Entrant in the Sixth Village of Tokakeriby fanfic competition, in which fans were asked to write a piece on the theme of 'young Lara'.
Things Not Yet Done
This story is set in Northern Iran, in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. It draws on the Crystal-era bio's of Lara – a girl on good terms with her archaeologist father – and Larson – a mercenary who used to be in the US Special Forces. The United States officially supported Iraq in the conflict, giving aid in several forms, but it's thought that a number of undercover operations may have occurred inside the Iranian borders and may not always have been for Iraq's benefit. In terms of plot and characterisation, it is implied, during Tomb Raider Anniversary, that Lara and Larson have not only met before, but that Larson thinks he knows Lara's moral limits quite well.
The Iranian woods were deserted. The only sounds were the noise of Lt. Larson Conway's slow footfalls on the sandy, twig-littered track, and the unconcerned wildlife shifting in the bushes and the tops of the bare, sparse tree cover that lined the higher ground to either side of him. A peaceful afternoon, certainly, until a sharp voice cut the tranquillity.
"Hold it right there."
Woman. British accent. She'd drawn a gun by the sound of it. Most likely no threat if he stayed friendly, and very little of a one if he didn't.
Slowly, raising his arms from the semi-automatic slung at his side in surrender, Larson turned, with little fear in his movements.
The woman that stared back at him, from her position atop one of the crumbling and dusty slopes behind him, did so with narrowed, angry eyes. Strands of brown hair, tangled and fly-away, shunned her braid to frame an intensely belligerent but extremely pretty, and Western, face. Strong, tanned legs extended from underneath dirtied shorts and were clad in worn climbing boots. The arms that held the two pistols towards him were extremely toned with the clear shape of muscle not usually seen on members of the female half of the species. She looked a lot more capable with those weapons than he'd initially surmised.
"Howdy. Nice evening."
The girl – for upon closer examination she actually appeared to be very young for the sort of pose she was adopting in the sort of place she was adopting it – moved down the slope, digging her heels in as she slid in short, jerky moments of losing her grip on the loose soil. Reaching the bottom, she picked her way towards him through the twigs and stones, guns and gaze never leaving him.
"You're forward reconnaissance?" she asked.
"Now I can't tell you that, can I?" Larson's answer was mischievous. "But maybe I'll do you a deal. Who are you?"
Guns still aimed squarely at his chest, the girl quirked an eyebrow. "You're implying that if I tell you, you'll tell me?"
Larson grinned flirtatiously. "Maybe."
She spoke with the manner of somebody about to lead into something more. "I'm a woman who needs help."
"And I'm a man who can't give it to ya."
"Because you're forward reconnaissance?" she offered knowingly, with a tip of her head. Larson was beginning to like her already.
"Because I'm forward reconnaissance."
"Well now," she began, moving forwards and angling behind him slightly to suggest, aided by a flick of one weapon, that he should start walking again, "if you'll just move to the top of that rise twenty yards ahead there and look East, Forward Reconnaissance will find that there's something to be reconnoitred."
Obligingly, and with a faint hint of an amused smile, he sauntered towards the slope, hands still raised. The girl followed him at a safe distance, aim never wavering, eyes never leaving him.
"I don't," Larson said once he had climbed the short incline and looked out past the edge of the tree line Northwards, "see anything the matter."
"I said East," the girl pushed, unimpressed, though whether it was with a perceived idiocy on his part or because she knew he'd been trying to lure her closer into a vulnerable position by trying to get her to point things out to him, he didn't know.
Given that she was a British teenager alone in the Iranian wilderness in the middle of a war and brandishing two pistols, he didn't like to assume. Still, he was yet to feel anything even approaching a rising concern at his situation, and idly wandered whether he'd have time for lunch before his unit caught up to him.
With a show of boredom accompanying his actions, he turned slightly to peer in the ordered direction.
On the dust road about half a mile out and on lower ground, a mud-splashed red 4x4 vehicle with a fair load of equipment strapped to the roof was stopped on the verge, with a cleaner, black one nearby. Two figures were backed up against the side of the red, another was in front of them, and slight rocking of the car along with the open position of the hatch back suggested there was at least one other doing something inside.
"Binoculars?" Larson questioned.
"Go ahead," she said, her voice cracking a little at the outset.
He dropped his hands to take hold of the equipment hanging around his neck and focused in, engaging the electronic zoom. As he'd suspected. Western civilian prisoners, Iraqi military perpetrators, probably a robbery rather than a genuine stop-and-search.
"You're with them?"
"That's my father and our colleague and friend, Fletcher." She swallowed. "We're here with permission from the Iranian government, excavating, collecting and cataloguing artefacts, transporting them out of the country for safekeeping during the war. We're here to help. They're robbing us. I need you to do something." She pressed the barrel of one of the weapons into his back firmly, and he winced as it caught a nerve, making him quickly raise his hands again.
"And how'd you get away, Little Lady?" Larson asked. It was important that he kept control of the dialogue and set the pace of the exchange, kept control of her.
"We were already stopped when they arrived. I was coming into the woods. I saw them, hid, and then I heard you."
"Going to the bathroom, huh?"
A gun barrel was jabbed into his back again. "You know as well as I do that robbery goes hand in hand with murder around here! Do something!"
"All right, all right, stay calm." She wasn't; seeing her father at gunpoint again had obviously unravelled her earlier composure and he could hear a rising panic hinted at in her voice. She was scared, but then she couldn't have been more than sixteen years old, and it was a pretty worrying sixteen year old that wouldn't be frightened.
"What's your haul like? Small things? Big things? Light? Heavy?"
There was a pause that he read as confusion. "Jars and jewellery, mostly. One big object, a stone chest."
"How heavy? Two person heavy?"
She suddenly caught onto his train of thought with an, "Oh!" and then, "No, very heavy. We were worried the car wouldn't be enough. It took four men to lift it."
"Then they'll probably be calling for back up. They won't risk your guys trying anything if they force them to help move it."
"So we have some time?"
"Maybe. Maybe not."
In the silence that followed, he heard her breathing, a little faster and shallower than it should have been. He decided it was safe to change the picture.
Dropping his hands slowly, he turned. Swallowing, she hopped back a step and adjusted her grip on the handles of the pistols, silently reminding him that she was armed and he was on the wrong side of the barrels.
"You want me to help, put the guns down."
She stared at him, weighing him up from the corners of her eyes, her mouth pouting stroppily. She took too long.
With a chop to her left wrist, Larson sent one gun dropping to the ground even as he twisted the other from her fingers and then flipped her painfully onto her back with barely an effort.
He stood above the girl as she screwed her eyes shut in discomfort and whined pitifully. The pistols lay about her but he didn't even bother to kick them away. Certain she was about to start crying, he reached down and pulled her to her feet.
"Pity whoever taught you to use those didn't teach you to pick your fights."
The look he received in return was so utterly miserable, so embarrassed, so pleading, that he picked up the weapons and slapped them back in her hands, attempting to keep any tears at bay with a lesson by way of an apology. "If he's bigger than you, stronger than you, better trained than you, and is getting pissed off with you, just shoot."
He left her standing there as he returned to the viewpoint and looked back out to the hold-up. Nothing had changed at the vehicles, but Larson wasn't sure how long it would stay that way.
"What's your name?"
There was a business-like sniff and then, "Lara."
Larson turned, finding her back under her mask of adulthood, the dirt on her face from where she'd fallen now smudged from where she'd tried to tidy herself.
"Well, Lara. Remember what I just taught you. You might need it sooner than you think. Let's go save your dad."
"Thank you," Lara said genuinely as she scrambled down the dry slopes behind the Lieutenant at the edge of the woods. The cars were straight ahead of them but Larson veered off to the right up the rocky side of an outcrop that was bare on top and jutted out to the edge of the road. He didn't answer, nor did he look to see that she was keeping up. Persisting, she went on to ask, "What's your name, anyway?"
He still didn't answer, at least not at first, standing towards the cliff edge and surveying the area. "Lieutenant Conway," he said at last, getting down to lie on his stomach and propping himself up on his elbows with a rifle in hand. "Larson Conway."
Lara dropped down next to him, her own weapons readied though he would have thought she'd have known that they were far out of range for that particular model. She'd perked up, presumably because the situation didn't seem so desperate to her any more, and also, he was willing to bet, because he'd taken charge. Nice legs she may have had, but she was still only young and inexperienced, and taking responsibility for saving your father's life was a big burden when you were still trying to figure out whether you want toys or boys.
He pushed his musings to the side and swallowed to wet his mouth.
"Drop your weapons!"
His bellowed order was painfully un-commanding in the vast space, the loudest shout he could muster lost in the open. He almost wished they hadn't heard him at all.
Turning quickly to his side to keep his prisoners in his peripheral vision whilst still addressing the stranger that had shouted from somewhere behind him, the Iraqi soldier shot his glance towards the higher ground. He scanned the area, not fixing on any one point.
"He can't see us?" Lara asked.
"No, but he can guess where we are." Larson shouted again. "I said, 'Drop your weapons!'"
The soldier backed up a little way, calling something inaudible to his partner in the car and attempting to face the rocks more directly whilst not losing control of Lara's father or his friend. They were still against the car, hands behind their heads, their expressions unreadable over the distance.
Adjusting the scope on his rifle, Larson aimed, and pulled off a shot. It ricocheted from the car roof, making Fletcher duck and cover his head with a cry, and drawing a startled jerk from the soldier.
"We have you surrounded!"
"American?" the soldier enquired.
"Drop. Your. Weapons."
"You're supposed to be on my side, my friend," the soldier laughed. "Or are you not here at all?"
Lara frowned. "What's that mean?"
Larson ignored her. "I will shoot you. You have five seconds to – "
He was cut off as a metallic bang rang out across the plain and a large domed dent appeared in the roof of the car. Fletcher jumped once more, Lara's father started, and the soldier instinctively turned his attention to the vehicle.
Another bang and another dent.
"What on earth?" Lara wondered. Larson just watched silently.
Unceremoniously, the second soldier tumbled out of the back of the car onto the dirt, landing on his back with his legs hooked up in the trunk and a golden sphere in his hand.
The first soldier, quickly returning to his defensive stance of before, shot his colleague a sideways glance and demanded to know what was going on.
There was no answer save for a slow grin, and then the downed man slowly crawled to his feet, sphere still in his hand. Another barked enquiry went unanswered, and the soldier, staggering as if injured or drunk, approached the prisoners.
Larson resolutely went straight back to staring down the scope, finger on the trigger. Lara, bewildered, looked to him, and then back to the scene below. "What is he doing?"
With wordless noises somewhere between laughing and hacking, the soldier stopped in front of Fletcher and shakily extended the hand with the sphere forwards. His partner snapped another question, moved to aim his weapon actually upon his cohort.
The sphere inched closer, and Larson lost his nerve.
He squeezed the trigger, fired off a round, shot the man right in the side of the head.
He barely reacted.
Stopping what he was doing, he simply took several unsure steps to face the cliff. Grasping that he wasn't going to drop, Lara's eyes – and those of the others on the ground – widened, and she gasped in horror. Larson swore.
The golden sphere was slowly held up towards the sky, and Larson's instincts told him to run.
"Move," he ordered, yanking Lara up by her arm as he scrambled to his feet, bruising her, shoving her ahead of him towards the sloped side of the cliff, pulling her after him again as he took off down to the road at full tilt and she failed to get going fast enough.
Behind them, the grassy ground where they had lain exploded in a shower of dirt, stones and lightning.
"What was that?" Lara screamed, barely able to look as she fought to keep from falling and Larson, reaching the ground, turned to sprint towards the cars.
The maddened soldier was turning his attention to the other robber who, frightened, was backing up and shaking his gun to emphasise his point as he gabbled in panic. All he got was more exhausted grinning and the sphere was held slowly forwards.
Larson skidded to a halt.
"Get down!" he roared to Fletcher and Lara's father, who were simply standing in amazement. "Get down!" With the speed of hardened experience, he readied his weapon, aimed, and shot.
The bullet went straight into the soldier's back, but again, he didn't react. Blood spread out across his jacket, his arm continued to extend, his target dropped their gun and ran, and a flash of blue lightening flared blindingly with the short but bloodcurdling accompaniment of a halted scream.
The fleeing soldier's body, charred and smoking from a blackened hole in his back, dropped in the silence.
Lara came to a halt, hands over her mouth, chest heaving, her gaze, like the other archaeologists', unable to be drawn away from the horror as Larson swore in disbelief and started firing, round after round, the monster now advancing upon him with only the jerk of each bullet impact the sign that he was affected at all.
It stopped, face angry and yet looking suddenly a little ill, and Larson paused, lifting his eye from the gun sight for one brief look at the impossible. Almost immediately, he focused once again, and as he went to fire once more, the soldier shot towards the 4x4 at incredible speed. Lara's father, and Fletcher, were thrown inside with surprised and pained shouts, the car door was slammed shut, and the vehicle took off down the road in a cloud of dust with the engine screaming.
Conway swore again and dashed for the other car, Lara close behind. "Wait!" she called, and he hauled her into the passenger seat beside him and slammed his foot on the gas before she'd even managed to close the door.
They took chase down the road, gaining slowly, their targets' vehicle weighed down by the excessive load of artefacts, until it moved down a side road towards a village and they lost sight of it within the small wooden houses.
Larson cut the corner, taking them off-road and making a beeline for the settlement and Lara bounced uncomfortably in her seat, holding on. "What do we do when we get there?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?!"
"I'll assess the situation when I come to it."
"You stay in the car."
"Stay in the car?! That's my father and my friend!"
"And you'll help them best by staying in the car. I can't be worrying about you too."
Lara hit the dashboard. "I'm coming with you," she argued.
Larson slammed on the brakes, bringing them to a skidding halt by a silent cottage. The streets were deserted, a ball abandoned in the middle of the road, an un-hitched but bridled horse hoofing the ground near a tree, distressed. Clearly, the first party's arrival had not gone unnoticed.
The Lieutenant got out, rifle ready, gaze sweeping all around. He moved quietly, heading for the main road that the other 4x4 had come in on, using buildings and walls for cover, checking around corners before advancing, tense and fingering the trigger.
Once he had gone on a little way, but before he had left her sight, Lara hopped down as silently as she could and, arcing her aim around as best as she could with no real experience, sought to keep herself covered as she tip toed after Larson.
He'd stopped behind the porch of one of the larger houses and was peering around the corner. He gave no reaction as she moved up next to him, though he heard her.
"Larson," she whispered. He paid her no attention. "Larson!" Still, no answer. She dropped her gaze, hurt.
"I told you to stay in the car."
She suddenly became animated again. "Yes, but – "
"Whatever, kid, this is no game. Mess this up for me and your dad is dead."
"I can help!"
"Can you?" was the dismissive answer.
"American!" came the sing-song taunt from out in the street. "Come out, American!"
Lara tried to peer around the corner too, but Larson shoved her back before she could see anything. "He's talking to you?"
"Oh yeah. Must've heard me talking to his buddy before he smoked him."
"Let 'em go, Iraqi!" Larson returned.
"What's going on?" Lara hissed from behind him.
Larson continued to watch the street. "He's got your guys."
"What do we do?"
"Shut up." He glanced back at her to emphasise his annoyance.
Lara made a face, offended, and then hunkered down to think. Slow realisation grew on her features.
"He's weak," she said, almost to herself.
"Why did he run? Why not just kill you? The moment it looked like you were going to start firing again, he ran. And then, why take hostages? He wants you off his back but he can't do it himself, not right now, so he's buying time. Whatever it is that's happened, whatever's changed him, it's either not that strong or it needs time to take full effect. The sphere he had..."
Lara pushed her way to the front, Larson letting her in his surprise at her evaluation, and looked.
Her father and Fletcher were on their knees in the middle of the street, the soldier stood behind them. He was breathing heavily, sweating, and clawing at the golden sphere in his hands as a faint crackle of energy danced over its surface.
"The Yazata Orb," she breathed.
"It's the Yazata Orb that he's got. The Yazata were Persian gods, they were strong, quick to heal, resistant to injury. We found three. If he's got the one depicting Vayu..."
Larson pulled her back and fixed her with a glare. "Vayu? What? How does this help?"
"Vayu was the storm god. He could control lightning."
"Are you seriously saying he's turned into a god?"
Lara looked incredulous. "Don't be ridiculous. The Orb is a power source. He's activated it somehow; it's given him strength and control of electricity."
"That's much more believable."
Lara stepped back behind Larson. "Just get the Orb away from him. And quickly before he draws too much power and gets stronger again." She gave Conway a push.
"Get the Orb away," Larson repeated to himself, stunned that he was listening to such trash. Though, he supposed, the soldier didn't look like he was too big on rationality, and bullets hadn't helped much. Whatever he did, he'd have to do it quickly if he was going to save the hostages.
"Iraqi!" he called. "I'm coming out!" Slowly, he did as he promised, moving out into the open with his hands high, his rifle on his back.
The soldier looked up, crazed, affected. Whatever the sphere was doing to him, it didn't look healthy.
"Let 'em go," Larson said again, trying to calm the man. "I'm here, I'm not gonna shoot. Just let 'em go."
"Come here." The soldier's voice had lost its strength, showed exhaustion. "Come closer."
"Ok." Larson moved slowly forwards, and Lara looked on, biting her lip, her gaze switching between him and her father and Fletcher. "Ok, whatever you want."
Silence passed for several moments as Larson edged closer and the soldier continued to stand, panting, the Orb held threateningly over his hostages. A curtain twitched in a nearby cottage and then the inhabitant quickly ducked away again.
Larson stopped some two feet from the waiting group. "Ok? Let 'em go now."
"Heh." A grin began to spread across the madman's face once more, and again, he began to hold the sphere aloft. His eyes were on Larson's, Larson's were on his. Both were tense.
Larson struck, punching the hand holding the sphere with the hardest, fastest attack he could muster. The sphere flew across the street, landing heavily and rolling towards the houses. Lara darted forwards towards it. Her father and Fletcher dove out of the way and scrabbled to safety. Larson lunged forwards to continue the assault. Everything stopped.
Larson was held, imprisoned somehow, unable to move, struggling ineffectually against a painful, invisible vice that contracted every muscle and left him fighting for breath. In front of him, the Iraqi soldier stood with his empty hand outstretched, shaking with tensed exertion. He did not need the Orb.
"Larson," Lara breathed.
"Lara," called her father, the first time that Conway had heard him. "Lara, stay where you are." He began to slowly move to her across the street, as he gestured for Fletcher to back up between the houses to protect himself.
Lara began shaking her head, bending slightly to drop the Orb to the ground and kick it away to the gutter. "No, Daddy, you stay."
"Lara," her father warned, still taking slow steps towards her.
Larson choked, pulling and pushing against the forces holding him, and the soldier simply stood there, concentrating on his power.
"Daddy, no," Lara repeated, more forcefully. Her hand was slowly moving down towards her holstered right pistol.
"Lara!" Desperate to stop her endangering herself, her father leapt forwards, the commotion drawing the attention of their desperate captor, who spun, releasing Larson and leaving him to fall to a coughing, gasping heap, Lara's father becoming the paralysed, suffocating captive.
"Dad!" Lara wasted no time in drawing her gun, aiming directly at the soldier's head. "Let him go or I will shoot!"
She was given a furious glare, the soldier's mouth twisted with effort and rage, and then he turned his attention back to her father and began to deliberately tighten his grip. Larson, fighting to regain control of himself in his oxygen-starved and crushed state, managed one thought.
'He's gonna kill 'im.'
"Stop it!" Lara's screams were hysterical as the hold on her father got more and more devastating. "Stop! I'll shoot! I will! Without the Orb you'll die! You will!"
"I'll shoot! I swear it!"
She couldn't. It was obvious.
A bullet to the back of the head broke the spell, and Lara's father, freed, collapsed to the ground. The soldier, stunned, slowly turned and stared glassily as Larson stood before him, breathing heavily but back on his feet and his rifle in his hands.
Then, the soldier dropped.
He lay there, dead at last, and Lara could only stand and gape and cry as her own un-fired weapon tumbled from her fingers.
Larson walked unsteadily over to her.
"If he's bigger than you, stronger than you, better trained than you, and is getting pissed off with you, just shoot."
He staggered away.