Foreword: Welcome to my first story to be published on this site (I hope you enjoy it!). I know, it's about damn time that I got around to publishing something of my own and feels good to finally do so. So, once again, enjoy! Please read and review, but no flames.
But first, I'd like to say that many thanks, and much love and respect, go out to both fishbone76 and Laciboj of deviantART. Their works provided the inspiration and plot-bunnies for this story, so kudos to them.
Also, "Tomb Raider" is a product of Core Design, Crystal Dynamics, and Eidos Interactive. I don't own any part of the franchise or the characters (but it would be totally cool if I did).
Lara Croft flipped and twisted in mid-air and gracefully landed on her feet as she finished her evening workout with a flourish. But it didn't felt like any big accomplishment for her; it just felt like something she did everyday now.
Lara grabbed her towel, wiping off her face and took a swing of water from her trusty field canteen. Then she exited the gym and walked back to the main hall, reflecting once again on everything that had happened.
It had been three months since her business with Natla, during which time her manor had been bombed by the Doppelganger. The manor was almost completely done being rebuilt, and only a few things still needed to be finished up. Lara had specifically ordered that her gym be one of the first things that the workmen get started on rebuilding; even a day without exercise made Lara irritable and near-impossible to live with. Now the gym looked the same as it had before being blown up, along with a few new additions to it.
Life was also different since she had gone into Helheim. Ever since she had encountered the Thrall form of her mother (something that had been giving her the most horrific nightmares of her life, even worse than those when she lost her in Nepal) and learned from Natla that the fallen god-queen herself had killed her father, life seemed to lack as much mystery and challenges. Things seemed a little darker and a bit bleaker than before.
Fortunately, not all the changes had been bad; her old friend-turned-enemy Amanda Evert had called out of the blue yesterday and offered to meet and try to patch up old wounds stemming back to the debacle at Paraiso when they were both younger.
Lara walked into the main hall. Scaffolding stood erect around the foyer where the workmen had been working to repair the damage from the fire and explosion. The furniture had been too badly burned in the fire so new couches, chairs, tables had to be ordered. The painting of Lara's parents, Richard and Amelia Croft, that had been hanging over the fireplace had suffered only minor damage, but enough that Lara had hired a professional art restorer to fix it; Lara would do almost anything to preserve her parents' memories, especially now more than ever since learning the truth about her father's death and her mother's ultimate fate.
The workmen had all gone home for the night so the only people there were Winston Smith, her faithful butler who had been an employee since her parents were alive, and Zip, her resident tech specialist. These men were more than just her employees, they were her support team who would offer intelligence from the manor when she was exploring. But they were also her closest friends.
Zip walked up to his boss. "Hey, Lara."
"Hello, Zip," Lara answered her American friend and employee.
"You told me to let you know when the all the data was recovered?" The explosion hadn't caused much damage to the lab, but the fire had destroyed several hard-drives with important data on them. Fortunately, Zip had backed up the data to a secure off-site location as per the contingency plan that he and Lara had devised years ago. Not to mention that the incident gave him a legitimate excuse to buy all-new computer equipment.
"No problems with the retrieval, I take it?"
"Nope, and best of all we didn't lose anything. Meanwhile, the new security system is almost up and ready to be..."
A section of the foyer's skylight exploded downwards and shards of glass rained down to the floor. Lara jumped backwards to avoid being eviscerated while Zip ran to get out of the way.
A shadow jumped down from the skylight the second floor balcony, and then down to the hall floor. Lara gasped as she recognized the eerie features that were all-too similar to her own. The only differences were the paler skin with visible veins, the crimson red hair, the glowing sulfur-yellow eyes, and the black leather outfit. It was the Doppelganger!
Zip cursed under his breath. It was the...the...thing that had murdered Alistair, and now it had come back to finish the job; he knew Lara never should have just let it live. He pulled his gun from his back holster, but before he knew it the Doppelganger was standing right next to him. He turned to face it, but it quickly dropped to a low-sweep kick and knocked Zip off his feet. It plucked the pistol out of his hand as he fell and smoothly pulled the slide off, rendering the weapon useless, and tossed the pieces to the side.
But Lara had her pistols out and pointed at the clone, her fingers on the respective triggers. Meanwhile, Winston stayed off to the side, unsure of how this would play out. Zip lay at the clone's feet, holding his breath and waiting for whatever was going to happen.
However, the Doppelganger just stood still, eyes locked with Lara and smiling that enigmatic smile.
Lara was just as surprised as everyone else by the Doppelganger dropping in, perhaps even more so. She hadn't expected to see it ever again after the last time she encountered it beneath Croft Manor. "What are you doing back here?"
"Natla is dead," the Doppelganger said with relish in its hauntingly melodic voice, unruffled by the guns pointed at it. It seemed to expect to be praised for destroying Lara's greatest enemy.
Lara cautiously nodded, keeping her weapons trained on her evil double. "Good. But then what are you doing here?"
All new emotions ran across the clone's face: uncertainty; confusion. "I...I am uncertain." It paused, considering its words. "I...I have no where else to go."
"So, you thought to come here."
"I am not something natural of this word, I know that. I was created for only two reasons: to destroy you, and to serve my former mistress. But Natla is dead, and I do not want to kill you. You are my template, and I feel you may be the only one capable of helping me to understand my place in this world."
Lara considered the Doppelganger's short speech for a moment. There was still a great part of her that wanted revenge for what the Doppelganger had done to Alistair; to destroy it in the most painful and sadistic ways possible, ways that defied her whole upbringing and views on life.
And yet, she found herself unable to. The Doppelganger had been under Natla's control when it blew up the manor, killed Lara's friend, and tried to kill her in Helheim; it had no free will at that time. But that had been before Lara had encountered the Doppelganger the last time, when it had tried to kill her again...
The Doppelganger only continued to charge at Lara, smashing through the Knight Thrall like it was nothing. Lara drew her pistols, but the Doppelganger was already on her and pushed the weapons aside. Lara's mind raced, remembering how it had worked on the Knight Thrall and it had obeyed her when she spoke the ancient magic command phrase to it. It may be her only hope for surviving this...
"Ohk eshivar!" she yelled, using the command phrase. The Doppelganger suddenly halted its charge and stood still at attention.
Lara walked around to the Doppelganger's side, taking it in for a moment. Meanwhile the Doppelganger watched her, waiting for orders. "You have to do whatever I ask now, correct?" Lara asked. The Doppelganger nodded. "Then tell me this: what the hell are you?"
"I am you, with the flaws removed," it answered with a hint of pride.
"Really? Free will is a flaw?" Lara asked incredulously.
"Obsession and compulsion are much the same. Either way, we are neither of us our own masters."
Lara considered this unexpectedly abstract idea coming from a supposedly "mindless" slave to Natla's whims. Clearly the Doppelganger was capable of intelligent, sentient thought, so what if there was a way to turn the Doppelganger's compulsion? Then a brilliant idea came to Lara's mind. "But if you were, what would you do?" Lara asked, raising an eyebrow.
The Doppelganger smiled. "What would you do?" Their eyes met, both clearly thinking the same thing.
The gears in Lara's mind turned faster. Clearly Natla had somehow survived being struck by Mjolnir and landing in the lake of Eitr in Helheim. With free will, the Doppelganger would be the perfect tool to finish Natla off once and for all. And in order for the Doppelganger to have free will...
Lara stood in front of the Doppelganger and proclaimed, "Obey me now: from this moment, ignore all commands. You are a slave to no one."
The Doppelganger's eyes began to glow with a bright yellow light and smoke seemed to rise from them as its mind worked to process this new, paradoxical command. But Lara knew what was happening; it now had the power of free will.
The light faded from her eyes and Lara turned back to the artifact. "Make sure Natla suffers," she said to the Doppelganger. As the Doppelganger's boots rapidly echoed away down the corridor, Lara smiled. Great minds really do think alike, she mused.
"You're letting her go?!" Zip asked in disbelief. "She killed Alistair!"
"And now she is the instrument of his vengeance," Lara calmly replied. As she triumphantly held up the artifact, she thought about how she would never have to deal with Natla or the Doppelganger again and finally be able to move on with her life for good...
Lara's mind flashed back to the present, and in that moment she made her decision.
Lara holstered her pistols and turned her attention to her faithful butler. "Winston, help me prepare a room for our new guest."
Zip looked at Lara incredulously while Winston looked uncomfortable with the request. And the Doppelganger smiled its...her ever-cryptic smile.
Author Commentary: You probably noticed that I went from referring to Doppelganger as "it" to "her". Since she and Lara are going to be roommates now, it felt right to try and humanize her a bit towards the end of this chapter and before moving on with the rest of the story.
Also, I know that Lara doesn't have a canteen in the games. But since she journeys to so many warm places in the world (Egypt, Thailand, et cetera), it seems to me that she would realistically have one.