Miss Lara Croft stared intently at the ancient artifact that sat boldly on the pedestal in front of her. Even after the many adventures that she had been on and the many things that she had seen in her life she was always amazed at the sight of a new find such as this, especially one that no one else in the world had seen for thousands of years.
But now she had done just that and it was one of the most beautiful things that she had ever found. "It" was a long golden rod three feet high and was ornamented from top to bottom with precious jewels and stones. It was so ornate, in fact, that the light cast from the young explorer's flare reflected brilliantly off of it, lighting up the whole chamber as if it had been a light bulb.
What was even more amazing was that the rod was not lying horizontal on the stone slab but, in defiance of all laws of nature, was standing upright out of the pedestal. It stretched up high toward the ceiling, making itself almost as tall as the woman that was staring at it. This gave off an even more grandiose appearance.
Intrigued, Croft made her way around the artifact with a professional eye, looking for any sign of booby traps while at the same time trying to understand how it could have defied gravity for so many centuries. It was soon obvious, however, that there was nothing to be found on either count.
That being the case, she turned to the ancient hieroglyphics that were etched into the stone walls around her. Normally, she would have looked at them first but this time she did not feel so confident about it. From what she knew of the sect that had built the tomb anything that was on the wall was almost sure to be misleading, some sort of riddle, or just out right false.
"Well, here goes nothing," Lara told herself as she reached out to touch the stone pictures. . Slowly, she moved the tips of her fingers across them as she spoke each word out loud. "What is good is evil and evil is good. Kindness and Hatred are the same." The explorer sighed deeply in annoyance. It was just as she had thought a riddle. More over, a riddle that she was not sure was solvable.
Frustrated, she peered back down the hallway where she had entered the chamber. There was no way that she could just take the artifact and run. If there were some sort of trap she would be dead before she took two steps. There had to be something more substantial than an ancient riddle.
Once again Miss Croft ran her hand across the hieroglyphics. Like before, it was all a jumble of incoherent phrases that seemed to make no sense at all. In defeat, she pulled her hand back and placed it on the top of one of the nine-millimeter pistols holstered around her waist.
Her mind was a muddle. She turned and leaned back against the wall that she had just been looking at and tried to clear her head. The meaning of the riddles, the rod standing up on end, her eventual escape, it was almost too much to comprehend at once.
Slowly, she moved her eyes around the room looking for anything that would help her figure out what to do next. The only halfway unusual thing about the room was a pile of dust in the far corner that seemed to be slightly higher than normal. Even so, it was most likely the product of a gust of wind that had somehow made its way into the tomb and built it up over centuries. Still, the young explorer was out of any other possibilities at the moment so there was no reason not to look. Lackadaisically, she pushed herself off of the wall and made her way to the far corner where the unusual pile of dust had formed. Then, with all the resolve of a high school girl taking a final exam, she squatted down and began to sift through the formation.
There was nothing there. As she had first suspected it was simply a pile of dust that had formed naturally. Even so, Miss Croft continued to play in it with her index finger, still trying to come up with a solution.
And that was just when she found one. In moving her finger through the dust she managed to knock it into the wall, a most uneventful phenomenon except that when she did so, she felt a strange indentation that seemed very much like the hieroglyphics on the opposite wall beside the artifact.
Swiftly, she knocked the remaining dust out of the way to reveal a group of small symbols near the floor. It was no wonder that she had not seen them before. The rest of the wall was completely blank and since they were covered over there was no way of knowing that they were ever there.
With exuberance, the tomb raider stretched out her hand over the miniature figures as she translated each of them. Like so many of the other messages on the far wall it did not make a lot of sense, at least, not at first.
"The key stands before you." Lara said, reading the words in front of her out loud. She scrunched her face in at it. There was no key to speak of anywhere in the room let alone in the wall that she was staring at. More over, she did not even remember having to unlock anything inside of the tomb for quite a long while.
The only thing that she could think of that the phrase would be referring to would be the artifact. Resolutely, she rose and made her way toward the mysterious golden rod. It looked, to her, the same as before. Nothing had changed at all.
As she moved nearer, however, she began to get a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach that she was getting close to discovering something and it was nothing good. Despite all of that, the intrepid girl sallied forth, moving closer and closer to the object with curiosity gleaming in her eyes.
"Hello, what's this?" She chimed to herself, suddenly stopping. She was now staring unwaveringly forward with her eyes fixed, not on the artifact, but on the pedestal upon which it sat. Directly in the middle of the stone tablet was a small hole only slightly larger around than the rod that floated above it.
Croft gazed in wonderment, trying to understand how she had missed something so obvious before. It had to be the keyhole and the key that was mention could be nothing else than the ornate rod itself.
But what, if anything, did it open? Lara was determined to find out. With reckless abandon she stepped forward, grasped the artifact firmly with both hands, and, using all of her might, shoved it impetuously into the hole.
For a moment, everything was deathly quiet. There was no hint of sound anywhere. Even the wind that had been rustling around had ceased. It was as though the young lady had suddenly gone deaf.
Then, all at once, the ground below the explorer began to shake violently, knocking her off balance. Instinctively, she reached out and grabbed the stone pedestal in front of her for support.
This was only effective for a short time, however, for the trembling beneath her was growing stronger every second. The thick layer of dust and sand that had formed upon the ground swirled around as if it were water exiting a bathtub. She could feel herself slowly sinking and there was nothing that she could do about it but tighten her grip on the pedestal.
It was not enough. The young explorer could feel a great tugging on her legs like a thousand invisible hands, all clinging to her ankles, pulling her down into the dark unknown. , Her grip on the stone slab began to slip, giving way to the unseen forces and allowing them to drag her helplessly below.
It was some time before she opened her eyes again. She did not know how far she had fallen but she knew that it must have been quite a way because every inch of her body, from her head down to her toes, seemed to be in pain. Even her hair ached. Still, she was extremely elated that she was still alive and in one piece.
With great care, the young lady pulled herself up to a sitting position and struck a flare so that she could get a view of her surroundings. She appeared to be in a huge dome shaped cavern of some kind. The sidewalls ran straight up and were worn smooth from a great deal of water that must have once run unabated through the cavern.
Directly in front of her was a small passageway. However, it was the most unusual that the Lara had ever seen. It was obviously man made and appeared to have been there for a great many centuries, long before even the artifact that had brought her there had been constructed. While many stones had, at some point in history, been dislodged from the rock face, most of the passageway was more or less intact. What was strange was the fact that it appeared to have melted into its present form.
But she could not allow herself to focus on that yet, there were far more confusing things afoot. One was that the hole which she had fallen through seemed to have completely disappeared. There was no sign of it anywhere. Puzzled, Croft pulled herself up to her feet to get a better view but to no avail. There was simply no sign of it. It was as though the hole was never there.
So, being left without any other course of action, the young lady turned her attention back to the passage that she had discovered earlier. She was not truly fond of this, especially since the structure appeared to have suffered sever physical trauma at some point. This left her slightly paranoid that booby traps, pit falls, or worse might be hidden nearby. It was her only choice, though, and so she resigned herself to look into it.
Cautiously, she stepped toward the passage, ever vigilant that danger might be close by. For added assurance she pulled out one of her pistols and drew the hammer back. If something was going to happen Lara intended to be ready for it.
It was not an attack that she had to worry about, however. As she approached the strange passage way a faint but ominous sound began to invade her ear. It was a sharp crackling sound almost like that of popcorn popping.
Lara knew it all too well. It was the sound of fire, a great deal of fire. Immediately, she stopped in her tracks to consider the matter. She recalled many adventures that had nearly ended because of the hellish flames. But that alone was not the sole source of apprehension for her. She also recalled past enemies that had attempted to stop her in her quest and how they had perished within the flames. It was, the explorer believed, the very worst way that anyone could die. Even Devon, one of her greatest rivals, who had once tried to dispose of her by pushing her off a cliff into a dark abyss, had said that he could never kill anyone that way.
The young lady took a deep breath, "Perhaps it's only a torch on the other side of the wall," she told herself, trying to calm her nerves. It did not help. If she was right and it was only a lit torch than it meant that someone else was down there with her. And, while that would have been less of a concern, it started her mind roaming about, trying to think what kind of person it could be and how they got there and, more importantly, what they were after.
So, without any other options open to her, Miss Croft vigilantly placed her side arm back into its holster and once again stepped toward the strange opening. As she moved she could hear the crackling sound growing louder with each stride. It swirled around her as if it were a hundred thousand people all mocking and ridiculing her in unison for her fear, but it only served to strengthen her resolve. She had never been one to back down from any challenge and she was not about to start now.
At the same time she began to feel an intense heat building up around her. Whatever was ahead was no torch that. Before long it felt like she was in an oven, being baked to a crisp. When she was close enough the young lady confidently, yet reluctantly, stretched out her hand and touched the stone wall next to the opening. Instantly a sensation of heat shot through her arm, scorching her fingers.
But the explorer was undeterred. Slowly, she drew herself forward and gazed into the chamber beyond. What she saw, despite how prepared she had made herself, caused her heart to sink. There before her, was a vast chamber stretching out for what seemed like miles and all of it flooded by a lake of fire and lava.
Now that she actually saw it the heat from the lake seemed more intense than before. It moved in close, surrounding the young lady's body as if it were an anaconda constricting around its prey so that she could hardly breathe.
The good news, if you could call it good news, was that a stone path sat high above wound its way deep into the cavern. It went on straight for a very long time then ducked sharply behind a large rocky outcropping and disappeared. All in all, the whole cavern gave off the impression that she had somehow just passed through into the very gates of hell.
Cautiously, Lara kneeled down next to the walkway to examine it. She was not about to step out over a huge lava pit if there was a chance that she would fall in. On the surface the stones that made up the path looked very sturdy. In fact, they were almost too sturdy. After seeing the condition of the door she expected them to be in a little worse shape. It didn't really matter. Sturdy or not the obstacle in front of her was her only chance for survival, either that or sit around and stare at it until she starved.
So, with a determination that, until then, had been unknown in the human heart, the young lady pushed herself out onto the walkway. For a time, she was going well. The inferno's previous effect upon her seemed to have disappeared and now the only thing that she felt was raw determination.
It was not long before she came to the far bend where the stone path disappeared behind the rock face and since it was not collapsing all around her, she figured that it was time to take a breather. She needed it too. The intense heat around her seemed to be sucking all the energy out of her body.
More over, she felt sick. Her head throbbed and she was light headed. Also, her mouth had dried up and her tongue felt as though it would crack with the slightest movement. She knew that she was quickly becoming dehydrated. Ever since she had entered into the fiery cavern she had lost a great deal of water through sweat. What was worse, she had no liquid of any kind with which to rehydrate herself. Again, her only option was to continue.
Moving a bit slower than before, the young lady pushed herself onward around the path toward the other side of the rock face, dragging one foot forward and then the other. Several times, she almost tripped over her own feet, nearly sending herself into the fiery lake below.
It was also getting harder to see through the migraine that was continuing to form behind her eyes. She longed to set her trusty sunglasses in place to reduce the pain but she feared that the darkening of the room would only make matters worse. She could only hope that the trek would not last too much longer.
And to that point, there was good news and bad news. The good news was that the path that she was on was soon to come to an end. The bad news was that it was an abrupt end. It was so abrupt in fact, that as soon as it completed its way around the protruding rock face it ran itself directly into the cavern wall.
Once again, Lara's heart sank. This was the last frustration "You've got to be kidding!" She exclaimed in disbelief. Was she never going to be free? In desperation she scanned the room around her for anything that would be of help. . She knew she had to get out and she had to do it quickly or she was going to have a stroke...or worse.
Just then, her eye caught hold of a small notch in the rock across from her. It almost looked like something that she could get her hand around but she was not sure. The heat was making it hard to focus and the rocks in front of her seemed to jump and sway at every opportunity.
In truth, this was not a difficult jump even with a full-blown migraine. The problem was that once she had reached the notch she might find herself stuck there. As far as she could tell there was no where else to go.
More over, the distance between the stone walkway and the wall made for a one-way trip. She would only be able to reach it by making a running jump from the very edge of the stone. Needless to say that when one is hanging from a rock face a run up would not be possible at all.
But, as before, her options were limited to the point of a catch twenty two situation and Lara was quite certain that if she going to die she was going to do so trying and not standing about thinking. So, with grim determination, she backed up as far as she could and took a deep breath, focusing all of her concentration on the one small notch. Then, when she was ready, the young lady launched herself forward and, with the grace of an eagle, sailed blissfully across the gap and snatched the object with her left hand.
At the same time, her momentum carried the rest of her body forward. She groaned as the pain coursed through her arm but pulled herself up nonetheless.
To her relief, she immediately spied a second place in the stone that she could hang onto and without haste; she hoisted her right arm into it. Now she only needed to find a few more to take her to the top.
Unfortunately, there was something that needed to be dealt with first. The dehydration she had been experiencing was turning into heat exhaustion. She now felt more lightheaded than ever and a massive force inside of her continued to compel her eyes to shut so that she could sleep.
She resisted as long as she could but before she could move even an inch the lady's eyes slowly fluttered shut and her grip on the rock face was relaxed sending her plummeting toward the fiery lake below.