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’ve been exploring the lost city.
Notes: Capable, manipulative and probably ruthless. Employs Larson. Her interest in the Scion got me the location of the lost city.
Location: Last known – Calcutta. Current - hopefully somewhere far, far away from me.
Status: Miraculously alive.
Notes: For someone with his 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.
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.
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