I don't think I could have booked flights any faster for a million dollars.
I mean, I'm sure part of it was that I had completely cut my TV time; the last thing I needed was to see another commentator dissecting Lara's final response with all the care of a pyromaniac with a zippo lighter- Ugh, that doesn't even make sense.
Point is, most of the 'analysts' seemed to be happier with lighting fires than actually going over our responses. And we were out of the country by the end of the week, as soon as the SDF said that their preliminary investigation was over and we were no longer being held.
As morbid as it sounds, it's almost a good think that Lara… killed everyone on the island. Because of that, we wouldn't have to show up in court.
In the end, we wound up in a nice, if small, hotel in New York. I'd had someone else do the reservation, so hopefully the media would take a few more days to realize we were here. Lara, maybe more than a little paranoid (after we had practically been forced to flee the country so I guess it's justified), had refused to stay at Daddy's penthouse.
Given that he wasn't going to be in New York for another month, there wasn't any harm in it, but apparently Lara thought it would be to visible. Which, well, I guess she had a point. Still, the cloak and dagger grated on me, especially because all I wanted after a week on hospital cots or the god dammed ground was a goose feather pillow and en suite hot tube.
But sometimes we have to make sacrifices. I'd just hoped I'd been past sacrificing my bed, the cots on the Endurance notwithstanding. I know it must sound so shallow, but if a girl can have her beauty sleep, what can she have?
Of course, Lara had a different perspective on that. She'd been busy going through her dad's old notes, and some of the more 'recent' contributions to the field, since we had landed at JFK. As always, she dived into her work with single minded devotion, leaving me with plenty of free time on my hands.
If only I had more things to fill the hours with.
Mostly I just stayed around the hotel. I mean, I dipped out to practice at the gun range (an addition to my daily schedule that I never thought I'd have, but since Lara was trained primarily by Roth an ex-SAS card holding badass, I have to put in the hours if I ever want to be on par), but I was uncomfortable with leaving Sweetie alone for too long.
Mainly because if I didn't order room service or takeout she might forget to eat for dangerous period of time.
But at least it made catching up on my movie watching pretty easy. It's not like I'd missed any big releases during the expedition to Yamatai, but there were still the classics that never lost rewatch value… And it helped distract me from playing with the weather too much, but we don't talk about that.
Or more accurately, Lara and I didn't talk about that because I still hadn't found a good time to bring it up. The last thing I wanted was to catch her when she was already depressed or some shit. Unfortunately, I knew from term papers that procrastinating never ended well. If only I could pry my best friends face away from her notebooks for more than thirty seconds.
She doesn't even stop when we eat.
More and more though, I found myself staring out the window when it rained. Apparently April was a pretty dreary month in the Big Apple, and I guess could have changed that, but like I said, I was trying to stay away from messing too overtly with the local climate.
Still, there was just something about feeling the rain. I didn't do anything to it, and really it was a relief that I didn't have to seize control out of the weather 24/7, but letting the storm system slip through my metaphorical senses was calming.
I'd never been big on meditation, and before Yamatai I thought rain was depressing, but now I could do this for hours without feeling bored in the slightest.
"Staring out the window won't make it stop."
"You'd be surprised." I murmured. Then I blinked, my mind catching up to my mouth just a second too late. I turned around sheepishly, taking in Lara's rather bemused expression.
"So…" I said, pasting on a happy smile. "Decide to finally rejoin the land of the living?"
Lara rolled her eyes. "You're exaggerating."
"Sweetie, if we were dating, I'd so jealous of macbook right now." I said. "You sleep with the thing!"
Well at least that got an awkward chuckle as I patted the space next to me on the bed.
"You look tired." I noted.
Lara sighed, nodding vaguely. Well, at least she knew she was burning the candle at both ends, but honestly when has that stopped either of us.
"Just had to get through everything." She said quietly. "There were several recent journals that I… discarded out of hand because..." Lara shrugged and I nodded in understanding. "I just finished fact checking them as much as I could."
"Anything stand out?" I asked.
Lara shook her head. "Maybe Stonehenge, but I don't think it'll turn out to be any different from the last dozen 'breakthroughs'." She said. A small frown flicked across her face. "And I still haven't decoded my father's journals either. Leave it to the man who wrote his last will and testament using a Playfair Cipher."
I snorted in a most unlady like manner I'm sure. "God that's…" I shook my head, holding in laughter. "No offense, but it's not like people were lining up to steal his research."
"None taken." Lara said with a frown. "I don't think anyone really believed towards the end, not even mother."
Ouch. I had to hold back a wince at that. Talk about harsh but true; and I remember how prickly Lara used to get whenever her dad came up.
Reaching out, I took her hand. "We're going to fix that." I said softly. "Look, just say the word and we'll get some 'professional' code breakers to help. The last thing I'm gonna do is let your father's own paranoia stand in your way."
Lara shook her head. "This is personal. It wouldn't feel right." Then she met my gaze. "And, Sam… I really can't in good conscious let you come with me on these trips." She said.
I… wait, didn't we already have this argument? Learn when to let sleeping dogs lie, girl.
I sighed. "Sweetie, we agreed-"
"We didn't agree to anything." Lara interrupted me. "You dictated terms. And… and I categorically refuse to let you endanger yourself for my sake."
"Okay, first off, that's just rich coming from you, Miss Croft." I said, rolling my eyes. "Pot, please get to know kettle even more intimately while you're at it." I held up a hand to forestall her reply. "Second, I've done my firearms course, and got top mark thank you very much. I go to the range every day with some guy from fucking Black Water helping me step up my game."
"In a live fire situation-"
"And most importantly." I continued, bulldozing through her objection. "You don't get to make that decision."
"Yes I do." Lara said, eyes flashing. "Never mind that the expedition lead always gets to choose who's allowed to accompany them, I have more than enough leads to walk out of this room right now and-"
"And abandon me?" I asked. "And decide to never see me again? Cause that's what you're suggestion right now. And it's not funny, Lara!"
Glaring, I stood up, pulling Lara with me. "You know what, screw it." I said. "I have something to show you, we're going to the roof." I was never going to find a good time to tell Lara, at this rate, so I might as well just make sure she has all the facts before leaving me behind like some damsel in distress.
Lara blinked, probably surprised by my sudden change of tack. "The door will be locked." She said, even as she let me pull her out into the hallway. "And it's raining."
"The rain doesn't matter. And please, you expect me to believe a locked door is gonna stop us." I said, rolling my eyes. "Did you think I missed the set of industrial grade lock picks you ordered? I'm the one sorting through the mail, Sweetie. Not to mention it came at the same time as my glock." On second thought, telling Lara that might not have been strictly necessary. But hey, I was gonna be dropping a bigger bomb on her momentarily, so hopefully me buying a hand gun wouldn't be such a big deal.
Lara groaned. "Twenty-two doesn't have enough kick for you, Sam?" She grumbled.
"I heard that nine millimeter rounds are pretty easy to find pretty much anywhere." I said, shrugging. Internally I was glad that she wasn't blowing this out of proportion. But I guess given her own growing collection of guns she didn't think she could judge. "So I thought it would be a good choice?"
"I still haven't agreed to let you come with me." Lara said.
"Look." I shot back with a sigh. "We can resume this argument after I finish my big reveal okay? I know you think I'm just being a drama queen but what I'm about to tell you is relevant information that completely changes the argument that is currently on hold."
I could feel her stare boring into the back of my head like a drill. Just keep moving, girl. Two at a time up the stairs.
"Sam." Lara said, voice deepening. "What did you do?" You know what, I can see why the Solari were scared of her in the end. That almost made me shiver.
"I didn't do anything." I said. "This is just… something that happened okay? And I know you're gonna make a big deal about it, so I figured it be best to just get it out of the way while we were having out other screaming match. Seems logical right?"
Lara sighed. "Sam, whatever it is, just tell me."
I drew to a stop before the rooftop access door. "I will. I promise." I sad. "On the roof." Lara shot me a glare. "Look, I know you won't believe me without proof, and I'm not budging on this, so can we please not argue about this? All you have to do is open the door."
We locked eyes for a moment. "Lara, please." I said. "I would have told you about this sooner, but there just wasn't time, and now you're talking about leaving out of the blue, so excuse me for trying to get the important stuff out of the way…"
In the end, she was the one who looked away, kneeling next to the door. "Alright, Sam." She said. "But after this we're finishing our earlier discussion okay?"
I smiled weakly. "Wouldn't have it any other way."
Lara made short work of the door, but the break had given me enough time to set up my… demonstration.
I watched Lara glance up at the sky in surprise as we walked out onto the roof. "It stopped raining?" She murmured.
"Well, not exactly." I said, biting back a nervous giggle. "I think it would be more accurate to say it stopped raining right here." Here being a circle about the length of the roof across, just for shock value. Slowly, I let it shrink until the rain fell in a tight cylinder around us, reaching all the way up to the sky.
"So!" I said suddenly. "Want to see me mess with the wind next? Or shall I try my hand at a lightning bolt?"
Next thing I knew, I was looking up at the sky.
Uh, not that I had actually tilted my head back or anything, but I was just kinda, you know, looking up now. And there was Lara!
How was she looking down at me? We're the same height. And why did the back of my head hurt so much, and-
And holy fuck Lara was pointing a gun at me.
For all the familiarity I'd gained with pistols over the past few weeks, the breath still caught in my throat when I realized what was going on.
I just couldn't take my eyes off it: the harsh black lines, the darkness of the barrel, the steely grip in which is rested. I was breathing too fast, some dim, rational, part of me noted, and the stinging wetness at the back of my head indicated that I was probably bleeding.
But all that mattered was gun. More specifically the gun in my face. And the absolutely terrifying expression on Lara's.
I'd never seen her eyes look so cold and dead.
And then, for maximum impact, I'd lost my grip on the rain. The torrent washed over me in thick sheets, forcing my eyes shut. I was drenched in seconds.
Blinking streams of water from my eyes, I looked back up at Lara.
You'd think a girl would seem less intimidating with her hair plastered to her scalp… but if anything the storm only backlit her in fierce relief. The water did nothing to dilute the presence of the gun. It gleamed slickly, like greased lightning, whereas before it had been silver in a grave.
God, I could have laughed at myself, if I wasn't so close to tears. Figures it was here staring death in the face for what, the third time?, that I uncovered my inner poet.
In sharp contrast to my inner monologue, Lara still hadn't said a word. She just stared down at me, face set in stone.
I swallowed, "U-um, Sweetie…" I asked quietly. My throat felt sore and shaky "W-what's-"
I choked as Lara's foot came down on my stomach.
"How dare you call me that." I heard Lara hiss, through the haze of agony spreading up through my ribs. Oh god, even Mathias and his cult had never hit me that hard.
"Lara…" I forced out. "W-what are you talking… about?
"Still playing dumb?" Lara asked. Her affect was so flat, like a slab of polished marble. Like she just didn't care anymore.
I could only watch through the curtain of rain as her other hand came up and cocked her pistol.
The swish-click echoed in my ears, and I could feel my heart pounding out of control.
I stared at her, unable to speak.
Lara looked down at me, feet spread, one hand cupping the bottom of her gun, other arm straight. It was a classic firing stance, and I was the target. Even seeing her finger, still resting 'safely' on the trigger guard, could do nothing to quell my rising dread.
I knew it wouldn't even slow her down for a second, if she decided to end me.
"Lara… please?" I whispered, shivering. "I really have no idea… what you're talking about. Please, just tell me what's going on?"
Was that… a flicker of doubt? Oh god let it have been doubt. Please, Lara, whatever you think is happening isn't worth shooting me over!
But then I saw it happen. The way her gaze evened out, her eyes flashing with… resolve, no with the decision to see this through, and like a bad movie I could already see the ending.
N-no. It couldn't end like this. I could still stop her from shooting me right? If not words then a strong gust of wind, a lash of rain, something… something would-!
But… I shouldn't be lying to myself at a time like this right?
Wind… rain? Worse than useless right now. Lara had fought her way through an army during a blizzard. Any attempts at inclement weather would just make her shoot me faster, before Lara would even consider risking that I might throw off her aim.
For a second I even thought about calling down that bolt of lightning I promised earlier. I'd spear it right through her chest and into the rooftop at the speed of light, not a moment to react.
But- but even before I saw that fantasy through, I knew I couldn't bear to do it. Not to Lara.
So I let go of the frenetic energy I'd started to shape; the storm was thematic enough without my interference.
And I closed my eyes.
I guess… that I shouldn't be surprised that my end is nothing more than another part of the tragic backstory.
I'm not the main character, I get that! But, I had hoped that after Yamatai… maybe I'd qualified for a strong supporting role.
God what am I doing, in my last moments I'm comparing my life to a soap?
The gun fired. It cut through my thoughts like a knife, rattling like thunder in my chest.
The rain tasted like salt on my lips.
And then… nothing.
… No I mean nothing nothing. There was no wave of agony as my body realized it had been shot, no rising darkness or failing of breath.
Just the pitter patter of rain.
I… would be seriously disappointed… if this actually turned out to be heaven.
Though I guess I probably qualified for purgatory?
Now wasn't really the time for that, though.
I opened my eyes with a shudder, glancing up at Lara. Or at least I think that was the plan. My brain… sort of flash froze when I saw the gun, smoke still leaking from that inky black barrel.
For a second I was sure that there would be a second shot; that somehow Lara had missed.
I whimpered. Scrunching my eyes shut again.
"Oh my god." I heard Lara whisper. What, now she's worried? Is she hung up over her awful accuracy?! Just get it over with, stop yanking me around like this! Three times in the chest is definitely worse than once in the head!
"I- Sam, I! I'm so sorry! I'm so, so sorry!" Lara said.
I heard something clatter to the ground, and then she was grabbing my arms. I staggered as she hauled me onto my feet, blinking in surprise.
Lara was… hugging me.
I gasped, shoving. With a choked sob I staggered out of her grasp.
"Sam!" Lara said, face crumpling? No, you don't get to look like that! I'm the one who was almost shot, not you!
"Sam! I'm sorry! I swear I- I just had to make sure!" Lara said. She took a step towards me and I staggered away on instinct. "I just had to know for sure, Sam." Lara continued frantically. "I. You started messing with the weather, Sam, Please, you have to understand." She lunged forward, I almost shrieked when she grabbed my hand.
"I had to make sure you weren't Himiko!"
I slapped her.
I half ran, half stumbled to the door, slamming into the frame as I spun around.
"That… That's your reason!?" I choked out. "You almost shot me! You couldn't have fucking asked?!"
Lara shook her head, spraying water in an arc. "No, Sam, I'd never-!" She tried to corner me again, hands reaching out like-
"Don't touch me!" I screamed. I felt the wind howl alongside me, gathering and lashing out like a physical blow. Lara was pushed back, safely out of reach, and I could finally find the strength to fucking breathe.
I glared at her.
A part of me could almost feel satisfied when she flinched. If only my heart wasn't still trying to tear itself out of my chest from the panic.
"Sam… please…" Lara whispered.
I forced myself upright, pushing a step off the doorframe.
"I said please too."
Then I turned and fled down the stairs.
I only wish my footsteps had echoed loudly enough to drown out the sound of Lara calling my name.
Interlude: The First and Last
The Soul is not discrete.
That is perhaps the most important, and also the most astounding truth I have discovered in my studies of the spiritual. But then, it should come as no surprise that the world of the kami follows different laws than the physical realms.
The Ritual of Ascension was based on this holistic principle of being. Simply put, even when the soul is in two places, or stretched impossibly between two points, twobodies, it is no less complete for being 'separated'. A person's essence of being cannot be rendered into anything less than its entirety.
The body may falter and fail, as do all things in the mortal plane, but the soul is inviolate.
I once thought myself a genius for unlocking the spiritual medium. A visionary with knowledge beyond the scope of the philosophers and priests of my time, only to find myself trapped behind the bars of my own creation, until my crumbling body could only serve as a locus for my power.
For one so blessed as I, my fate was a bitter pill to swallow. Surely it is little wonder that I raged. Even now I wish that I only had the strength to finish what that pitiable man had almost brought to fruition on the mountain top.
The taste of sunlight on my skin once more, I could have wept but to have such a chance. Instead, the daughter of my blood was rescued by her retainer. A woman with such poise, determination, and loyalty that, had she been in my possession as she should have been, my empire would never have fallen.
I can only laugh, knowing that my greatest weakness was and has always been my subjects. A daughter too blinded by fear to see our greater purpose, a general who would rather die in disgrace than redeem his own failure, and a cultist too sure of victory to reap anything other than defeat.
And so, this comedy of errors has brought me here, once again trapped in a prison of my own devising, with none to blame but my own blind hope, now… quenched after centuries of dreaming.
There is no chance for escape any longer. But even in failure I have found one last breakthrough. I have uncovered one more truth about the nature of the soul, of our very being. And perhaps… given the proper tools, I may be able to parlay that into something more.
The body, as I had long ago discovered, is the vessel of the soul. A cup, filled with ephemeral water. In the ritual of ascension, I would take another's cup, and replace their 'water' with my own, overtaking their vessel.
But like any vessel, when the body is broken, the soul, which I once thought to be so indivisible, flows out into the abyss of death.
And that is what happened to me.
Any other interruption would have been tenable, but the true death of my vessel severed my soul in a way I thought impossible, casting the vast majority of my power into the grave, with only this tiny piece of me ensconced within this daughter of my blood.
Still 'all of me', in that I am 'whole' and my memories undiminished, my powers unimpeded. But somehow, maddeningly, less than what I once was.
There are no words to capture how mutilated I have become. That I am still coherent in my wraith-like state is a testament to that same immutable nature of the soul, trumped only, it seems, by death.
It has dropped a veil over me, through which I cannon peer. I can feel it wrapping around me slowly, like the embrace of a typhoon. I know what this means, the soul cannot stay divided, it is against its nature. And though I have gained yet another reprieve from death, my current state is no more than that, a temporary reprieve.
I will soon die in my entirety. In a way, I almost welcome it, even as I wish I could find some way to turn this… this indignity to my favor. For at least, once I die, I will be complete again, beyond the pains of the disloyal flesh which plagued me for so long, and free from the even greater agonies of the spirit that consume my new existence. Any outcome is preferable to this cursed life.
But the agony is existential, if anything, it only sharpens the clarity of my thoughts. It gives me focus, and the determination to see this through to the end.
Pain is nothing, I will not let it stand in the way of my greatness.
My rage, as well, is a non-entity. I feel the coals of resentment nestling in my breast, against both Samantha Nishimura and her gaijin. But such anger serves no purpose. Should I squander my wrath and call down a single bolt of lightning from the heavens to end them?
Perhaps if that fool Mathaias was still alive, I would consider such a pointless waste. Instead, I must turn my attention to worthier goals.
Now, one stage removed from my bodily prison, I find myself more able to examine the reality of the situation.
Had the ritual succeeded, I would have found myself Queen of Nothing. My empire had become nothing more than a ruin, torn down by the storms of my rage. And my follows? They too had become nothing. Simple brutes, wearing the trappings of discipline, and beholden to the thrice damned Oni who promised me eternity and never once deigned to mention the ultimate cost.
Oh, reincarnation would indeed be preferable. For with a youthful form once more, I have no doubt I could have rebuilt my empire a thousandfold greater than it had been. The mistakes of the past would have only served to sharpen my prowess, and the world would have learned of my name.
But… I find that this outcome is… almost as satisfying.
My kingdom, full of subjects who had failed me for so long, now reduced to rubble and corpses. I can find some small measure of glee in that.
Let there be no kingdom without its Queen.
So I will set aside my rage at the daughter of my blood and her loyal retainer. If anything, I actually find myself pleased that my descendant should have such a faithful companion. She will serve her purpose well I have no doubt.
If only that foolish girl had been half so obedient.
Even still, while I had always been plagued by the weakness of those around me, I would now capitalize on their strength.
Samantha Nishimura has a strong soul, one that would fare well against whatever tribulations that would rise before her, I am sure. She has the soul of a queen, perhaps in time she may even grow to equal me.
And thus, I will lay the first stones of her kingdom.
It is fitting, I think, for my last action to be something meaningful, something lasting. My previous works, my temples, my shrines, my palace, are gone now. But I will create something even greater to replace them.
Would it be my own kingdom. But maybe if the Buddhists were right, I shall have a chance at that in another life. Though, I doubt my soul, so mangled as it is in word and in deed, will be fit for the cycle of reincarnation.
Yet my ultimate fate does not preclude this moment. Death will never eclipse me entirely. And even if I must surrender my soul, I will ensure that I live on. If not as myself, than as a gift carried by my descendants.
My only regret is that I will not last to see what miracles this girl will accomplish. I have great hopes, great hopes indeed.
But where, I wonder, shall I place my hand?
Indecision is not becoming of a queen, but haste and imprudence are even more gauche. There are many gifts I could bestow upon this daughter of my blood. But to make a poor choice would be tantamount to suicide.
I have not held on for so long, only to falter now.
So, it would take time, and careful deliberation besides, to come up with the perfect gift.
As a matter of course, it would have to be something permanent, something intrinsic to Samantha Nishimura. No other action would have the requisite impact.
Thus, it would have to be something etched upon her very soul.
Is it not fitting, that this last work of mine be a challenge of finesse rather than raw power?
That it will undoubtedly cause her suffering is naught else but royal justice.
Somehow I made it to a bar.
It was loud, and hot, and crowded. The drinks were overpriced, and the acrid smell of nicotine lingered in the air. In short, it was exactly what I was looking for.
Something familiar after… almost getting shot by my best friend.
With a groan, I sagged into the nearest empty bar stool. "Just bring me some vodka." I told the bar tender.
"One of those days?" He asked. I just slid my credit card down the bar in his direction.
"Just… get me some shots." I said. I needed alcohol right now, not impersonal sympathy. "And open a tab."
"Sure, sure." Was the reply. Shortly after, three small glasses filled with clear liquid slid down the counter towards me. "Just shout if you want more."
I was too busy downing the first shot to reply.
The vodka burned sweet down my throat and its siblings quickly joined it. I sighed as the borrowed warmth of alcohol filled me up, pushing back the lingering depression, for a heartbeat anyway.
God, I hated drinking alone. What's the point of getting shitfaced if there's no one to share the experience with?
I handed over my credit card in exchange for more alcohol, the way this night was going, I'd probably need it…
Okay, in hindsight, I may have picked the worst way to do my big reveal. Actually given the evidence, namely me almost getting fucking ganked by a brit with a glock, Iknew that I'd messed up. But really, how else was I supposed to 'come out of the closet'?
Do it fast like a band-aid. Half a dozen breakups with needy boyfriends had taught me as much.
And yes, I knew this issue was way more sensitive than Joe Schmoe who couldn't accept that his girlfriend had a life outside of his fucking football games, but god damn it what life experience was supposed to prepare me for the 'so you know that immortal mummy I killed? I kinda have her powers because she tried to possess me, but don't freak out I'm still me' speech? iZombie!?
I slumped deeper into my barstool as I processed that wave of bitter regret. It came with a side of rum and coke though.
Still not worth it.
All I wanted to do was avoid that stupid trope where… well, where this exact situation happened.
In fact, I was probably playing into it by running away to a bar, but… but it hurt. And I'm not talking about the still stinging wetness at the back of my skull.
That Lara hadn't even paused for a second, that she'd just taken me down like I was one more Solari grunt, and it was only my pretty face that bought me a reprieve- that just made me want to shrivel up in a ball somewhere and cry.
I wasn't even remotely drunk enough to handle this bull.
"Hey, Bartender! Get me another round!"
I was halfway through building a little pyramid out of shot glasses when my phone started buzzing. Not going to lie, it took longer than I'm proud of to work it out of my pocket (curse you skinny jeans) and hit the accept button.
The world around me swayed as I held it up to my ear, like the dull pulsing in my head was messing with my sense of balance. "He-hello?" I managed.
No, not managed. That was a solid hello, especially given that I was drunk.
"Sam… I'm sorry."
I blinked. Lara was calling me? That was fast… wait, I checked my watch, okay that was definitely fast.
Usually a blow up this big would mean at least a day of quiet sulking before she worked up the nerve to call someone. The para-paradig… the change put me on edge.
"Lara?" I asked. Then I winced. I hadn't meant to sound so hopeful, but well…
"I don't know what to do, or to say to make this better." Lara continued. I could barely hear her over the noise, the chatter. "But, Sam, please believe me when I say that I never wanted to hurt you. I was just… so scared. I-"
I grit my teeth at a particularly loud shout assaulted my ears, almost drowning Lara out. "You… you had to make sure." I said, before I realized I was almost shouting to hear myself over the noise.
No, this conversation was not happening in here. I pushed off the bar, wobbling slightly as I tried to get out of the bar. The chairs were too close as I weaved my way to the door, but the promise of cool air, and enough quite to actually think drove me on.
The outside…ness of the street hit me like a physical blow, and I staggered to a halt. Vaguely I realized that I was clutching my phone tight enough to hurt. "I… I get it." I whispered, trying to focus through the dull ache that was building in my skull.
Staggering out into the pouring rain, I felt myself just… give in, sluming downwards a little bit as I leaned against a nearby wall. This day had just been too… everything, for me to stand up straight with any degree of regularity.
"It was dumb of me wasn't it." I mumbled quietly into the phone. "Just dumping it on you like that. God how was I so stupid, of course-"
"No!" Lara's voice came back over the line, crackling with the volume behind it. My head throbbed once in response. "No, Sam, Sam, it- none of it was your fault. Don't… don't you dare blame yourself for how I reacted, like an unconscionable brute." That last part was muttering in self-recrimination. "This was all my fault. I'm sorry, Sam. I really truly am."
I sighed at that, pushing myself away from the wall. "Look at us." I said. "We're practically falling over ourselves trying to apologize." Despite myself I felt a small and weary smile forming on my lips. I shook my head, glancing out towards the street in search of a taxi.
"Let's go back to the apartment, okay Sweetie?" I said, after a moment of silent deliberation. "I- no we need to… to just talk, okay?" I guess time and distance had given me some perspective, or at least enough flipping common sense to realize that, like a bad film plot, all of these problems could be solved if Lara and I just sat down and talked about-
"I'm afraid that I'm… not going to be at the hotel." Lara said.
My thoughts, screeched to a halt.
Oh no. Oh no, no, no. We were not doing this right after I'd had my most recent revelation about the power of verbal communication! That, that's-!
"Sweetie." I said, a type of sickly sweetness that I'd only ever heard my mother use filling my voice (it's good to be self-aware of these things). "I'm sure I just misheard you."
I'm fairly sure I heard an intake breath, which gave me a moment of hope.
Of course, that was before common sense caught up to me, because even though I'd never met Lady Croft, I knew that if Lara had ever stood up to her as a child (making no mention of queen Zombie face the grotesque) then I certainly had no chance of changing her mind.
But that didn't stop my foolish, foolish, heart from hoping, for one scant second, that Lara would see reason.
"I said." She replied slowly, weighing every syllable "that I am not going to be at the hotel."
But then again, if Lara was the type of girl to see 'reason', we probably never would have made if off that island in the first place.
I felt a type of calm settle over me then. The type of razor sharp clarity that cut through my building headache and my still jumbled emotions like a knife.
"You're going to the airport aren't you." I said, but I wasn't really asking. Already I was moving towards the curb, frantically waving for a taxi. I would not be left behind dammit!
"I… yes. I am" Lara said. Well, at least she had the good grace to sound apologetic, like it made everything so much better!
Finally a cab came to a stop in front of me, and I practically tore the door off of its hinges as I climbed inside. "JFK International!" I hissed at the driver. "And step on it!"
Then I turned my attention back to the actually important conversation. "Lara. You don't want to do this."
I heard a sigh. "You're right, you know." She said softly. "I really don't. But it's still the right thing to do."
I rubbed my eyes, trying to push aside the constant throbbing. Amaterasu but was this girl not stubborn. "No it's not!" I barely held myself back from shouting. This was just beyond the pale. "Please, Lara, don't do this! I just want to fucking talk!"
"We are talking, Sam." She said. "And we can talk. But I refuse to put you in danger again. Whether that danger comes from my surroundings or… or from me. I will not subject you to it."
No, that was not an acceptable answer. "Lara Croft." I said, gripping my phone so tight I could practically hear the case creak. "If you do this, I swear by those on highand below, that I will never ever forgive you."
There was silence, and for a second I was scared that she'd just hung up on me, or thrown the phone away, or-
"That's fine." She whispered. "It's nothing less than what I deserve."
"No, Lara, that's-!"
But the beeping of an ended call was all that I heard.
I swore, throwing my phone onto the floor of the taxi.
This was just, no, ugh, kuso! Kono baka onna no ko!
I started rocking backing and forth in the back seat, pressing the heels of my palms into my eyes as waves of pain throbbed through my skull.
I. Did not. Need. This!
Curling up, I focused on pushing it all away once more, on figuring out what I needed to do. Of course, I'd never tried to make a to do list with someone driving nine inch nails into my temples but there's a first time for everything.
With a groan, I forced myself to open my eyes. Of course, the sight of being absolutely submerged in traffic did nothing for my mood, or my budding migraine. I held back another groan. "How long until we get to the airport." I asked the driver.
Another day, at another time, I might have winced at how harsh my voice sounded, but right now I was just glad that it got me the answer faster.
"Uh- at least twenty minutes." He said. "You know, Traffic-?"
I let out a breath, "Thanks," I said. This time I forced myself to sound like a normal human being, but I was already thinking about other things. Sagging back in my chair, I let the waves of mental agony wash over me.
I never knew thinking could be this hard, but I'd never needed to think as badly as I needed to right now.
Come on Sam, you're better than this. How much real pain did Lara go through on Yamatai to get you back?
I winced as my fake pain spiked, before trying to force my way past it.
Need a way to get to Lara. I need a way to get into the airport.
Where would she be? She'd go… somewhere far away. England, or just… anywhere. So… I had to get into the kokusai terminal.
With a grunt, I fumbled around for my phone. Gods I already regretting throwing it, but at least, I had thirty minutes.
I opened up the messages with my travel agent. One step at a time. What did you need Sam? You need to get it, which means… you need a ticket.
With shaking fingers I typed: 'need tkct frm jfk internation term dont car where 2, 4 2day'
I clicked send.
Next problem. I… needed to stop Lara from leaving. She was getting on… hikouki ni noru tsumori… so…
Well, if planes couldn't fly, she couldn't go anywhere right?
This time though, I let myself groan.
But I knew what I had to do.
My headache spiked again as I reached up towards the storm. I sank my fingers into its swirling energetic mass, and pulled.
The feedback rocked me in my seat, sending stars through my eyes, but overhead, the thunder rumbled.
When I finally worked up the strength to look out the window I couldn't even see the car next to us in the torrential rain.
Just… keep it right there… until I got to Lara.
The rest of the ride passed in an agonizing haze. I had my hands permanently locked over my eyes, trying to shut out any ambient light, even as I stoked the storm overhead with my powers.
At one point, my phone buzzed from a text, and I forced myself to look at it long enough to read the notification. Something about a flight to… somewhere with a B.
I couldn't muster the energy to pay attention after that point. As long as the travel agent had done his job and gotten me a fucking boarding pass it could have been to Antarctica for all I was able to care…
I almost fell off the bench when the taxi finally jerked to a stop in from of the airport terminal. When the cabby started to talk I just threw a hundred at him, even managed something about… not needing change, as I staggered out into the rain.
Inside… had to get inside.
My head was swimming, I swear I just missed the wall as I forced my way through the doors, but I was almost there. Just a bit further.
There were the check in desk things. Just… five more steps Sam.
Each time my foot hit the ground another lance of pain stabbed into my skull.
But I could handle five more.
I slipped on the smooth tile floor, slumping over onto the desk.
For a moment my hands scrabbled against the surface, I think I saw the attendant's shocked expression. Then I was on the ground, looking up at the blinding white light.
Then the pain, which had already grown to encompass my entire being, spiked to new heights.
I heard someone scream.
And then, sweet, blessed, darkness.
I've heard people say that it's disconcerting to wake up without knowing where you are. But that's never really bothered me.
Maybe it's just, you know, familiarity. I've been smashed enough times that waking up in a weird place was pretty much an inevitable. Even if I've never enjoyed being black out drunk, there were just some times when imbibing that much alcohol was necessary. Or at least that's what the college me thought at the time.
Nights like that usually lead to mornings staring at unfamiliar ceilings, occasionally with some hunky guy (because even half blind, I had standards) snoring next to me. It was, as far as I was concerned, just part of the college experience.
Even on Yamatai, waking up without knowing where I was never frightened me. It was only after realizing the situation that I'd been scared.
Point being, I really never understood the momentary fear about waking up without knowing where I was.
Today though, I woke up without knowing who I was.
I don't mean it like my head was foggy, or that I was still stuck half inside a dream. Nothing so benign.
Nothing so easy.
I woke up with two sets of memories in my head, two different goals in my sight, two different names on my tongue. For a second, I didn't know if I was Sam, remembering Himiko, or Himiko, remembering Sam.
Yeah, I was scared.
I think that fear - hyperventilation, galloping heart, the work - was what snapped me out of it. Only one set of the memories, Sam's – mine – matched with my thoughtsnow. And that's when I came back to myself, like the tail end of a bad trip.
Not something I was eager to repeat. But I understood why it had happened, and why it hadn't really been avoidable.
Ah, yeah. That was the other thing. After I'd calm down enough to actually think, I wasn't really confused by all of this.
I already knew what was going on, because I remembered setting it in motion.
I could remember how this… memory transfer had occurred. I understood it like I understood camera, or lighting. The memories were, for lack of a better word, completely organic.
I guess I should have been happy about that. I wouldn't have to spend the next week quietly panicking about passing out in the middle of the airport, about having the memories of my many times great grandmother, or about not being me anymore.
Given that I'd just spent my last few hours of consciousness complaining about the lack of proper communication, this really did make a nice change. I would just have preferred that this surprising bout of honesty had come from someone other than the woman who'd tried to take over my body.
What was even more frightening was that now I understood why she'd chosen this path. And even as I told myself that I would never steal someone else's life, someone else's body… I could feel the temptation.
Eternal life, at my fingertips. If I hadn't already seen how horrible it was from the other side, maybe I would even consider it.
I couldn't stop myself from wincing at that. Maybe I shouldn't spend so much time thinking about her twisted mentality.
Himiko was gone. There was no reason for me to become her younger, better looking clone.
I sighed, opening my eyes.
This felt like The Giver. And dear god, I hated that book.
With all the shit I'd been going through lately, the last thing I needed was an entire lifetime of memories. Especially since, in this context, 'lifetime' meant a span of years considerably longer than I'd been alive.
Ugh, old women were supposed to be sensitive about their age.
And just in case that wasn't enough of a burden for me, she'd also been sure to include a grand total of zero happy memories. There were no tea ceremonies or elaborate kimonos or secret gardens with hunky suitors. Just business, business, business.
This is how you control storms, Sam. This is how you make ofuda, Sam. This is how you properly instill the fear of god in your vassals, Sam.
I felt like I was being lectured.
Amaterasu's light, couldn't she at least have been subtle about it? She hadn't even tried to conceal what her goal was, left that helpful little memory about deciding that I was a fitting enough heir – saying nothing about her standards for being trapped on an island as a corpse – and that I was going to rebuild her kingdom.
No. Just… just no.
There was no way in hell that I would ever even consider following in my countless times great grandmother's footsteps, ancestors be damned.
And to top it all off-!
I choked back a sob. But I could stop myself from looking to the chairs next to my hospital bed.
The empty chairs.
And to top it all off… Lara still left. She was still gone. I had made a hurricane to keep her grounded, but I knew the moment I opened my eyes that it hadn't been enough.
There had been a stillness to the air, one that couldn't exist in the presence of any living person.
I'd known that no one was there. But I hadn't believed it. Not until I worked up the courage to look over and see with my own eyes.
Lara… Lara could really put those old Aztecs to shame, when she set her mind to it.
I clenched my teeth, squeezing my eyes shut so hard I saw colors. I choked on my sobs and made fists so tight that warm red blood dripped down my fingers.
In the background, I could even hear my pulse monitor spike.
The clouds outside morphed into a storm.
There was a flash of lighting right outside my window.
This, this just wasn't… fair.
I let the rain pour down upon the land, and I cried.
When I woke up I was calm.
Well no, that's a lie. Like, I really, really, wasn't calm. I was spent. I was a thunderhead that had challenged a mountain. I had no more energy left to use on things like screaming or crying.
Instead, I stared at the ceiling. I attempted to plot, but I think I didn't really accomplish much but some less than kosher 'revenge' fantasies about what I'd do once I finally found Lara again. Believe me, tongue lashings would be the least of her problems.
I was gonna make her dress up as my maid for a week, at least.
But yes, I'd already decided that I was going to find Lara.
I refused to sit around like a damsel, waiting for her to finally get it through her thick head that we were friends. I was going to track her down and force her to realize just how badly she'd fucked up here.
It was actually kinda funny – you know if you too tired to cry – that Himiko had thought of Lara as my loyal retainer or something just as pompous. She'd missed the mark on that one.
Lara had her own Crusade. And apparently I was just baggage she didn't want to lug around while trying to find that evanescent truth she wanted so much.
But there was nothing that I could do about it while I was stuck here in the hospital. Of course, finder her would take some doing no matter what. All I had to go off of was some vague idea of Croatia, and if I knew Lara (something that was clearly less certain that I liked) then she'd probably go to half a dozen other countries for some reason or another before she even wound up in Eastern Europe.
And even Croatia had a lot of ground to cover, with no leads and no idea where to start.
Well… at least I wasn't in one of those hideous hospital gowns.
Now if I could just get my phone I would be somewhere.
I grumbled as a quick search of my pockets turned up nothing. I riffled through the contents of the bedside cabinet… thing, but I really wasn't surprised when that turned up nothing except spare bandages.
Damn hospitals and their habit of putting peoples' belongings somewhere 'safe'.
I didn't have time to waste on this bullcrap, that wasn't a thing. But having my phone was a necessity.
The delays would be the death of me, I swear.
But anyway, plans. Yes. The first step was getting my things back. With that in mind, I pressed the call button and pasted on my best dopy I-just-woke-up expression. It was annoying that I had to act like this, but sometimes it's best just to let people see what they're expecting to see.
Not gonna lie, I was even more annoyed when it took the nurse more than ten minutes to get around to me. Not like I might actually need something important, right? Forget half asleep, by that point it took more effort than I'd like to admit just to keep a pleasant smile on my face.
I never thought I'd be grateful for learning how to put up with people like Whitman.
"Oh good, you're awake." Was what the nurse, a woman to suit the stereotype I guess, said to me when she came in the room.
I smiled politely, letting her first wave of questions just flow past me like a river. Yes I was feeling fine, yes I knew where I was, yes I remembered what had happened.
Yes, yes, yes!
And not in the fun way either, but seriously, can we get to my questions?
"Was there something you needed? A glass of water maybe."
Ah at long last, here is the Promised Land.
I dug deep for that sheepish smile I used. "Yeah um, actually, do you think you tell me where my things are? I should probably make some calls."
"Don't you think that can wait for a bit, dear?" She said. "The doctors wanted to have a look at you before anything like that. We're still not quite sure what caused your episode."
I think I actually could have laughed.
Instead I just smiled, letting my eyes drift shut in that quintessential anime smile. "No I don't think it can actually." I replied. "See, Daddy's the worrying type. And considering that the last time I disappeared I ended up stranded on an island populated by crazies with guns, well…"
If only I could have filmed her reaction shot, a new meme would have been born.
I could see the exact moment when she made the connection, glancing down at my chart to confirm that (once again) yes my name was indeed Samantha Nishimura, and yes I had some residual injuries in some rather strange places for the average twenty something year old socialite.
Perhaps now that the gears were turning… "So could I get my phone at least?" I said. "I promise not to overdo it."
Because, you know, cell phones are highly prone to causing seizures. Or whatever the hell the eggheads at this hospital thought had happened to me. I'm sure if they bothered with a CAT scan my brain would have looked like someone was trying to jumpstart a car.
But of course it was too much to expect the scientific community to know anything about soul resonance.
There may have been a stammered apology in their somewhere, I was just happy when she finally came back, promptly this time, with my cell and my wallet. I thanked her, and then made a call.
Five minutes later I was walking out of the hospital and into a waiting taxi cab.
What? It's not like it was a prison or anything. Their security does leave just a little bit to be desired.
Now, where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
"Take me to the closest internet café would you?" I said to the driver. To be completely honest, Lara probably could be (or be on a plane to) just about anywhere in the world right now. I would need to do some research, maybe even get in touch with a PI.
I was just worried that something like that would take far too long before turning up anything useful. Given that, I was probably best just going with my gut instinct, and a few educated guesses.
That's what deduction is, right Sherlock?
Thankfully, this cab ride ended with less anguish than my last one. The internet café on the other hand, was pretty much a disaster.
Well, the décor, anyway. Good thing I was only there for the high speed connection, because really, with a paint job right out of Soul Train the owners couldn't have anything else they were selling.
A quick check of the news didn't turn up any leads. No "well dressed brunette saves airline from suicide bombing attempt". I on the other hand, had made headlines. In a sense anyway.
Last night's 'freak storm' was on everybody's minds.
But for Lara there was pretty much nothing useful. With some fast talking and creative googling I'd been able to find a list of flights out of JFK since yesterday afternoon, including my random one to Buenos Aires. But even if I only looked at internationals that was still far too much ground to cover.
I sighed, glancing out the window. People were starting to fill up the streets now.
It was what, I checked the computer clock, eight thirty? I'd probably been here for about an hour then, with not much to show for it. But still, there had to be some way to figure out her next destination.
I glanced down the list, marking destinations that could potentially be her first stop.
Nepal, China, Argentina, Ukraine, London-
I pursed my lips at the last one.
Maybe? Lara… Lara had always been a big fan of being prepared. And if she was running off to confront her parents' legacy, well.
Croft Manor in Surrey would be a pretty damn good place to start.
A quick check of the BBC's website revealed some political unrest over some politicians taking bribes, Prince Phillip in the hospital or some such. Oh! Looks like they passed the same sex marriage bill. Well that's nice.
Ah, here we go.
Recent excavations revealing a new side of 'Camelot'…
Most archeologists still skeptical… New underground chambers found at Cadburry Castle… unrest in the nearby township… current evidence places this as a strongest contender for the mythical 'Camelot'… previously buried vaults… possible location of Excalibur.
Yes. No way in hell Lara would be able to ignore something like this, especially since she probably needed to go back to her Manor anyway.
And to top it all off looks like this year's solstice gathering thing at Stone Henge was promising to be a real doozy. Looks like the recent excavations had lit a fire under the normally conservative Englishman.
I did a cursory glance over the other places Lara might have gone, but nothing else really stood out. So I guess it was London or throwing some darts at a map and hoping for the best.
I frowned at that for a moment. Divination… was a possibility. But Himiko had never much bothered with it. I remembered a priestess enacting some ritual to Omoikane, asking for guidance and wise choices. But finding someone? No that was very much a western discipline, and one that Himiko had never much bothered with.
I laughed humorlessly, why bother looking for someone when you could just command them to be brought before you.
I booked a flight.
By now I've traveled enough that the details are all kinda the same to me. I went through security with one carry on, grabbed a bite to eat at eat at McDonalds, it was the same no matter where you went.
I settled myself in the cramped 'economy class' chair (Buisness class had been booked, much to my dismay) that I would be sitting in for the next seven and a half hours of my life and flipped on the news.
I shot a quick text to Daddy before shutting my phone off for the flight.
Several hours later, the plane finally touched down at Heathrow, much to my relief.
I'd gotten used to the much cushier accommodations that first class flights offered, maybe a bit too used to them… My legs were so sore.
It was another long wait until I finally got out into the aisle, and then the concourse, and then to the streets of London proper.
I turned back on my phone; and then I promptly dropped it.
You know that thing that happens, the one where you get a ton of texts all at once and your phone starts vibrating off the hook? Yeah that.
I stared down at it, and I'm sure there must have been a weird look on my face, as it continued to vibrate for the next ten seconds.
Thank god I went and bought one of those indestructible phone cases I guess?
Gingerly, I picked it back up, flicking open my message history.
Who one earth could have possible been texting me so-
Oh. Oh, no.
I uhm, really?
This... this could be very, very bad. For me.
With a wince, I pressed the call back button, and held the phone up to my ear.
It rang once.
"Sam! Where the bloody hell are you!?"
This was very, very bad.
I think I let out a strangled giggle. "Ah… sweetie. Uh, what do you mean?"
"You up and vanished out of the hospital! What do you think I mean!"
"Well… uhm." I wilted. "You weren't there?"
I could practically hear the dumbstruck expression on the other side of the line. Honestly, it hadn't been that bad of a decision had it?
"So you checked out of the hospital." Lara started. Her voice was dead quiet. I struggled not to shiver.
"More like walked-"
I winced again. "Uh, yes."
"And you went looking for me." Uh oh, Lara was working herself up into a frenzy now…
"And, for some reason, you decided to turn off your phone."
I gulped. "Well… I was on a plane."
Once again, silence.
"Sam, where are you?" Left unspoken was the 'so I can go there and drag you back by your pixie cut'.
I looked down at the sidewalk. The English sidewalk. Dear god was this actually happening? "I… um. I'm in London." I said.
"I thought you'd go to investigate thing at Camelot?" I offered weakly.
"The what now?"
Oh come on, you can't tell me that I'd been wrong about that one too!