It’s the smell of blood that does it. It washes over me like the tide. Blood and rotting flesh and the screams of the dying. Nikolai is coming back. His eyes should terrify me. They’re filled with hate and loathing, but then so are mine. He has a whole array of new toys to break me with, though. I just have my body. The hit has worn off and I can feel numerous aches and pains. I get it now. They’re going to break me. Then shoot me up and repeat that until I give in. It’s already happened..twice now, I think. It’s getting foggy in my memory. Maybe three times.
I don’t see that killer in your eyes anymore when we talk about Yamatai
I feel my heart beating. It’s pounding in my chest as Nikolai gets closer. He has a pair of pliers, and a simple mallet. The madness enters his eyes and I can actually feel fear this time. I latch onto that, I let it fuel me. He has his torture tools. I just have my body. It’s really all I need.
I sometimes wonder if I’m a monster. That Lara Croft died on that island and someone else came back.
My wrist is sore and raw, but the rope is loose. I have a chance. I wait for Nikolai to get close, I wait for him to bring the pliers towards my fingers, before jerking my head forward and catching him in the nose with my forehead. The pliers are in my hand and I cut at the bond on my other wrist as he stumbles back. But the man recovers quickly. Almost too quickly. I use the chair to trip him up. The rope slides down the legs and I’m free. I break the chair on the top of his head and grab for something heftier from his tool chest.
There’s fire in his eyes, but there’s a furnace in my belly and it pumps heat through my veins. I don’t have to try to slip back into the hunter. The wolf claws up from the depths of my soul and consumes me.
That wild thing that woke within me on Yamatai. Sometimes she wants blood.
“Come on, you bastard! Are you afraid of a girl?” My voice is deeper than usual and I use my pain to fuel my fury. “Come on! You want me? I’ll feed you your teeth!”
We both move at the same time. I’m faster, and I can see his attack telegraphed a kilometer away. He flinches, and my hammer smashes into his face, shattering bone and driving sharp wedges of skull deep into his brain. I feel the impact up my arm. It feels good.
I stare at his corpse, at the blood coating the hammer, then at the blood on my hands. His voice echoes in my mind.
Look at her, Shaw. You can see it. You can see Yamatai in her eyes. I told you. You never leave that island. It’s always with you. Always.
A piece of that hell will always be inside of me. That wild thing that thrives on blood and adrenaline, that beast that wants nothing more than to survive. But even when I’m at my darkest, even when I have to turn off the part of me that’s human, I have a reason to live. There’s only me here but that doesn’t mean others aren’t in danger. Or that Sam isn’t threatened. She’s the only thing I have to hold on to that keeps me human.
Nikolai has a gun on him. There are ten bullets and I resolve to save two for Shaw. I secure it in my belt, then find a second hammer in the toolbox and creep out into the corridor. The floor is metal, and so are the walls, but the ground is steady. We’re not on a ship, then. I hear voices approach, and hide in the shadows. Two men. I recognize one as a man who’d attacked me when I went to check on the flat. They’re both armed and they’re going to check on my little cell.
I don’t think about if they have families or loved ones. I don’t care what their hopes and dreams are. I can’t afford to. Once, when Roth was teaching me to fire a gun, I asked him if he’d ever shot someone with them.
“Lara, god knows I hope you never have to, but if you’re in a position where it’s you or them, you can’t let yourself think about it. If you think much past aiming, then you’re going to die.”
Their bodies are heavy, but I drag them into the cell with Nikolai. The bigger man has some kind of automatic rifle. I familiarize myself with it before closing the cell door. I choose a different route this time, but it’s impossible to tell where I am and which direction I need to move in so that I can escape.
I explore for several minutes and eventually find stairs up to another floor. There are no stairs down, so maybe I’m below ground. It’s a possibility, I haven’t seen any windows.
I ascend two flights before I hear any signs of life. I bide my time, counting how many people there are, how many patrols, and how many are armed. Where is Shaw, and what is this place? Where I am is probably a better question, but I’m curious why it’s so well defended. It’s like a military base and the last time I was in one hadn’t ended well for the people within.
The first patrol supplies me with more ammunition as well as a long, ancient looking kris. The blade looks like it’s from Bali but the hilt is more like what you’d find in Thailand. That isn’t too uncommon, actually. They were often repaired from the parts on hand, and these things were carried around far and wide.
What is unusual are some of the designs engraved into the blade and hilt. They look familiar and I suspect they’re linked to the vessels Shaw is searching for. I want to study the dagger more, but this isn’t the time or place. I secure one of the hammers in my belt and hold the kris in a reverse grip. The men I took it from won’t be waking up anytime soon, but with the kris in my hand it’s tempting to cut their throats where they lay. I’m still fighting the urge to bloody the blade when I’m surprised by another patrol.
It’s probably the first time it’s cut through human flesh in centuries. It sinks into the man’s shoulder with such a great ease that I can almost swear that the dagger is enjoying this. The thought is less disturbing than it should be, all told. I lose myself in the flow of combat, weaving through three guards as I carve my way down the hallway. The blade is singing in my hand by the time I step into Shaw’s office, and my hammer has bits of grey matter on it. This is what I’m capable of, but Roth was right. I can’t think about anything but moving forward.
Shaw isn’t inside but there’s no mistaking his mark. It resembles my father’s study, though there’s photos and drawings plastered to every wall. I see the marks from the skull shrines, and symbols from a dozen places, including Yamatai. There are even photos of those strange faces that marked the walls throughout the ruins in Peru and Costa Rica. Judging from some of these documents I have my suspicions about where Shaw is headed next. I see pictures of his men as well. I put them to memory so that I know not to trust them. One of them is definitely Victor.
This man has really done his research and I want to take it all in, but I’m drawn to his desk. I don’t have the time I need so I shove as much of the research as I can into my pockets and a bag. I tie the latter to my belt. It’s getting a little cluttered down there but there isn’t much I can do about that. Lastly, I tuck some syringes from his desk into my pocket. I need to know what they injected me with. I’m lucky I’m thinking this clearly right now.
I nearly get my head blown off when I peek out of the office. So much for stealth. I unsling the rifle from my back and flick the safety off. I throw a paperweight and they scatter thinking it’s a grenade. It gives me enough time to aim and fire, and the gunshots echo throughout the hallway. It’s nearly deafening, but when I let go of the trigger, the resistance is gone. The floor is slick from all the blood, and I have to move carefully. This is never like how you see it in the movies. My stomach roils from the smell but I carefully step through and past the corpses. I count them.
I’ve always counted them. Ninety-six on Yamatai. Six on the way to the office, another four in this corridor. I can’t always remember their faces, which doesn’t sit well with me. But I try to remember their number. The count could be even higher, but I really do like choke holds.
I’m getting out of here. When I’m alone and I’m safe, maybe then I’ll try to find the pieces of my soul that get shredded with every life I take. Maybe then I can try to understand how I can slip so easily into this role.
I think I see my exit, but it’s guarded. I sneak behind him, kris in one hand. It sings to me. One-hundred and seven.