Hello everyone, another story from me. My second tomb raider and it's a sequal to my first story, In search of darkness. I would recommend reading that one first to catch up with the events. But of course if you rather wouldn't, don't let me stop you. First chapter is all about changes mostly, as the title clearly states.
Once again I like to remind you that English is not my native language and there could be some mistakes in it. And a special thanks to my good friend Gyikhu! Enjoy your read and your feedback would be hugely appreciated. :)
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the Tomb Raider characters, only those i created myself.
Chapter 1, Changes.
The house was small, but he'd said it was big enough for a single recently retired man. She had to admit though, the view Lara saw through the window was beautiful. Dunes falling down a hill ended at a lake. On the other side of the lake was a forest. The further back you look, the more trees would line up. Winston couldn't have picked a better place to retire, though Lara wondered how he could live in a place so small as this. After spending years in the mansion, to her this would almost seem a prison.
But Winston been living here for two months now, and he was enjoying his retirement. Who was she to deny him that. After years of taking care of her and the mansion, years of danger lurking around the corner. Lara lost count on how often her house had been attacked. Now it was time to spend the last remaining years of his life taking care of himself. He deserved it, but that didn't mean Lara had to like it. She'd grown up with Winston, never had another butler. No, butler is not the correct word, he didn't deserve that. He is a friend, a man who took over the role of her father after he'd died.
A house at a lake in Scotland. How often had he talked about it, Lara could still hear him say the words and now it had finally happened.
"Just a small place at a lake in Scotland, with a pleasing view. That's all I'd like to have when the time comes, Miss Croft."
Never had the tomb raider thought that time would come. To her opinion Winston was a Duracell battery that just kept going, nothing or no one could stop him. But now she was here, at the actual place in Scotland and the view was indeed pleasing. The older man was walking back into the living room, holding a cup of tea he made for her. The same cup of tea he always made for her every morning she was at the mansion. Even though retired, he still wore a classy suit, probably something he'd gotten used to in all those years he lived at her mansion.
"I'm sorry I didn't make time sooner to come visit you, Winston." Lara said as she gladly took the cup of tea and seated herself on the couch behind her.
He smiled at her and took a seat on a rather relaxing looking chair across of her.
"I know how busy life can be for you, Miss Croft, don't worry."
"You know Winston, you're retired, you don't have to call me Miss Croft anymore. Not that you ever had to."
"A grown habit." He chuckled. "But tell me, how are things at the mansion. How is my replacement doing?"
Lara was about to take a sip from her tea, but she paused just as her lips touched the cup. Her eyes locked on Winston. This was a sensitive subject to her, finding a replacement for Winston had been hard. It simply was impossible to replace him. There had been many applicants during his last few months at the manor. But Lara had turned them all down. Too dull, too talkative, too nosey, too…anything. She had not liked any of them. So Winston had offered to find her a good replacement.
The tomb raider didn't like him either. No one could replace Winston, but he practically begged her to take this man in and Lara promised to give him a try. Now two months later, she still didn't like it. She still wanted Winston back, but he wouldn't come back. He is here now, in the small but perfect house at a lake in Scotland. So slowly she had accepted the new butler, but they still had a lot of disagreements. Not her line of work though, this was the first thing she as well as Winston had mentioned to him. Working and living at Croft manor was not just a challenge, it was also a danger. But this man, clearly many years younger than Winston and closer to Lara's age but still older, had stated his old job never had been without risks either, so these circumstances would not bother him.
"I don't know Winston. I know he's not you, but…he says I should live up to my title more often, be a lady. It annoys me."
"Miss Croft, in all the years I worked for you, did I ever stop trying to turn you into a lady?"
She bit her lip, opened her mouth for a suitable response but found herself without one. She remained silent, refusing to admit he was right. Her silence was a confirmation on its own for Winston, who leaned back in his chair and spoke up again.
"I'm sorry Miss Croft, but I'm afraid you will have to get used to not having me around anymore. Whether you like it or not. But is Hilary really so horrible to have around?"
The tomb raider lowered her head, finally admitting defeat.
"I guess not…" she looked up, a smile formed on her face. "He makes good tea at least."
Winston offered a smile in return. "Before you know it you've forgotten all about me." He said.
"I would never forget you, Winston. You've been too important for that in my life…" she hesitated but continued. "You've been like a father to me."
Her words touched him deeply, she could see it from the reaction in his eyes. No doubt he would see her as a daughter. But as good as he is at listening to Lara talk, and helping her with her problems, how bad he actually is at emitting his own feelings. So he smiled, closed his eyes together and nodded. That is the best response she could get out of him.
Lara always thought it to be a bit weird. During the years he worked at the manor he had been there for her countless times. With Alistar's death, with the loss of her parents, and loads of other times. He listened, comforted her and talked a lot about moving on, no matter how hard it might be for the tomb raider. How can a good man like that have so much trouble to show his own emotions.
"So…" Winston started, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "How is Zip coping with Hilary then?"
Lara lowered her head. "He's been gone for a while now, taking care of his sick father."
Winston looked worried. "Oh my, how sick is he, will he be well soon?"
"I'm afraid not and I don't think he will be back anytime soon. I talked to him last week and his father's condition is getting worse. He had no idea when he would be back, but promised he would find me a temporary replacement."
Winston nodded. "Give him my best, it cannot be an easy time for him." He said.
"He will appreciate that Winston, thank you."
Lara took the last sip of her tea. Gently she placed the empty cup at the table in front of her. It was sad indeed what Zip went through at the moment. Lara saw he was devastated when Zip had heard his father had an incurable disease. Zip's father was a good man, he'd even been to the manor a few times. Lara had told Zip he could take as much time as he needed to look after his father.
She missed him though, being alone at the manor with the new butler wasn't really something she preferred. But with Zip's absence things are all going a bit slower. Plans were to leave for Cambodia in two weeks. But there still was so much to arrange. It worried the tomb raider, if she did not manage to arrange everything on her own before then she might have to postpone the trip.
Lara spent the rest of the afternoon at Winston's new residence. They talked some more, Winston showed her the rest of the house and they even went for a walk. After a long and uneasy goodbye the tomb raider started her trip back home. Only just after dark she arrived back at the manor. Barely had the tomb raider left the garage when she noticed Hilary waiting for her.
"Good evening, lady Croft. How was your day with Winston, is he settling in nicely?"
Lara did her best to answer him with a smile. "He's doing fine, Hilary. Thanks for asking. Anything interesting happened while I was away?" she asked him.
He shook his head in response. "Yet another quiet day. Can I perhaps please you with a cup of cof…tea?" he asked, realizing his mistake in time.
Lara didn't like coffee. Nothing beats a good cup of tea and as she had told Winston earlier, Hilary actually made a good one too. But his former employer was a coffee man and every now and then the butler fell back into that old habit.
Lara considered his offer for a moment. It was actually still too early to call it a night. But it had been a long day and the trip did make her feel a bit tired. Maybe a cup of tea would make her feel better and she could do some more work on the Cambodia trip.
"Very well, Hilary. I'll be in the tech room."
While the butler made his way to the kitchen for her tea, Lara found her way to the room with an endless amount of computers. However, the tomb raider reached for a sole laptop and placed it on her lap while she seated herself on the comfortable chair Zip usually claims for himself. But he wasn't here now, so she might as well occupy it while he was away. The tomb raider kicked off her shoes, she crossed her legs while the heels of her bare feet connected with the desk in front of her. Her head moved up to the monitors that hung above the desk. All twenty five screens showed the results of cameras that secured the manor and should catch possible burglars.
At the moment it was all quiet, she didn't expect anything less. With all the changes that had been going around she didn't have a lot of time to plan any trips or be a thorn in the side of some sort of illegal dealer. She had her fair share of break ins. Karel, that doppelganger Natla created and plenty more. But recently she had not angered anyone. Still, Lara held a lot of priceless and sometimes dangerous artifacts in her manor. Artifacts that, should someone find out to be at her home, would be reason for some people to break in to her house and try to steal it.
"Here's your tea, Lady Croft."
Hilary interrupted her thoughts, stepping next to her he held out a silver plate that carried a porcelain cup filled with the tea he'd promised her. Lara nodded at him and reached for the cup, the plate disappeared once the cup rested safely in her hands. Hilary pointed at the security system.
"Is something wrong?" he spoke, wondering why the tomb raider was watching the screens.
"No, nothing is wrong. I was just waiting for the laptop to boot. Thanks for the tea, Hilary."
"Of course." He kindly said, with a slight nod.
The butler could still notice Lara didn't feel comfortable with him. Hilary didn't think much of it…yet. The tomb raider had grown up with Winston, to not have him but someone else in his place was something she had to get used to. The butler himself could see this and Winston had told him too. So Hilary decided to give her space and time.
But eventually she would have to accept the fact that Winston earned his well deserved rest and that he would not be coming back. Hilary would be sure to prove himself to her. He'd heard stories about her, before he started working here. An Archaeologist, tomb raider who did well for herself. She'd been in the news every now and then, never on a negative way. But she had done her best to stay out of the headlines mostly. The only time she had been on the news was during museum exhibitions or charity donations.
From what he experienced so far she could be a complicated woman, but he also noticed her sense of humor occasionally. Though during his first few weeks here she'd been rather rude. Hilary decided to ignore her rudeness, after all Winston had warned him that this was a big change to her, a change that she would get used to in due time.
At this time though, with the cup of tea in her hands, he could notice she didn't really feel comfortable with him around. This probably was because of her visit to Winston earlier. It was probably best to leave her be and the few small subjects he wanted to discuss with her could wait till tomorrow. Just as he turned to leave, however, she stopped him.
"Hilary…can I ask you something?"
He was startled by the tone of her voice. It was…different, gentler. It confused him, made him curious about the question ahead.
"Of course you can, Milady." He said formally.
The tomb raider locked her eyes on him. She hesitated with her question, looking away at first. But she turned back and spoke.
"Do you dislike me?"
The butler felt an eyebrow rise at that question. Of all the questions she could have asked him, this was one he certainly didn't see coming. He saw the doubt in her face, it was obvious she wasn't sure she should have asked him this question.
"I…uhm…" what on earth was he supposed to say as an answer.
"Wait…" The tomb raider interrupted him, placed the laptop on the desk in front of her and jumped from her seat. "Did you hear that?"
Hillary shook his head, he didn't hear anything. But after the question Lara just asked him he was so far lost in his thoughts that he doubted he would hear a grenade explode next to his head. In that case, he was glad the tomb raider interrupted her own question.
"It sounded like an explosion of sorts, or a gunshot coming from outside."
Lara looked up to the security system, scanning the monitors for something out of the ordinary. Her head jerked back when she heard the distant sound of a rifle being fired. Hilary heard it too this time as he looked into the same direction as Lara.
"Where's it coming from?" the butler wondered.
The tomb raider tried to find that answer on one of the monitors. Moving her eyes from one side to another. The backside of the house looked quiet, as did the front gate and the front yard. Her attention went to the garage now, where it also seemed quiet. But then there was movement from the corner of her eye. Lara looked back and found movement at the front gate, someone was leaning against it, looking up to the camera.
Lara narrowed her eyes, it was a man but she didn't recognize him. The one thing she did notice, his clothes looked stained by blood and he looked exhausted. The man collapsed to his knees, yelling something in the camera. He looked desperate, scared. That could only mean that whatever sort of threat was chasing him, was still present and he was desperately seeking out help.
"Who is that?" Hilary asked.
Lara didn't answer his question at first, she reached for a drawer under her desk and snatched a gun out of it. Quickly checking if it was loaded she pointed at a desk with a few controls behind them.
"I have no idea, but this man needs help. Open the gate Hilary I'm going outside to help him."
"Milady you have no idea what's out there, are you sure that's wise?" He yelled after her as she was already on her way outside, not bothering to put her shoes back on.
Lara heard his concerns but didn't react to it. Of course it was dangerous, but Lara had been in worse situations surely. Besides, she was armed. If there were people around trying to kill her then she would just have to be one step ahead of them.
Quickly she ran through the garage, once on the other side she threw the door open and let her bare feet connect with the cold cobblestones that lead towards the front gate. When Lara turned around the corner, the injured man became visible, but he wasn't alone anymore. Two men were leaning over him, one pointing a gun at his head.
"Hey!" Lara yelled just before the thug pulled the trigger of his gun.
The man looked up, wondering of course why he got distracted from his task. But as soon as he saw Lara running at him, the gun was pointed at the tomb raider. Lara's reaction was faster though. The gun in her hand rose up and she fired one round, which landed perfectly between the eyes of the thug.
The other one held a machine gun, and had an even slower reaction then his accomplice. But Lara was within arm's reach of this thug now. Instead of shooting him she jumped up, rearing her arm backwards and then forcefully slammed it forward, with the gun still in her hand. The barrel of Lara's gun connected painfully with the man's temple. He collapsed to the floor and was out instantly.
A black SUV stood just outside the gate, both front doors were open. Before assisting the injured man on the ground, she had to check the SUV first, in case there were more men with the wrong type of intensions around. With the gun pointed in front of her the tomb raider carefully approached the SUV. With slow and light sidesteps Lara walked around the left side. The tomb raider paused when standing side to side with the open door.
She took a deep breath and then turned to the SUV, gun at the ready. No one came in sight. Lara took another step and aimed her gun left to see if there was someone in the back of the car. Relieved she lowered her gun and moved away from the vehicle, now giving the injured man her full attention.
The tomb raider hurried over to him and kneeled down. She gently pressed two finger to his neck, checking for a pulse. Disappointed by the result she lowered her head, slightly shaking it.
Lara was startled when the sound of a shotgun came from behind her. Her head jerked up and she noticed the man she had knocked out now stood to his feet and had a handgun aimed at Lara's head. That round from the shotgun being fired behind her must have come in an attempt to prevent Lara from being shot. No doubt it came from Hilary, but he'd missed and the thug in front of Lara already had his finger on the trigger.
He squeezed it, Lara was too late to react. The young woman turned her head away in reflex. Awaiting the fatal shot. After all she had been through, Lara didn't expect to go down like this. In a collapsing tomb maybe, or being shot in a firefight. But not outside on her own property after a moment of unawareness, or better said a bit of stupidity on her side. She should have known better, she should have checked to see if this man was really knocked out and not half awake still. But it was too late for that now, she had made a mistake and now Lara was going to pay for it with her life.
Click…click…click, click, click.
Lara frowned, that was the sound of a gun being out of bullets. She faced the thug and saw he desperately threw away the handgun and was about to lunge at Lara. He never even got close to her. Another shotgun round was fired, this time it did connect with its target and the force of the shot knocked the man backwards. Hilary had hit him square in the chest, the man landed on the front of the SUV, his eyes stared blankly ahead of him, making it obvious to Lara that he most definitely was dead this time.
Suddenly a pair of hands reached for the collar of her shirt and yanked her down. Lara couldn't stop a surprised cry from escaping. Startled she looked down at who got hold of her shirt and met the desperate eyes of the injured man she thought to be dead. His grip on her was strong from desperation. His breathing was heavy. Lara only just noticed his type of clothing. The black suit and the white collar told the tomb raider he was a priest. His long blond hair that had been tied together had fallen out of its place and was dirty from mud and blood.
Lara tried to gently pull his hands away, but he stubbornly held his grip on her shirt. "Calm down sir, I can help you, let me get you in my house." She tried to convince him.
The tomb raider tried to get back on her feet, but the desperate outburst made his strength superior over her own, even though heavily injured. He pulled her even closer now, his breathing got worse and blood poured from his mouth. His condition worsened and to be honest Lara doubted she could even save him.
This man seemed to know he couldn't be saved. But one thing was clear, he tried to tell her something important and was making it obvious to her that she should stop trying to help him and start listening to him. Though so far what he tried to say was not understandable to Lara. So he pulled her even closer and Lara saw he gathered all the strength he had left. His entire body shook, blood poured from his nose and mouth. While tears fell down from his wide, desperate eyes, he opened his mouth and he spoke.