Nathan checked Flynn's gun and admonished his ability to wind up in these situations. He made it the rest of the way down the stairs and put his back to a tree when he spotted the man he sought. His concern had been accurate. Lazarevic was already in the process of drinking blue sap out of cupped palms.
He couldn't resist. He peered around the tree to see what would happen. It did sound pretty crazy there could be some sort of super serum in the form of tree sap within some ancient, abandoned city.
The reality of its existence was proven as he witnessed the sap's power first-hand. Lazarevic made a brief choking noise but then the heavy scarring along the right side of his face and neck vanished. The deep gash where Navarro's bullet must have clipped his skull closed up, skin smoothing over like new. But he was still coated in dry blood on the left side of his skull, making him continue to look as scary as the man truly was. That and his eyes of insanity.
His head came up, sniffing the air about him, and Nathan pulled back to hide.
Aw, what? He breathed in and out and then stepped away from his hiding place to face his enemy.
“You think you can stop me?”
He put his hands on his hips to give him a slight shrug. “That's the idea.”
Lazarevic laughed and reached down to the ground to pick up his shotgun. “You think you've come to end me, but here you will only find death.”
Nathan squinted a little, bringing Flynn's magnum up to target the sneering war criminal. “Eh, yeah? Your death.”
The guy was shaking his head. Why was he shaking his head?
“You're going to die here.”
Hm. Boring. And disagreeable. Nathan fired a shot into a protruding bulge of sap near where the man was standing. Blowing him up might be more effective than shooting the guy who ingested the weird blue sap of healing and power.
The explosion knocked Lazarevic off his feet. He lowered the gun hesitantly. Please be dead. Please?
His twisted and contorted limbs realigned themselves and he started getting up. Goddammit. Nothing could ever be that easy. There wasn't much time before Sully and Elena would make it down here with Flynn. How much damage could a psychopath with super serum take?
He winced momentarily at the scream. Pure rage practically flowed from his opponent, eyes glaring directly at his position. Nathan was sure glad he'd accepted the assault rifle and a handful of grenades from the mercenary after all.
Holstering the smaller gun, he took the rifle in his hands. Now he had a pissed off psychopath on super serum trying to kill him. This was not going to be awesome. Let him come and try.
“I will crush you!” Lazarevic screamed out at him. “Bring it on!”
Nathan took off running when Lazarevic let loose a shotgun blast in his direction. Bark from the tree splintered in his direct path and he flinched and ducked away. Good thing he had because another shot roared over his head where he'd just been keeping it.
“Come on, you big ugly bitch,” he goaded.
He ran again, quickly finding he wished his immediate area was bigger. Lazarevic was determined and constantly stalking about, firing off his shotgun at random. He almost swore at another near miss, sliding behind a particularly thick root to catch his breath.
“Come out and fight me like a man,” Lazarevic antagonized.
He was probably irritated at how long it was taking to murder him. Nathan grunted as he rolled out of his hiding place and let off a spray of bullets in his enemy's direction. Lazarevic responded by running straight at him and he hadn't been expecting that.
Nathan fired off another few rounds which missed, and the guy punched him in the face twice. It hurt bad. His neck was grabbed and he struggled violently against the hold. His enemy was squeezing painfully.
When he was let go, he got the distinct impression it wasn't because he'd managed to pry enough fingers from his throat. It was on Lazarevic's terms and he found himself flying through the air. Landing several yards away, he rolled roughly across the ground and nearly blacked out on the spot.
He clambered to his feet and landed bullets into an outgrowth of explosive blue sap by the man's shoulder. Lazarevic stumbled from the flames and he grinned temporarily. He'd found a method to end this man's mad rampage. Now it would just be about getting it done.
Yeah, sure it is big guy. Nathan started running again, making circles around the psychopath. He managed to explode another sap growth into the man's face and that seemed to flip a switch. His rage impossibly grew.
“Why won't you die?” the man snarled.
Oh crap. He almost tripped in his haste to outrun the mad criminal. Lazarevic caught up and lunged to grab him. He managed to roll under his reach and keep on going. The word “coward” was spat after him but he didn't care. Like hell he was going to get choked and thrown down more than once by this jackass.
“Have some of this!”
Nathan didn't know what that meant. He only had to wonder another second before three or four grenades landed just ahead of him on his current path. Oh no, no, no. He jumped from the ledge onto the lower ground as explosions went off near him.
Leaves began to fall from above, but he barely paid it any attention as he fled from the rampaging man drawing too close. Well he had a few grenades of his own. Two could play at this game.
He lobbed a grenade at the man when he came around a corner and then shot a few rounds straight into his chest. The guy faltered back, blood spurting briefly from his stomach, but he kept on trucking. He seemed no more than irritated by every bullet Nathan sent his way.
“You're going to die here!”
Time to run some more. He jumped across a drop-off and clambered over a stone ledge as he searched for where he'd move next. Good thing he was planning ahead because Lazarevic sent another batch of grenades raining down on his current position. He avoided getting blown to pieces and jogged toward a thick vine that could provide him some cover.
The ground beneath his feet began to tremble and shake. He noted there were an increasing number of leaves coming from above and a worrying amount of small blue fires scattered about. This place was falling apart in the wake of their combat.
From his position, he watched Lazarevic walking across a giant and twisted root so large it was basically a pathway. There was a big outcropping of sap growing bigger before his eyes. When Lazarevic stalked past it, he fired and the whole thing blew. His enemy faltered from the explosive blow and he swapped his rifle for the magnum to get in a few more powerful hits. This guy had to give out eventually, super serum bullshit or not.
He saw movement from the corner of his eye and spotted Sully and Elena down below by the pool of sap. They were crouching and staring at the scene of the suffering tree falling apart. When had they gotten there? What if Lazarevic noticed them? He couldn't let that happen.
“Come on, you big ugly bitch!” he yelled with unmasked contempt.
That got him coming again all right. Too fast. Fists swung into him and he dropped his gun when he was yanked upward by the neck. Ow... He fought vehemently to loosen the grip and get free.
The man laughed and swung him around and away. He landed as hard as the first time, unconsciousness threatening to claim him. Lazarevic didn't hesitate to give him some more grenades to contend with and he bolted from the radius of the impending explosions as quick as he could.
Elena was looking at him. She'd seen him fall. If he didn't want Lazarevic to notice her he had to stop looking at her. Or he could do this...
Taking into account the now massive shaking of the place, he tossed two grenades in rapid succession at the man. Then he used the gun he did manage to hold on to, bursting an outgrowth of sap near his enemy's face. He almost didn't believe it when the dual attack took him down. The accumulating damage was finally enough.
Lazarevic stumbled and fell to his knees beside the sap pool. Really close to Sully and Elena.
Gripping the rifle tight, he hurried to enter the man's line of sight. He didn't want him looking across the pool of sap engulfed in blue fire, to where his friends were now standing. Nathan approached as the man held himself up with one hand and watched him come.
“Great men have the will to do what is necessary. You don't have the will,” Lazarevic informed him.
He stared at the man's face silently. He was thinking about all the crap the man had put him through, all the damage he'd done to Nepal, all the times he and his soldiers tried to kill him or Chloe or Elena. Jeff was dead because of this murdering psychopath, and what he'd done to Flynn... There were so many reasons to execute the son of a bitch.
“You think you are above me, better than me. That I'm a monster,” Lazarevic schooled him coolly. “But tell me, how many men have you killed? No. How many men have you killed just so you can reach this place alone?”
Nathan clenched his teeth, annoyed the guy was trying to make them out to be anything similar. He wasn't some sadistic mass murderer who got off on power and fear. He shifted the tip of the rifle subconsciously closer to Lazarevic's face and the man took immediate notice.
“That's it, boy. No compassion. No mercy. Do it! You don't have the will.”
He breathed carefully and motion drew his eyes up past the man. He wasn't certain what was happening until he saw the Desert Eagle he'd lost during the fight. Then he knew.
“Maybe not. But he does.”
Lazarevic looked away from his lowering rifle to see across the pool of flames. Harry Flynn was walking around the edge of the pool, utilizing the side opposite of Sully and Elena. They were looking at him in complete surprise. He'd missed something...
Flynn had his red leather jacket back on, still bloody on the left side where he'd been bleeding out from a bullet. He felt it safe to assume his friends got him to the sap pool in time and had him drink, because he didn't appear exhausted and weak anymore. Nathan figured if he could try and kill him, he was likely not to have any problem with killing a war criminal, yeah?
He was hesitating though. “I told you before. Killing you is best for everyone.”
The man at their mercy smiled, eager and wicked. “Good... That's it.”
“Your punishment is inevitable,” Flynn added, bitterness and hate leeching into his speech.
He sounded very much like he was repeating words spoken to him at an earlier time. Nathan began to wonder if Flynn was stalling because he couldn't actually pull the trigger. Or was he working up to it, similar to how Nate had been, reminding himself of the terrible things the criminal had done?
“All those lessons paid off, eh? Your will has grown strong,” Lazarevic said approvingly.
It was disquieting but Flynn didn't appear affected by it.
“Some men need to be put down, before they can cause more harm,” he apprised the man with conviction. “Consider that a lesson learned, you sadistic fuck.”
A soft laugh emerged from the kneeling man's mouth. “Do you have the will?”
Flynn stared him in the eyes when he ascertained what the psychopath was looking for. Lazarevic wanted him to prove him right. That men who refused to show compassion and mercy were stronger. Men who would do whatever was needed to become great were worthy. But Harry Flynn wasn't someone who wanted fame or a following. He wasn't perfect either. In this moment, Nathan could read everything off the man's face plain as day.
“You're wrong,” Flynn told the brutal man seeking a similar kind of person, in an understanding tone. “This is mercy.”
He pulled the trigger and Nate watched Lazarevic's body fall motionless to the ground. All around them the tree was going up in flames as the ground cracked and broke apart. But for a few moments more everyone just stood there, silent and unmoving.
* * * * *
The old man was the first to break the dead stop they'd all come to, sharing how good an idea it would be for them to be anywhere else. His arm was jostled by Drake passing to join his friends. That was what caused him to tear his gaze from Lazarevic's body. Not surprisingly, he was already being ignored as the trio entered into a conversation together. Fine by him.
He holstered his gun and adjusted his jacket pocket, ensuring its contents secure. Avoiding some falling debris, he jogged after the retreating backs of Drake and the others. He made it in time to hear the blonde reporter telling Drake something about him.
“We thought he'd left.”
Maybe he should have just gone while he had the opportunity. But he couldn't leave when Lazarevic was alive and superpowered. And he needed to get that insurance. Eventually she would learn Zoran Lazarevic was truly dead. She always learned the information she required. The bitch was terrifying like that. Secret organizations never could seem to stray away from being freaky and strange.
As much as he didn't want to give her what she wanted, he might have no choice. The woman loved her mind games. If his hand was forced to repay the debt, he'd give it over in a heartbeat to prevent her lapdog being sicked on him. He'd been turned over to her dog before, and it was the worst thing he'd ever experienced. With his history, that was saying a lot.
They reached the top of the stairs and Chloe was waiting for them. The area above the tree was shaking and rumbling too. She'd probably been left to wait and find out what the heck they'd done to cause it. Come to think of it, had he ever been on a job with Drake that had gone perfectly to plan?
“Nate!” she called out on seeing him.
Her eyes shifted to him when she noticed him lagging behind. She was clearly surprised to see he was no longer pale faced and dying. He figured he must look good as new because he was feeling great. There was no massive pain in his chest from a bullet and his back didn't irritate him. He could walk pain-free again too. His body was practically thrumming with energy and he felt ready to do anything.
A thought occurred to him and he pulled the jacket back from his shoulder a bit to view clearly. His scar from a stabbing a year ago was gone. The skin was smooth and flawless. He released his jacket and his fingers came up to feel above his lip.
His eyes were staring ahead at nothing in particular but then the blonde entered his line of vision. She was watching him touch his face.
“Are you okay?”
“Is it gone?” he asked.
“Is what gone?”
“I had a small scar above my lip. Is it gone?”
The woman moved a step closer and squinted to peer more closely at the spot on his face. After a moment she drew back and shook her head.
“There's no scar. The sap healed Lazarevic's scars. It must have healed yours too.”
“The physical ones anyway, right? Haha.”
She didn't seem to get it. He brushed her reaction off and walked past to go where Chloe was waiting. A loud crack echoed throughout the area. The shaking went from being slightly unsettling to instant immediate danger. The road was breaking apart. They had to go. Now.
“Go!” he yelled and shoved Chloe forward.
He stalled a moment, watching the sight in astonishment. The whole damn place was coming down. How did Lazarevic and Drake manage that with some bullets and grenades? The base foundation of something really was that important. Yikes.
“Goddamn! Get moving!”
Flynn spun around and realized both he and Drake had stayed where they were to watch the place begin to fall apart in leaps and bounds. Meanwhile the ground cracking apart was rapidly heading in their direction. He took off after Sullivan a second before Drake did, running full speed. If any of them fell through, it would be a long, long way down.
His eyes focused ahead for the stairs leading to the exit. Get to the goal. Get to the goal. He repeated the mantra and then the road in front of him cracked and dropped lower. Flynn didn't hesitate and jumped. He made it easily and kept running, glancing behind as the large piece of road dropped off into the canyon below.
He didn't see Drake. He stuttered to a halt, frowning. Flynn really didn't want to get closer to the crumbling and hazardous road that nearly dropped him a moment ago. He went, thinking Drake might have gone over and what he was to do if that was the case. If Navarro was still around, he probably wouldn't let Drake's friends go if the man had gotten himself killed.
The younger man was struggling to pull himself up from the edge. He must have fallen short on his own jump when the path gave out. Flynn reached down and gripped his bicep firmly.
“Come on,” he said urgently, reaching out with his other hand.
Drake took a second to first look at his face before accepting the help. Once up, they kept running to get off this breaking path of death. The others were at the stairs watching their progress. Just before they made it to the safety of stable ground, Navarro and the mercenary with the scarf over his face and sharp eyes came in through the entrance.
He tripped from a combination of the quaking road and his distress at seeing Navarro. A hand came under his flailing arm and steadied him so he barely missed a stride. He glanced at Drake and gave him a shaky nod before they pushed on and finally made it to safe ground.
But was it really safe?
Navarro was staring past them as the last of the breaking road fell into the deep drop. The road to Shambhala utterly destroyed, and there was no distinguishable manner of reaching the tree now. Of course, by the amount of fire spreading throughout the tree's roots, there was a more than fair chance the tree itself had been destroyed.
“I see you've lost yet another ancient treasure which could have net us billions.”
The man said it calm, but there was obvious seething anger beneath the surface. He stood by and watched how this would go. Could get interesting.
“I took care of the soldiers. You had one man to handle. You managed to dunk me into water along with the prize two years ago when we clashed. What did you do this time? Bury your competitor down below with our tree? You're supposed to be an amazing treasure hunter,” Navarro lectured with an irritated glare.
“I am,” Drake boasted. “No one would have found Shambhala without me.”
“Yes, well, might I suggest next time you find the treasure, you make sure not to destroy it upon discovery?”
In typical Nathan Drake fashion, the man ignored the rebuke and smiled proud.
“The treasure was safer out of your hands, just like El Dorado. I have no regrets with what happened to the tree.”
El Dorado? The actual El Dorado? He repeated his thoughts out loud. “You found El Dorado? It's real?”
Drake cracked him a sideways smile, fingers grasping the ring around his neck. “Yeah. It was really something. Not what I expected though.”
Flynn shook his head. “You didn't expect what you found here either. You're rubbish at thinking ahead, eh?”
The man scowled and put a hand on his hip. “Hey I improvise like a pro. You might be good at figuring out A to B and what's the goal, but you're rubbish at solving puzzles.”
He rolled his eyes. The guy couldn't help getting full of himself and annoying. Well, with Navarro back in charge of dozens of armed soldiers versus their handful of people and a couple guns, he'd better position himself onto the right side. He despised being in a similar position with Navarro as he had been with Lazarevic, but the one with power was his best bet.
Survival and coming out on top. Those remained his goals. It could happen.
“Enough. I don't need further bickering from the two of you,” Navarro chastised. “And are you two finished being locked in shock?”
Sullivan and the blonde woman snapped out of their stupor at directly being addressed by the reason for their daze. Flynn wondered what the man would do about the addition of Drake's friends. He seemed to know the reporter and Sullivan, probably from the hunt for El Dorado. It was still amazing to learn the statue was real. He was curious to know if there had been bountiful amounts of other gold and gems to be claimed along with it.
“No, I'm not dead. Yes, I'm certain it's difficult for your small minds to grasp. Now, welcome to my team. You've just joined Drake in finding treasure for me. It's our arrangement you see. He finds treasure; I get rich.”
“Sounds like a raw deal to me.”
“Yes, well, much like your association and employment to Gabriel Roman, Mr. Sullivan, you have little choice. Find me treasure, or I'll get rid of you.” Navarro shifted toward Drake. “It's good your friends have arrived. I have leverage now.”
Drake didn't like the dangerous warning at all. “Don't you threaten them, you son of a bitch!”
Navarro laughed at his outrage. “Then find me treasure.”
“It's not that easy-I can't just-What? These things don't fall out of the sky.”
“Aw come on, mate. You said it yourself. You improvise like a pro.” He looked to Navarro. “Give him a few weeks to research. He'll come up with something for us.”
The man seemed pleased, evaluating the reactions Flynn's statements received from the others. He checked them out himself. Drake looked ticked off, Sullivan was looking rather mad as well, and the reporter appeared concerned. Chloe was the only one who didn't have much of an expression on her face. It was likely she wouldn't be allowed to dash this time around.
“Come along, Flynn. We've got some planning to do.”
Navarro spun on his heel and walked away without waiting. The mercenary placed his hand on his holstered sidearm as a warning to Drake and his friends not to try anything. Flynn passed ahead of the others to walk alongside the man, but he was trying hard to listen to the four behind him, the mercenary bringing up the rear in his usual silence.
The eavesdropping paid off when the reporter tried to start a discussion on their predicament.
“Nate, what are we going to do?”
“Shut up,” Chloe whispered harshly.
“Chloe, not helping,” Drake said.
Sullivan was the one to rally them with confident words. “We're gonna improvise.”
Heh. They might try. Trickery and the creation of chaos would be ideal to succeed. Much like the bombs they'd planted in the soldiers' camps in Borneo to create confusion and distraction. If they did anything like they'd done in that jungle, he'd take full advantage to slip away.
He didn't have the luxury of friends in his own predicament, but that was just fine. He'd been going it alone almost his entire life. No matter how much Navarro acted on the level with him, he personally experienced how he treated his partners. Flynn was going to need to stay on his toes if he hoped to avoid Navarro's wrath for keeping important information from him.
His plan was to convince the guy that Drake had a treasure for them to go after, wait for Drake's inevitable plan to get him and his friends out of harm's way to go off, and then disappear himself in the mess left behind. Nobody cared enough to look for him. This could work. Maybe.