Name: Jacqueline Natla
Occupation: CEO of Natla Technologies
Location: Who knows where she called me from? Somewhere behind the screen, that’s for sure.
Status: Alive, unless something happened while I was exploring the lost city. But she will not stay that way if she keeps meddling.
Notes: Capable, manipulative and probably ruthless. Employs Larson. Her interest in the Scion got me the location of the lost city.
Last known – Calcutta. Current - hopefully somewhere far, far away
from me. Probably still in the Lost City with a minor concussion.
Status: Miraculously alive.
Notes: For someone with his miniscule IQ, he is surprisingly durable. His intelligence slightly increases when he’s with Pierre. He’s about as charming as he is clever. So not.
Location: Most of him is outside the lost city of Vilcabamba. The rest in several wolf stomachs. Those are also outside the lost city of Vilcabamba.
Status: Dead. I checked.
Notes: He was good at his job, that’s for sure. Was a poor runner in snow.
Name: Pierre DuPont
Occupation: Freelance mercenary and treasure hunter
Location: St. Francis‘ Folly, Greece
Status: Our last encounter left him a bit damaged, yet his steely determination keeps him going...for now.
Notes: What Pierre lacks in talent, he makes up for with his unrelenting tenacity. He may well be the only person able to work with Larson in an effective manner.
How it all started
I never thought this job would be easy, but a girl can dream, right? Even though in my line of work it is wishful thinking rather than a dream. I still don’t know how this will end, yet there is already a man dead, a pile of animal carcasses and I am in front of an unexplored area high up in the mountains of Peru.
Wait. I’m jumping ahead. Let’s try that again.
I was sitting in Calcutta in a hotel foyer minding my own business, so no one can blame me (at least not this time) for actively putting myself in these situations. All of a sudden, there was this American trying to strike up a conversation by throwing a magazine about one of my latest exploits down in front of me, and asking me what he would have to do to get this kind of attention. I can only guess if he actually wanted to meet the same end as the unfortunate Bigfoot, but who am I to spoil his idea of fun.
Unsurprisingly, he missed the irony of my reply (and probably forgot the last time we met since he DID get exactly that kind of attention from me...and the hydra).
The only significant thing that Larson did was to set down a laptop with a direct connection to his boss. Ms. Natla of Natla Technologies seemed to have the same impression of her employee’s “charm” and, after dismissing him, proceeded to tell me the real reason for this interruption.
What I must give to this woman is that she knows how to change a strategy quickly and effectively. When she saw that money was no motivation for me, she appealed to my sense of adventure. After bringing up the unexplored area in the Peruvian mountains, a sealed tomb and a mysterious artifact, who was I to say no?
Today, not even 24 hours after my talk with Natla, I flew to my destination and found a guide who was willing to accompany me to the tomb. The poor man never knew what he was getting himself into. Just when I had managed to find the opening mechanism of the tomb, a pack of wolves emerged from the stone doors and tore his throat out. I imagine he did not forsee this when becoming a local guide.
After dispatching the wolves and checking whether my companion was really as dead as he appeared to be (and yes, there is no faking that much blood), I entered the tomb. The stone doors closed after me with a loud thud. But, I’m not worried about that now. If anything, I am thrilled.
Let’s see what the Tomb of Qualopec has in store for me...
Into the cavern
The cavern I entered was dark and it took my eyes a moment to adjust. The first thing I noticed were some tracks in the snow that the strong mountain wind had swept inside. The beasts probably expected a different outcome when they were running towards the light entrance, but a mere glance told me that this would not be the last encounter with that pack. The number of tracks definitely implied a larger number compared to the bodies lying outside.
But I could not stand in one spot for long; the cave was freezing and, while I was used to low temperatures, staying still was not helping. Following the tracks, as that it was the only possible direction I could take, the place was quiet. However, the silence was soon broken by a suspicious swishing sound. I stopped and soon found its source: an ancient bolt-shooting device (and while I did not test this hypothesis, I was quite certain they were poisoned).
I had to chuckle at this pathetic attempt at keeping people out. Were they even trying when they built this place? No one would fall for a trap like this. But just then I remembered Larson's face...and the smell of his burning jeans. This distant, almost welcome memory made me add a small correction: only an idiot would fall for a trap like that.
I simply jumped over the trap, not really out of necessity, but only wanting to stretch my freezing limbs. It seemed that my presence was unwelcome to other inhabitants of the cavern as well, but I had no complaints. After all, was there any better shooting practice than an enraged bat?
As I progressed, I finally got used to the gloomy lighting and, more importantly, started recognizing parts of the ancient architecture.
At the beginning it was difficult to find, but soon I could appreciate the technique and the state in which the walls and ornaments were preserved.The city had been sealed for centuries and the archaeologist in me wished that I could just stop for a moment and do what I was trained for during my studies. Unfortunately, I had a different task.
There was a single part of the old city I was not fond of: its wooden bridges.
The cold had preserved some of them, but even so I was reluctant to trust their stability. The hungry howling under the frozen planks was not very welcoming either, so I felt a slight relief once I crossed the bridges without slipping or crashing through.
Soon enough I was not so lucky. My feet slipped and, instead of a safe leap across the gap in front of me, I landed, barely on my feet, in front of a bear. Of course it had to be a bear. There was no other animal I loved seeing more than a bear when I'm scrambling to regain my footing with so little room that I nearly hit a wall whenever I dodge. It's good that I had packed some bandages.
And so, after nearly being mauled to death and drastically decreasing the cavern's population, I am standing in front of a large gate. The second set of bolts did not bother me much, though I have to admit that what they had lacked in imagination, they certainly made up for in shear numbers. But I have faith in the ancient builders, that they will yet surprise me. Now then...where does this lead?
Inside the lost city
I expected no welcoming committee when I entered the lost city of Vilcabamba, but the pack of wolves that considered me their snack rather spoiled my first impression of the place. No one wants to shed blood on their first visit, but it seems to happen to me quite regularly. Fortunately, I had a backpack full of ammo so I could take on whatever Peru threw at me.
After I dispatched the ravenous beasts, I could finally take a proper look around. In spite of partial collapse of the cavern’s ceiling, the city’s architecture seemed almost intact; its walls were still firm and stable, even some of the wooden constructions had been preserved by the low temperatures of Peruvian mountains.
There was no clear way ahead and therefore I could let my inner archaeologist loose. While frost had rendered some of the doors non-functional, there still were ways to access the buildings. Curiously, they seemed freshly deserted despite the time that must have passed; the primitive fireplaces in the centres of rooms were not swept clean, there were animal hides, clearly in the process of tanning. Even troughs outside were full of hay, as if the entire population of Vilcabamba simply got up and left. I wondered what happened to them and hoped that, as I progress deeper into the complex, I would learn what their fate was.
Besides the state of the buildings I found, the greatest surprise so far was the vegetation I encountered. Despite the lack of sunlight, the deeper I walked into the cavern, the more plants I found; some of them I expected, but many were of varieties that I had never seen before.
Overall the lost city’s vegetation did not seem stunted by the harsh conditions; on the contrary, it was thriving. The walls were covered with a thick growth of vines and the floor’s tiles were almost completely hidden too.
I leaned down and picked several samples, though I doubted they would safely survive the rest of my exploration. There were simply too many furry reasons to jump, dodge and therefore crush the unfortunate plants by the contents of my backpack.
Finally, I managed to locate one building that differed from others. The entrance was locked and I had to access it through the window. The remnants of ancient tiles cracked under my feet and I plummeted down to a disturbingly decorated room – someone obviously liked skulls a lot, except for one spot.
After I stepped out of the remains of the upper floor I had just crashed through, I proceeded to examine the strangely plain area of the wall. It did not fit firmly inside the remaining stones and used to be equipped with a rope, now half-frayed, half-frozen. Grounding my feet, I took a deep breath and pushed the block deeper into the wall.
My efforts were rewarded with the satisfying sound of the heavy stone moving across the ancient floor and I steadied myself again, forcing it further. I already felt sore, but I did not stop until I felt a rush of stale air.
I found myself in a room with a second floor that, unlike the one in previous room, was still stable and almost intact. I could only guess why the inhabitants of Vilcabamba decided to block the entrance to this place, but I soon got my answer; by exploring two alcoves with skull motif on their walls, I found two items, a silver key and a golden statue, an idol of some sort. I inserted them carefully inside my backpack (goodbye, plants, you will be missed) and vaulted to the second floor.
I could finally proceed through a door that was previously locked, towards a unique structure with three doors that I really, really wanted to photograph properly, but then something decided to nibble on my feet again and I had other matters to attend to. And now I’m running out of film so I will have to switch to a pencil soon. Oh well. Nothing like sketching with half-frozen fingers.
Anyway, the picture still shows at least a part of the construction. It was noteworthy not only for its distinct architecture, but also for unusual preservation of colour, as its red decorations were truly striking. The orange paintings inside also retained their original look. I could only curse myself for wasting so much film earlier, as these features definitely deserved documenting.
After some running around, the central door finally opened. I could feel I was nearing the centre of the city of Vilcabamba, not only because I almost got sliced in half by traps, this time more intelligently placed than the ones back in the caverns.
If I was amazed by the state of buildings outside, this place was simply gorgeous. It is truly a shame that I have to move on, I would be quite happy here, doing proper archaeology for once. I’m also not thrilled about having to part with the golden idol, but it seems necessary for opening the final door in this hall.
Alright. There’s still a bit of the film left.
The waterfall and beyond
When I entered the door, I was surprised to find a simple stone corridor. It was a curious contrast to the richly decorated structure I just left, but I supposed the ancient builders simply connected former systems instead of rebuilding everything in the image of the ornamental red hall. And as I soon saw, there was a very good reason for including this passage in the huge complex of the lost city – it provided the much needed water supply. Now I finally understood how the city could thrive despite being deep inside a cavern.
I decided to follow the river to the right, to the roaring sound of what I suspected would be a waterfall. What I did not expect was the size of it; the narrow cave expanded into a much larger space and even though the lighting was dim, I could see the mass of water splashing below, shattering against the surface of a pond. I made my way down to the base of the waterfall, careful not to slip on the wet stones.
I was glad I did not have to jump into the pool at its bottom – being dragged somewhere by underwater currents would be a rather stupid way to die, especially when I had other places to explore first.
As I did not really want to climb back to the top yet, I proceeded to a narrow entrance at the end of the cave – or at least I had intended to before yet another pack of wolves emerged from there. From their behaviour, one would almost think I was the only possible item on their menu – not only theirs, but every bloody wolf in this whole region. I’m starting to think I should have packed more ammo.
After I ensured I would not be bitten, nibbled or chewed on, I explored the rest of the tunnel, but this time my efforts did not pay off. The cave ended abruptly and as I saw no other way forward, I decided to try my luck elsewhere. While I was leaving and trying not to step into wolf carcasses, I felt a curious draft from a mountain of rubble and stones on my right. Perhaps there was a way forward, only blocked. But what interested me the most was the sudden change of temperature. It was almost as if the air was...warm?
I finally managed to climb the sharp stones keeping me from whatever lay ahead. For a moment, I was blinded by rays of light coming from the new area.
I suspected there would be a crack in the ceiling, perhaps a collapsed wall, but when my eyes got used to the light, I stared in amazement at what I thought impossible.
What should I say first...the wonders of nature at their best, that’s what the new place was. There was just so much green!
And not the kind I encountered before, mosses, ferns...no. There was grass, palms, plants that one would expect in a jungle and not in the middle of frozen Peruvian mountains. There were smaller streams and waterfalls flowing into the soft soil from the sides of the large valley and for a moment, I simply stood there and marvelled at the unexpected oasis.
And then...I heard a screech. And a roar.
I barely had the time to register the whitened human bones scattered in the grass when something sprang up on me and tried to sink its teeth into my arm. I shot it without thinking. Or perhaps I was thinking, something along the lines of: IS THAT A RAPTOR?! And even better, it brought friends.
I’m already missing the wolves.
Look, I have every respect for the resilient ways of Mother Nature, how she protects her creations from our greedy eyes, but there is a certain pleasant ring to the word “extinct”. I like it. It defines something that has no chance of feasting on me, because it has been long dead.
And furthermore- wait, steps. Heavy ones. Really heavy.
Isn’t THAT supposed to be extinct as well?!
Not so extinct
I wonder if I should report this somewhere. Of course, there would be uproar (ha! What a pun!) about making the species extinct again because these zoologists and palaeontologists have no sense of humour. They would probably say I should have avoided confrontation or something like that. I have always been somewhat lacking in terms of diplomacy but even if I weren't, I highly doubt that I would be able to talk down a ravenous dinosaur.
On the other hand...I’d love to see my father’s face when he hears that I was almost eaten by a T-Rex. He’s always been so displeased with my lifestyle, saying that it is unfit for a lady, that I would bring shame to the family for acting the way I do...and look at me now; so socially desirable that even an officially extinct creature from the Jurassic era wishes to get acquainted with my flesh. Surely that ought to exceed my father’s expectations.
But of course, these are my ideas in hindsight. I obviously did not have time to confide my feelings and thoughts to the diary at that given moment; I was too busy dodging those monstrously huge jaws. I immediately dashed to the right and prayed I would not slip on the drenched rocks in one of the streams of the valley. I saw a narrow opening in a nearby cliff and sprinted there, with the roaring saurian hard on my heels.
I’m still surprised I haven’t lost my balance, those heavy steps seemed to be shaking the very foundation of the cavern, but somehow I managed to get to relative safety. I say relative because the raging T-Rex refused to stand still and its stomping was threatening the stability of my temporary hideout. The two options at hand were either to stay in the passageway and soon get buried under a collapsed rock ceiling, or to walk out and become a dino snack. The third option that did not involve a 100% chance of dying included a lot of bullets. After exploring the corridor, getting rid of yet another raptor and finding out the cave led to a high opening above the valley, I decided to give it a shot (literally).
The good part was that it wasn't really possible to miss. Even when moving, the saurian was a huge target and, to make things easier for me, it kept coming back to see if I haven’t changed my mind about leaving the narrow passageway that its head could not fit in. I was moving back and forward through the cave aiming for the less protected parts of the creature’s body and retreating when it tried to force its way after me.
Finally, it collapsed. I swore I could see the ground shake under the weight of its body, but the ceiling above me miraculously stayed in one piece, despite the threatening cracks that had spread across it. And as I have thought several times since entering the mountain complex, I really should have packed more ammo.
I think I will take a brief break now. It’s pleasantly warm here and the water looks drinkable. However, I’m officially giving up on bringing home any plant samples from this place. The ones in my backpack had to have gotten crushed and smashed to smithereens by now and I don’t feel like destroying any of this unique wildlife (sorry, saurians, you don’t count. No one tries to nibble on me and just walks away) just for the unlikely chance that I’d deliver them intact. Someone else will have to try.
And after I have rested for a bit...I think I’m going to explore the overgrown structure at the end of the valley.
A hunt for cog wheels
It is amazing the lengths that the ancient inhabitants of the lost city were willing to go simply to make sure no one would discover their secrets. It is amusing to imagine them hiding provisions on the roof of this large structure thinking: “No one would bother climbing up here.” They would be very surprised.
After I dropped from the roof, I finally entered the building. From the first look, it was obvious this wasn’t a temple or an inhabitable structure: it was less decorated than the previous buildings I encountered, but it was too large for private use. The loud humming from inside which made an impression and my estimation was a correct one: there was a waterfall and a deep pool inside the building, which served as a water reserve. The builders used the valley’s natural resources to their advantage – they simply changed the flow of several streams and constructed a source of water, large enough to ensure that the city could thrive.
In the centre of the waterfall, a large stone face was carved in a pillar, which seemed to stare at me. I wondered if it was a local deity of some sort. I did my best to transfer the pattern to my notebook, just in case I wanted to look into the meaning of this carving later.
When I looked into the water, I saw that the shape of the pool was uneven. While the left side seemed normal, there was an underwater corridor on the right. I held my breath and jumped in the water, hoping I would be able to discover the secret of the pool before I drowned. Luckily I brought waterproof packets for all of my belongings; otherwise this diary would be a goner by now. I may love adrenaline, but water mazes are just pure evil.
Luckily, this wasn’t one of them. The corridor ended abruptly just after a few meters and, at its end, something was glistening. I reached for the object and managed to grab it. It was a cog wheel. After I made it out of the pool and shot yet another raptor, I examined it more closely. Obviously it belonged to some kind of mechanism, but I couldn’t help but wonder how it got there. It was almost as if someone didn’t want it to be found and threw it into the water; the stream later carried it to the very back of the corridor. Of course, my explanation was as good as any. There was no way to verify it now.
Before heading back to the large waterfall, I decided to explore the valley a bit more. An entrance in one of the stone walls seemed...well, not inviting, but it simply seemed a bit too obvious. I climbed there and soon found my way to a broken wooden bridge high above the place where I had encountered the not-so-extinct T-Rex. I sincerely hoped the planks would hold my weight because it was a long drop down (and I could not count on being so lucky as to fall on the T-Rex’s carcass to cushion my fall). I took a deep breath and leaped across the chasm.
It was a closer call than I would have liked. I managed to grab one of the planks and pull up, but the whole bridge creaked and I could hear a distinct snap of one of the ropes supporting it. Still, I was on the other side and I soon found another cog wheel. This was definitely not a coincidence. I just needed to find the mechanism tow which these objects belonged. I was just glad the humid environment and water did not make them rusty.
After I carefully dropped down to the valley, I decided to re-enter the corridor that I used to hide from the T-Rex. I did not have much time to properly explore it and I wanted to make sure that I had not missed anything. After I moved (well, kicked away because the thing was heavy) a carcass of the raptor I had shot before, I saw a third cog piece for the unknown machine. I really hoped that was it for the cog wheels, otherwise I might need a bigger backpack.
For the last time, I glanced at the green valley and headed back. The only place I had not explored yet was against the current of river stream, above the large waterfall. Perhaps the machine was there.
Against the stream
Getting back to the top of the waterfall was not as difficult as I had imagined, being reasonably careful when stepping on the wet stones did the trick. However, when I got back to the corridor through which I first entered this area, I realized the waterfall was the least of my problems. If the river had ever been bridged, time and humidity managed to decay the structures so that there was no longer a single proof of their existence. I had no other option than to start jumping.
When I talk about jumping, I do not intend to pretend false modesty; I am rather good at it and my results could be envied by many a sportsman. But there is a significant difference between trying to outdo your best result – only a number, and if you find yourself missing a centimetre or two, nothing happens, and trying to leap across a turbulent river leading directly to a waterfall, all in a dark cave corridor. On top of that, the landing area is not the annoying yet soft sand, but wet stones covered in slime, which has been getting sprayed by water for centuries.
No amount of athletic training can prepare you for this.
In hindsight, I was truly lucky to have no audience. When one’s foot slips on cave fungi while sprinting, then continues to slide towards the very edge of the rock and finalizes the sequence by falling headfirst into the river (because there is no way the fungi slide would provide a satisfactory take off), there is a certain lack of gracefulness. And even though the description may sound humorous, the ensuing struggle against the stream which keeps dragging you under the surface and a few seconds later sends you flying off a bloody tall waterfall, all that is simply something you do not wish to repeat. Preferably ever.
After I surfaced, coughing and spitting water, I managed to drag myself to a stone shore and decided to weigh my options. I was lucky to be launched from the centre of the waterfall, so I dropped directly to the pond and did not break any bones on the sharp rocks on its sides. The problem was, I may not be this lucky the next time.
I found my way back to the place of my unfortunate fall and decided to examine the rock below me in more detail. I soon found several poorly visible hollows, full of those treacherous fungi. I wiped off the ones still clinging to my soles and before I made my second attempt at crossing the river, I made sure to precisely plan my steps, to avoid those dangerous spots. Only then did I hold my breath and leap across the water.
It worked! So what if the landing was not completely stable. The main thing was, I managed to get across. And even though I still had a long way to go, at least I found a safe way to progress. I continued in the same way, careful examination, step planning and the final, hopeful leap, I even had to grab a slippery ledge once to keep myself from falling. It was only through sheer strength of my fingers which managed to fight their way through the thick growth to a firm rock that I did not repeat my trip down the waterfall. Finally, I pulled myself up to an elevated corridor.
The rest was relatively easy. I soon found my way between its stone walls, and then I finally saw the mechanism that I was looking for, just on the opposite side of the river.
It seemed to be missing those exact three cog wheels which I had found. There was also a bridge on this side of water, a surprisingly well-preserved one. Maybe it was able to endure the humidity because it hung quite high above the river. Whatever the reason, it still held my weight and I could finally approach the mechanism, insert the cog wheels and pull the lever right next to it.
The following sound was truly thunderous and echoed throughout the whole cavern, so it took me a while to understand what had just happened. The former inhabitants of this city were far more skilful than I had given them credit for – they managed to construct a controllable dam! I kept observing the water, as the stream became thinner and calmer. Now I could finally make my way back to the waterfall, if there still was one – if there was anything behind it, I’d be finally able to reach it. Before leaving the area, however, I decided to explore the newly opened door to my left. What I found was definitely not nice, but very useful. Some truly unlucky chap made his way to the ledge behind the door, but then it probably closed on him and he was left stuck there, unable to return to the main corridor. All that remained of him now was a skeleton. And right next to that skeleton I found two things which I promptly collected – not that he would be needing them anyway. There was a new roll of film, which means I can continue documenting this fascinating city. The second object was a shotgun. I wish I had that when I found myself in that raptor hell a while ago!
Now was the time to head back to the waterfall, hopefully for the last time. Of course, it was nothing like before I pulled that lever; there were some lazy streams of water here and there, but otherwise the rock face was bare. In it, I could see an entrance which had been completely inaccessible just a few minutes ago. I wasted no time swimming right to it, entering the corridor which led me deeper and deeper...to a door, which begrudgingly opened. I am definitely headed the right way.
Inside the tomb of Qualopec
Sometimes, you just can’t help it but be impressed by the ancient builders. They somehow managed to construct a door with a sealing technology so great that it managed to keep the ever present humidity out of the tomb for centuries. The breeze coming out of the newly opened passage was cold, but dry. I could only imagine what I would find inside – the architecture I had encountered before I entered the waterfall region was impressive, but if there was an area unaffected by outside conditions...that would be amazing.
I followed the stone corridor deeper and soon reached what seemed to be a central room. And just as I had hoped, it was undamaged – the colours vibrant, the statues still retaining their sharp edges and astonishing details. The walls were decorated in a manner I had seen before, but the level of preservation was nothing alike – the whole hall appeared to be only recently abandoned, something I knew could not be true. Centuries were passing by, but this place remained unaffected. I took one last look at the tall ceiling and sighed.
Sometimes I wished I weren’t in such a rush and could take as long as I wanted to explore and document all my findings. Unfortunately, I had an artefact to find, so a few pictures would have to do.
The door to my left was closed, so the only way I could proceed was ahead to a steeply rising corridor. Something kept telling me to stay alert and, just as I neared the top, the feeling proved true – a huge stone ball dropped in front of me and started rolling right at me. The rumbling echoing in the tomb complex was almost deafening. I immediately turned around and sprinted back to the main hall, but it truly was a close call – the rock missed me by mere inches, smashing into the stone corridor I had used to enter. I just hoped the impact would not collapse it, as it was my only possible exit.
After I caught my breath, I decided to try again. There was an ornamental gate at the top of the slope, and behind it – the Scion! Unfortunately, it would not budge. I must have missed something in the main hall and, as I made my way back there, I noticed what it was; a lever, hidden behind one of the statues next to the entrance. And just as I pulled it, I heard a screech which was just as familiar as unpleasant. Raptors. I wondered what would happen first, if I would run out of bullets or if this place would run out of these annoying carnivorous reptiles. I hoped for the latter.
I soon stepped over the two scaly carcasses and realized that I had severely underestimated the size of the tomb. What seemed to be merely an entrance hall and an inner chamber was in fact a whole underground complex of similarly decorated rooms, and enormous ones on top of that. A main hall with side corridors in various heights, striking signs and symbols in the sea of orange and red, spikes still covered in long-dried blood of whoever was unlucky enough to test their functionality...
I suppose this is a good moment to mention how much I adore this tomb, apart from the screechy and moving bits.
While I was making my way through a maze of vibrantly painted walls, I wondered how this place was constructed. Just how much planning must have gone into this! The ancient builders must have spent decades alone building this tomb. Any mistake in their calculations could have proved fatal, as the whole structure was still underground, buried inside a mountain.
What I truly love during my expeditions is experimenting with old mechanisms implemented in the sites I visit. Most of the time they do not work, but from time to time, they tend to impress me. The Tomb of Qualopec did the latter; as I pulled a lever in one of heightened corridors, I heard a sound. Of course, that is nothing major –it could have simply been something breaking, as these mechanisms often do. This sound, however, suggested something heavy moving, and when I re-entered the main hall, one of the huge red blocks I had previously seen had moved across the room.
No rails, no slope, no reasonable explanation. The block just casually moved across the room because I had pulled one small lever.
I wish I had the time to describe all the wonders of Qualopec’s tomb, especially the ever-present decorations, the meaning of which would take years to decipher. But I am pressed for time and while I managed to navigate the complex and open the way towards the Scion, I feel hardly noticeable trembling beneath my feet. I think that I must be nearing the inner chamber now. I have to move quickly if I want to escape this tomb alive – with the artefact, of course.
The first piece
When several things go wrong in very rapid succession, it is difficult to keep track of them all. Now that my day is over and I finally have time to write them down, I am wondering where exactly things started spiralling out of control. Was it when I took the Scion? When I shot those raptors, did the sound upset the fragile balance of the ancient site? Or was it because just after I accidentally reduced a beautifully decorated inner chamber of Qualopec's tomb to rubble, my temporary employer insulted my skills by sending one of her killers to retrieve the artifact, and not an elite one, no, but a slow Texan monkey? I will probably never know.
When it comes to things I will never know, another one is: how on earth do you build a tomb that immediately starts falling to pieces when you remove something from a seemingly innocent-looking pedestal? How can a large hall supported by massive statues topple the very second the artefact is taken, yet the not-so-subtle T-Rex stomping not so far from here had not even upset the paintings on the facade?
I simply refuse to believe that the tremors I felt earlier coincidentally reached the critical point at the same moment I touched the Scion. Setting the place to self-destruct like that is, while I cannot appreciate it due to the wasted archaeological potential, an admirable show of skill.
On the other hand, it could have been the artefact's power keeping the tomb intact. No artefact, no tomb.
Now that I have made sufficient excuses for the destruction of one of the best preserved sites I have ever seen, let me describe the inner chamber in more detail. It was one of the larger rooms inside of the complex. The paintings on its walls were very similar to what I have seen in the previous rooms. The supporting statues were also the same, but the rest was very different. In the middle of the room, there was a pedestal decorated with four golden idols and above it, the Scion was floating. But I decided not to reach for it yet. What was behind the pedestal was equally as interesting.
Two unusually tall and slender mummies were placed standing next to a throne, as if they were guarding it. There was a skeleton on it, collapsed to the side, yet the bleached bones miraculously still held together. I wondered why there was no sarcophagus, why the revered Qualopec deserved such a magnificent tomb, but no true resting place. But before I could explore his remains further, one of the mummies moved.
I would not really call shooting it straight in the head an overreaction, but I was in no mood to test how alive or dead the thing really was. Especially since its legs were strangely crooked and when I took a better look, the proportions seemed...off, somehow. I decided I would rather not risk the other one waking up on me when examining what it was guarding. I took a step back and grabbed the Scion.
One destruction of a priceless tomb later, I exited the stone passage. I just had to swim across the pond under the former waterfall and I could be on my way back, when someone shot at me. That someone was the charming fellow who approached me back in Calcutta and who probably forgot his lesson from Rome – that I do not take kindly to being shot at or stolen from.
Once defeated, Larson provided some comic relief in a form of very specific threats. I was just about to leave and let him lick his wounds – at least before the remaining wolves find him – when he unknowingly said two very important things...probably the only important things he has ever said.
He mentioned that the Scion I had just acquired was not the whole artefact, but merely a part of it. The second piece of information he gave me was the name of his associate tasked by my former backstabbing employer, Ms. Natla, to find the next piece. Pierre DuPont. I haven’t heard that name in a while. And I certainly have not missed it.
After an unsuccessful attempt to steal my gun, I left the unconscious Larson behind and continued to do exactly what he advised me to do – ask Ms. Natla about the second piece of Scion.
Is it not curious loyalties can shift in an instant? I would not call my approach to Jacqueline Natla as loyalty, true, but I was technically in her employment. A single encounter with an American monkey made me realize that I did not really enjoy being thought of as disposable; it rather irked me. After leaving the Lost City behind, I decided it was time to irk Ms. Natla back.
People describe my profession in many different ways. A professional adventurer has a nice ring to it. An archaeologist is something I would love to be, but I simply enjoy the element of danger too much. A tomb raider is a curious expression that fits me rather well. I do not particularly care for a label "thief" - it has such a nasty ring to it. Moreover, I just do not have the cunning and finesse to be a good thief. I sincerely doubt that good thieves would consider using a blowtorch on an elevator cable subtle enough. But as they say, if it works...
One very uncomfortable alternative to an elevator ride later, I made my way past the flashy logo of Natla Technologies, through very insufficiently guarded corridors, to Ms. Natla's office. No one seemed to be in a hurry to investigate the inside of the building, though I suppose someone ought to have noticed the falling metal box. The commotion outside gave me plenty of time to conduct a thorough (and perhaps a little bit overly messy, have fun sorting through all those papers, my former employer!) search of the office. Even though it took me a while, I finally found what I was looking for: a prayer diary of Brother Herbert. Good that the chair was so comfortable...it was a long read.
The diary was written back in 1573 and provided priceless information on the location of the second piece of the Scion. Brother Herbert found it trying to resist the temptation of venturing into the tomb of Tihocan, one of the rulers of Atlantis, and attaining the legendary power the artefact is said to possess. The said temptation was even stronger for the fact that this incredible power source was, so to speak, buried in his very own cellar - under St. Francis' Folly.
I sincerely hope that Brother Herbert managed to continue resisting the pull of the idea, otherwise the journey I am about to undertake would be for nothing. The only positive aspect of such a case would be witnessing Pierre's dumbfounded expression as he sees the empty pedestal. I may even learn a French curse word or two.
Perhaps I should be more vigilant, considering that I will be dealing with the brighter half of the hilariously incompetent duo, but being brighter than Larson hardly means anything.
I exited Natla Technologies and evaded the group of policemen examining my discarded blowtorch. Apart from serving as a quick way to infiltrate the building, I chose this entrance for one more, rather petty reason; I simply find the image of Jacqueline Natla climbing numerous flights of stairs rather amusing. Having a single elevator serving an entire skyscraper has its disadvantages.
Now to pack and set off for the second piece...
In Pierre’s footsteps
How strange this world is sometimes...if you happened to ask me a week ago what my direction of movement was in relation to Pierre DuPont, my clear answer would have been any direction, as long as it would lead far, far away from him. As a (for a lack of a better word) brain of the comical Pierre and Larson duo, Mr. DuPont made his debut back in Rome. The occasion became especially memorable due to a certain frog-like quality of his legs, otherwise I have no idea how he managed to survive the fall in the Colosseum. And now he is getting in my way yet again. What a persistent fellow! Though I must say, he happens to be a tracker’s dream – just follow the rubbish until you reach your destination.
The said destination was St. Francis’ Folly and I had to say, it did not seem very welcoming. Its purpose, whatever it might have been, was long gone – nevertheless, the building was still very lively. As I entered the first corridor, I was greeted by two very hungry lions. The supposed state of their stomach suggested that Pierre was still alive and kicking.
New inhabitants aside, the whole complex was surprisingly well-preserved, possibly thanks to the large number of columns – rows and rows of them, short and tall, lining the walls of the main hall, all in one piece and stable. And if they happened not to be enough for the job, there stood a number of massive pillars towering in the centre of the room. What a joy to finally visit a place that does not collapse on you as soon as you enter it!
But of course, something else had to go wrong. The ancient builders had a marvellous idea to protect the entire complex against unsolicited entry, but really...when is it necessary to open a door by moving a giant stone block? Which unlucky fellow had to run towards the danger and lose his life attempting to move by at least an inch something which is, pardon my language, heavy as hell? Call me softened by the modern era, but I truly believe that a simple task of door opening should not decrease your lifespan by five or six years.
Still wheezing, I reached the newly opened corridor. The room had been sealed, so I did not expect any signs of life in it – and of course, I was wrong, only this time, no lions. Instead, I got gorillas. And three of them at once to keep the visitor entertained! This place is starting to look like a proper circus, but at least I learned what the local lions eat.
Finally, I could fully explore the room, but its contents were disappointing. The only item of interest was a lever upstairs. I had no idea what it would do once pulled, but I am a firm believer in the method of trial and error.
After using it, I made my way back to the main hall, when suddenly...Mr. DuPont appeared.
I would rather not get into details of our encounter, it was rather undignified. It involved a lot of me peeking from behind pillars and a terrible lack of covering skills (by Pierre). I am aware that I am not the kindest in my descriptions of him, though that might be caused by the fact that he attempted to use me or murder me during every single encounter we have had so far. The best I can do for him is not comment on his combat abilities any further and only state that he crawled away to lick his wounds.
As for me, I decided to finally explore the upper levels of the main hall. If there were ever stairs, they are long gone now – climbing and jumping is the way to go then! After all, ad astra per aspera, through hardships to the stars! And if not stars, then at least the ceiling.
The Architect’s Revenge
Once in a while, one has to admit there are certain limits to their energy. The belief that will and effort overcomes all is admirable, but even if you believe that to be the case, you end up taking a nap after work instead of combating your exhaustion. I am able to admit my own limits, although I rarely find myself in a position that allows me to rest – crumbling ruins and biting creatures never wait for me to catch my breath. This time, however, I could happily collapse on the upper floor once I made my way over the broken columns. The mosaic floor was surprisingly comfortable and allowed me, while wheezing, to contemplate what a wonderful invention lifts are. Or stairs.
After these deep thoughts, I got up and started exploring the entrances along the room. I would have liked to see what this building looked like when it was freshly completed – while the current state could not be described as a ruin, I soon found out that majority of the inner space made little sense.
There were chunks missing, as if there were wooden constructions connecting the platforms. I had otherwise no idea how those old inhabitants moved from one room to another without being acrobats or possessing wings.
Because there seemed to be no logical way forward, I entered a collapsed corridor which must have been used either as a water supply or a water slide. Possibly both. With a surprising speed, I made my way downwards, through all those floors I climbed minutes earlier. What a waste of energy!
After I collected some items left behind by adventurers less lucky than I was, I got introduced to yet another inhabitant of this insane place – a crocodile, miraculously somehow surviving here. Fascinating, but too eager in terms of biting. Fortunately, the mechanism controlling this area still worked and instead of dodging the crocodile in its natural(-ish) habitat, I managed to cross the formerly flooded corridor on foot.
And then I discovered...that. I found a room that went deep, much deeper into the mountain than I originally assumed was possible. The architect must have had a rather twisted sense of humour – the unlucky visitor had to climb the entire mountain first, drag themselves to the highest floor possible...and then slide down to the level they started at. If I have to climb this whole shaft again to leave this place, I might become rather unpleasant.
But back to the tall (or rather, deep) room I discovered. Because the literal ups and downs were not the worst part.
Please understand, I am an archaeologist, although I am first to admit that I am doing a lousy job at preservation of the sites I visit. Mythology was crucial for my studies, for understanding the habits, beliefs and the society of ancient cultures. But what I found was a mishmash of religions and myths, a horrendous fictional chimera bastardizing this place even further.
What, just what on Earth could have been the architect’s intention? Who could have persuaded him that what this place needs is a combination of a Greek titan, a Roman counterpart to the god Poseidon, a Nordic god of thunder and a fictional courtier in Syracuse? Why would he rise to the height of his potential with those wonderfully designed traps, all so fitting for the chosen deities and characters, only to slap it all together and mix it into this travesty?! How bizarre, how tragic! And how irritating! It was not the rolling globe or falling swords that made me bitter about this whole ordeal, it was the utter and inexcusable lack of taste.
But of course, one should never, ever think that they have seen the worst, because the universe often takes this as a challenge. I might have thought for a second, full of naiveté and hope, that the four rooms fulfilled the architect’s artistic ambition and that I would find something less groan-inducing. However, when I used all the four collected keys and made my way through a few more animal inhabitants, I came to a horrendous realization that my plight had only just started.
Because his unique blend of religions and myths was not enough, he probably sat down and thought: “What could possibly be missing in this hollow mountain inhabited by crocodiles, lions, gorillas and one incompetent French guy? I know! A colosseum!”
I am aware that my adventures often leave the tombs and historical sites in a much worse state of ruin than they had been moments ago, and I usually feel very guilty about it. But if I happen to collapse this particular place, my conscience will be clear for once.
Lara Croft Diary is a project created by the LadyCroft.cz team, an official Tomb Raider and Lara Croft fansite.
Creative writing, sketching: Arakanga
Webdevelopment, help with translations: constantine
English proofreading: Charles
French translation: Alex Fly from core-design.com