Miss Lara Croft slowly opened her eyes. She did not know where she was or even if she was alive. The last thing that she remembered was falling head first toward a sea of magma.
Curiously, she placed her hand on top of her head and felt around for any singeing or scaring but there was none. As far as she could tell she was perfectly fine. But what had happened?
Slowly, she rolled over and tried to stand up. As she did, she could feel her legs wobbling beneath her. On top of that her head pounded. She was still suffering from dehydration but if she had not known it she would have sworn that it was a bad hangover.
That being the case, Lara decided to scan her surroundings while she regained her faculties. The whole area around her was dimly lit by a number of torches spaced out around her. They were, however, hardly sufficient to the explorer's liking. Without a second thought she reached back and popped out one her own flares, throwing a bright green light over the whole room.
Now that she could see the room far better the first observation she made was that she was not in a room at all. It was, in fact, a large granite cave that had been hallowed out into passageway. To her left, on either side of the chamber, were two darkened halls.
It was when she gazed down at the dirt floor, however, that she noticed the most significant feature of the area. Someone or something had made several small patterns in the soil around her. Some seemed to sloth along slowly while others were very distinct and spaced out. They had to be footprints. Someone was definitely about.
Without a second thought the explorer dropped her free hand and drew one of her silver nine-millimeter pistols. It was surprising to her that they were still there. Someone obviously did not consider them a threat.
Stealthily, she began to make her way down the hallway on the right side of the room. At the same time she glanced constantly up and down the hall in case someone decided to sneak up behind her.
Mysteriously there was no sign of anyone around. There were no more prints to speak of. There was not even any sound. She began to wonder if she was not wandering into a trap. The young lady leaned back against the wall. Maybe she was being a little paranoid. But even if that were true, it still did not explain why she was not dead. There were too many mysteries about.
After a few minutes of rest to clear her head the explorer proceeded on her way. . Further on in front of her she spied a curious opening leading off to the right. It was, as far as she could tell, just like the one she had encountered before that had opened up into area over the lake of magma.
As she moved down the hall, a faint murmuring began to waft gently out of the opening and into the corridor. With each step that she took Lara could hear it growing louder and louder until it turned into a whisper and then into a voice. Finally, it split itself in half and became two distinct voices.
Croft now gripped even tighter to her pistol her. It felt to her as though the whole world had somehow been turned upside down. One minute, she had been in an ancient tomb that no one had been inside for centuries, then she was falling into a lake of fire, and now she was hearing voices. Stealthily, the explorer crept up to the edge of the opening and peered around the corner. Inside, was a small room. It was all covered in shadow with practically no light what so ever except for a small glowing light in one corner. What was strange was that it appeared to be some sort of computer monitor.
Miss Croft's paranoid state suddenly jumped a notch at the sight. On top of all the other mysteries around her she was seeing something that looked very much like a computer screen in a place that was lit mostly by torches.
The soft glow of the monitor did little itself to lighten the room or even give Lara a glimpse of what was in the darkened corer around it. The darkness in the rest of the room seemed to swallow up any significant light it may have had. It was, however, enough to see a dark figure of moving from within the shadows
In front of the dark corner, a young lady stood nervously discussing her situation with whatever was hiding in the blackness. "You failed!" Barked the darkened figure in a gruff but gentle voice. "I granted you your request and you failed...miserably!"
"Forgive me." Whimpered the other pathetically. "I couldn't stay, I would have been caught."
For some reason, the woman's voice made Lara smile. There was just something about it that was peaceful. Even amidst her continuous whining it chimed out happily, putting a spell on the young treasure hunter.
"You didn't want to be caught?" Repeated the shadowy figure. "You say that as if you were doing something wrong. Did I not tell you that we are helping them?"
The girl nodded her head in agreement. "You also said that you would make me wealthy." she said, feeling a little braver now. "So I can feed my family."
"All in good time." answered the voice in the darkness. "All in good time. But I cannot deal with this right now though. There are other matters at hand." With that, a hand emerged from the shadows and flipped what appeared to be some sort of switch below the monitor. "Do come in Miss." Snarled the voice pleasantly.
Croft fell back against the wall. Apparently she was not as stealthy as she had thought. She would have to practice more when she got home. For now, she had been invited in and she intended to accept. Perhaps she could finally get some answers.The young lady took a deep breath to calm her nerves, turned, and marched confidently into the chamber.
At the same time the flare that she was carrying suddenly flickered and went out leaving her surrounded by the deep shadows of the room. Nonchalantly, she tossed it to one side and turned her attention to toward the blackness where the voice had come from.
"You rang?" She asked smugly, still holding tightly to her pistol.
"Yes, I did." Without a word the other lady turned and exited, leaving Lara and the dark figure alone to talk. "Now then" The figure continued. "What might your name be?"
The explorer placed her now free hand on her second weapon. "You invited me." She reminded the voice. "Perhaps you should introduce yourself first?"
"Very well." conceded the gruff voice. "I'm called Atans. And you?"
"Why have you brought me here?" The adventurer continued, ignoring the question to her
Atans shook his head from beneath his darkened veil. "I did not bring you here. Fate brought you here."
Lara lifted a curious eyebrow. There was something she did not trust about the figure but she was not sure what it was. "Most people who talk about fate are usually trying to justify something."
Suddenly, a loud burst of laughter shot forth the shadows nearly causing the young lady to jump with fright. "True enough!" Chorused the other. "True enough. I did not bring you here but I will admit that it was I that saved you from the depths of the fiery lake."
"My gratitude." Nodded the explorer. "But why?"
"Because you needed it. Replied the creature. "You see, I have spent my entire life trying to help people. I would not regard you with any less respect?"
Croft gazed suspiciously around the room. Somehow she expected a trap to be sprung right then but, to her surprise, there was nothing. Perhaps she was not in any danger, after all. Besides, if someone wanted her dead why would they have bothered to save her? None of it made any sense. "Well judging by the last person that was in here," she said, "it seems like you would want something from me."
At that, a low hum floated out from the corner. It almost like a low growl but with a pleasant connotation attached to it. "There is one thing," Said the other. "Something that will get you home and that will assist me in my quest to help the people of this world."
"Get me home?" Questioned the young lady, bewildered. "It's only a cave. I've found my way out of many before."
"I am sure you have," Atans retorted, smugly. "Unfortunately, the shadowy figure continued, "You are not on your own planet any more."
Now, the young Lady's eyes narrowed. It was a most ridiculous declaration. The cave walls, the sand, the air, everything around her indicated that she had not gone anywhere. But even if it was it was notenough to get her to go gallivanting off to who knows where. "And how do I know that I'm not still on Earth?" She inquired.
Once again the mysterious figure let out a small growl like sound from behind his cloak of darkness. , "I'd wager you've never seen the like of me before." He huffed, pulling himself upright and stepping into the light.
He was, to say the least, hideous. His long slender body rose nearly an entire foot over the young lady. His arms, which hung quite low to the ground, seemed to make his whole body appear to be in a grotesquely anorexic condition.
Probably, the worst feature of all, however, was the face. Like the rest of the body it was shrunken in, forming small pockets and folds everywhere. This was especially true for the area around the mouth that caused the lips to curl up and move off to one side. There was also, nothing resembling a nose. The only part of the poor beast that did not look as if it needed a physician was its eyes. They stood out powerfully from with a set of deep sockets.
Miss Croft never moved. She did not even blink. Within her life, she had seen the strangest most unearthly creatures imagined and there was no reason to think that his appearance alone would be enough to make her think that she was not still on Earth. And, in the end it was something else that caused her to change her mind.
It was his eyes. Strangely, they were the only part of him that seemed to be the least bit human. In fact, they were more human than she had ever seen. They were large, bold, beautiful blue eyes that appeared to be as peaceful as the sea. Within their sockets they each floated from side to side, looking as if there was something of great concern in them, such as an unending pain; a pain so intense that no human heart has ever felt it.
Slowly she felt something come over her. It was like coldness within her soul, as if the pain was more than she could bear. It was like a wave of pity washing over her but stronger as if she could not resist doing something, anything, to help.
All at once Lara felt as though she completely understood the creature in front of her. He had saved her, she felt, because he needed too. It was not a matter of simply wanting to; it was something that he had to do. Something deep within the recesses of his heart made it necessary. If he did nothing, the pain would kill him. Now she had to return the favor.
The young lady nodded her head. "You were saying something about a deal?" She asked, sliding her pistol back into its holster.
Atans nodded and returned to his darkened corner. "You are very strong, Miss." He commented, "Most people, even the most vile, cannot bear to see the pain that I carry with me. So, I sit here in the dark and do all I can for the poor people of this planet."
"And what is so poor about them?" Inquired the explorer, folding her arms in front of her.
For a moment, there was a silence in the air and then a long sigh. "Far from here," he began in far more solemn voice than he had used, before, "there is a powerful man. He has made himself a king and imposed strict laws upon all of his people whom we call, the others."
"I see." Responded the young lady "And they have never tried to revolt or runaway or anything?"
"I have." The creature answered, "But the king is a tricky one. He has somehow deceived them into following him and that I am some sort of evil monster. The poor souls don't know how bad they have it."
Lara raised an eyebrow. "You mean they've been brainwashed?" She asked.
"Something like that." Atans agreed. "From birth they are taught about how great the king is and are conditioned to serve him. Many of them do not even question their existence because they have known nothing else."
The tomb raider bit down on her lower lip in thought. "But you said there was something that could help you?" she asked after a moment.
"It is the king's scepter." Explained the creature. "You see, even I was once a high official of the king and used it daily to control the more free thinking subjects. That is, until I couldn't take it anymore. I, and several others, revolted but we failed and were banished here and proclaimed that I am the evil one. With the scepter his reign will end and the people's will begin. And, of course, in payment for retrieving this item, I will use it to send you home."
Croft nodded. "Well, if it's the only way to get out of here I might as well give it a go. Besides, doing some good while I'm here couldn't hurt I suppose."
"Thank you, my dear;" Atans said. "One of my associates will guide you and explain the details to you. Just remember to avoid speaking with that evil ruler or he will try to trick you as he has done so many."
Now Atans paused for a moment in thought, presumably about whom he was going to send as a guide. When he had made up his mind he reached over and pressed a small button on the panel in front of him. "By the way my dear," he continued, "you never told me your name."
"Lara." Answered the explorer somewhat coldly. "Lara C-"
"You rang, master?" Interrupted a voice from behind. It was the same young lady that had been there before
"Yes," acknowledged the shadowed figure, "I am going to give you a chance to redeem yourself, see to it that Lara here makes it safely to the others village and then into their castle. She has agreed to retrieve the scepter for me."
The girl smiled and bowed obediently. "Yes sir," she agreed, "and thank you." Then, without hesitation, she turned, and led the tomb raider out into the hall. From there, they proceeded on in the opposite direction that Lara had come from, venturing deeper, it seemed, into the cave.
All the while, the only thing that Croft could think about was why exactly she had agreed to help Atans. Only a few moments before it had seemed the right thing to do but now, for some reason, she was not so sure. She could not come up with any logical reason not to but something still seemed rather strange and she did not know why. She surmised that when you are no longer on your own planet some awful things must happen to your mind."You're a quiet one." Announced the guide cheerfully, brining Lara back to reality with a start.
"I've got a lot on my mind." She answered. In reality she had more on her mind than she realized for now that she not lost in her own thoughts anymore, she came to the sudden and startling comprehension that they had traveled a great distance.
In short order they turned down a long narrow hallway. At the far end the tunnel came to a sudden stop. That would have been the end of the journey if it were not for the small wooden ladder leading upward toward the surface.
The girl nodded. "I bet." She said, grasping the first rung and pulling herself up. "It's not everyone that gets a chance to contribute so greatly to the cause."
"Now wait a moment." Croft interjected. "I am not doing this for you. I mean, it is compelling to help out, especially if this king is as a manipulative bug as your master says, but really it's none of my business one way or another. I'm just trying to get back home."
At that a small smile penetrated the other girl's lips and for a moment Lara had a sinking feeling that something was amiss. When she reached the top of the ladder, however, all of that changed. She had ascended from within the depths of a cold dark canyon into a brightly lit meadow. All around her a great deal of overgrown grass served as a means of hiding the entrance from anyone who might be prowling around. Silently, it bent and swayed in step with a peaceful breeze that made its way gently across the plain.
Unfortunately, she did not have time to admire the view. Upon exiting the cave her escort had immediately set off toward a huge nearby forest on their left. As she went she stealthily crouched low in the long grass so that only the very top of her head was visible. Every now and then it would disappear from view and then shoot up again in the next second like a jack in the box.
For her part, Lara gazed on for a moment trying to not laugh. She knew that her guide was trying to keep out of view of any enemies that might be lurking about but she could not help but chortle slightly to herself at the sight. Still, she knew that she could not separate herself too much from the other women who appeared to making good time, with a hint of embarrassing seriousness, the young lady ducked her head and followed along.
When she reached the edge of the forest the guide stopped to allow her charge to catch up. When Miss Croft finally joined her she set one finger over her lips indicating a need for quiet. The explorer nodded in agreement.
From then on neither of them made the slightest noise. They made their way through brush, fallen leaves, twigs, and a great deal of other obstacles, all the while making almost no noise at all. It was very difficult and had Croft never done anything of the sort before she would have been greatly out of luck in.
To make matters worse, her escort moved much quicker through the thick foliage making it difficult to keep pace. Several times Lara lost track of her escort all together and had to move straight ahead on instinct through the thick leaves before she, at last, came into view again.
Nearly three hours later, weary and exhausted, they finally came to a stop. Silently, they bent down and swept away the brush in front of them so that they could see. They found themselves in front of a steep incline that rolled down to what appeared to be a small village. Most of it was made up of simple wooden houses standing in a few straight roads along a wide dirt street.
Outside these houses and directly in front of the hill that Lara and her guide were perched on, the many inhabitants of the town, each clad brilliantly in a white robe, had gathered and setup tables for themselves in order to sell fruits, vegetables, leather goods, and almost anything else that could be imagined. What was extraordinary about the whole thing was that there was a strange sense of order to the whole affair. As Lara gazed upon it she expected that at any moment pushing or yelling or at least a little rude gesturing would occur. At least, that is the way things happened in London, especially around Christmas. But nothing of the sort occurred. In fact, the whole affair was as ordered as a Catholic Mass.
But even more magnificent was the huge stone castle that towered over everything in the background. It was, in essence, the epitome of the medieval fortress with huge towers extending far into the sky connecting the embattlements, ready for an imminent attack.
"Well, that looks pretty secure," Croft observed, "even for my standards."
The guide nodded and smiled. "It certainly looks that way but I heard that there is a hidden entrance on the far side."
Slowly, Lara turned her head toward the guide. "You heard?" she asked coldly, "You don't know for sure?"
"It was a very reliable source," the lady reassured.
Croft merely shook her head. "I've heard that before," she chuckled, "I guess if I'm going to get home I've got no choice. I also suppose this is where we part company."
"Right on both counts." Nodded the other, turning to leave.
"One more thing," announced the explorer before it was too late, "I never got your name."
The guide smiled heartily, "Oh, I guess not," she admitted, "its Vee."