This was written for the 2008 round of the 'Lara's Birthday' contest that Eidos hold every year in their forums. The brief was to write a piece of fewer than 1500 words that centred around Lara's birthday.
Slip And Stumble
The small outcrop broke as she put her weight on it, shards of rock splintering apart and tumbling down the cliff face with a deceptively gentle noise. Lara gasped, flexed her fingers tighter around their handholds, and jarred her other leg forcefully against its own niche, to prevent herself from falling.
As expected, her knee responded with a deep, shooting pain, and Lara closed her eyes and grunted, momentarily agonised.
Saved, she looked down at the sheer drop stretching out for a hundred feet below her, and let out a slow breath. "One wrong move, Lara," she warned herself. "Slip and stumble."
A few minutes later, the adventurer was pulling herself up onto the cliff top and flopping onto the deep green grass.
Her knee was still tender and complained fervently as she flexed it, and her fingers ached.
Lara wasn't what she once was. Years of intense physical activity may have left her the looks and fitness levels of a much younger woman, but they had also taken their toll on her body. Underneath the trim exterior was years' worth of torn muscles, worn joints and various injuries that flared up under provocation or the wrong weather.
"Getting too old for all this?"
The voice was chipper, delivering a friendly insult, and gained a wry smile that the speaker couldn't see.
"Far too old, Alister." Lara adjusted the headset and, wincing and putting as much of her weight onto her hands as she could, pushed herself onto her feet. "I am in my forties now, you know."
"And far more spry than most people twenty years younger! I do hope this birthday isn't getting you down."
"It's forcing me to make certain…reassessments."
Eyeing the ancient and weather-worn tunnel cut into the mountain side looming before her, Lara switched on her torch and ventured inside, finding the floor sloping steeply downwards into the formation.
"We'll lose your signal any time, Lara," Zip warned her, "so I'll cut contact now. That way your headset won't waste battery power searching for it again."
"I'll talk to you again when I'm back in the open, then," Lara concluded. "Bye, boys."
There was a click as the headset was cut off, and Lara was left in the shadows and the silence.
Just a few minutes later, she encroached upon the echoes of voices up ahead, and faint light began to push back the darkness. Slowing up and treading more lightly, Lara moved carefully to the tunnel's exit and waited just inside the shade, watching.
Amanda and her team were there, just as Lara expected. She'd tracked the woman's movements and followed her lead, after all.
The set up was relatively light compared to Amanda and Rutland's efforts of before; there were some portable floodlights and a couple of crates of what was probably food and tools, and that was it.
The blonde in question was towards the far end of the prayer chamber into which Lara was staring. Deep in the mountain and carved out untold centuries ago in what had probably been an alteration of a natural formation, it was large but bare, save for the ornate circular pattern dominating the structure's far wall.
Amanda was running her hands over the blocky Mayan symbolism, examining it in detail and context, and shouting out to no-one in particular for a time-check.
Deciding to announce herself, Lara nudged a few stray stones out of the tunnel and down the short step to the cavern. All eyes in the room shot towards the sound, and Lara spoke up, keeping her voice light and calm, hoping not to draw rash fire from the raised weaponry that pointed to her concealed position.
"It's me, Amanda."
She stepped slowly out into the light.
"Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in." Amanda's voice was cutting, scathing as usual, and her hands were placed belligerently on her hips. "Happy birthday, Lara."
"Unlike some, I don't suffer from selective amnesia."
The young woman walked forwards, steps precise and graceful, her left hand lightly tossing a small crystal arrowhead.
"I suppose," she said sarcastically, "you'd like me to give you this." The relic was held up between a finger and thumb, its blunted edges pressing harmlessly into the flesh.
"That's the Tear of Ixtab," Lara stated.
"And as far as we're concerned, the key to Avalon." Amanda turned away, strolling back towards the carving that, Lara knew, was the keyhole. "Birthdays are funny, aren't they?" she threw over her shoulder. "They provide a sort of epiphany. They make you see things in stark contrast. What you have, and haven't achieved. What you've got, what you want."
Reaching the wall, she turned and set her weight to one leg nonchalantly, fingering the artefact in her hands. "How much of life has gone."
"I'm perfectly happy with my lot in life, Amanda," Lara defended coolly, still stood in one place with primed weapons aimed at her. Her dark green top was cold against her skin, soaked with sweat that only exacerbated the cold of the room. "I may have a few years on you, but that also gives me wisdom."
"Really? Does it?" Amanda was on the move again, meandering towards the corner this time as she occasionally toed at pebbles and dust. "The last time I checked, we were both chasing an escape from the things that haunted us."
"So you admit that your cause is foolish?" Lara strode forwards now, the sights trained on her apparently inconsequential.
"If mine's foolish, what's yours?" Amanda laughed, disbelieving. "Don't you read? Don't you watch TV? Have you not seen all the stories about people who try and bring the dead back?" She leaned in, thrusting her face towards Lara's challengingly. "It always ends badly."
"I know what I'm doing, Amanda."
"Do you?" The voice was raised, angry, in stark contrast to Lara's. "Seems to me that you're in a very precarious position, Croft. Here you are, turning forty, and you're still spending your life chasing someone you should be letting go. Has it even occurred to you that perhaps your mother doesn't want to leave Avalon? It's paradise, Lara. Nothing like this world. How can you look at your life and not see how selfish you are?"
Lara didn't answer, but her gaze didn't waiver.
"Fine." Amanda turned, the ire in her voice dropping away, replaced by exhaustion. "Just give me one reason, one good reason, why I should give this chance up to you."
Lara was taken aback. Forced to voice her viewpoint, she found her focus conspicuously absent. She was about to decide just what birthday present fate was going to give her.
She fumbled for the words, for the concepts. One wrong move, Lara. Slip and stumble.