This was not the sort of house she would have associated with Professor Randal Grimder. It was a two story rather ordinary looking building in the suburbs. But then Randy had been peculiar all around.
When she had invited the professor to come with her expedition to a secret and ancient temple in central Asia, she had expected an elderly gentleman who would have to be helped with the physical exertion involved. But he would have made up for the trouble by being able to translate what they found in the temple. And with the promise of "all the knowledge of the ancients" to be granted if she showed up on the right day, it would have been worth it. Except it hadn't happened as planned.
"Call me Randy" had been no older than herself and had been incredibly annoying while doing nothing more than smiling in a smug manner. But he did know his languages. That barely made up for the fact that he would bound ahead or straggle behind for no apparent reason. He was never out of breath or even flushed and he never even gave her a chance to refuse his help since he never offered any. Instead he would watch her with his gold/green eyes and chat with whatever natives were around - in their native languages, which she couldn't understand.
She remembered one conversation they'd had before she had started trying to ignore him. She had made some comment about the expedition. She couldn't remember it now. But he had responded with a glare and said, "No. This is not a raid. This can only be done as a pilgrimage. You are traveling to the last temple of the gods of a long forgotten civilization. Once there you must ask for enlightenment and hope the gods will send an emissary to teach you."
She had snorted, "Hardly. I just need to get this robe mentioned in the prophesy and it will give me knowledge."
"Knowledge is not so easily stolen as gold, Lara. Be warned."
"What do you mean by that? Do you know something you're not telling me?"
Randy had just shrugged. "I just translate the instructions. You choose whether to follow them or not." He had walked away then, and she had done her best to ignore him for the rest of the trip.
They had reached the temple eventually. After all of the manuscript fragments that had brought her here, the only text that Randy needed to translate for her was a rather generic greeting at the entrance: All who enter the temple are blessed.
Then things had gone wrong. Giant carved rock creatures had attacked and the temple had begun to crumble from the damage done. She had barely managed to snatch the cloth from the alter and get out alive.
Randy had been furious and after yelling at her for "wanton destruction" had stormed out to find his own way home. And so she had made her way back with a roughly made robe the significance of which she didn't understand.
But now she had come to Randy's house and would get answers. She was sure he knew something. She rang the doorbell.
The man who came to the door matched the surroundings. He appeared to be about 65 years old and looked like a professor.
Lara's first thought was an incredulous, "He lives at home? With his parents?" but she said, "Hello. Is Professor Randal Grimder here?"
The elderly man had sharp eyes as he looked at her more closely. Rather than answering her, after a pause he stated, "Lara Croft. Come in."
"He told me about you," the man led her down a hallway to a comfortable living room. "He said the temple was a place out of time and it was for the best that it was destroyed. But he still cried as he described it to me."
"Where is he? I have some questions for him."
"I can probably answer them."
"He has refused to see me?"
"What are your questions? He told me everything you might need to know. On second thought, how about I tell you what he told me?" At her nod, he began. "Thousand of years ago, a magician priest foresaw the destruction of his culture and had the temple built to continue the faith. Yes, I realize you know all this already. However what you don't know is how the knowledge was supposed to be passed down. The priest took someone, a novice and a demon, some sort of combination of the two, and taught it everything he knew. And arranged for the demon priest to return to the temple every few centuries to teach whoever was there waiting for him. That was how the knowledge was to be granted."
"The temple was merely a meeting place. The rock creatures were carved by the hand of the magician priest and brought to life to care for the temple. They were made beautiful and powerful to represent their gods and to test the acceptance of knowledge seekers. To learn one must be able to accept truths which you might find distasteful or scary as well as those which are nice and comforting.
"You failed that test. You shot them when they first moved. When they weren't attacking, just showing signs of life.
"And this?" He picked up the robe which she had set beside her. "This is the simple robe of a novice. It's a symbol of humility." He suddenly laughed. "You went seeking knowledge and power and gold and you ended up destroying the temple and stealing a symbol of humility. Ironic, isn't it?"
She was pale. "I don't believe you. Where's Randy?"
"You haven't done your research. I am Randal Grimder and I don't care for the diminutive Randy." She leapt to her feet at this.
"If you're Prof. Grimder then who was the man who came on my expedition?"
"Would you believe I don't know?"
"No. Who was he?"
"Well, he was Prof. Tom Heller when he taught me at Oxford, but he mentioned that he's been through several identity changes since then. He'd have to, wouldn't he."
"What? No, wait... he's the demon priest, isn't he?"
"Yup," he watched her work it out under lidded eyes.
"How did he come to use your name, your identity?"
"He was my tutor at university. He taught me a great deal but I could sense that he was holding back. So one day I cornered him and convinced him to tell me about the things he wouldn't have known if he were who he said he was. I've never really figured out what he is, part of our agreement was that I wouldn't ask. But I think he enjoys having someone around who knows that he's different. So he'll drop in from time to time. Six or seven times perhaps over the last forty years." Prof. Grimder paused.
"He had to get to the temple by the deadline and so was preparing for his own trek. It must have reminded him of me because he stopped by and was staying in my guest room when your invitation came. I offered him the temporary use of my identity. He accepted."
"Hmm." They both sat in silence as the sun streamed in the windows.
"I could still get the knowledge if I can track him down."
He laughed. "Even if you could track him down. I doubt you could convince him to teach you."