Authors Note: For those of you unfamiliar with the game Tomb Raider: Legends and its characters, please read the description first. Thank you!
The clash of plastic wheel against stone reverberated around the main hall. Aravi Croft had just deposited the last of the suitcases, a burgundy number, onto a small mountain of bags over flowing with clothes, climbing equipment and weapons. Hidden within was her favourite piece; a set of duel HK USP Match pistols with stainless sides.
“I think you're crazy.” Alister Fletcher, a skinny bookish fellow, trotted down the stairs while straightening his collar. He was her research assistant and a brilliant historian. He did, however, lack a back bone.
“I call it curiosity.” She lifted a sapphire blue glass amulet off her chest to admire it. Although slightly damaged and worn, it still maintained a strange reflective quality. “I would travel further than Finland to understand this.”
“Well, I hope this is all worth it.” Zip joined in from his position on the sofa by the fire, laptop on legs, and earphones in ears. “Finland is cold. I hope you've all packed gloves.”
Of the two men, Zip was graced with both brain and brawn. The self-proclaimed ‘tech guru’ of the group, Zip was a master of all things geeky. As a tattooed and witty technophile, he was north to Alister’s south, summer to his winter.
Their destination was the remains of an underground temple, called Nazakhul, in northern Finland. One month before, Aravi had received a package from someone named Professor J. Fisher containing the sapphire amulet, a page of yellowed paper and a claw made of bone with three animal symbols on its palm. The aged paper contained hand written coordinates and the name Nazakhul. The coordinates lead to Finland and the name didn't exist, which was exactly why she needed to find it.
“Let’s get these bags into the Jeep.” Aravi let the amulet drop onto her chest. “We don’t have all day.”
“Are the visuals all right, gents?” Aravi asked as she tapped the small camera hovering above her right cheek. The camera was part of the headset she always worn when on the job which included a microphone and earphone, allowing Zip and Alister to communicate with her even though they wouldn't be in in Nazakhul. Her virtual backup, as they like to call themselves.
“Crystal.” Zip confirmed.
Looking up, she could see the beauty of the well preserved temple walls despite. Images depicting ancient battles in which men pushed against dragon fire and well as the rise of kings occupied every inch of available space. Even the floor harboured intricate lines and patterns carved into the rock. Un-drained water from open roof rose to her knees, rendering anything distinctive hard to distinguish.
“This is a spectacular find.” Her voice was filled with awe as she looked around at the decorated walls. Standing there in silence, absorbing the warm feeling of a brand new discovery while losing herself in the patter of rain was intoxicating in a way only she knew.
“The rest of the tomb might be flooded.” Alister pointed out, removing her from her daze. “It looks extremely old, and this isn’t the original entrance point. This room was never supposed to handle so much water. I wouldn’t be surprised if any drains are blocked.”
Research of the location they suspected Nazakhul to inhabit unearthed that there was an underground river system fed by the melting snow from the closest mountain. Approaching Nazakhul in winter had been a semi-wise choice because the summer melt of the mountain ice had ceased, meaning that the river systems would hold less water. However, it could also mean that any accumulating water may have had no chance to drain or evaporate.
Moving towards the edge of the room where the water was less deep, Aravi tried to avoid the remains of the fallen rock from the ceiling collapse. She fastened the abseiling ropes and the harness to the remains of an old candle stick holder, leaving her with her belt full to the brim with gadgets and her two pistols strapped to her thighs.
“I hope you're in the mood for a cold swim.” Zip joked over her head set.
Chuckling quietly at his comment, Aravi splashed through the shallower water at the edge of the first room until she reached what looked like a broken and dilapidated metal gate giving way to a dark hall.
“You’ve got lights in your bag.” Alister reminder her as she stared into the gloom.
As she moved closer, torches on both walls burst into flame, illuminating the rocky walkway in the flickering glow of torchlight
“Brilliant. I do love it when things work out nicely.” Flying on the elation from her find, she moved on.
She chose her footing carefully as she climbed over the broken metal gate. The rocks which had knocked it down were covered in a green slime which looked...
“Damn,” Aravi cursed. Her footing hadn’t been as sure as she hoped. What looked to be a safe choice for a foot hold was a slimy rock partially obscured by darkness. During the fall, a loose prong of the rusted gate had cut straight through her trousers and the skin on her toned calves, drawing blood with a firm vengeance. “I'm fine! Fine,” She scrambled deeper into the cave, using both hands to ensure she didn't slip. “I'm okay.”
Clunk! Her mouth fell open and her body tensed as she felt the pressure plate beneath her foot give way.
A low grumble was beginning to form in the distance, entwined with the sound of steam escaping a kettle. Placing a hand on her closest wall revealed that it was beginning to shake.
“Did you hear that?” Her attention shifted from the wall to the partially flooded chamber she had just exited.
“Nothing, but then again, the feeds not too good. It must be too quiet for us.”
Her eyes widened.
A huge wave of white water rushed towards her, tripping over itself in its haste. Aravi's stomach dropped lower than the temples floor.
Run, woman, run!
She headed deeper into the tomb, heedless and fuelled on adrenaline, through the winding corridor into the second chamber. It was an open room with an eroded bridge only a meter wide in the centre, hovering above a dark chasm god knows how deep. Cascading waterfalls lined both sides so thick she couldn't see the original walls. As Aravi and the wave approached, more water spilled over the rims into the chasm.
She was going to drown!
Running from danger was something Aravi had become accustom to. The mechanisms of fleeing never changed; for her there was no difference in fleeing from man, beast or nature. You needed to either hide or outlast.
This was an outlast situation. All she would need to do was get to the drainage point.
In her experience, tombs and temples that were protected by traps usually employed a method of defending themselves against them. In the event of a water surge, there would be a drainage point along the waters route. The waters route was usually long enough to kill any intruder, but not long enough for it to cause major damage to the tomb or temples contents.
In Nazakhul’s case, the drainage point was a drop-off point.
The hall she had been sprinting down emptied into a vast open chasm with a large drop. At the bottom was one of the larger rivers of the underground river system.
For most intruders, this would mean certain death, but not for Aravi. She was too focused on out lasting the wave to give it the satisfaction.
Without breaking stride, she reached down to her belt, pulled out the end of her magnetic grapple and launched it at the metal girders on the ceiling. With a clink, it stuck fast.
Fixing her hands on the rubber insulated rope, Aravi launched herself into chasm to swing across. When she reached the rocky wall on the other side of the chasm, she firmly grasped onto any hand and foot holds she could find until she was stable.
She watched the wave cascade from the small opening to re-join the river. Resting her head against the rocky surface, she closed her eyes and sighed heavily.
“Well, now what?” Alister asked, breaking the longest silence on their end.
So she did.
There were three entrances to three separate corridors along her side of the wall. Choosing the most grand just above her, she began to ascend.
When her magnetic grapple which was attached to a part of her belt that faced the wall began to become a burden, she pressed a button on her belt to retract it, removing her only safety mechanism.
“And once again we find ourselves on a rock face without climbing gear.” Zip sighed.
“You've got to learn to live a little.” She replied.
Aravi reached the grand entrance without harm. She dusted off her black gloves and raised the zip of her coat.
“It’s much colder here.”
However, the cold didn’t hold her attention. What did was a human form to her left, slumped against the wall.
“I thought Nazakhul had never been documented before.” Alister mused aloud.
“They must have been here alone. Didn’t work out for them I suppose.” As she moved closer, a large rusty dagger in the corpses shoulder became visible. “See what you can look up, Alister.”
“Well, at the moment it looks like someone had a party without you.” Zip pointed out. Aravi tried her best to ignore his wit.
“It looks ancient.” She knelt down to examine it further.
It was dead all right, but not as dead at it should've been. Judging by the ancient iron armour that still clung to its body, there shouldn’t have been any remnants of flesh. Instead, the corpse was covered in leathery muscle wound as tight as a drum.
“How is he so well preserved? Even mummified corpses decompose more than this, and look at those eyes!” The corpses eyes glowed a steady pale blue, almost the same colour as the amulet she wore.
“Man that is freaky. Maybe you should bring him home. Sit him outside like a guard dog.”
“Not funny, Zip.” She reached out her gloved hand to touch its neck. She pulled back as its jaw began to move.
“Fus... Ro Dah!”
The barrage of magic hit her in the face and chest strong enough to send her flying across the width of the hall and into the wall on the other side. As she slipped down all she noticed was how perilously close she was to the edge of the chasm. Her head throbbed.
For a few terrifying seconds, Aravi was paralysed. Whatever the corpse had done had put her in a rag-doll state. As she began to recover, she saw the corpse standing over her, raising a medium tomahawk above its leathery face.
As fast as lightning, she rolled to her right to avoid being killed by the corpse and by falling into the chasm. Metal clattered against stone as the axe made contact with the ground.
Just keep it between you and the drop! She told herself.
While her assailant recovered, Aravi reached for one of her pistols strapped to her thighs. She had drawn and cocked the gun by the time her attacked was preparing for another strike.
She took her shot. With a still spinning head from shock, her aim was unsteady. She hit the corpse in the shoulder, knocking backwards and to the ground. It wasn't the clean shot she would usually have, but the noise, foreign to the beast, startled it. Using its confusion, Aravi rose to one knee, aimed again, and felt a rush of warm relief flood through her as the bullet forced its way through the skull at point blank range.
She collapsed back to the floor as Zip and Alister began voicing their confusion and fear down her headset in a calamity of yelling.
“Quiet!” She ordered, squeezing her eyes closed as another wave of pain worked its way through her head. “I don't want anyone to talk until we figure out what that was.” She had experienced worse in her life time, unearthing strange creatures with seemingly magical properties, but never before had she felt such a strange magic. A metallic taste was stuck in her mouth and her entire body felt like it had been through a wind tunnel.
She allowed herself a minuet to recover from her attack before she examined the body. Even though most of its face had been blown away, she could see that the blue lights of its eyes had been extinguished.
Worried that a gunshot would awaken more if she needed to defend herself, she picked up the tomahawk from the corpse. It looked ancient, but it was sturdy enough. She had sheathed her right pistol and held the axe in a death grip. She kept her left pistol close to her chest.
“Jesus,” She muttered as she used the closest wall to stand. Her legs were unsteady but capable of movement; an after effect of whatever magic it had used. She persevered and dragged herself forwards. “Keep an eye out for any more of those things.”
“I bet you regret donating Excalibur to that museum, right?” Zip joked. Aravi regretted sending Alister off to research.
Only a small while later, Aravi began to come across more of the corpses. All of the ones she examined had expired, having no lights in their eyes.
As she rounded a corner, she picked up on light other that wasn’t the fire from the torches. She crept around the corner and then stopped dead as she reached a long corridor harbouring a dozen pairs of blue eyes.
“You could always turn back,” Alister whispered upon his return, interrupting her concentrated trance. There was no point in whispering. Only Aravi could head the head set.
There was no way she could be sure that the wave hadn't completely flooded any of the previous chambers she had ran through. The thin eroded bridge she had darted across looked dangerously fragile. If that wave had picked up any large stones or debris, it might have been completely obliterated. She wouldn't turn back until she couldn’t go forward. She took a step forwards.
“Aravi, wait!” Alister shouted with urgency. There was a desperate warning in his tone. “I've been looking up Nazakhul and I found something. It's an old manuscript of an interview conducted by one Professor J. Fisher.”
“J. Fisher?” Professor J. Fisher was the name of the person who had sent Aravi the amulet, the bone claw, and the co-ordinates for Nazakhul.
“Yes. The interview was with a man called Ramir Stallis who claimed to have woken in the tomb with memories of a medieval life in another world. He called the walking corpses draugr and said that they used an ancient power called the thu'um, the ability to use words to inflict various damage on others.
“The thing is; Stallis was a self-confessed tomb raider who also received a bone claw and a blue necklace from a supposed relative with the initials J. Fisher. Sound familiar?”
“Do you think this J. Fisher was the same person who sent the claw and amulet?” She needed to be sure.
“Well, fifty years ago Stallis entered Nazakhul and wasn’t heard of for a few months. When he was found again, he was dressed in armour, old armour like that… draugr you fought, and he had no idea what year it was, who his family was or anything. He kept saying that he lived in a country called Skyrim in a place called Tamriel. Even the best psychologists couldn’t get him to remember his real life. His family said he was a completely different person.”
Zip laughed. “He could have just gone crazy and took the armour off one of those dead things. People do that.”
“Zip…” Aravi warned.
“What? It says here that Ramir Stallis didn't recognise his second name. He thought he was called Ramir Bone Breaker, so he could’ve just gone nuts.”
Alister sighed at his comic companion. “J. Fisher discovered that he knew a languages which aren't found anywhere on Earth so he had to be retaught Finnish before the interview was even conducted. He also a master swordsman. Ramir Stallis only knew Finnish before he left for Nazakhul and he had no idea how to fight. He dropped out of elementary fencing lessons because his twelve year old daughter was better than him. Now he is a fencing world champion who choreographs fight sequences for big shot movies like Gladiator.”
“What does it all mean?” Aravi asked. Her eyes were still glued to the dozen draugr in the distance.
“It means that something suspicious happens at the end of the temple. This professor has lots of records of interviews almost identical to this leading all the way to his death in 1934. It looks like Junior Fisher is trying to finish his work.” Zip assumed.
“Finishing?” It slipped out too loud, almost catching the attention of the draugr.
“At the bottom of the Ramir Stallis interview, J Fisher writes that his work is ‘almost complete’. Maybe Junior picked up the torch?”
The three were silent for a long time.
“I need to find out what’s at the end of this tomb!”
“I don't think that's such a good... Hey! Wait!” She didn’t think as she charged forwards, tomahawk and pistol ready, to meet the small hoard of draugr.
The charge had fuelled her with adrenaline, and she used it as a third weapon. The first draugr went down when he took a Tomahawk to the face. The second had visibly damaged legs, so she was kicked over then beheaded him while he was on the ground. Aravi almost growled when she rose and took out three of the closest advancing draugr with her pistol with alternating chest and head shots.
Five of the closest were down. Aravi charged to meet the remaining seven who were deeper in the hall.
“Zun… Hall Viik!” Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, and Aravi used it to her advantage. She leapt to her right as the circle of blue magic from the mouth of a draugr approached, but she wasn't fast enough. Her left hand, wielding the pistol, was caught in the blast, which ripped the weapon out of her hand.
There was no time to reach for her other pistol so she charged forwards and grabbed the massive draugr around the throat with her left hand, constricting its airways so it couldn't shout again. She raised her tomahawk in rage and brought it down to meet the top of its head. The skull cracked and its eyes died out.
Tugging the weapon from the brittle skull, Aravi noted the positions of the remaining six draugr. The two at the end of the hall were guarding an almost semi-circular door judging from their lack of advancement. They wouldn't attack unless she grew too close.
The four mobile draugr we advancing upon her, but she was prepared. Their age and state of decay hindered their speed so she had time to remove her other pistol to wield it in her left hand.
The first draugr to reach her held no weapons, but he still posed a threat. A sword had been stuck through its back protruded through its stomach. It knew that it could cause serious damage if it got close enough.
Its bony arms were faster than she had anticipated, and it managed to grab and immobilise both of her wrists. It started to tug violently on her arms, desperate to impale her on its stomach sword. Determined not to die and noticing that one of the advancing draugr had stopped to begin a shout, Aravi, gritted her teeth and, using its strong grip on her wrists, raised one leg and then the other to rest on its chest. She pushed with all the strength she could muster away from the draugr. She felt her opponents weakened wrists begin to break. As it lost its grip on her arms, she pushed harder with her legs, tucking her arms and legs to form a back flip out of the shout path.
“Fus... Ro Dah!” The other shouted. The now hand-less corpse was thrown sideways, clattering as its stomach sword caught on the floor, hopefully doing internal damage.
Needing to dispatch of the shouting female fast before she could do any damage, Aravi wasted no time in shooting her in the face. Aravi recovered quickly enough to jump out of the way of a powerful sword swing from one of the two advancing draugr. She managed to swing around, catching the sword wielding draugr in the back of the neck with her tomahawk, severing the spinal cord and effectively decapitating it. The last draugr was dispatched by being shot in the leg then cleaved in the face with her axe.
The two door guarding corpses had yet to make a move. Aravi found the hand-less draugr which had recovered from the shout and killed it quickly with a swift swing of her tomahawk. Lying close to it was her other pistol.
After tucking the tomahawk into her belt, Aravi took aim with her pistol’s and quickly dispatched of the door guards at range.
“That's how it’s done!” Zip shouted down the head set, elated at her victory.
Aravi placed her pistols back in her holsters feeling empowered by his reaction.
“It was their fault for not staying dead.” She replied frankly as she removed the bone claw from her bag. She walked right up to the semi-circular door before admiring it.
“I think I have to rotate the panels so they match the symbols on the claw.”
“Are you sure? It could be trapped. Get it wrong and… well, you know the consequences.” Shot with poison darks, impaled by spikes, crushed by falling boulders or, like a recent misadventure, obliterated by humongous falling swords.
She carried on, wary of any dangers.
The panels were stiff and hard to move, especially after Aravi had spent so much of her energy attacking the draugr, but she managed. Using the claw to finally open the door gave her a strange sense of satisfaction. She knew this was nearly over.
In the centre of the circular room was a beautifully decorated oval frame made of stone which hovered vertically, rotating slowly.
Around the oval were three podiums forming the vertexes of a triangle. Behind the two podiums on both the left and right of the door, blue light shone from a light source directly behind the podium. The un-concentrated beam shone through a small floating vertical oval the same size as the amulet Aravi had been sent. The beam then occasionally met the edges of the stone oval as it rotated. The third podium, on the other side of the room, had no light, but it had the same floating, amulet sized oval.
She rushed over to the podium on her left. The small oval was in a fixed position, not rotating like the centre oval.
“This must be where the amulet comes into play.” She spoke quickly. Removing the necklace, Aravi studied it. Instead of focusing on the blue gem in the centre, she turned her attention to the golden metal around the outside.
“You can’t fit the whole thing in there. It’s too thick.” Zip advised. “You also need more than one piece.”
“I thought so too. There must be a way of separating it into thinner pieces.”
After some fiddling, she found a hidden switch which popped out five small handles. She carefully examined one.
“Twist it!” Alister exclaimed like a child on Christmas.
“Calm down, Alister, or I won’t let you sit up front any more.” Zip teased back, referring to the front seat of the van.
“Boys…” She warned. They silenced.
Aravi managed to twist one despite its ludicrous size. When it had completed a full turn, the necklace split in half.
“Whoa!” She breathed as she almost dropped the two pieces. Her temporary confusion subsided as she started twisting all five handles. When they were all twisted, she was left with six amulet pieces.
Once slit into the small oval, the beam of light which shone through it became more concentrated. Grinning, she hurried over to place the second slice into the other podium with the light behind it.
“Now what?” Alister asked.
Pursing her lips, Aravi watched the centre spinning oval and the newly concentrated beams of lights. Both eventually met up with the two vertical edges of the oval simultaneously. She moved closer to investigate.
“There are more slots on the oval where it meets the light.” She pointed out. Following the oval edges in their circle, she struggled to place two more slices into their holes.
“Wait until they meet the light again.” Zip advised. They did.
When the beams met the amulet slices on the oval, the beams were refracted to meet the last of the three podiums on the other side of the room.
“That one must have an acceptor slot as well.” Alister suggested.
“You’re probably right.” She placed the second last slice into the acceptor and waited for the oval to rotate the rest of the 180 degrees. Just for a second as the light aligned with the amulet slices on the oval, the light beams refracted to both meet the slice she had just placed, which then reflected the beam straight through the centre of the spinning oval.
Then it was gone.
She was amazed at her progress and quickly came to the conclusion that the sixth slice must be used to manually redirect the light to some sort of acceptor, judging by the lack of slots in the middle of the oval or out in the corridor where she had fought the draugr. She looked through the spinning oval towards the last podium, aligning her face with the beam of light. She then searched intently for any potential acceptors.
About a meter above the last stand, there was a dark purple gem sitting on a decorated ledge.
“That looks like a soul gem.” Alister said, clearing his throat.
“It mentions it in one of J. Fishers manuscripts. It’s Ramir Stallis again. He said he had to redirect the beam of light to an ‘empty soul gem’. The thing is, he only 'remembers getting through Nazakhul as Ramir Bone Breaker, not Ramir Stallis'.” The new information chilled Aravi to the bone.
With no other suggestions, Aravi waited for the oval to rotate. She stepped forwards, aligned the final slice with where the beam met the middle of the oval, and waited.
It took exactly three rotations until she worked out the exact angle to hold the final slice. She waited intently for the final rotation to make the correct alignment.
Three, two, one... She counted down.
The beam of light shot through all the slices then up to meet up with the soul gem.
Everything went white.
Zip and Alister, viewing the monitor in the back of their van, had to look away.
“God, that's bright,” Alister complained.
They waited in silence until the screen darkened.
“Wow!” Zip explained as he viewed what he thought was one of the most spectacular things he had ever seen.
The oval had stopped spinning and some sort of purple portal filled it. Lighting the black soul gem had revealed an assortment of light beams hidden in the back wall. They all shone purple streams of light into the back of the portal, the side which faced away from the door.
“That's incredible.” Alister's voice was filled with awe.
“Aravi, are you all right?” Zip asked, worried about the woman's eye sight. If it had been bright for them, it must have been worse for her.
“I'm all right. Are you seeing what I'm seeing?”
“Indeed we are.”
The two watched the screen move as Aravi looked around. Through the portal was a seemingly endless massive room filled with swirling purple mist. The trio were so busy examining the portal they didn't realise the door beginning to close.
“Run!” Alister yelled, making Zip flinch sideways at the volume.
Aravi ran, but it was too late. The door closed and sealed before she could even get there. They were silent for a very long time.
“I didn’t know tombs could move so fast.” Aravi attempted to lighten the mood.
The chamber shook and water began falling from the edges of the ceiling.
“Oh, give me a break!” Aravi moaned.
“So... Now what?”
She sighed, knowing her only option.
“I go through the portal.”
“Don't go through a door if you don't know where you will end up, Miss Croft.” Aravi remembered her father’s words, spoken so long ago.
She drew both pistols and stepped up to the portal.
“You don't need to do this, Aravi!” Zip warned. “Let’s not be irrational.”
“Waiting here until I drown is irrational.” She pointed out. The water was rising fast and it covered her boots already.
“Here goes nothing.” She said.
“Think about this!”
She ignored them as she stepped through.
Her earpiece went static. Where ever she was, there was no signal. She ripped out it out and placed it in her pocket.
Some water started splashing through the oval as it reached the portals height. As the water rose, it pressed against the portal as if a pane of glass were in the way.
“Okay,” She muttered while testing the ground. Although it looked like she was walking on clouds it felt like she was walking on the same stone as the tomb. “Lets do this.” Her mental pep talk was necessary because she was breathing too fast and too heavily.
She slowly began to advance through the mist.
After a matter of seconds, he began to hear noises. They grew louder as she advanced, and she could swear she could head her own voice.
“Hello?” She called. She received no answer.
Is this what Ramir Stallis felt like? Did he hear his own voice?
Shrugging away the thought, she moved on, curious of what was making the noises.
She stopped dead as something began to materialise in front of her through the mist. She raised her pistols and gripped them tightly. If something was hunting her, she was going to take it down, no matter what.
A figure began to emerge, taking form with each of its steps. Aravi's stomach dropped as she realised it was of a similar height to her, with what appeared to be a drawn bow, aimed at her chest.
This is it, She thought.
Something was wrong with the figure that was approaching.
“No,” Aravi muttered.
The woman who approached wore the same look on her face. She was dressed in armour with the same black hair, same pointy ears and identical build. The fingers on her bow string twitched in anticipation, just as Aravi's twitched on her triggers.
Ramir Stallis hadn't dreamt up a different life; he was a different person.
He had been swapped!
Neither woman lowered their weapons.