Author: Crazed Attourney
Frederick Munch let out a small groan of pain as he stretched - his old body protesting against the cool desert morning that chilled his tired muscles. But he could not hold back the joyous, almost youth grin that creased his weathered features; for almost 50 years he'd searched the deserts of Egypt and in that time he'd discovered tombs and treasures that had helped re-write history - all however paled in comparison to the network of tunnels his team had unearthed just days before.
He still felt giddy. "Good morning, Herr Professor - you're up early," a young voice called, causing him to jump slightly.
"As are you Lieutenant." He smiled in greeting to the younger man. "Eager to begin yes?"
The young man nodded, excitement clearly bubbling in his eyes - giving the young man the wild-eyed look of a boy on Christmas morning.
The Professor couldn't help but share his enthusiasm - at first the expedition had been uncomfortable with their small collection of SS guards; however, the guards had quickly grown on the archaeologists - especially the young Lieutenant, who with his boundless energy and quick mind had reminded Frederick of his younger self.
"Did you get the package off to Berlin?"
"Yes - it should be with Colonel Hitzenbaum by the weekend." The Lieutenant nodded - his eyes inexplicably drawn to the dig's main entrance. "Do you think we'll find more?"
"Oh definitely." Frederick nodded happily, "Malcolm... Doctor Freidrick and I believe we've only scratched the surface - that this like... er... a safe - a place of safety to keep records..."
"Wow... so there's..." The Lieutenant gulped his mind trying to work out the treasures contained in the dig's dark corridors.
"Much, much more," Frederick laughed happily. "But not today - we must catalogue yesterday's finds, and shore up the new tunnels."
"Joy of joys - dirt, books and boredom," The young man huffed in annoyance.
"No ver... what's that?" A shrill whistling filled the air.
"I don't know," the young man responded with a shudder, a sense of imminent danger prickling at his spine. "Serge-!"
He never finished his call - two bolts of silver sliced through the air catching him in the chest throwing through the air as if thrown by a giant.
"Rudolf!" Frederick screamed as he turned.
Tents and equipment began to explode around him as more silver darts filled the campsite.
"Dear God." The Professor stared in horror as he reached the Lieutenant's broken body - great bloody holes had been torn in his chest and his once vibrant blue eyes now stared blankly into the air. Automatically he reached out to close them - but felt a cold shadow loom over him.
He turned and a vision straight from hell met him - cold black eyes twinkled beneath a sea of rags, and steam appeared from a hidden mouth, as the monster took laboured, irregular breathes. Instead of hands wicked metallic claws grew from one hand and the other was like a small canon covered in intricate tattoos - it brought that appendage to hover over the Professor's terror filled face.
From deep within its centre it glowed brightly, a shrill whistle clawed at his ears.
Shit! She screamed in her mind, biting down on her cheek to stop from screaming as her small knife snapped and sliced into her hand.
In the distance she could hear sharp voices and the clatter of boots against pavement grow louder. Please open - please god let it open! She begged silently as she clawed at the window - ignoring the stinging pain in her hand as the panic began to rise.
Worn fingernails dug into hard wood, and she put everything all the strength her slender form contained into one final lift.
/Thank you!/ She sighed as she scrambled into the dark room.
She took a moment to steady her hammering heart - running a bloody hand through her short red hair. Willow, my girl - what have you got yourself into? She admonished herself and she could almost hear her grandmother's disapproving tone saying the familiar words that accompanied her childhood adventures.
She hefted the case in her uninjured hand - it had seemed so easy at first, a well-dressed young man obviously lost in the tiny, Berlin back streets - a shove, a threat and she would be able to eat that night. She had not expected the man to struggle or to pull a gun on her - let alone for the streets to suddenly fill with bright lights and angry SS officers.
Willow shook of the fearful memory - she was safe for now and she could take in her surroundings. Even in the dark she could see that the owners of the house were rich, very rich - expensive furniture and artworks glistened in the faint moonlight. The room she was in obviously belonged to a woman - she could make out the shapes of perfume bottles and a make-up case resting near a mirror and an elegant dress aired on a wardrobe door.
The glint of a second mirror just behind one of the room's doors caught her eye - she couldn't be that lucky! Grinning happily she turned the small bathroom's light on wincing as she took the first good look at her hands - her fingertips were shredded and she could feel the tiny shards of wood digging into her calloused hands, but they were nothing compared to the deep gash that covered her left palm.
Whimpering she turned on the tap.
Suddenly a door banged and voices filled the house. "Fuck!" she snarled, slapping the light and tap off she crouched behind the door.
The bedroom was flooded with light. "So d-did you enjoy this e-evening?" a soft, husky voice filled Willow's ears.
"It was awful!" an accented, but equally feminine voice responded. "Couldn't we've gone to the theatre instead?"
"W-Wagner not to your t-taste Lara?" the husky voice teased. "It's the thing that p-proper German women are expected to attend - meet a good G-Ger-German h-husband."
"Like that's going to happen," The accented voice snorted.
"How c-can you b-be so sure?" The husky voice was still light and teasing.
At first Willow didn't hear an answer - then her eyes widened as she heard a series of soft moans. She scrabbled towards the door, and once again she had to bite her cheek sharply to keep herself quiet.
She felt her temperature rise and her blood shoot directly to her centre as she took in the vision in front of her. The two women were locked in a hungry kiss, their hands dancing along the others body - the first was a tall brunette, her curvaceous body a slight contradiction to her slender and clearly muscled form. The second women took Willow's breath away, she was only slightly smaller than her lover - but with long blonde locks that glistened like silk in the room's light, her lightly coloured dress accenting her pale skin and soft figure.
Willow pulled back from the couple as the brunette slowly freed the blonde from her clothes - long, strong fingers gradually revealing the smooth, plains... she collided with the bag, falling backwards with a yelp -her head striking the hard floor with a dull thud.
A surprised, fear filled scream echoed in her mind as the blackness took her.
"Anything Sergeant?" a feminine voice filled with venom snarled in the night.
"No Captain," a dry, rasping voice answered.
"Fuck!" The owner of the first voice stepped under a streetlamp - revealing a slender brunette, her dark eyes flashed with barely controlled rage.
A tall man stepped beside her, his neck and jaw covered in a series of intricate scars and they turned his wicked grin into a gruesome snarl as he spoke. "Colonel Hitzenbaum will..."
The small brunette lashed out with a leather-clad hand. "Shut up - is the courier here?"
"Yes Captain," he scowled with fake contrition.
"Good, bring him here." She smiled as a nervous looking soldier was brought to her - a swift kick by her scarred sergeant brought him to his knees - her smile changing to a leer, and cruel twinkle entered her eyes.
"So you're the one who lost Colonel Hitzenbaum's package?" she sneered - quietly enjoying the look of absolute terror that entered the young man's eyes as he recognised the name of her superior.
"It w-was s-stolen," he whimpered desperately.
"Yes - I know, this is why its quick." It was a fluid movement, the gun appeared and the shot echoed through the quiet streets. "Sergeant expand the search - search gardens, houses, rubbish if you have too, but I want the package found and the thief at my feet. You have one hour," she snapped, before turning on her heels.
"Thank you Henry." Michael von Holt nodded to butler as he exited the car, looking up at the exterior of his family's Berlin house with a growing sense of dread, his sister's panicky phone call still echoing in his mind.
He was a handsome man; his hair and skin bleached by the sun and the well-tailored dinner jacket only enhanced his muscled form and despite his disturbed state his graceful, controlled movements could not be hidden, and even in the misty darkness his light blue eyes sparkled with warmth and charm.
"Tara! Tara!" He called as he entered the building.
"We're in the l-lounge Michael." He let out a sigh of relief as he heard his sisters voice.
He frowned as he entered the apartment's main room - his sister was sitting calmly next to a scruffy redhead calmly bandaging his hands, whilst her sometime companion Lara Croft studied an open case on the room's heavy coffee table. "Tara, Lara what's wrong."
"I-I-It's n-n-nothing M-M-M-Michael..." Tara stammered heavily, something she rarely did unless nervous or lying.
"Tara Stephanie von Holt - tell me the truth?" he admonished softly - his tone dripping with almost parental disapproval.
Tara blushed, "We w-were i-interrupted - I t-t-thought..."
"We thought it was a burglar or worse," Lara's strong but accented voice came to the other woman's aide.
"And..." His eyes narrowing at the redhead, his quick mind beginning to piece together what had happened.
"We were half right - an intruder yes, but not for us."
"Pardon?" he frowned not understanding.
"Look for yourself. Lara waved at the case.
"My god!" he exhaled as he looked in the case - there was a triangle of pure gold covered with bands of neat, intricate symbols and pictures; surrounding the tablet where a series of clothes - darkened with age, covered with similar symbols, but the most magnificent of all was a series of entwined multicoloured disks covered with a wealth of precious metals and stones. "That looks like a map - but it's not quite right."
"No," Lara agreed her voice like his was filled with wonder; she pointed with a toothpick careful not to touch the delicate surface. "Britain's joined to Europe and half covered in white..."
"The same with A..." He clicked his fingers. "So this is what Wilhelm's men are looking for... this is not good."
"You boy, what's your name?" Michael snapped, ignoring his sister turning his attention to the small, scruffy young man.
"Me?" the boy squeaked, looking up desperately at Michael.
"My god," he whispered under his breath, realising two things - firstly, this was not a young boy but a young girl and secondly that she had the most amazing green eyes he'd ever scene. "Y-yes what's y-your name?"
"W-willow," she whispered trying to disappear into herself.
"Willow what?" he pressed, wanting to know who had caused so much panic with his employer.
"Willow Rosenberg," she whispered so softly, she barely heard herself.
"You're a Jew?" Michael accused harshly.
She nodded, fear clutching at her stomach, her only support the soft hands of the blonde that continued to clean her hands.
"Oh fuck!" Michael shouted. "No! No! No... thief fine I can deal with - but a fucking Jew."
"Michael," Tara warned slightly - even Lara frowned at his tone.
"I need a drink." He rubbed his eyes - he took deep breathes to control the panic that boiled in his belly. "Fräulein Rosenberg you look like you haven't eaten in days - Lara would you please take her down to the kitchen, Henry will get you whatever you want."
"Come on Willow you'll enjoy this - Henry's a god in kitchen." Lara agreed quickly when she saw the distress in his voice - almost dragging the girl from the room.
"Tara don't - don't even think it," he begged after he'd gulped down a large whiskey, pouring himself an equally generous second.
"She's a goddamn Jew - don't you understand?" He turned angrily towards the blonde, his blue eyes blazing.
"For God's sake Tara - are you completely stupid?" he all but screamed. "I know Oxford is secluded - but its not the North fucking Pole, you must know?"
"You don't believe in that shit - do you?" Her voice trembling with fear.
"No of course not," he sighed pouring himself another drink. "But that doesn't matter - its what they believe."
"But you m-must be a-able... you have the a-artefacts b-back," Tara pleaded with both relief and fear, moving to embrace her brother.
"If she was just a thief then yes, but..."
"What's d-different," she whispered.
"If they find out... if they find out... have you heard of Dachau?" She shook her head. "It's near Munich..."
"What is it?" She was suddenly afraid, she could fell the fear in her brother's body - he was never afraid.
"It's a place where they put people... people who break certain laws... who know certain things... and you don't come back," he whispered, his eyes closed tightly as he fought against the images that filled his mind.
Tara gasped, "You can't..."
"Why do you think I sent you to Oxford?" he sighed ruefully, unable to meet his sisters eyes. "If your... tastes became known... if I help this girl, and its discovered... I might escape with death, but... but you'd end up there..." He turned towards her and the cold determination that filled his eyes caused her to gasp in shock. "And I will not allow that to happen."
"Another?" Henry asked with wonder as the slender girl consumed a second hefty sandwich.
She shook her head - wiping her mouth with her sleeve, her stomach rebelled grumbling, loudly, once again.
"How about some cake instead?" the butler asked kindly - already moving towards the pantry as the young woman's green eyes widened in delight.
"Can I have some too?" Lara asked sweetly - her stomach and taste buds remembering the delights of the butler's cooking.
The grey haired man scowled playfully at the brunette. "On one condition - you'll keep those English boys away from Mistress Tara."
"With everything I have," she winked.
"Good - now I think I have some Chocolate Cake left, and their should be some cream too," he mumbled happily to himself.
"English boys," Willow frowned, "doesn't he know abo..."
"Tara's preferences?" Lara drawled, pinching a loose piece of cheese from Willow's plate. "Yep - you're not the only one who's discovered her in the moment - but don't tell him about me and her."
"Why?" Willow mumbled without thinking.
"Tara's my best friend - not my lover, and he wouldn't approve."
"B-b-but..." Willow stammered, images of the two women locked in a passionate embrace filling her mind.
Lara shrugged nonchalantly in reply.
"What's Oxford like?" Willow asked quickly, trying to draw the conversation away from the awkwardness that had descended.
"A typical university town - filled with stuffy old men, with stuffy old ideas," Lara groused. "Why?"
"I a-always wanted to go there - study amongst the spires, the ancient halls, the books..." the redhead sighed wistfully.
"Really?" Lara asked, surprised that a street rat had heard of the university, let alone wish to study there.
Willow nodded. "I was meant to go there... b-before."
"Before Hitler, before Nuremberg, before my Grandma died... before everything," the redhead snapped angrily.
"Do you speak English?" Lara asked suddenly.
"Oh yes." Willow responded automatically, "and Latin, and French." Her English carrying only the slightest of accents, "I wanted to study maths - but..."
Lara reached across the table to squeeze the redhead's slender hand.
"What will happen to me?" Willow mumbled after Henry had placed their desert in front of them.
"I don't know - but it'll be okay I promise." Lara answered ruefully, her soft voice lacked conviction.
"Of course it will but that's for tomorrow." A heavily accented called across the kitchen. "My sister and Henry are preparing a room for you," Michael called, switching back to German.
"She needs to disappear," Michael sighed after the redhead had left - Lara was surprised at the redness that rimmed his eyes.
"Too much risk?"
"Yes - I'll return the artefacts this evening, and tomorrow..." He couldn't bring himself to finish the statement.
"Does Tara understand?"
"Thankfully no - I said I'd do something," he breathed sadly.
"I might have a solution," Lara offered casually.
Lara nodded, carefully cleaning her plate. "There is a man at the Embassy - for a price he can create documents, to help people start anew."
"And..." Michael sat up abruptly.
"Willow is very intelligent - she claims to have been offered a place at Oxford..." Lara continued in the same nonchalant tone.
"If true - one Willow Rosenberg disappears and another is born - this can be done?" Michael said eagerly, clutching at the straw the Englishwoman offered.
"Yes, but it'll cost."
"Ah Lara - you don't change," he chuckled sardonically, "but you can't have the artefacts."
"Not all of them perhaps - the strange map and a cloth perhaps," Lara bartered quickly.
Michael's eyes narrowed, "A cloth maybe - but the map."
"Why not, it's portable, easy to hide - obviously expensive, a thief's dream," Lara countered, barely able to keep a triumphant smirk from her lips when she saw Michael's shoulders slump.
"Okay," he nodded, rubbing his tired eyes, "but it must be done now... tonight."
Lara shook his outstretched hand.
If Michael von Holt fulfilled some twisted notion of the perfect German - Wilhelm Hitzenbaum was his complete opposite; pale and thin, his short dark hair was turning a premature grey, in truth their only common feature was bright blue eyes, but whilst Michael's contained a sparkling warmth, Wilhelm's were as cold and as hard as a winter morning.
However, unlike von Holt Hitzenbaum had not been into wealth and influence, but a small southern farm broken by the privations of war and the chaos of the Weimar Republic. On his arrival in Berlin he'd been bullied for his size and isolated by his country accent, until he'd joined the ranks of Himmler's SS - showing a ruthlessness efficiency that had both pleased and terrified his superiors causing his rapid rise in the ranks. So at the age of 30 he'd reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, and in charge of the Antiquities Programme - a project that had the eye of the Führer himself.
"Wilhelm - sorry to keep you waiting," von Holt's voice called apologetically across the lounge. "My sister is returning to Oxford this evening..."
"Of course Michael," The smaller man waved off his apologies. "Family yes."
"Indeed," he responded, picking up on his superior's sarcasm. "They are often far too much trouble - drink?"
"Please - was that Lady Croft I saw leaving?"
Michael stiffened slightly. "Yes - she is a friend of the family."
"That must be awkward - considering your chosen professions... thanks." Wilhelm smiled at the taller man's discomfort, they may work together but there was no love lost between the former aristocrat and common farmer.
"Not really, most tomb raiders are friendly rivals - there are too many dangers in the darkness to worry about," the former aristocrat answered smoothly.
"You called." Hitzenbaum changed the subject when he realised that Michael would not be baited on the issue.
"I heard you had a few problems this evening." This time it was Michael's turn to enjoy his guest's discomfort.
"What of it?" he snapped in response.
"Henry found this on the grounds - I believe it maybe what your looking for." Michael presented Wilhelm with the strong leather case.
"Are you sure?"
"Well I don't who else would be looking for ancient cloth and a relic of pure gold," Michael said with relish as he opened the case.
"My God!" Wilhelm gasped as his eyes rested on the golden object. "Was there anything else?"
"What were you expecting?" Michael asked with a puzzled frown.
"A collection of linked disks and a fifth cloth," Wilhelm answered quickly, his eyes never leaving the shimmering gold.
"That's all that was there..."
"The thief probably took them," Wilhelm snarled angrily. "No matter, Captain Braun will recover the item and the criminal that took them."
"I doubt the formidable Emily will fail you." Please god let her - just once let her fail, Michael begged silently.
"You're probably correct." Hitzenbaum shrugged, before his voice turned deadly serious. "Now that this is returned I can give you new assignment - I want you to decipher these - it is your only mission, you're to go wherever and do whatever is necessary."
"What do you think it is?" Michael whispered, shocked at his superior's words.
"I'm not sure - but initial inquiries indicate this could be the key to the Reich's superiority." Absolute conviction burned in his eyes as he spoke, and von Holt could barely control the shudder of fear it caused.