by Glitter Pen
An injured Lara Croft must find a way to defeat her enemies and save her friends.
"The villagers won't be of much use in here. In fact, we could get more people killed," a second voice said. This one was male and louder than the first.
The darkness and stars cleared and a warm white light shone. The air seemed stodgy and hard to breath.
"What if she's dead?"
Lara Croft jolted awake at the sound of that whispered question. The side of her head throbbed. The pain increased when she tried to lift it. Light from the flashlight that lay a few feet in front of her caused to her squint as she struggled into a sitting position.
"That would be horrible. I promised to keep her safe," the male voice continued.
She looked around, trying to get her bearings. What happened? Then she remembered: the floor had given way, sending her down a twenty-foot chute and dumping her another fifteen feet into a small, dark chamber. Anxiety returned along with the memory. She shivered.
Slowly, she maneuvered onto her hands and knees. Her left shoulder gave a sharp pain and a feeling of nausea passed through her. She took a few deep breathes. Nothing seemed broken.
She listened for a few minutes. There was nothing but silence. Then, the talking continued on the other side of the wall. Lara strained to hear it.
"We can't leave her here," the female voice said.
"You're right but I don't know how to get her out. The criminal scum that followed us into the tunnels have messed with the lever devices in the antechamber."
Lara's memories slammed back into her and the disorientation faded. The woman was Katherine Watertown, an assistant archaeologist, and the man was their Chinese guide, Fang Yuan, an archaeologist. They had been conducting a Chinese government-approved archeology expedition in the mountains west of Lu Min village. They were both hard workers and Lara felt joy at the sound of their voices.
She stumbled to the wall of the chamber and yelled, "I'm alive!"
"Lara?" Katherine's voice sounded relieved. "Are you hurt?"
"Only my shoulder." Lara winced from the pain. "Listen: I'm trapped in a chamber on the East side of cavern number three," Lara replied. "I'm going to try and find a way out so don't go anywhere."
There was conversation on the other side of the wall but she couldn't make it out.
"We'll wait right here," Fang Yuan said.
Lara wobbled over to the flashlight and picked it up. It flickered a few times. How long had she been unconscious? The light had a twelve-hour life span but she didn't think she had been out for that long. It flickered again. Fear spread through her like an icy stream and she hoped that the light wouldn't die on her. Maybe the fall damaged it.
Something large scuttled up her arm. She flicked off a large spider and continued her examination of the room. Turning in a circle, she raised the flashlight to study each wall. They were too smooth to climb. She looked up. The chute was fifteen feet above her--impossible to get to and impossible to climb up because of its steep angle. She looked down. The floor was made of compacted dirt and free of debris. I'm trapped. She slowed her breathing and tried her best not to panic.
She took a step forward and something grazed the top of her head.
"Bloody hell!" She jumped back.
Raising the flashlight, she studied the culprit. A skeleton hung from its ankles by a chain that attached to the ceiling. The light cast devilish shadows across the bones. Her heart caught in her throat.
"Keep calm, you've seen plenty of dead bodies," she told herself. Think logically. She began to study the skeleton. One of its arms was tied behind its back while the other pointed to the ground directly below. "Ah ha!" she said.
Lara walked over to the wall and yelled, "I might have a way out!"
An ominous silence greeted her cheerful announcement.
"Drat, where are they?" Her stomach clenched with unease.
"Hello!" she hollered. No one responded.
"Alright then, I best get started."
She removed her backpack, wincing at the flash of pain from her shoulder. She searched the backpack and removed a hand-held shovel. Then, she knelt down and started to remove dirt from the center of the chamber floor. Time crawled by slowly as she dug and dug. Sweat dripped down her brow and stung her eyes.
Suddenly, she hit what felt like wood. Excitement filled her and she started to clear away dirt as fast as she could with one arm. Soon, the wood took on the form of a circular door. Its hinge was rusty but the handle was intact. Lara grabbed it with her good arm and pulled hard. It came off easily, revealing a dark tunnel underneath. Lara put the backpack back on and grabbed the flashlight from the floor. She leaned over and stuck her head into the tunnel. It led in two directions: one was pitch-black and the other had what she thought was faint light at the end.
She lowered herself down into the tunnel and headed towards the light. It was a tight squeeze but she was happy not to have to remove the backpack.
She crawled until her knees hurt. Her shoulder throbbed with pain but she ignored it. The flashlight flickered again and went out. "Lovely." She took a breath to steady herself and continued down the tunnel.
The light at the end of the tunnel came closer and closer.
Several gunshots echoed through the mountain. "My god." She crawled even quicker. A rotting crate appeared in front of her. Light seeped through its cracks from the room beyond. She paused. Would she find friends or enemies on the other side? Fear trickled down her spine. She had to risk it. Moving slowly on her hands and knees, she gently pushed the crate forward and scanned the area above it.
Two torches, mounted on the far wall, lit up the room ahead with a warm glow but she couldn't see anything else because several more crates obstructed her view. She waited for a moment and listened carefully. Faint voices talked in some distant room. Water dripped quietly close by.
"Well, I can't stay here forever," she said and wiggled out of tunnel. She slowly stood up for a better view. The cave looked like an old storage room.
Many European-looking treasures piled against the walls. There were oil paintings and furniture sitting close by. Rotting silk peeked out of water-damaged crates in the corner. The musty smell of rotting wood assaulted her senses and she raised her hand to stifle a cough. She waited to see if anyone had heard it. Only silence greeted her.
"This room is more valuable than the first chamber." She looked around with awe.
Gold coins and strings of pearls littered the floor. She picked up a coin and studied it. The monarch on the coin was British. The date of production was 1700.
"Interesting." She placed in on a crate.
An 18th century gilded mirror caught her attention and she paused to study her reflection. Tired hazel eyes gazed out of a dirty yet beautiful face. Her brown hair was matted and covered with dirt from the crawl through the tunnel. The state of her clothing shocked her; she looked like a filthy street urchin from a third-world country. Blood had begun to dry on the left side of her face. She winced at the sight of it.
Turning away from the mirror, she walked further into the room, careful not to step on anything that would give her away.
The voices grew louder as she approached a stone door on the other side of the cavern. She pushed it open wide enough for her to fit, then squeezed through, into a long hallway. Something cold and hard pressed into her right temple. She heard a click. Damn.
"Don't move, woman," a man said. "Put your hands on your head."
Lara dropped the flashlight and did as she was told. There was no way she could disarm him when her shoulder was injured. She cursed herself for not exiting the room with her gun drawn. The mistake might cost her life.
He took one of her pistols from her holster and tossed it down a fissure in the rock. The second pistol met the same fate. "Now, walk," he ordered.
Lara walked towards the light at the end of the corridor. She recognized the area. The main treasure room, the one that contained thousands of Jade artifacts, lay in a large cavern ahead of them. Disappointment filled her at the thought of the artifacts being stolen by criminals. The jade masterpieces belonged in museums. She had to do something. But what?
The man walked behind her, his boots slapping softly against the stone floor.
She entered the large cavern and gasped. The rest of the Chinese and British archeology teams lay dead on the ground. Some men, whom she didn't recognize, were also sprawled dead on the floor. They were probably the criminals. Katherine and Fang sat in the corner of the room, under the watch of a guard with an automatic weapon.
"You monsters!" Lara yelled.
The man pressed his gun against her head again.
A petite Asian woman walked toward Lara. She had jet-black hair that fell past her waist in a long braid.
"I am Sue Yin," she said. Her eyes were her most striking feature. They were the color of moss. "We need the key for the floor vault."
"I see." Lara looked around her, taking in the placement of the rocks and crates, hoping to come up with a plan. Her heart started to hammer.
"If you give it to me, I will let your two friends go free." Sue Yin smiled an empty smile.
Lara could sense the lie. She didn't think Sue Yin intended to let anyone leave the caverns alive.
Fang must come to the same conclusion. Suddenly, he jumped the man with the automatic weapon and hung on to him for dear life.
The guard fired into him several times but Fang still hung on.
The man behind Lara foolishly walked past her to aim at Fang. Lara took advantage of Fang's sacrifice and gave the guard in front of her a vicious roundhouse kick to the head. She heard bone snap and he collapsed to the ground, dead. She grabbed his gun from the floor and shot two other guards before they realized what was happening. The remaining two fired back as she dived for cover behind a large rock. She dreaded the idea of a gunfight in a room with so many artifacts but she didn't have many options.
She rose up quickly and shot the third and forth guard before they could find proper cover.
A waft of expensive Shiseido perfume drifted in from the left a split second before Sue Yin swung a heavy vase at Lara's head.
She ducked and the vase shattered against the rock.
"Give me the key!" Sue Yin yelled and disarmed Lara with a fancy movement. The gun flew through the air and clattered to the floor, yards away. She attacked Lara with a flurry of kungfu kicks and punches.
Lara managed to block a most of them, except one punch to the stomach. She staggered back, out of breath. Sue Yin threw a kick at her head. Luckily, it hit the non-injured side of her head. Stars twinkled in front of Lara and she fell to her knees. Her shoulder screamed in protest to the fight.
"You stupid American!" Sue Yin tried for an axe kick but Lara rolled out of the way just in time. Sue Yin's heel hit the edge of an old crate and she shrieked in rage.
"I'm British!" Lara said and went on the offensive with several jabs and a right hook. Sue Yin was quick but not quick enough. Lara did an uppercut that knocked the smaller woman back several feet.
Sue Yin spat out blood. "You'll pay for that!" She ran toward Lara.
Lara used Sue Yin's momentum to do a judo toss. Sue Yin landed on her back with a meaty thud. She tried to stand up. Lara grabbed a piece of board and brought it down on her head. The woman crumpled to the ground, unconscious.
Lara ran over to pick up the gun. She scanned the room for any sign of enemies. There were none left. A gurgling sound arose from the corner, near a box of jade figurines. Fang tried to roll over onto his side but failed. She was amazed to see he was still alive.
"Fang!" she cried and ran over to him.
"I promised to safety guide you through the mountains..." Fang said and coughed up blood.
"You have, my friend, you have."
He breathed out one last time and died.
Lara gently closed his eyes with her fingertips.
Lara got a piece of rope from her backpack and went over to tie up the still-unconscious Sue Yin. "There, that should hold her."
The sound of Katherine's voice made her jump. She turned to face her. Katherine was still alive but a gunshot had grazed her arm. Blood was trickling out of the wound.
"I'm glad you're alive," Katherine said. She gave Lara a weak smile.
"Hold still, you're bleeding." Lara took off her backpack and pulled out a first aid kit.
It took five minutes to dress and wrap the arm wound.
"It's your turn, Lara," Katherine said. "I should take a look at that head wound." She spent a few minutes cleaning Lara's wound. "It's not a bad cut," Katherine added. "Head wounds always bleed like the dickens."
"That they do." Lara tried to ignore the stinging sensation caused by the disinfectant.
"Did you find the key?"
"Yes, I did." Lara removed a dark-blue, oval gemstone from her backpack and walked to the design in the center of the cavern. A phoenix, clutching an empty hole in the shape of an egg, had been carved onto the rock floor a long time ago. Lara bent over and placed the stone in the phoenix's claws. The light from a hole in the cavern's ceiling hit the gem, creating a sparkling array of blue light. But nothing happened. She looked around the room and spotted three small terracotta warriors at the other end. One was standing and two were crouched down. "Hmm."
She looked around for levers but didn't see any. Studying the floor again, she walked over to several indents. She brushed the sand off them, revealing seams she hadn't seen before. Now what? An idea flitted into her mind. She grabbed the standing terracotta warrior (it was heavier than it looked!) and placed it on the first indent. Then she placed the two crouching warriors on the remaining indents.
Something deep below them made a loud clicking sound and the gemstone started to glow. Blue light filled the room for a minute and then faded away. A door appeared in the floor beside the phoenix.
"Wow, you've done it!" Katherine said.
Lara grabbed a chem light from her backpack and headed down a short flight of stairs. Katherine trailed behind her. She reached the bottom of the stairs and looked around. Piles of jade artifacts covered the ground, their surfaces shined dully under the warm orange light. There was barely room to move. She had never seen so much jade in one place before. Warmth filled her body, from her head to her toes. This is what she lived for. Fang Yuan would have loved to see this.
"Should we notify the authorities about the gunfight?" Katherine gestured to the main floor with a trembling hand.
"Yes, we should. Hopefully, they'll show up before any more of Sue Yin's goons do," Lara replied. "Now, let's seal the door and get out of here."
They emerged from the second jade room and headed toward the tunnel that led out of the mountain. Once outside, Lara could use her cell phone to let the Chinese government know what happened. She thought of Fang. She was still shocked by his life saving tactic; it was the ultimate act of generosity. Lara felt honored to have known him. She would do everything in her power to make sure that all the jade artifacts would go to the museums of China.
Cover art by: Glitter Pen