© Jennifer R. Milward 2006
This story is a work of fiction. Lara Croft, her likeness, and the Tomb Raider games are all copyright of EIDOS Interactive. There is no challenge to these copyrights intended by this story, as it is a non-sanctioned, unofficial work of the author's own.
An Angel in the Darkness
My own screaming was the last thing I remembered.
A hand, with fingers light and questing, felt the cuts to my forehead and came away damp with blood. Gradually I came to realise that the hand was mine, the fingers were mine and the blood, too, belonged to me. I could not see the hand. I could not see anything. Darkness pressed down with a weight of its own; mirroring the weight of the thousands of tonnes of rock and rubble balanced precariously above me.
Consciousness returned slowly. From far off came the tumble and thunder of boulders, echoes of echoes. My nose felt clogged with dust; faintly sulphurous in the way of old, forgotten places. Where my back touched the ground I sensed vibrations; aftershocks as the pyramid's insides adjusted to their new configuration.
My tongue struggled to moisten my lips; the skin was cracked and deathly dry. I tried to sit forward but fell back, screaming in sudden agony. Where my right foot rested, half-buried beneath a block of stone, I sensed only heat, a cloying dampness. Trying to move made me reel, nearly senseless with pain; as if my lower leg were coiled with razor wire.
Memories of another broken ankle swam livid in my mind. I was fourteen, and had jumped too soon on the school assault course leaping for a rope. The ankle had twisted with the same sound as a dry twig snapping; more surprising than painful at the time. But as the memory faded I was left with a pain far more intense than any I remembered. My very bones were on fire, like metal left too long in a forge and allowed to glow white-hot.
My thirst was now unbearable; searing my throat like acid. In the absolute dark I felt around my leg, noting that the rock had not trapped it, as I had feared, but had rolled to the side after nearly crushing me. The flesh had been laid open, right down to the bone. Somewhere in my backpack was a water bottle, bandages, painkillers and emergency flares. There would even be spare ammo for my pistols, but anything worth shooting was buried even deeper in this prison than I was. Seth wouldn't be hurting anyone for a long time.
I had to find that backpack.
There was no way I could walk or even stand. The pain in my ankle kept me from thinking clearly, but there were a hundred other bruises, scrapes, cuts and grazes to worry about as well.
Oh God! My heart jumped with the memory. Werner… Had he managed to get out? Was he lying dead nearby, or dying like I knew I must be?
No. I shook my head and my thoughts became clearer.
"I couldn't leave you!" he had yelled, barely audible above the earthquake's roar.
But he had left me.
My hand waved in the black, tracing a memory of reaching out for his extended arm; only to have that help withdraw and fade away. An emotion suddenly overtook my pain, burning it to ashes.
It was fury.
"Coward!" my voice was little more than a whisper, but in my head I screamed. "You left me! Coward! Coward! You could have done something! You could have… done something…"
My cries dissolved into hacking sobs. I had never felt so angry, so desperately alone before. In the darkness I cried, noting with odd detachment how my tears were a foolish waste of water. I had thought Werner a friend until our brief, bloody reunion; first in the desert, then at Karnak. He had tried to entomb me and I, too slow and soft, had almost allowed him to succeed. Then he had returned, possessed as much by his own stupidity and greed as by Seth. I had beaten him again and again... only to have him turn tail and flee when I needed him most.
My old friend.
My last hope.
Drawing air into my lungs, I rolled over and crawled in the dreadful black. The reaction was immediate and terrible. A surge boiled somewhere in my belly, threatening vomit.
I thought of my father. He had climbed Ben Nevis once - a simple training run before tackling the more formidable Kilimanjaro, but had slipped and fallen during the descent. Despite a cracked femur he still made it down by himself, and enjoyed joking about it to the rest of the family.
"I don't know what's worse - a broken leg or you and your mother fussing over me!" His words came back to me, granting me hope. "Persevere, Lara, and you'll get through no matter the odds." I laughed, remembering his wry smile and ridiculous plaster cast, and realised that if I didn't stop laughing then I would chuckle myself to death. I was still lost in the dark, and had to escape no matter the cost. Otherwise I would lie down with my memories and never awaken.
The smell of greenery led me to water.
I had dragged and felt my way for a lifetime when a fresh breeze suddenly appeared, wafting the hair from my face. Trusting my nose, I was guided to a shaft of light streaming from the ceiling, illuminating a perfect Eden in miniature. Sprays of ferns and grasses grew in crazy profusion, surrounding a circle of water; deepest lapis at its centre lightening to aquamarine around the edges. All thoughts cast aside I fell into it; cupping huge mouthfuls of liquid that washed the mustiness from my throat, soothed the fire in my stomach. For several minutes my entire world revolved around sheer relief, the knowledge I had been granted a few more precious hours of life.
Having slaked my thirst I examined my wounds. It made my head spin just to look at the ankle; a tip of shattered bone was protruding hideously from the slashed and swollen flesh. I did my best to wash it clean; but worried that I had nothing to bind the wound closed. Blood continued to ooze freely from it; though slower than it had done before. I knew enough about first aid to realise it was a bad sign.
"Don't act more stupid than you feel, Lara." I growled to myself, suddenly remembering the gun belts I still wore. After some crafty improvising I had stopped the bleeding with a tourniquet. The thought that my shorts were now in serious danger of falling down didn't even cross my mind. I had water, I had light and I was alive. After the hell I had just crawled through I wasn't going to complain.
I would have sold my soul for some morphine though.
The light came from an opening high above; a narrow shaft from which water fell in a broken trickle so that by the time it reached the ground it was more like fine rain. There was something else up there too. Shielding my eyes against the glare, I looked up to where it joined the ceiling and there, in the gloom, was a rope.
The knowledge came flooding back. Maps and charts flashed before me - the Pyramids and Giza, the great swathe of desert arcing across towards Cairo and, dotted about like constellations of life, natural water sources linked by underground caverns. The ancient pyramid workers must have made use of these during construction; avoiding the need for a single water supply. When the pyramids were finished, all they needed to do was block off the passages and allow the oasis at the surface to fill once more.
And Seth's earthquake reopened the passages… I mused. How fortunate for me; if I could only learn how to fly.
A cold sensation cut short my daydreaming. It came from my torn ankle - it suddenly came home to me how much blood I had lost. I fought to ignore the pain - that could be dealt with when I had time - but I was so weary and light-headed. It would be crazy to try rope climbing feeling like this - it was hard enough without a broken ankle!
I just need to rest a minute, I said to myself, sitting down on the cold stone.
No! Rest here and you die. Get to the rope while you still can.
Who are you? I asked. The light in the cavern was beginning to fade.
You blockhead, I'm you! The one who always get you out of trouble; the one who's kept you alive up till now. Now get off your backside and start climbing!
The voice was really annoying now. If I could only close my eyes for a moment I could sleep and it would shut up.
Lara listen to yourself! Open your eyes, get on your feet, climb the rope and get out of this place! You're dying here!
It doesn't matter, I replied. Sleep was so tempting now; and the cavern so cold and dark. They're all dead already; mother and father. No one will miss me. I did what I came here to do. No one needs me anymore.
I felt so peaceful. I've never cared what others thought of me, but in that moment I really didn't care. I was dying and this was where I belonged; in a tomb, in a country I loved and cherished.
Apart from all the sand… it gets everywhere…
The cavern was fully dark now. No sunlight, no starlight or moonlight, not even a glimmer of that pure and awesome blue nimbus Horus had cloaked himself with back underneath the pyramid. I could see his burnished golden face hovering in front of me, regarding my wounds with ruby-coloured eyes. It was good to see him again, even though I'd never got a thank you for all that work I did salvaging his armour.
My apologies, Lara Croft. I never thanked you for all you did for me. His voice was glorious, and smoother than Winston's cocoa.
"Oh, you're welcome," I murmured, smiling. "Saving the world and running errands for Gods are my forte. I'd offer you a drink but Winston would kill me if he knew I kept a spare key for his decanter."
A touching gesture, but unnecessary. The voice was right beside me now, and I felt warm hands holding me so I could see the black water. See? I have all that I need to drink right here. It is you a drink should be offered. Go now; sup your fill of the life-water. And have my blessing, always.
"Anything you say, Horus." I felt giddy, shuffling towards the inky pool, but grateful. "You're the politest God I've…ever…..met."
I hit the water.
And so did a bucket on a chain.