It’s still really tense with Reyes. I try to talk to her and when she looks me in the eyes I can only see hardness there. Anger. Sadness. She’s still grieving years after Roth’s death and I can’t judge her for that. It still hurts to think about him and if it had been Sam I don’t know if I could have emotionally survived that. But I make an effort and with Jonah around Reyes’ walls start to come down. He has that way of making one comfortable.
Soraya and Leda are pretty wrapped up in themselves, so it’s just the three of us from the Endurance until Jonah’s girlfriend interjects herself. She’s a really pretty blonde, with intelligent, light eyes. Her grip is firm when I shake her hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” she replies, after introductions have been officially made. Jonah looks a little guilty and I give him a reassuring smile. Amanda smirks and pats his arm. “He’s learned when to shut up.”
“I think I understand.” There were plenty of times I just didn’t want to hear about some boy from Sam, and that was when we weren’t dating. “I hope most of that is good.”
“Little Bird, you know I couldn’t say a bad thing about you.”
“Only if you consider stubbornness a bad thing,” I reply.
Jonah laughs, “Stubbornness is only bad some of the time.”
Amanda’s face furrows briefly but the expression is gone before I can figure out if she’s irritated by our banter or not. “I wanted to actually talk to you about your work, if you have the time. Our fields have some crossover and between what Jonah’s told me, your youtube channel and what I’ve dug up on my own I’ve become a little fascinated by your discoveries. I have some questions.”
There’s something else in her eyes now. The way she looks at me, the way she studies me is a little unnerving. As though she’s trying to decide what to make of me compared to whatever Lara Croft she’s built up in her head. I try to ignore the impression that I’ve been found wanting, and focus on what’s important. Archaeology. Jonah gets this expression on his face. He knows the can of worms Amanda just opened.
I almost rub my hands together. “I’m willing to answer almost any question you have. Fair warning once I start talking, I’m not going to shut up. Where would you like me to start?”
“In your book you talked extensively about the dehumanization that the Solarii went through on Yamatai, but it feels like you left some things out. Did you ever feel like you were becoming them?” The entire room goes quiet. Reyes is giving Amanda the most heated look I’ve ever seen on her face, while Jonah just looks sad. I can’t see Sam’s face from where I’m standing but it probably mirrors Jonah’s.
My jaw is tight. I can’t answer that right now, not with the other survivors in the room. I’m not even sure of my own feelings on the matter and the way she says it makes me want to hit her. “Maybe we should try a different subject.”
Amanda looks around, realizing she’s stepped on a mine and holds up her hands in surrender. “Sorry. Didn’t realize it was something that still bothered you.”
“Fuck you’re dumb,” Reyes mutters, and I have to agree with the mechanic. Either Amanda really didn’t think through it or she deliberately brought it up to see our reactions.
Either way, I need to get away before I give her even more of a show. Sam still has a scar from when she’d startled me while I was writing about Yamatai and I can feel the old ghosts creeping around the edge of my consciousness. . “I need some air.” I pivot and walk quickly out of the common room.
It takes several minutes to go down the hall and outside. The air is crisp and I probably should have brought a jacket. I make my way to the manor’s gardens and get lost amongst the plants. They’ve already bloomed and in the moonlight it’s a beautiful and calming sight. I sit down on a low wall and rub my hands on my knees. I should be over this by now. Writing that book had been supposed to be cathartic but all it had done was open old wounds. But I don’t regret it. It answered a lot of questions people had about the island.
Events in Turkey are still fresh on my mind and Amanda’s question is making me wonder if I had become like those madmen. I’d reacted with violence so easily. I always react with violence when threatened and it’s worse when Sam is in danger. I nearly lost her. She might seem shallow but Sam really has infinite patience with me. I don’t know how I haven’t chased her away by now.
“Shit…” I lift my hands to my hair and tug at my pony-tail. Himiko. Her image superimposes itself over Sam’s face in my mind’s eye. The lightning she called down in Egypt, the storm in Turkey. I haven’t really sat down and thought about Turkey yet. As soon as we’d landed back in London I’d buried myself in work, and then Sam dragged me out and now this.
“Lara?” Reyes isn’t who I expected. I glance up when I hear her voice and blink my eyes to clear them. What did she want? I’m expecting a barb or something about Roth, but instead she sits next to me and awkwardly pats my shoulder. “Don’t let her get to you. I don’t know what Jonah sees in her. Besides her tits.”
I laugh, and almost feel bad about laughing. “She’s intelligent, and I’m sure she’s a nice person, but she’s kind of.” I search for the right word.
“Kind of a bitch.” She eyes me steadily. “What’s really bothering you about this? It can’t just be that fucking island. You’ve never handled questions ‘bout this shit that badly before.”
“There was that time I punched a tabloid reporter.”
“That don’t count.”
I grin at her. “You’re not exactly the first person I’d expect to want to talk to me about this stuff.”
Her expression grows a little distant, and she looks down at her hands. “Guess I figure… Well we’re gonna visit Roth tomorrow. And I know what he’d say. Life’s too fucking short to waste it on grudges.”
“We told you about what happened on the way to Thinis right?” I don’t relax yet, but I can feel the tension easing out of me.
“Yeah, the lightning? Terrifying, but I trust you, Lara. We don’t always get along but I trust you when it comes to these things.” Reyes seems sincere, so I nod my head and launch into what happened on our honeymoon. I skim over the stuff with the girl in Japan and I leave Tibet out because I don’t feel it’s relevant. But I tell her everything about Italy and Turkey. Giovanna and the Vatican, what we found in that book, and the fight in the tomb.
“She’s back, and she’s herself, but I’m fucking scared I’m going to lose her. I don’t know what I’m going to do if that happens again.”
She’s silent, and staring at me and I wonder if she’s regretting bringing Alisha with her. Finally she flares her nose and I can visualize her counting to ten in her head. “Then you do what you have to Lara. But I’ll talk to Sam. Maybe I can do something. We’re all this fucked up family and…” She shrugs and she doesn’t need to finish.
I lean back and look up at the sky. “Thanks Joslin.”
“If you want my advice, and I’m gonna give it to you anyway, you need to figure out what this artifact shit is, and take it all out. That Shaw fucker you told me about isn’t gonna sit around doing nothing while you dick around and Sam’s time is probably limited.”
“Thanks, Joslin,” I reply, much less enthusiastically.
“Okay. So this was… a talk.” She got up. “See you inside. I heard Soraya and Leda making a bet on which of us would hit Amanda first.”
After she’s gone, I’m left in silence again, with a lot to think about. How to handle the situation with Shaw, and with Himiko. They’re both related. Deal with one and I think I can deal with the other. I glance back towards the mansion. They all depend on me finishing this.
There’s a footfall behind me. I’m on my feet, and ready to engage before I recognized Amanda. Sighing, I relax my shoulders. She holds up her hands. “Sorry. I guess I shouldn’t startle you. I wanted to … I’m sorry I brought it up. It’s one thing to read about something with an emotional detachment and then talk to someone who’s still attached.”
“Apology accepted. I could have reacted better, but I was expecting questions about more recent events. They’re not quite as traumatic.” I wanted to ask her something. She took the supernatural in stride. Dating Jonah, she’d kind of have to. Even I accept he has some kind of sensitivity to spiritual matters.
The blonde folds her arms, then takes a seat on the wall. I join her after a moment. Like Reyes, there’s a wall up around Amanda, but what built it is a mystery. Part of me is curious to find out. “Why don’t you answer a question for me first? You’re really accepting about some of the stranger things I’ve seen.”
A ghost of a smile dances across Amanda’s face and her eyes get that far-off look I’m so familiar with seeing on other survivors. “Because I’ve seen some of it too. On a dig in Brazil, and in a few other places.”
Now that perks my interest. “Brazil?” We’d been near the border to Brazil when we were in Peru.
“Yes. On a dig near Rio Branco just after I got out of Oxford.” When she nods her head her hair bobs off of her shoulders. She looks a lot less standoffish, now.
“That’s a few hundred miles away from the site Sam and I found.” But that shouldn’t be surprising, we’ve encountered these artifacts and creatures all over the world. “What did you find there? Were you looking for Z?”
“We found some kind of statue. It was very large and very old, but we didn’t really have a chance to study it before we were attacked.” Amanda was still stuck in the past, and it doesn’t take me much to understand she was reliving what happened. “I thought it was my friend until it got close. Those eyes…”
I shudder along with her. “Like staring into a Lovecraftian abyss, isn’t it?”
Amanda finally glances at me. I could read pain in her eyes. Pain that is heart-wrenchingly familiar. “Yeah, or something a lot worse. I never ran so fast in my life. When I got out of the ruins I realized I was alone. I didn’t think, I ran right back in but by the time I found her, she was gone.”
“I’m so sorry.” I touch Amanda’s arm. I don’t need to think that far back. Those things have killed people right in front of me.
“It’s… okay. This was years ago. I’m over it. Run into them sometimes, but I try to work alone now. I still haven’t figured out where they come from.” She jerked away from my touch, shoulders hunching forward. My hand hangs there for a moment before dropping to my lap. She’s not over it, just like I’ll never be over Alex, Roth and Grim. Even making new friends doesn’t take the pain away - it just makes it a little worse, knowing they’re not here to meet these new people.
I think I know and maybe she can confirm my theory. “The black water. Is there always some kind of black water that you have to come in contact with to go any further?”
Her eyebrows quirk up. “Yes. Yes! That has to be it!” She grabs my shoulders and shakes me. “Why didn’t I see that before?”
“It makes sense as a kind of defense mechanism. I’ve no idea how it works. Besides the face carvings and the artifacts, it’s the only common link between all the sites.” Maybe she can critique my theory. I lean closer to her. “There are a few things we keep out of the videos. The full nature of the artifacts and my theories about them.”
Amanda rolls her eyes, but now there’s a smile on her face. “Are you going to keep being a tease or are you going to tell me?”
I like her like this, with her guard down. We probably would have met much sooner if I’d gone to Oxford like I’d planned originally. I might very well have gone on that dig with her, or another one. Despite that, I barely know her, so I choose my words carefully. “The artifacts are objects of power. Shaw, who I’m sure you’ve heard of if you’ve followed the videos, believes that the power can be transferred. Having witnessed first hand a transference ritual I’m a believer too.”
We’re hunched over like two schoolgirls talking about … whatever normal girls talk about. It’s kind of exciting talking to another archaeologist about this sort of thing. Another woman who’s field of study is the ancient world. As attentive as Sam can be, she doesn’t geek out quite the same way I do about it. “I keep coming across three numbers. Seven, thirteen and one hundred and eight. Seven prime artifacts, thirteen secondary ones, and a total of one hundred and eight if you count less powerful items.”
“Seven and thirteen are both fairly common across a whole spectrum of colors,” the American replies. “The last number you usually see in Eastern religions.”
“Exactly. I’m predicting a trip to South Asia this year.” I think back to our time in Tibet, and Dolma. I should check up on her and make sure she’s doing okay. “A lot of the clues my father discovered point in that direction.
“Do you think this Shaw person is going to beat you there? Do you even know what you’re fighting him for, Lara?” Amanda has this intense sort of look on her face, but I regard her evenly while I decide on my answer.
“He’s seeking these artifacts for personal gain, and he had a man hurt me, so there’s some personal skin in this game.” Glancing back at the lit windows of the house, my eyes study the shadowed figures within. “And every person in that house is in danger because of me.”
The blonde’s eyebrows raise again. “Most people sound like egotistical dickbags when they say things like that.”
“And what do I sound like?”
A smirk crosses her face, and she doesn’t answer. I guess that means I sound like an egotistical dickbag. “I’ll keep that in mind the next time I make such declarative statements, Amanda. Shall we move on?”
We talk about Peru and Costa Rica for several minutes and I sketch in the dirt one of the faces I’d seen carved into the stones. It matches what Amanda remembers from her own explorations. She must be excited to talk to someone who doesn’t dismiss her out of hand, because I definitely am.
I’m staring at the drawings in the dirt when it hits me. “There was no water or carved faces in Thinis. In Turkey the water had been drained, but in Thinis it was like it had never been there.”
“Is Thinis unrelated then?” Amanda has gotten hard to read again. I don’t know what I said or did but it’s a little frustrating. Is this what everyone else has to deal with when around me?
“No, I think it’s related, but not in the same way. It didn’t feel the same. There wasn’t that sense of unease that hangs around the other ruins, or around the island.” I get to my feet and offer my hand to help Amanda up. She looks at it, then stands without taking it. We start back for the house.
The blonde’s voice is quiet, and she sounds reflective. “Maybe there’s two sets of artifacts. Two powers vying for control.”
“It’s within the realm of possibility,” I reply, glancing at her out of the corner of my eyes. “But I’ve learned to accept that just about everything is.”