ORIGINAL STORY: A. MILHORN
DRAFT DATE: 01/25/2015
DRAFT SEQUENCE: R1-001
BASED ON CHARACTERS CREATED BY TOBY GARD, SQUARE ENIX AND NAUGHTY DOG, INC. ALL CHARACTERS AND ELEMENTS ARE RESPECTIVE PROPERTY OF THEIR OWNERS© 2015. THIS WORK IS A NOT FOR PROFIT FAN WORK.
"From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to the earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free." – Jacques Yves Cousteau.
"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." – Edmund Hillary.
"If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don't want them. I want men who will come if there is no road at all." – David Livingstone.
"Adventure is worthwhile in itself." – Amelia Earhart.
The morning sun streamed through the glass panes of the study window. It fell warmly onto her face, sending a small shiver down her spine as her milky tanned skin gleamed. She blinked, her liquid cool blue-gray eyes adjusting to the light. Her waist length straight hair shone, a long luxurious deep brown silk carpet, cascading over her shoulders in a waterfall. Her face and bearing were aristocratic, well born and well bred. She had powerful shoulders, a shapely plunging neck and athletic build. Her mind raced over so many thoughts as she pursed her full lips holding in a sigh. Crossing her arms, she traced the outline of her chin and let those thoughts run as wild horses did over the plains.
It had been two months since Terry had died.
Two months of recovery, both of the physical injuries she had sustained and more darkly, her own emotional ones. The bullet wound, the cuts and scrapes, they had all healed over. Her heart?
No. It hadn't. She wasn't one to wallow in emotional conflicts for long. She normally kept her emotions and thoughts about them well organized but when it came to Terry Sheridan, things got fuzzy, chaotic. He was a blind spot for her. She didn't like blind spots and there, under all the flashes, nightmares and memories, was the one and only honest cold fact that she kept not wanting to deal with, but one that kept insisting on showing its face.
Terry hadn't died.
She had personally killed him.
To his face.
The burning slap of pain, guilt and the hot splash of anger welled up again. She had had no choice. He forced her hand. It was a choice, one of many she had been forced to make throughout her years, often between her heart and the reality of life. Terry was going to take the Box and sell it on the black market to the highest bidder. Just a few moments before, he had came to her rescue. Kissed her. Loved her. She thought he had finally changed.
Then, in those last moments, in the cradle of creation itself, he had once again turned to his true colors.
It was a choice between her love and life and the lives of the rest of humanity.
In that insane primordial place, where up was down, down was up and rules of left and right no longer applied, the shot had been easy. He had hit her in the face. She had picked up the gun on the way back up. He never saw it. He forced her to choose and she did. He moved to kill her.
She pulled the trigger.
The sound had been so fast, so short and punctuated.
Then he fell, a look of surprise on his face, as he lay dying at her feet, blood and tears mixing on her face.
A pained breath escaped her lips.
A knock came from the doorway. She drew herself up and put on her business face.
Lara Croft knew that voice. The very British and proper Hillary, the son of her father's manservant and one of the oldest family friends who hadn't turned on her. Hillary, in his late forties, had raised Lara after her father has disappeared. Her mother had died in a plane crash when she was seven. Hillary could be fussy, prissy and generally a pain but he was a hard worker, was dedicated to the family name and genuinely loved Lara like a daughter. He also enjoyed acting like a man in his seventies probably too much but that has half of his charm. Lara knew what she would see before she even turned around. He would be standing there in a perfectly pressed black suit with a silver tray in his hands. On the tray would be a white china mug steaming with black rich coffee.
Every day for the last two months, she had turned it down.
Hillary stepped into the spacious windowed room that was on the second floor of Croft Manor, the ancestral family home. The room had been her father's study, and his father's study before it. Now it was hers. The walls were layered with maps, photographs, satellite scans and communications. The shelves and stands around the room were littered with books, both bound and hand written note books, both hers and her fathers. A DSLR camera set on one shelf along with tons of lenses. An antique Persian rug that was genuinely from Persia covered most of the hardwood polished floors. Lara's desk-also once her fathers-was hand carved from a single piece of oak and dated back at least three hundred years. It was covered in her own notes, files and pieces of academic writing waiting to be reviewed. Her silver laptop slept quietly in the center, its power light winking blue. On the right hand side of the desk was an ornate brass and gold orrery, finely balanced, gleaming in the morning sun.
Lara herself, all of thirty-one years and five-foot seven, often retreated to the study for privacy and contemplation. Rarely, she used it to work jobs or host interviews. She didn't do much of that anymore. Not since Africa. Not since Terry. She had been blocking all phone calls, declined all requests. She stood there for a moment longer in her flowing white shirt and pants pajamas before turning to face Hillary. She found him waiting patiently as always, nearly unflappable.
Her voice was soft, every bit a proper English lady. Hillary moved further into the study and stood in front of her desk.
"I brought you coffee on the off chance that you would accept this morning."
She didn't smile. Her reply was quiet. "What makes you think I would do that?"
She looked at the tray. There were two mugs.
"Because I'm going to join you." He said pointedly, sitting down the silver serving tray on top of her books and notepads, pulling up the overstuffed arm chair from the corner and planting himself in it. She sighed. She wasn't getting out of it this time.
"Alright. You win." She replied gently, swiveling her office chair and sitting down in it. She reached for the second cup and brought it to her lips.
The coffee was strong, bitter black yet sweet, the heat warming her from the inside.
They sat there for a minute or two, a long drawn out minute, the silence stretching uncomfortably before Hillary spoke again.
"Lara." He cupped his mug in both hands. "You've been cooped up in this study for two months. It's not healthy."
She sat her mug down and looked at him, her blue-grey eyes darkening.
"Hilly, I know you didn't like him. You and Bryce never trusted him after what he did but there was a part of me….a small part…that always hoped. My faith was misplaced, I see that now. "
Hillary nodded. "Yes it was. He was a—"
"And I pulled the trigger. Nothing is going to change that."
Another awkward silence and then Hillary changed the subject.
"A list of messages for you is on kitchen counter. I'll bring them up later." Hillary said, standing up and taking his mug and tray with him.
"No need. I know you know them by heart. What were they? Anything good?" Lara asked, clearing her throat, making a pretense at normalcy.
"Well anything that gets you to stop being a hermit is good."
He held up his fingers and with the half empty coffee mug ticked them off one by one as he spoke.
"The first is from the Museum of Anthropology. They'd like your input on several possible pre-diluvian artifacts found in Turkey."
"Pass." Lara said. She didn't feel like driving all the way out to London and spend hours in a lab with a young grad student who couldn't keep his hormones in check while she was trying to focus.
"The next one was from Sam. She wanted to know if you could possibly come out of this, how did she put it, "rat hole study" and join her for lunch in Tokyo. She's visiting her parents in a weekends time."
"Mark it on my calendar, please." Lara asked. She felt a small spark of happiness before it was drowned by depression again. Samantha Nishimura had been her best friend since college. They had shared a flat together for many years and in many ways, they were like sisters. They had also been part of group of friends and colleagues that had been through the worst hell on earth ten years ago on a failed expedition off the coast of Japan. Lara's first expedition.
"People Magazine also wants to do a piece on Africa or the rumors thereof, since nothing was officially ever released. I told them you wouldn't be interested."
"Thank you." Lara sighed in relief, sipping on her coffee. Though if there were rumors of what went on in Africa going around, then someone was about to be boiled alive over at MI6.
"There was one more, but rather than being the bearer of bad news-" he started.
Lara grinned slightly. "I never shoot the messenger."
"Well, almost never." She added seeing his eye brow go up.
"Its from MI6."
Lara felt her heart jump and her pulse quicken. Her cheeks flushed with rage. She became very quiet.
"I'll deal with it later, Hilly."
Indeed she would.
Hillary nodded and moved out into the hallway. Just as he turned to go, Lara stopped him.
She forced the words she felt in her heart to come out.
"Thank you for trying. I mean it."
Only nodding, Hillary made off down the hallway. A few moments later, she heard a loud metallic explosion and the clanging of metal on metal, Hillary cursing and Bryce's yelling came not far behind.
In spite of herself, she smiled a bit. Coming back to Hillary's messages, she considered turning on her laptop and checking her email. If MI6 had called, they would have most likely emailed as well.
They could wait until Hell froze over as far as she was concerned, she thought, sitting back and sipping her coffee.
U.S.S. Fool's Errand
The sixty foot ship rocked on the waves, bobbing wildly. All around her was blue-steel colored ocean and stunningly clear skies. Her hull was a dark grey, faded in patches with rust accenting the railing. A large glassed in wheelhouse sat on the second level of the deck, while the main deck was littered with chains, nets, metal crates and boxes. Her name was scrawled in white on her port and starboard in block letters. She had seen better days. Her twin cranes were so rusted they would never turn again.
Nathan Drake stood at the starboard side of the old metal fishing trawler. Dressed in a white t-shirt and rugged jeans he was hauling on a set of chains that led over the side of the ship. He braced his boots against the metal and tugged harder, hand over hand, grimacing with effort, sweat popping out on his forehead. Growling in frustration, he yelled up at the wheelhouse.
His best friend that practically raised him, Victor Sullivan, a grizzled old smuggler scavenger all around law breaker but good hearted adventurer stepped out of the wheelhouse and inhaled deeply on his cigar, his scruffy white beard and piercing eyes lancing in the sun. He wore a floral print short sleeve shirt, beat up jeans and scuffed boots.
"You promised that we could get a better boat this time. One with pulleys!"
Sully shrugged. "Don't know what to tell you, Nathan! This was the best I could do on short notice. Its not exactly prime pickings here."
Over the side of the boat in the heaving ocean, two divers had surfaced, breaking the surface. One o f them, a Greek chap by the name of Constantinos pulled out his rebreather and yelled up at Nathan.
"Chain is secure, Mr. Drake. You got about fifty feet before it breaks the surface!"
"Great." Nathan snarled under his breath. "Sully! A hand if you aren't too busy?"
"Keep your panties on, I'm coming." Sully shouted through a mouthful of cigar, turning and making his way down a rusty ladder to the main deck, stepping around coils of rope, crates and boxes. A particularly hard wave slammed against the hull, spraying Nathan with warm sea water. He spit it out, blinking his eyes against the burn, trying to not to lose his grip. Behind them, Nathan's girlfriend and fiancé Elena Fisher, stood, bracing herself with a wide stance against the rocking ship, a high definition professional camera recording everything. Her skin was richly tanned, her corn blonde hair tied back in a rough bun and her blue eyes eagerly seeking every moment. A pistol was tucked in the back of her belt.
" Yeah?" he called back as another wave slapped him in the face, drenching him.
"Tell me again what we are here for. I need this for the beta footage for CNN."
"CNN? This is not going on CNN unless you want me to go to prison and by extension you," he yelled, spitting out sea water.
"Just do it!" Elena called back. She was a free lance journalist and she didn't take no for an answer.
Nathan grumbled under his breath. "We are here" a wave splashed into his face again "….looking for the wreckage of the Adriaticus, a Spanish exploratory vessel that was the first ship from Europe to sail on Pacific waters..She was lost in 1518, three years before Magellan's official journey. Spain considered the expedition a failure because the ship was carrying about four tons of gold and gems. The crown didn't want such a story getting out and three years later, Magellan was exploring the same space and got the credit. No one believes the Adriaticus expedition was real….this will prove them wrong if it's what I think it is."
Elena moved in closer, somehow expertly staying balanced as the ship heaved.
"And make you—"
Nathan glared at her.
"Richer than God?" Sully pitched in, not even losing his cigar as he grabbed the chain that Nathan was tugging on and began to heave with him. Below them in the water, the two divers were guiding up a steel cage about the size of a coffin that was attached to the other end of the chain.
Constantinos shouted up. "CAREFUL! The left side is slipping!"
"Crap!" Nathan yelled, tightening his pull.
"Watch it, Drake!" Sully barked, heaving backward.
"I am watching it! You watch it!"
About thirty seconds later, the metal barred cage finally broke the surface, water cascading off of its sides, raining down on the two divers below as it was hauled into the air, dragging across the metal hull of the ship with a loud screech.
"Almost there!" Elena yelled excitedly, changing position so she could film the cage better. With one more mighty heave, Drake and Sully hauled the metal cage up and over the railing, slamming it onto the deck roughly, the chains clattering loudly as they settled to the planks.
"Come on up guys!" Nathan called over to his two divers. They nodded and made for the rear of the ship's deck that was lowest to the water. A few moments later, they too were on deck, standing next to Drake, Sully and Elena, dripping wet in black wet suits. They removed their goggles and tanks, setting them aside loudly with a clank of metal and plastic.
"You really think this is it?" Constantinos asked catching his breath. Nathan wiped his brow, his armpits sweating profusely, his scruffy face red with effort. His brown black wavy hair was all over the place and he didn't really care. Around his neck on a thin leather string was a silver ring. His good luck charm. It had belonged to his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. Unconsciously, he toyed with it, standing over the metal cage.
"I hope so. We need a break."
"You want to do the honors?" Elena said, standing back for a better angle.
Nathan shrugged. "Why not."
Kneeling down next to the black steel cage, he got a better look at what was in it. Inside the cage was a roughly six foot iron chest that was clearly very old. Its wide round hinges were rusted, and its giant old style lock and long ago became encrusted with barnacles. The chest itself had long ago been covered in fine wood but now, the hundreds of years below the ocean had done their damage. What was left was barely a shadow of the magnificent craftsmanship. Drake flipped up the cage bolts and removed the top, setting it aside.
He took the old lock in his hands and hoped he was right. Yanking it hard, it came off in his hands, disintegrating into wet dust. Casting it away, he put two hands carefully on each side of the lid and gently began to lift. At first, nothing happened. The hinges and their rusted joints resisted. He put more pressure behind his hands and finally, with a groan of ages, the hinges themselves snapped the long iron lid fell up and away, clattering loudly to the deck.
"Oh my God…Nathan…" Elena said, her breath taken away.
"Jesus Mary and Joseph…" Sully added, his cigar falling out of his mouth.
Nathan himself was speechless but a large grin was forming across his face. There in the box, although covered with mildew and splotches of green from age, was a pile of glinting yellow gold coins, stamped with the Spanish crown and the year, 1518. There were also rough uncut jewels, emeralds and a few pieces of shaped gold that had been obviously done by inexperienced hands with the name Adriaticus stamped through the soft metal.
"This is it….we found it. The wreck of the Adriaticus." Nathan said, breaking into an insane laughing cackle that was born of sheer excitement and disbelief. He turned around and tried to maintain a professional image but couldn't help himself. He literally leaped for joy and shouted at the sky.
"Nathan?" Elena asked.
Something in her voice made Nathan's happiness deflate quickly.
"We've got company." Sully said his voice darkening. He began to move fast to the wheelhouse where he kept his M-16. Nathan looked around for his holster and pistol. Just five hundred yards from the Fool's Errand was a larger yacht, a sleek silver and white vessel flying no flags with dark tinted windows. Before her, two men in black wet gear rode jet skis, aiming directly for the boat. Suddenly a voice broadcast on a loudspeaker from the yact.
"Nathan Drake. Do not panic. Do not shoot."
"As if." Nathan said gruffly diving for his gun. He saw his pancake holster and belts leaning against a crate. He made for it as Elena backed up, still filming with one hand and reaching around for her gun with the other.
Nathan reached his pistol, grabbed it and drew it fast, metal scraping on leather. Just as he flicked the safety off, the two men in black wet gear had already climbed the railing and had boarded. Whirling, Nathan aimed his gun directly at their heads. They froze instantly, throwing their hands up.
" Don't shoot. We aren't here to hurt you or anyone else." The man on the left said, his accent catching Drake off guard.
He was British.
"Start talking before this itch in my trigger finger gets worse." Drake spat, his eyes flicking from one man to the other.
"My name is Agent Stevens. I'm with MI6. This is my partner, Agent Colloway."
"Great. Just great." Nathan said, lowering his weapon. This is the last thing they needed, the cops.
Stevens had short neatly cut wavy dark hair. His partner, Colloway was shorter than him and he also had neatly trimmed brown hair and brown eyes. Colloway was probably the least imposing creature Drake had ever seen. Drake noticed both men were utterly clean shaven and their hands were soft. Not much hard labor or work there. Normally, he assumed they wore pressed suits and left the dirty work to others. He really didn't have any patience for such men.
"You can put your gun away, Mr. Drake. We aren't here to arrest you." Stevens said, almost relaxed in his demeanor.
"Not yet." Colloway added.
"Not at all if we can get around it." Stevens clarified, glancing at the open box of gold, one of his eyebrows reaching for his hairline. "But I suggest you hear us out. Also, you are terribly outgunned. Your reputation is well known at MI6."
"Oh really? Why do you care what an American citizen does with his spare time?" Sully asked from wheelhouse deck, raising his M-16 and racking the slide. He had lit a new cigar.
He raised a finger and flicked it towards Sully.
A sharp blast rocketed through the air, the snapping of the sniper rifle unmistakable.
The bullet slammed into the tip end of Sully's cigar at an angle, shredding it into billions of pieces, knocking it from his mouth. Sully cursed and jumped back.
"Trust me when I say that if we wanted to arrest you, Mr. Drake, we wouldn't have an issue but again, we aren't here to arrest you." Stevens said again, more pointedly.
"Why are you here then?" Elena asked.
"To offer you a job." Colloway interjected.
"What kind of job?" Drake asked warily. He still hadn't lowered his pistol entirely.
"A job that's right up your alley. We need your unique talents, Mr. Drake to avert a global crises. If you are worried about your citizenship, the CIA told us where to find you. We will be paying you handsomely, of course. More money than that plundered—illegally plundered—sea chest contains if you're interested." Stevens told him flatly, crossing his arms.
"I don't think espionage is up my alley. You can find another monkey boy." Drake said, lowering his gun and turning away from them. "Get off my ship, if you don't mind. Don't worry about the gold. I'm turning it over to the Spanish… most of it."
"Three words, Mr. Drake."
Nathan snorted and kept walking away towards the wheelhouse.
"Clavis autem Deus."
Drake stopped instantly. He turned and looked at Stevens.
"What did you say?"
"Clavis autem Deus. The Pila autem Deus. Ring a bell?" Stevens said.
Drake crossed the deck quickly, standing nose to nose with Stevens.
"You found them?" he asked quickly, looking into the man's dark eyes for any deception.
Stevens nodded. "We know where one is. We need your help to find the other six before they are activated. "
"Wait a minute…Can someone translate for me please? My Latin is a little rusty." Elena snapped.
"First turn off the camera and hand me the tape, please. This mission, should you chose to except it, is off the books and that means no media, including significant others." Colloway added, holding out his hand.
"What the fuck? Nathan?" Elena protested, holding her camera closer.
"Hand em the tape, Elena. If what he says is true, we just hit the biggest pay day of our careers…of our lives and I think we can sacrifice the story on this one." Nathan said quickly.
"Screw you, Nathan Drake. I don't follow you half way across the world to just toss away the story of a lifetime." She yelled.
Sully called out. "Do it, kid. Trust me. No one's going to believe you anyway, film or no film if what they say is true."
"No one believed in El Dorado either—" Elena growled, ejecting the tape and handing it over to Colloway who promptly snapped it in half. Elena cringed.
"What that hell are they talking about? Sully? Anyone want to tell me what I just destroyed the story of a lifetime for?"
Nathan spoke up and when he did, his voice was serious for the first time in a week.
"Clavis autem Deus…Pila autem Deus….its Latin…rough Latin…for "Key of God" and secondly, "Spheres of God."
"Do you accept, Mr. Drake?" Stevens asked.
"I can't go alone. I'll need Sully and Elena." Nathan added quickly.
"Sorry. No others allowed in the field. You are welcome to add them in a support position." Colloway barked.
"You can't ask me to go after something like this alone." Drake told them, throwing up his hands.
"We aren't. We already have someone in mind who will be more than adequate to go with you and help you." Stevens replied curtly.
"Who, one of your butterfingered agents?" Sully said rudely, his aggravation fighting with his curiosity for control.
"No. She's very experienced in this sort of thing and we've worked with her before."
"If we can convince her." Colloway told Stevens as much as to Drake.
"Her?" Elena snarled, her eyebrows curling.
"Oh we can convince her. She won't be able to resist." Stevens said to him, turning away from Drake and his friends, making his way back towards the railing.
"We leave now, Mr. Drake. You are welcome to collect your belongings and join us on our ship. We need to be in Surrey England by 5:30 PM this evening. A private chopper will take you there. So, if you please, we need to be going."
Drake hesitated a moment. Growling to himself and mentally kicking himself in the ass, knowing it was a bad idea he shouted at them.
"Gimme a second. I'll grab my bag. Sully? Elena?"
Both of them turned and pinned Nathan with a glare.
"I'll call you once I get to Surrey. I'm going to need your guys to help me out any way you can since you can't be there."
Elena's glare turned into death daggers. All he could do was give her an apologetic shrug.
"You owe me, Drake. Big time." She snapped, storming off to the wheelhouse.
"I'll get the gold to the Spanish museum." Sully assured him.
"No less than fifty percent fee." Drake said, picking up his messenger bag and stuffing his pistol and shoulder holster belt into it. Making sure he had his phone and wallet and passport, made for the railing. "I'll be fine guys. What's the worst that can happen? Its me."
Sully watched Nathan climb over the railing and a few moments later watched as the two MI6 agents plus Nathan roared off towards the discrete looking yacht.
"That's what worries me." Sully grumbled and headed back into the wheelhouse. He had a few phone calls to make before they turned back for Hawaii and then the airport.
Deep in his gut something stirred. A cold ink like dread.
This had bad idea written all over it.
The air blasted past her as gravity fought to hold her down. The Suzuki dirt bike between her legs gleamed in the afternoon sun, its jet black utilitarian frame glinting, its off-road tires spraying dirt, rocks and grit as she took the next jump, the ramp inclining sharply. Lara's face was expressionless as she focused on the moment, her heart pumping adrenaline, her long brown hair flying out in a loose ponytail. She didn't wear a helmet for the same reason she didn't have a life insurance policy.
She didn't need one.
She wore a pair of black leather riding pants and a black leather jacket with a red accent strip on the sleeves. Her hands were covered in black leather fingerless gloves and she wore her favorite pair of black combat boots. Her blue-gray eyes were hidden behind a pair of black framed red-orange lensed pair of Ray Bans. The bike slammed back down hard onto the hard packed earth, its shocks and springs taking the force, spewing up grit as the back tire caught traction and rocketed her forward. She was on her personal race track obstacle course in the farthest field from the manor house. A hundred years ago, crops had been grown there. Now, it was one of her few personal spaces. She had also converted the manor's spacious ball room into her training gymnasium. She and Hillary had reached an agreement since he was the elder statesman of the property to not use live rounds since the support beams in the room now bore their fair share of bullet hole pock marks. She had mostly kept it.
The race track she had built three years ago. Hillary had detested it naturally due to the fact that she had no intention of wearing any protective gear let alone a helmet. Bryce on the other hand loved it and had attached a high-definition GoPro camera he had modified with a wireless transmitter onto the front of all of her bikes except the Norton. She wouldn't let anyone touch that.
Taking a sharp curve, Lara leaned into the inertia, her left foot going out to stabilize her. She righted herself and aimed the bike at the next ramp. She analyzed the ramp and her speed. There was another ramp not far from the one she was blazing towards. If she timed it right…
Twisting the accelerator she revved the already roaring motor, the bike responding beautifully as the momentum threatened to unseat her, shooting forward.
She was racing to get away from her depression. Movement. Action. Adrenaline. She needed those things. Her time on Yamatai and her experiences afterward had changed her. For many years she had dealt with an aggressive form of post traumatic stress syndrome but found that as long as she stayed busy, she could keep it in control. In her mind, she kept replaying those last moments in the Cradle of Life. She felt the cold metal of the pistol she had taken from the fallen bio-terrorist Riess. He himself had met his doom moments before, melting in the deadly acid pool that contained Pandora's Box.
Her memory jumped backward.
Terry's backhand to her face, splitting her lip, tasting her own blood.
Sitting there on the edge of the acid pool, kneeling before Pandora's Box. The box itself was the size of a small chest and was constructed of a material she couldn't begin to identify. It was hard like stone yet transparent and a shimmering amber-gold light swam within the box. The box itself was covered in ancient writing, the likes of which she had never seen before or since. For just moment, she remembered the temptation, the call of the box to open it and see what was inside.
She knew what was in it of course. The Ramanti. The anti-life force was all that was left after Pandora had thousands of years ago unleashed pain and sickness into the world.
The gunshot exploded in her ear.
Terry fell, his blue eyes already dying, looking at her in shock.
A sound crackled.
A voice. She recognized it and it snapped her out of her trance. It had felt like forever but it had all happened in the blink of an eye.
The voice was her friend and technical wizard, Bryce. She remembered he could see through the GoPro cam.
"You're going way too fast! You are going to overshoot that jump!"
She double tapped the external mike button on her helmet and shut off the ear piece, hunkering down as her bikes tires bit into the bottom of the ramp at fifty-miles an hour. The bike snarled and a second later, she felt gravity lose its hold on her again. She saw the ground leave as she gained height and time slowed. Below her, the space between the two ramps shrunk quickly as the ground rushed up behind the second ramp. Bryce was right of course, she wasn't going to make it and she quickly adjusted her weight, loosening her knees for the impact that was going to—
She landed hard, her bike's tires and shocks screaming in protest, slamming up into their hydraulic tubes, the bike's frame hitting the tires, the shock shooting up through her hips and lower spine, rattling her teeth. Gritting her teeth, she swerved the bike onto its side, nearly toppling it as she skidded into the dirt track, dirt and rocks flying as the momentum of the slide carried her off of the track and into the neatly mown field beyond, her tires digging deep gouges into the soft loamy earth.
Finally the momentum ran out and the bike nearly flipped onto its right side. Lara slammed her right foot down and braced it with all her weight.
The bike continued and she thought she was going to have to jump off to avoid breaking her own leg but gradually the bike slowed and finally stopped entirely. Straightening, Lara stood astride the bike, looking back at the dirt course and there beyond it, surrounded by ancient forests, Croft Manor and its manicured grounds. Looking down, she saw the twin gouges cut into the cut grass and dirt and thought that David, her groundskeeper was not going to be happy.
She would apologize to him later.
An incessant beeping was suddenly in her ear. Frowning in mild irritation she realized that Bryce was calling again. She tapped the mike back on.
"What?" She asked brusquely.
"Lara, you need to get back here. We have guests."
She shook her head. " Tell them to bugger off. I'm not seeing anyone now." She moved to put the bike back into gear. Bryce's next words struck her like a fist in the face.
A flash of hot anger flushed her face as a dark scowl set upon her features.
Without a word, she kicked the bike back into gear and revved the engine, spewing dirt and grass. The bike took off, flying across the fields, dodging and weaving away the rocky outcrops as she plunged it into the tree line, cutting through the small woods to get back to the manor faster. Trees and shrubs shot past her as green and brown blurs. Massive old growth tree trunks jumped out of nowhere to try and kill her as she dodged, weaving left and right, left and left again, jumping the bike over the small stream.
Moments later it felt like, she exploded from the tree line, branches and leaves flying, her bike tearing up the well kept grass. She bounced over onto the long gravel drive leading to he manor proper. Gravel spewed and she leaned down, speeding up as the manicured hedges on either side sped by. She could see it there, sitting in the circular drive that led to the front of the manor house. A large black SUV with tinted windows. It looked like a Jaguar XQ-type. Other than the maker's emblem, the car was unremarkable but was clearly government. She saw no one in it as she blasted by it, hitting it with the gravel, scratching the paint. Swerving to a stop roughly at the front door, she killed the engine, kicked the kick stand out and dismounted. Holding her head high and keeping her anger in check as much as any proper English woman she walked fast with purpose, slamming open the front doors, her hair flowing out behind her, the pony tail bouncing as she walked, her boots echoing in the marble lined entrance hall. She passed through the entrance hall, passing glass cases filled with priceless antiques and sculptures. She looked up and saw Bryce at the end of the hall as she passed under the massive crystal and gold-brass chandelier. He was dressed as he always was in an off yellow short sleeve t-shirt, baggy military green cargo trousers, scuffed blue and white sneakers and a black loose fitting thin black jacket. His short black hair was messy and generally everywhere. His skinny frame and generally unkempt appearance was his way of revolting against main stream society. Bryce's friends extended all over the world in cyber space. Those friends who weren't in cyber space he built with his own hands. His robotic creations were everywhere.
His face was drawn, his olive-brown eyes worried.
"Lara…we tried to stop them. They barged in." he said quietly.
"No matter. Where are they?" she said moving past him.
"Drawing room." Bryce replied, turning to follow her, keeping his distance. He recognized that look on her face. The East Drawing Room was just ahead, through the main foyer and off to the left of the main hall past the stair case. Lara paused for a moment beside one of the antique cabinets and opened it, its glass doors reflecting the over head lights. She pressed a hidden button on the first shelf as Bryce stopped behind her.
"What are you doing?" he asked, knowing full well what she was doing having installed that shelf himself.
"Accessorizing." She told him flatly. The shelf had moved back into the wall, revolved and came back out. In its place was a metal tray. On the tray were twin pistols, silver and black HK USP 9 Matches in .45 caliber. Beside them were two magazines, black with smooth metal, each fully loaded with fifteen rounds of hollow point ammunition. Lara picked up one of the pistols, and slammed a magazine into the hand grip. She racked the slide and slipped off the safety and resumed her way towards the drawing room.
"Lara be reasonable. Just ask them to leave." Bryce stammered nervously eyeing the handgun.
"I am being perfectly reasonable. I told them to not come back. My point needs to be made clear, apparently." She said coldly as they entered the main foyer. Twin stair cases made of rich old mahogany wood wound up either side of the room at right angles leading the second floor of the manor house. A stone balcony, hand carved lined the space in-between. Over head were panes of ornate glass that went straight across the room, making a glorious skylight. A chandelier hung from the center most piece and twin stained glass windows soared above each stair flight.
Lara took the left passed under the stair well, moved down a small flight of stairs and entered the drawing room.
"Bugger!" Bryce cursed under his breath as he followed her in.
The drawing room was spacious, lined with two hundred old book shelves, which in turned were stocked with tomes so old that many of them could not be handled. Four floor to ceiling windows lined both walls, a large globe of the earth so old it had yellowed sat under one of the windows. Twin premium leather sofas sat facing each other. Hillary stood to one side, his arms crossed aggressively, his face frowning. There, against the left stone wall were two men in pressed suits. One was shorter than the other and both were clean shaven and absolutely spotless. Lara recognized them immediately.
Stevens and Colloway.
They had show up two months ago and recruited her to find and recover Pandora's Box.
Without word she raised the gun in her right hand.
Stevens saw her.
"Lady Croft, I can—"
Lara double tapped the trigger.
The HK slide slammed twice with a loud THUNK, a flash of muzzle fire exploding from the tip of the barrel just past the angled black barrel weight, the recoil compensators absorbing most of the shock.
One round slammed into the wall on either side of Stevens head, burying themselves into the stone, spraying dust and rock debris. Stevens face drained of all color, his eyes widening as he flinched down, throwing up his arms. Colloway ducked out of the way, cursing loudly.
"Bloody hell, woman!" he yelled.
Lara didn't lower her weapon. "You have one minute to clear out of my property. I won't be so picky about where I put the next two." She snarled.
Stevens shook his head trying to clear out his ears. Aggravated but swallowing his fear, he stood up and glared at Lara.
"Lady Croft. I'm sorry to disturb you. I know we gave you our word that we wouldn't return or bother you again but something has—" he began speaking quickly as Lara lined up her pistol with his forehead.
"You have fifty-five seconds as of five seconds ago." She spat.
"Bloody Christ, Croft," Colloway said, stepping up. "Just listen, would you?"
Not saying a word, Lara's eyes narrowed. Bryce and Hillary kept silent and well out of her reach.
She heard steps behind her. Booted steps.
She spun and leveled her gun at the source as a man dressed in a loose short sleeve white t-shirt, dirty blue-jeans, brown boots and wearing a brown leather shoulder pan-cake holster in which sat a 9mm Baretta pistol, came striding into the drawing room, crossing his arms across his chest. His square jaw was lined in close blue-gray stubble and his brown hair, wavy and straight at the same time was mostly combed back out of his face but was still messy in the way that only those who worked in the field could pull off. He was ruggedly handsome and Lara immediately pegged him for a smuggler.
"What the hell are you doing in my house?"
The man saw the gun and immediately held up his hands in surrender.
"No problem! No problem at all. Was just admiring your pieces from the Shang Dynasty." He said reassuringly, looking down the dark eye that was the barrel of the HK.
"Who are you?" Lara snapped, glancing from Stevens and Colloway and back to the roguish stranger.
"Really? I thought you'd have heard of me. I know who you are definitely." He replied grinning a bit.
Lara lined up her gunsight on the spot between his eyes.
"Okay Okay. I'm Nathan Drake. And I think you should listen to these two losers."
Lara glared back at the MI6 agents.
"Give me on reason."
Nathan shrugged. "How about seven? Ever heard of the Spheres of God?"
Lara hesitated and lowered her pistol, clicking on the safety.
"Make it quick." She moved around to the farthest leather sofa and sat down, her back straight, her legs crossed as a proper lady would and the pistol lying on the pillow next to her well within reach.
"What do you know about the Spheres of God?" Nathan asked, easing onto the couch opposite of Lara. Stevens and Colloway had wisely decided to move behind Drake and stay as far from Lara as they could reasonably stand. Bryce had sat down next to her on her left. Hillary had gone off to fetch a broom and dust pail, not really looking at the two large bullet holes in the wall across the room. They were still smoking.
"I know the legend. There's no evidence that its anything more." Lara told Drake pointedly, her blue-grey eyes locking with his darker blue ones. Drake sat forward, putting his hands between his knees, raising an eyebrow.
"Are you sure about that?" he asked curiously. He was hiding something, she thought.
"Assume for a moment that I'm an idiot," Nathan said and glared at Lara as her right eyebrow twitched slightly towards her hair line. " And tell me what you think you know about the spheres."
Lara sighed. She should have taken that job at the museum. She began, if only to indulge him.
"The origin of the legend can be traced most commonly to the early Christian church in the first century. It was a time when Christianity was still in its infancy, showing much more of its early pagan roots than it does now."
Nathan nodded for her to go on. Bryce looked from the agents to Lara who ignored him.
"However, as with all myths, the true origin is lost to time and predates any written source. The sources we have written of it date back to early writings of Aedesius. He was a Neoplatonist philosopher and a mystic. He died in 355, quite some time after the church was first founded so naturally his writings are mostly in the trappings of early Christianity."
"And what do these legends say?" Colloway asked. Stevens rolled his eyes. Lara knew that Colloway for all his pretense at efficiency rarely ever read the briefings. She directed her next statements to him, slowing down, like a teacher with an incredibly dully student.
"Aedesius wrote that the legend he heard came from an early Christian priest, of an order who's name has been lost to time. According to that legend, before the universe was given form, God channeled his energies into seven spheres. With these spheres, he created everything, matter, energy, the earth, the stars. At first, only six of these spheres were active. Each sphere represented a specific element. Earth, air, fire water, creation and soul. The elements of life itself."
Lara set her leg forward and matched Drake's stance, looking him in the eye again.
"Then mankind, created as the embodiment of all the elements fell to the first sin, temptation in the garden. Angry, God activated the final sphere, that of death, destruction. This introduced death into the world, ending man's immortality and introducing entropy into creation."
"This action, the activation of all seven spheres had a consequence. The combined energy of these orbs unleashed an energy that cracked the boundaries between heaven, hell and earth. The boundaries were so thin that creatures of the pit and things from beyond our understanding of reality began to pour onto the earth as the dimensions began to merge. Seeing this as an abomination, God entrusted the seven spheres to order of monks I mentioned earlier. He instructed them to take them and scatter six of them to the corners of the earth and leave the seventh next to the source of the bleed through as a type of lock or bar to stop the rift from growing. That's where the myth ends. The orbs were scattered, the merging of the worlds was stopped and time destroyed any and all traces of the order and the myth beyond apocryphal mention." Lara concluded, sitting back and crossing her arms.
"So I take it that you aren't religious?" Colloway asked her as Hillary came back into the room. Hearing the question a sound came from Hillary that he barely concealed, sounding something like a cross between a derisive snort and a chuckle. Lara glared at him and he quickly made himself busy cleaning up the dust and rock piles.
"I've seen many strange things in my time. Nothing to make me believe that this God exists as we understand it." She responded. "Usually, in all myths and religion there is a grain of truth."
"And as the saying goes, there's often nothing so strange as truth." Nathan added.
"Why do you care? What's the point of all this?" she asked him.
"What if we told you that there is evidence to believe these spheres, these orbs, might actually exist?" Stevens asked, stepping forward.
"Then I would call men in white coats first unless you had some way to back it up."
"Lady Croft, are you familiar with a man named Aurin St. Clair?" Stevens continued. He moved out from behind the couch and towards a small end table. On the end table was a thick manila folder that Lara had missed on her way in. Stevens reached it, opened and deftly extracted a set of photographs. He then moved over to Lara, stood in front of her and handed her the first image.
She looked at it.
It was a man, obviously older, maybe in his late to mid fifties. Despite his age, he showed little outward sign of being tied down by biology. His hair was jet black with wide streaks of gray on his temples. His eyes were sharp, like lasers, boring into your heart. Even in a photograph Lara could tell this man was formidable. His powerful aristocratic features spoke of a high birth and good genetics. He wore no beard or mustache and was dressed in an expensive tailor made suit. He was stranding in the middle of a crowd of men and women at what appeared to be a conference of some kind. The photo was black and white so she couldn't define colors beyond that. She shook her head at Stevens and handed him the photo back.
"Can't say that I am familiar. Any reason I should be?" she told him.
Stevens exhaled. "Well, for starters, he's one of the richest men on the planet, not far behind Bill Gates. Our sources actually put him ahead of Gates but publically he's second. He's got fingers in all major areas of science and research. Genetics, bio-engineering, computers and electronics, astronomy and geology. He even has connections to at least two major arms manufacturers, Cestis Arms out of California and Baker Defense here in England."
"Okay. Go on." Lara said, waiting to hear where she should be interested.
"His hobbies have also recently branched out quite aggressively into biblical and ancient myths and archaeology. He's got at least four dig sites going on in four different countries staffed by Waseda University, Cambrige and Duke."
"Why does any of this make him any interest to MI6?" she asked.
"For starters he's a British citizen. Secondly, he owns and operates one of the largest televangelist television networks on earth, second only to Trinity Broadcasting. He has major radio and television as well as a large internet presence. Most of his money comes from donations from his flock of followers. He fancies himself something of a new wave savior."
"Wonderful." Lara said sarcastically. This was getting better and better.
"Indeed. This, my friend, is where it gets interesting."
He handed Lara the next photo in the set. She took it and examined it closely.
It was a seal of some kind, a symbol. A set of circles set within each other with a star in the center. Each of the stars seven arms ended in a globe. Set in gold below the seal were words in Latin. Lara read them.
Custodes autem clavis in aeternum.
Her eyes widened. Looking sharply up at Stevens, then to Drake and back.
"Is this real?" she asked.
"Yes. Fittingly enough, it's the emblem of his church." Stevens told her.
"Keepers of the keys forever." Colloway added quietly. Lara shook her head.
"That's the rough version, yes." She said handing the paper back to Stevens.
He handed her a final paper, another photograph.
When she saw it, she felt her heart thud in her chest and leap into her throat. Her skin prickled and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. Her mouth went dry. She felt clammy and hot all at once.
There, in the photograph on four stone pedestals in what looked like to be a modern high security vault or lab were four crystal glass orbs. One sat on each pedestal. This was a color photograph unlike the rest. Each of the four orbs was a different color. Going from left to right the colors were green, blue, red-orange and almost a cyan. Each orb was clearly glowing with an inner light. There were no other markings. They were stunningly beautiful, miniature stars, radiating power and energy.
Lara couldn't help herself. "Oh my God…"
Stevens went on. "We have reason to believe that Aurin St. Clair is the current leader of this lost order of monks, now turned into a modern day military, a secret from the public face of his ministry. We believe they are called the—"
"Order of Angel's Keepers." Nathan said. Lara looked back at him.
"He has four of the spheres…where are the other three?"
"That is what his digs are for. So far, there's been little progress at the ones in Rome, Russia, or Spain but…the one in China looks too promising to be comfortable…" Nathan told her, standing up, popping his lower back.
"You think he is going to try to use them again?" Lara asked already knowing the answer.
"An inside mole sent us those images and confirmed that behind the public face, St. Clair is more of a modern day Jim Jones. The mole also confirmed that most of the hidden face of his church is heavily militarized and centered on his manor, which is located on a private island off the coast of the Isle of Sully. We believe he's holding the first four orbs there. Earth, air, fire and water. We believe the soul orb is in China. The death orb we have no lead on." Steven said, suddenly looking uncomfortable.
"What?" Lara sensed she wasn't going to like what came next. "What about the creation orb?"
"Well, I don't know how to say this, Lady Croft. But I will just get to the point. Through our mole's resources, a mole who sadly went silent a week ago, we know where the Orb of Creation is. Its in Africa, in Kenya….near Mount Kilimanjaro."
Lara's face drained of color as she realized what he meant.
"No that's possible. That orb had no connection this myth that I've ever heard. It was created as a map." She said tersely.
"I'm afraid it does. These orbs appear to be a technology that we don't even begin to understand. The markings on that orb are special. It's the only one that had them and my source before he was silenced believed they added later to take advantage of that orbs power, which the engraver barely understood, thinking it was a simple map." Stevens told her, his voice resigned as a look of shock and horror came over Lara's face.
This was not happening, she told herself. It couldn't be.
Only it was.
"I'm afraid, Lady Croft that you are going to have to retrieve the Mati…you are going to have to return to the Cradle of Life."
Lara's eyes flashed at him angrily.
"Do you have any idea what I went through there? Any idea of what I had to do, of what I lost? How dare you." She said coldly.
"I understand that this is asking of you what we have no right to but you and Mr. Drake are the only qualified agents we trust to find and recover these orbs before St. Clair does and uses them….which I'm sure that I don't have to tell you…" Stevens placated her gently.
"…The end of reality and life as we know it." Bryce said quietly. Hillary had cleaned up the mess sometime ago and was now standing, a broom in his left hand and a dust pail full of debris in the other.
"You can't ask this of her. Its dirty." He told Colloway and Stevens.
"Again, I'm afraid we have little choice, Mr. Hillary." Colloway said to Hillary. Stevens looked at Lara.
"Lady Croft, you will have every item you can request at your disposal. I know you don't like our agents following you into the field so it would just be the two of you out there. Of course your support team is welcome to assist you however they can from a distance. Do you accept?"
For a moment, a long painful moment, Lara saw Terry falling dead at her feet again as lightning snarling around her, slamming into and generating from the strange twisting rock formations that came from every direction in the Cradle of Life, snapping and snarling as she knelt down to touch Pandora's Box.
The roars and screams of the Shadow Guardians, deadly twenty foot high monstrosities that came from inside shadows to explode and attack anything that moved, their oval maws lined with teeth, their nasty arms that ended in claws that dragged the ground. Gunfire exploding as men died around her.
Shaking her head, she stood up and looked Stevens in the eye. Her look was dangerous and did not soften.
"I'll do it. But I'm warning you, both of you. You tell MI6 that if you ever set foot on my property again, I swear to you, they won't need a body bag to take you back because I won't leave anything for them to find."
She whirled away from him and made for the main hall.
"Threats aren't necessary, Lady Croft. We understand." Colloway said, hoping to defuse the situation.
Lara stopped and turned to face him. Her face was fury incarnate.
"I wasn't making a threat. It was a promise." She told him as she stormed off out of the drawing room and headed east to the garage.