out, I'll tell her it was your bony ass that messed it up."
Lara let out a sigh. "Friendship’s not what it used to be.”
"Hey, do I look like Mother Teresa?” The hacker finally looked away from the screen and turned in the chair to look at her. “Geeeeez, you look awful.” Lara had her face, neck and arms covered with cuts. “That bamboo crap’s sharp, ain’t it?” Zip smiled, displaying his white teeth.
“Don’t remind me of that.” Lara grunted.
"Good thing this pal gotcha outta there." Zip stretched in the chair, and when Lara raised an eyebrow, he added, "C’mon, babe. I got your passport in record time. I'm a fucking pro, admit it.”
“Thanks for the passport, but it wasn’t you who get me out of there.” A mischievous smile danced on the British explorer's lips.
“Yeah well, while Super-Kurt’s alive the rest of us guys are screwed.” Zip sighed. “Speaking of heroes, where’s daddy’s little monster?”
“Daddy’s little monster is with her grandmother in England.” Lara looked at the juice again that was already dripping off the edge of the table. “The school year has begun.”
Zip whistled. “Poor kiddo. Surely by now the crone has her dressed in lace and sitting at a table drinking tea and nibbling biscuits.”
Lara's mouth twisted. “I'd rather talk about the bamboo cage.”
At that moment, there was the clink of keys at the door, and a small, dark-haired woman entered the already cramped apartment carrying a pile of books and papers. Seeing Lara, her eyes - large, black, and as sweet as expressive - opened wide and with a shriek she threw what she carried in her arms to one side, adding more content to the already present disaster covering furniture and floor. She lunged toward Lara with open arms, stumbling over more books and tables on the way.
“Lara!!” Shouted Selma Al-Jazeera, an archaeologist and professor of Ancient History and Hebrew Mythology at the University of Istanbul, hanging from the neck of an uncomfortable British explorer. “I was eager to see you! I suffered horribly knowing about Sri Lanka. Oh, my God, are you okay?” She touched the cuts on Lara’s face and neck. “You’re scarred... What did they do to you? Those bastards…”
“Selma, stop.” Lara gasped, writhing to free herself from her embrace.
The archaeologist released her, but only to stamp a pair of slimy kisses on each cheek, which she accepted resignedly. "I didn’t expect you so early!" The Turkish woman looked nervously around. “I would’ve tidied this a bit...”
“Ha!” Zip mocked, rolling his eyes. “First we need to find the floor.”
“You could have done something, sir.” Selma snarled, looking at him sideways. “If you ask me, this is now your apartment too.”
“Princess, I got enough on my plate just trying to find my stuff in the middle of this...”
He stopped when he noticed Selma staring, open-mouthed and eyes wide open, at a trail of sticky juice dripping from under a pile of papers, down the legs of a table to the floor.
“What the...?????” She yelled again, outraged, and grabbing the paper with her fingertips, lifted it to uncover a mass of soggy paper and running ink.
Lara opened her mouth...
“ZIP!!” Selma burst out furiously.
... and closed it again.
“Me!?” He shouted. “But...!”
“What are you gonna say, huh?” Selma furiously shook the mass of sticky papers in her hand. "Are you gonna say that Lara made this mess, right? Is that what you're gonna say??”
From her position behind Selma, the British explorer absentmindedly passed the tip of her index finger across her throat, displaying a charming but uptight smile.
Zip got it.
“... right now, you’re gonna clean all of this!” The Turkish archaeologist was saying, indignant, as she made her way awkwardly through the crowded apartment. “What if I drop juice on your keyboards, huh? Huh!!!??”
When she disappeared through the kitchen door, the hacker's chair slowly turned toward Lara.
“I owe you one.” She smiled.
“You owe me a new laptop.”
“Didn’t you have one last year?”
“Just for backups. I want the newest, shiniest stuff. It's all right, sugar, I'm looking for it myself. But you loosen the dough. And it will be a lot of cash.”
The British explorer shrugged.
Selma appeared again carrying a mop and a bucket, which she threw onto Zip's lap.
“Now move!” She shouted, folding her arms across her chest. "Lift that ass of yours up from there and clean this mess!"

As Zip cleaned up Lara’s mess with a more cheerful face than usual, Selma listened to the news from Sri Lanka in horror. “The whole complex of temples?” She whispered, stunned.
“All of it.” Lara sipped the coffee the Turkish woman had served and wrinkled her nose. “How can you swallow this?”
“I can’t believe they blew it all away. Sons of a…" Muttered the archaeologist, ignoring her partner. “I'm glad you got out of there in time. How's Anna doing?”
“She’s fine. She hardly remembers anything.”
“That hospital... she’ll remember it. Long time.” Selma whirled the cup sadly. “Poor Kurtis, you scared him stiff. He didn’t deserve it.”
Lara smiled with exhaustion. Some things never changed, like the fact that Selma had more maternal instinct than herself. "You made me come, Selma, because you wanted to tell me something very important and it had to be here.” She said, looking amused at Zip, who was on all fours picking up sticky papers. “What is it?”
“Well, here we go.” Said the hacker absently, wringing the rag in the bucket.
Selma blushed red. “Well, Lara...”
“Huh-oh.” The British explorer raised an eyebrow. “What have you done, bad girl? Copy the thesis of a colleague? Sabotage the results of a C14 test? Drop a fourth-century vase to the ground?”
She heard a creak nearby. Zip had unearthed an excavator helmet under a pile of books and was adjusting it carefully on his head. “Oh, don’t mind me.” He said distractedly. “I'm just preparing myself for when Croft explodes.”
Lara frowned. “What's this all about?”
Selma took a deep breath. "Last time I did this you got really angry, Lara, but I couldn’t miss the chance... Zip, what are you doing?”
The hacker was piling up a pile of books neatly, raising a wall between him and the two women sitting on the couch. “Protecting myself, princess.” He finished placing the last two books and disappeared behind the wall. “Alrighty then, drop the bomb. If I don’t make it, remember you owe me ten bucks from yesterday's dinner.”
Lara rolled her eyes again. “Enough. What’s going on here?”
Selma inhaled again and began to wring her hands in her lap, a gesture of nervousness and insecurity very much her own. "Remember, Lara, the Cappadocia dig? My youth campaigns. The city of Tenebra...”
The British explorer raised an eyebrow again. "What have you done, Selma? You wouldn’t go down to that place again, would you?”
Dense silence followed the ask. Lara inclined her face and put her hand to her forehead.
“Please, try to understand, Lara. I thought I could leave all that behind... but I can’t. It’s the project of my life. No one has had what I had within reach. I couldn’t…”
“You went down to Tenebra? You on your own?”
“N-no. Well, yes.” Selma tried to ignore Lara's exasperated sigh. “I've been... I've been doing it for years.”
“WHAT?!”
Zip winced behind the stack of books and mumbled: “Here we go!”
Lara had stiffened, staring at Selma, who smiled guiltily and shrugged. “A girl needs to eat...”
"And what did you eat, Selma Al-Jazeera? Grilled manticore?” Lara left the cup abruptly on the table. “Are you kidding me? You’ve been digging in Tenebra again for years and you never told me? Again!?”
"I knew you'd get mad, that's why I didn’t tell you anything.”
“And you!” Lara snapped, turning to the wall of books. "You knew it too?"
"Boh, is that all? You disappoint me, Croft. C’mon, unleash hell as you know it.”
Selma cleared her throat. “There are no more manticores down there. There's nothing, Lara. I've been... my team and I, I mean. We’ve been clearing and cleaning, opening the way again. There is no challenge left for you down there - another reason for not telling you anything.”
"And why do you tell me now?" Lara was evidently annoyed. “What changed?”
Selma licked her lips thoughtfully. “I need you to help me convince Kurtis.”
Lara raised her eyebrows. “Kurtis? Why?” And then her face change. “Oh.”
The Turkish archaeologist nodded. “It's taken us months... but we already have them. Marie set fire to everything... but the bones had been so long there... they did not burn, they just darkened. We have them all... identified, reunited. Including Konstantin Heissturm, of course.”
Zip had peered out and now leaned against the top row of books, staring silently at the scene. Lara had bent her head thoughtfully.
“And that's not all.” Selma had braced herself. “I've been working together with Jean Yves.”
The British explorer looked up, startled. “Jean? No one’s able to take him out of Egypt...”
“I didn’t take him out. He’s been digging with his team in...”
“... Al-Fayoum.” Completed Lara, sighing. She leaned back. “Loanna's tomb.”
Selma nodded.
“They won’t be able to go in unless a Lux Veritatis makes way for them.” Reasoned the British explorer. "Sentinels guard the place very well - and they will no longer respond to Kurtis. He lost the Gift...” Then she stopped. Anna.
"Al-Fayoum's a wasted chance.” Selma was saying, oblivious to her sudden silence. “Loanna deserves recognition. But we can do it in the case of Tenebra’s victims...”
“Wait a minute.” Lara raised a hand. “What are you talking about? What recognition?”
Selma smiled. She was calm now. “I've worked all this time on a new book. I intend to tell everything about the Nephili, the Black Alchemist and the Lux Veritatis. Pay tribute to their sacrifice. Pay tribute to the Amazon’s sacrifice. Our world has been safer thanks to them. It's the work of my life, Lara. For centuries, they fought and died in the shadows - but now the world will know.”
The British explorer had stared at her in silence, her expression unperturbed. “Kurtis will never approve.”
“That's why I'm asking you for help, Lara.”
“Why me? Go and ask him. Although I can’t tell how he will react, much less after knowing that you've been doing this for years... behind our backs.”
Selma bit her lower lip.  “I don’t fear him, if that's what you mean. I took care of him for a while...”
"Even so, he won’t give you permission, Selma. Jean also wanted access to Loanna's tomb, and there was no way to convince him. The sentries of the fortress did the rest. No one went in there.”
“I insist, Lara: that's why I'm asking you for help. He will listen to you.”
The explorer laughed. “Yeah right. You don’t know him. When it’s about his past...”
"Don’t you think he'd want to see justice served?"
“Justice has been served, Selma. We’re alive, and they,” she made a contemptuous gesture with the hand, leaving no doubt as to who she meant, “they are dead.”
“The world is not aware.”
"What does that matter? Why would he care?”
“He bled for them. He died for them - and for you, Lara.”
“Selma, it looks like you don’t know him. He hated the Lux Veritatis, almost as much as he hated the Cabal. They tortured him. They trained him against his will.” With a sigh, Lara got up, ending the argument. “Truth be told, I don’t think that putting a box with his father's bones in front of him will improve his mood.”
She turned around to locate her backpack, but then Selma said. “What about Marie?”
Lara froze. Then she turned to look at her.
The Turkish archaeologist stared at her solemnly, her big dark eyes fixed on her. Zip had disappeared again behind the wall of books and could be heard flipping through the wet papers.
"Don’t you think she deserves to bury her husband after so many years?" Selma smiled confidently. "If he doesn’t listen to me, she will."

Lady Croft fulfilled her threat. The day after Anna's expulsion, she showed up in the school with a list of the girls who’d beaten her granddaughter. An unwritten, verbal list, of course, for it would’ve been beneath her dignity to show up with a paper in hand, as if she were a middle-class bureaucrat. Luckily, despite her age, she had a good memory.
Unfortunately, she achieved nothing. Proof was required to accuse other students and no one was about to play the role of snitch. But she didn’t give up. After that, Lady Angeline demanded to look for the students who might appear particularly bruised, for Anna had eagerly fought her abusers back. Again, she was disappointed. No one was going to take the students out of classes to do a witch-hunt.
The old lady left the headmistress’ office feeling frustrated and humiliated. Of course, she was aware that could be solved if she warned her daughter. When Lara Croft stepped through the threshold of the headmistress’ office, that idiot would melt in fear. The explorer would put things in place and she wouldn’t need to raise her voice to make everyone tremble. And she would come. She would not move a single finger to help her, her mother - but for Anna, she would come immediately.
“Stop a moment, please.” She whispered to the chauffeur who was taking her back to Surrey. The Rolls Royce parked on one side of the road and Lady Croft came down to wander around the edge of the field, thoughtfully. The grass turned golden in the afternoon sun.
Calling Lara would mean to admit her failure. Too humiliating. Lady Angeline wasn’t fooled: her daughter hated her. She would always hate her. All the old lady had to do was to admit that she was incapable of taking care of her granddaughter without incidents happening every now and then. Although she could scarcely have been blamed for it, Lady Croft knew that when Anna was with her other grandmother - that Indian woman coming from God-knows-what tribe - those things never happened.
It was British society. The damn British high society - and its people.
“We were wrong, Henshingly.” She whispered into the deep silence, addressing a husband who was not there. “We were wrong.”

Tac.
Anna looked up. Something had just struck the living room window. She stared at the glass. Nothing. Maybe a bird.
She looked down and focused on her homework. Not that she was enthusiastic about it, but her grandmother would return soon and surely in a bad mood. No need for a new fight for the sake of bloody homework. She’d be done with it and go out for a while.
Tac.
Again.
The girl got up and went to the window - and then she saw her, crouching by the hedge, waving her hand. She was still in uniform.
Anna opened the window. “What are you doing here?” She said. "Have you escaped?"
“I took the bus!” Her schoolmate laughed with her singing voice. “And I didn’t get lost!”
Her name was Catherine, although she preferred to be called Kat, if only she dared to tell anyone. But only Anna knew, so she was the only one who called her like that.
Kat was Lady Kipling’s daughter, therefore one of the few ladies who didn’t enjoy talking behind Lady Croft's back. Maybe that's why for a few years she’d been Anna’s only friend. Small, pale, blond and green-eyed, Kat could’ve been considered pretty if she weren’t always hunched over, her eyes glazed on the ground. The teachers, always cruel, liked to say that she was probably looking for her self-esteem.
She remembered Anna from almost the first moment she’d arrived at the high school: neither tall nor short, rather skinny, brown hair in an everlasting ponytail, freckles on her nose, moving always as if she had ants in her pants. Not pretty, neither ugly, it could be said, before she looked at you with those blue eyes - so powerful, so expressive.
“You know who her mother is?” She heard a schoolmate’s comment. “It’s Lara Croft!”
Lara Croft. Lara Croft. Lara Croft. Who was Lara Croft? When that afternoon Kat asked her mother, she merely smiled politely. “Sure, honey, the famous explorer. Have you ever heard of her? She visits ancient places and recovers valuable objects.”
Yes, of course she’d heard of her. Was that child Lara Croft’s daughter? That was so cool! Kat couldn’t wait to talk to her.
Unfortunately, if she scarcely dared to ask to have her lunch changed because the school cafeteria screwed it up with her allergies, then much less would she dare to approach her. Anna Croft would only deal with the best, the most popular schoolmates. Kat was sure of that.
It turned out that she was wrong. From the outset, the most popular girls ignored her and turned away from her. Kat didn’t get it. Anna may not have been a beauty like Clarice Rochford, but she was nice, lively, cheerful. Just watching her was entertaining. Kat couldn’t understand what was wrong with her.
Until one day she heard about her mother again - things that Lady Kipling had not mentioned.
“That Lara Croft is a slut.” Kat winced when she heard that word. “She’s said to be a lady, but she's not married - and she behaves like a man.”
“Her parents kicked her out – for being a tomboy.”
“A tomboy, yes. And she sleeps with many men.”
“God knows from which one that stupid brat came from.” Laughter.
Without realizing it, from that day Kat began to approach Anna slowly. Until Anna noticed her presence, and let her approach.
They became friends without thinking.

"Didn’t your Mom tell you not to take the bus alone?" Anna scoffed, amused, watching Kat pull out twigs from her blond curls. Apparently, she’d come in through the hedge.
“Well you see! I can and I did it!” Kat finished smoothing her skirt, and looked up again. “Are you going down or what?”
“I can’t. Grandma’s out. Gotta finish this bloody homework. Why don’t you come in?”
“This house scares me.”
Anna threw back her head and laughed. Kat shifted uncomfortably. "Is it true there's a dinosaur in there?"
“Just the head. It was so big that my mother couldn’t bring it all from Peru.”
“Liar!”
“Let me die if I lie.”
They stared at each other in silence for a moment.
“You see? I'm alive. Now come in, gonna show you the T-Rex.”
“I told you I'm scared.”
“Okaaaaaay.” Anna rolled her eyes - and she began to draw one leg out the window.
“Wait wait wait not that way!” Kat shrieked, frightened.
“Don’t worry, silly. This way’s faster.”
Lady Kipling's daughter gaped as Lady Croft's granddaughter deftly descended clinging to the pipe coming down the window. The piece creaked a couple of times under her weight, but finally Anna landed nimbly on the floor without major problem.
“Does it hurt?” Kat asked, pitifully, referring to her blackened eye.
“Bah!”
They began to walk along the gravel path. Kat glanced sideways at the huge wooden platforms towering over the courtyard. “What is this?”
“An assault course. Mom uses it to train.”
“Train what?”
“Running, jumping, diving... if she loses her form one day a blade or a stone will catch her. She needs to be in top form.”
“Are you afraid of it?”
“Afraid of what?”
“That one day your mother won’t come back.”
Anna stood up and frowned. “What the fuck did you come here for? To scare me?”
Kat looked around her, frightened, as she always did when her friend swore. “Please don’t talk like that.”
“Then stop bugging me. I’m screwed enough without your help, thanks.”
“Okay, okay, I'm sorry. Forgive me.”
“Nevermind.”
They walked on in silence. In the end, Kat said: “Sorry about the beating. Wish I could have done something...”
"What could you do against those five twats? Don’t make me laugh.”
After looking around again, Lady Kipling daughter added: “I warned the headmistress.”
“So, that’s why I ended up at her office. Oh, thank you.”
“They were beating you!”
“Comparatively, yes – but they also took their fair share.”
“Aren’t you afraid of them?”
Anna burst into laughter.
“And the expulsion?” Kat insisted. “What will your mother say?”
"What Mom doesn’t know won’t hurt her. I don’t want her to know she’s being called a whore. Oh, c’mon Kat!” She exploded. “No one’s listening to us here, stop looking everywhere!”
“You shouldn’t swear, Anna. It's not worthy of a lady.”
Anna's gaze darkened. “I'm not a lady. I will never be a lady. I hate the ladies. No offense.” She brushed a strand of hair from her forehead, uncovering the scar.
Kat stared at her. “When will you tell me what happened in Sri Lanka?”
“But I did. We arrived, found the Teardrop of Brahma, then everything went to hell and we left. C'est fini.”
"You forgot your “falling from a tree”. Kat rolled her eyes while Anna laughed. The sweet girl was very funny doing that. "When are you going to trust me and tell me everything?"
Anna frowned. “You’re afraid of buses, big houses and dead dinosaur heads. If I tell you everything you won’t sleep in a long time.”
"Oh, c’mon Anna, please!"
“You can’t tell anyone.”
“Who am I going to tell?” Kat laughed bitterly. Anna was her only friend. “C’mon, please, pleeease, pleeeeeease, I won’t tell anyone.”
Lady Croft's granddaughter let out a long sigh. “Alright. Let’s go to our spot.” And taking her hand, she led her toward the main entrance of the manor, into the labyrinth, at the center of which secrets were poured out and never left.

The problem of having been drunk so many times in his youth, and particularly while in the Legion, was that he developed an extreme tolerance for alcohol. So basically, emptying a bottle of Jack Daniels in a few drinks didn’t grant him the desired effect.
Throwing the empty bottle aside, Kurtis lounged beside the cattle fence and dropped his head on the wooden crossbeams. He could hear the bleating and the strong smell of the sheep - a familiar sound and smell, among which he’d grown up - and even came to notice the soft touch of wool when one passed near him, but he didn’t move.
No, it was taking too long to work. The burning wave through the body, the tingling in the limbs, and that was it. What he needed was to lose consciousness - even for a while.
Through his slightly dull ear he caught a series of steps approaching him. He looked up and noticed a stout, mature man, dressed as a saddler, and protecting himself from the sun with a wide-brimmed hat, looking at him disapprovingly.
“Hashkeh Naabah.” He murmured. "You’ve come at last."
Kurtis raised his hand hesitantly and clumsily saluted the Navajo man. “Shilah.” He answered, slowly dragging the last vowel.
The man heaved a deep sigh while looking at the empty bottle at the feet of the former Legionnaire. “So you’re aware.” He whispered. His dark-skinned face tinged with compassion. “Anything I can do?”
“You’ve got some alcohol?”
The Navajo shepherd frowned. “You shouldn’t poison yourself with that crap. Enough damage has already done to our people, Hashkeh.”
Shilah had never called Kurtis by his real name. Instead, he called him Hashkeh Naabah, a double Navajo word meaning "angry warrior" which, ironically, suited him perfectly. Of course, the name came from his childhood, when Marie introduced him to her friends and family.
“He's a bilagáana, a white man. Not one of us.” The medicine man had said, censoring the white skin and those blue eyes.
And then the boy had frowned and glared at him. The expression was both so funny and surprising that suddenly all the assembled had laughed out loud.
“He understands diné bizaad!” The old man murmured, surprised.
“Of course he understands!” Marie protested, offended. “He's my son! I speak to him in the Diné language since birth.”
And Shilah, who was then no more than a boy, had laughed: “Look how angry he is!” The kid continued frowning, without uttering a word. “This one’s gonna be a tough one!”
And they called him Hashkeh Naabah - Angry Warrior, to such an extent that few bothered to utter his true name.
Kurtis didn’t give a damn, and even less being slightly drunk. “If you didn’t bring alcohol, then get the hell outta here.” He mumbled, sulky.
"Well, turns out you're leaning against the fence. I've got to take your mother's cattle for a while.”
Kurtis didn’t move a bit. He stared at him, his eyes reddened. “How long have you been aware?”
Shilah sighed. Then he crouched beside him and took off his hat. “Last spring.” He started to fold and unfold the hat in his hand, feeling awkward. "We found her lying on the road, unconscious. We immediately took her to the hospital and she went through all kinds of tests. The truth jumped out almost immediately: bone cancer. I'm sorry, Hashkeh. We wanted to tell you right away, but she forbade us.”
“Of course, she forbade you.” Kurtis muttered sarcastically, glancing at the empty bottle, as if expecting it to be filled again. “Thank you, it’s good to know before I get to bury her.”
“You should have seen how she got because we took her to the hospital”. Said Shilah, avoiding reproach. "If anyone can persuade her, it's you."
The ex-legionnaire shook his head slowly. “She won’t go anywhere, she won’t follow any treatment. In any case, it's late.”
The Navajo shepherd tipped his head. For a moment, there was only the soft bleating of the sheep in the enclosure. “How long?” Shilah wondered.
Kurtis shrugged. “Weeks, months... who knows.”
Putting his hat back on, the Navajo shepherd sat up. “You should bring your daughter. So that she can see her... to be with her while she can. Although here will always be a place for her, among us. We are her people... and yours, too, Hashkeh. You’ll always have a home here.”
Kurtis smiled bitterly, his gaze lost. Lara’s my home. Anna’s my home. Wherever they are, that’s my home. But he didn’t say it aloud.
“C’mon.” Shilah sighed, holding out his hand. "Get up. Where’s your wife? She should be here, with you.”
“She's not my wife.” And he tried not to think about the strong argument they had, the harsh words they had addressed to each other.
Coward. Yes, he was a coward. Why was he so scared? It was madness. His mother was dying, and that was not even which tortured him the most.
“Well, your mate, or whatever. You white people are weird, having children with women you don’t even marry – and not knowing which name to put to that combo.”
“Now I’m white?”
Shilah smiled, showing a row of yellowing teeth, the result of chewing tobacco for years. “Only partly, Hashkeh. Only partly.”

Clarice Rochford finished storing her books in her locker and walked through the quiet corridor, out to the school gardens. Most of the students were gone, but she, as always, had spent a little more time asking about the last lesson. She was a good student, popular, and of course, she enjoyed taking every chance available to polish her good relationships with the teachers.
She trotted, whistling happily, as she passed through the flowered hedges. Surely the chauffeur would be tired of waiting for her at the entrance. He was new and unaccustomed to the behavior of the highborn. Well, he'll get used to it.
Suddenly Clarice heard a rustling of leaves behind her. Before she could turn, long, skinny arms wrapped around her and pulled her back. A shrill scream was drowned out by the hand that suddenly covered her mouth. Without knowing how, she ended up dragged under a hedge and thrown to the ground, damp with fresh soil.
A shape hovered over her. Even in the afternoon sun she saw the metallic scissors flashing in the hands of her attacker - scissors suspiciously like those used in sewing class.
It had to be a nightmare. There was Anna Croft straddling over her, with that mad, dirt-soiled face, her scrambled hair full of leaves, her hand tightening her mouth and the scissors moving close to her.
"Scream," she threatened, her teeth clenched, "and I cut you."
Clarice looked at her in horror, then nodded slowly. Anna withdrew her hand, but only to move it to her long, beautiful golden braid, and begin to wrap it in her hand.
“You're messing up my hair.” She protested in a frightened voice.
“Hair can be washed.” Anna muttered. "Y’know what else? It grows again when cut.” And then she opened the scissors and brought them to the tangle of golden hair.
Clarice screamed. Instantly Anna tugged at her hair tightly, twisting her head and pulling the scissors close to her face: “What did I just say, you cunt!”
The little lady's tears broke. “Please... please don’t cut my hair...”
“Why not? You need a lesson. You like to go around talking shit about my mother. Maybe when you’re bald you won’t feel like insulting her.”
Clarice began to sob incoherently. Anna rolled her eyes.
“You... you... you’re expelled...”
“I know, right?” Anna showed a crooked smile. “I’m expelled, in my house, away from here, watched over by my grandmother. Who will believe you when you tell them that Anna Croft left your head looking like a monkey's ass?”
“Please, please…”
“Wow, you're not so cheeky now, are you? How whiny.” The girl let out a long sigh. “This is not as fun as I expected.”
“Please! I promise I will never again insult your mother!”
Anna shrugged. “Too late, you idiot.”
Clarice was thinking at full speed. “It wasn’t me! I... I heard it from others! Older people!”
“Why should I care? My problem is you and your filthy mouth, telling lies out there.”
“Please... leave me be... I will never say anything else... I will not mess with you again.”
“Nor with my parents?”
“Not with your parents. I swear!”
“You won’t mess with Kat either. Catherine.” She hastened to correct, remembering that no one called her that.
“Catherine? What’s Cath...?” Anna started to close the scissors over her trapped hair. “Okay, okay, neither with her!” She jumped, terrified.
She let out a sigh of relief when Anna let her go and stood up. She raised her hand to her aching scalp, and looked bleakly at her mud-stained uniform.
“You’re a demon.” She snapped.
“As if you know shit about demons.” Anna waved the scissors back into her face. "If you tell someone about this, I'll come back and finish the task."
Without looking back, she emerged from the hedge. A few yards away, she dropped the scissors into one of the litter bins. Then she ran.
She still had half an hour before her grandmother returned home and noticed her absence. She ran and ran, laughing out loud, until she reached the green hills of Surrey.
She’d never felt so good.

After several years of absence, this year I've been surprisingly prolific in publishing new fanfics, and undoubtedly this is due to the immense love and support I've received from the AOD/Lartis fandom, particularly on Tumblr. To you (Mina, Vera, Yami, Lucie, Kim, Duygu, Anya, Fede... and the rest of my readers in FF.net, Wattpad, Inkitt, AO3 and DA, I don't forget you) I dedicate this new fanfic, sequel to The Awakening, but also sequel to all my previous works, to the point of making constant reference to them, even for the taste of the anecdote.

In The Legacy - excuse the clumsy title - I intend to explore human and family relationships concerning the TR universe characters who survived to my previous brutality. There will also be some action, although scarce: you know I love dialogues, feelings and the human psyche in all its beauty and complexity.

I hope this story lives up to your expectations and doesn't bore you too much. Excuse, also, if there are imperfections in the English translation, for I'm not an English native speaker. Thanks for bringing me back to the fanfic world :) (Smile) And thanks too to Claire Sail for her fantastic beta-reading! :D

Previous chapter: fav.me/dat6pyc
Next chapter: fav.me/dax17hl
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