Lara munched slowly on a carrot as she leaned over the railing at the monorail station, drinking in the sight before her. She hated looking like an awe-struck child, having people think she was new about town or something, but she had never seen anything like it. Other than the trips to Bowerstone Market or the occasional side tracks to Bowerstone Old Town, she had never truly been out of the castle, and the kingdom she'd been missing remained a constant source of amazement for her. Ares sat next to her, looking up at Lara and happily wagging his tail.
Behind her, Walter regaled her with random fun facts about the station, like how long it took to build, and then more brutal facts about how many workers died making it when it finally occurred to him Lara was getting bored. Even Ares was yawning as the old man blathered on. They had lost interest after the first fifteen minutes of his speech.
Lara quickly straightened up when she heard the sound of a horn blowing and steam escaping from a pipe. In the distance, she could just make out the box car chugging its way down the rail.
"And here it comes," Walter said, moving to stand next to her. "Most of the people here will be heading straight to Bowerstone, but we're going to take a little detour first. Got some business we need to take care of. I just hope –" The screeching noise ahead cut him off, however, as did the dramatic change in the car's movement. "Wait, something's wrong!"
Sparks flew from the rails as the car came to a complete stop. A sudden explosion caused them both to take a few steps back, bringing up their arms to shield their eyes from the bright flashes of light. Ares began barking furiously, backing up towards Lara as if trying to protect her from what was happening up ahead.
"It's about to fall!" someone behind them yelled, just as another explosion rocked the cave.
"No!" Walter roared, then staggered a bit from the sheer force of the explosion.
It took a few moments for Lara to realize what had happened. The second explosion had thrown her up against the station wall behind her, knocking the carrot she'd been chewing on clean out of her mouth. She ducked as bits and pieces of metal railing flew past them. Her heart got caught in her throat. The car had fallen!
"Come on! We have to get down there!" Walter grabbed her arm and pulled her along as he made his way down the flight of stairs, Ares following close behind, still barking, but Lara was still too dazed at what she had just seen, barely feeling her mentor dragging her along behind him. That could've been them! And even though it wasn't, that monorail was filled with ordinary people! What must have been going through their minds? A simple ride on the monorail had turned into something deadly, which frustrated Lara as she regained her senses and pulled her arm out of Walter's grip. Far from being awe-struck by the monorail, now she was simply amazed by how quickly the situation had gone to hell.
"This must be the way down," Walter said, pulling her out of her reverie. "We have to find those people. See if there's any survivors." The pair hurried towards the lifts down to ground level, but Walter cursed as a jammed door blocked their path. Nevertheless, the old man threw himself into the task of opening it.
Lara highly doubted anyone could have survived that fall, but they had to at least go and check. Walter gave out a loud grunt, and the door finally swung open with a loud creak. They ran to the nearest lift and pressed the button to go down. Beside her, Walter was having trouble breathing.
"Alright, I can do this," he said, wheezing slightly.
Crap. She had forgotten that he was claustrophobic, plus the ride down was taking unnaturally long. If Walter passed out, she could always just wake him when they reached the bottom…but leaving a man that old unconscious could lead to some pretty nasty things that Lara really didn't want to happen. She had to find a way to keep his mind off his phobia.
"Aren't you a little old to be afraid of lifts, uncle?" she joked.
"What?" Walter asked, giving her an odd look.
"You're what…eighty now? Don't you think you're acting a bit childish?"
"Acting like a child, am I? And what's this about me being eighty? If I was eighty, could I still do this?"
Walter grabbed her arm and spun her around before she could react, pressing the front of her body against the wall. One hand twisted her arm painfully behind her, while the other pushed the side of her head into the wall, squashing her cheeks together.
"Point…taken," she managed to sputter just as the bell to the lift rang. About bloody time. Trying to get Walter to forget he was claustrophobic hurt. A lot. Next time, Lara thought to herself, maybe I should just let him pass out…
He finally released her, and she took a few seconds to rotate her arm in circles and roll her neck. The man was still strong as hell, she couldn't deny that. She made a mental note not to piss him off again, or at least to be better prepared if she did.
"The box car fell somewhere up ahead. Come on," Walter said, already jogging down the path. The man didn't wait around for a second, either…
A creepy, childish laugh made her look up in alarm. What the hell was that? She was about to voice her question out loud, when Walter cryptically stated, "I'd know those sounds anywhere."
"That's great to know, Walter, but what the hell are they?" As they moved closer to the wreckage, Lara noticed the shadows of creatures running around the shattered box car. Creatures that looked suspiciously like deformed children…
Lara let out a loud gasp. "Uncle, are those – "
"Hobbes, yes. Looks like the monorail falling wasn't an accident after all," he replied, already pulling out his sword, as Lara did the same.
Hobbes? But those only existed in the adventure tales her father used to tell her! She remembered sitting on her father's lap as he recounted stories about his days as a Hero. He would use the hobbes to scare her and Logan from running off and looking for their own adventures. She had always thought her father had made them up. Surely those horrible creatures didn't really exist…and yet here they were right in front of her. If the smell didn't convince her…
"Lara! Need a hand here!" Walter shouted, kicking one of the little buggers in the face.
Oh, right. She got to work slicing up the creatures as they approached her. One lunged clumsily at her with a makeshift club, piece of wood aimed straight at her head. There was a lot of force into the swing…too bad Lara could have done her hair by the time it took to connect. She simply ducked slightly under the blow, following up with a quick step forward and driving her sword through its chest. Another moved up behind her, but a quick lightning blast ended its hope at glory. Horrible creatures, sure…but they were surprisingly easy to defeat. Even Ares had managed to kill one, leaping onto the small hobbe and literally tearing his throat out. Cute dog, but he was certainly vicious when he wanted to be…a couple of them managed to run away, and she and Walter made good use of their rifles and shot them before they escaped.
"That's it! But there'll be more. That's something you can count on with hobbes. There's always more. Hate fighting those little bastards."
Lara turned to look at Walter and raised her eyebrow.
"More?" she asked, trying not to gag from the pungent smell of rotting garbage. "I don't think my stomach can take it."
Walter shot out a hearty laugh and patted her roughly on the shoulder.
"Who's acting like a child now?"
Lara glared at the back of Walter's head as he strutted down the path again.
"If the hobbes don't kill you, then I certainly will," she muttered under her breath still glaring at him as she followed behind.
"You were brilliant, Lara! It was just like fighting by your father's side. I'd forgotten what it was like, standing next to a Hero," Walter said as they finally made their way out of the caves.
Lara held back a smile. It felt good to be complimented. Especially when he compared her to her father. From the stories she'd heard, her father had been a legend, and she was proud to live up to his name. But her own story was just beginning. The smiles could wait for later – after she'd finished what she had set out to accomplish.
"So, this is Mourningwood?" she asked instead. A hazy mist seemed to envelope the ground, and a cold chill set goosebumps on her flesh. She rubbed her arms hoping to ward off the chill that was now starting to creep through her whole body. Ares' hair was standing on end a bit, as the poor dog tried to trap as much heat as he could. Something just wasn't right about this place. "I love what they've done with the place."
"Aye, this is Mourningwood," Walter replied. "I hope the people we're looking for are still alive."
Lara shot him a quizzical look. "Er…why wouldn't they be?"
"Because, come nightfall, it's one of the most dangerous places in Albion."
"Thanks, Walter, that's nice and reassuring." Lara tried not to let that last comment sink in. She couldn't really tell what time of day it was considering everything around her looked dark and misty. She really, really hoped it wasn't close to nightfall.
"Well, I don't know about dangerous, but I'm starting to get a rash. Bloody swamp," Walter commented, perhaps picking up on her uneasiness. Lara wasn't in the mood to be amused, though. The chill she had felt earlier now clung to her and wouldn't go away. She suddenly wished she had brought that thick jacket she had bought back at the Dweller Camp. Ugly as hell, but very, very warm. Though she was starting to get the feeling that the chill had less to do with the actual temperature and more to do with the thought of what came out come nightfall.
"That must be the place up ahead," Walter said, pointing down the road towards the faint outline of what looked like a large house, windows glowing golden with light. "What I wouldn't give for a bowl of soup and a hot bath."
Lara suddenly felt her spirits lift. Well, if there was soup and a bath, the place mustn't be that bad. She quickened her steps as they moved closer to their destination already tasting the hot soup in her mouth and feeling the warm water on her skin.
AN: Special thanks to iNf3ctioNZ, my official beta! (There, you happy?) ;)
To Anon: Thanks! I actually tried correcting it, but ff is weird that way.
Next chapter: Ben (finally!)