A Shot in the Dark
It was a quarter to four in the morning when Lara, Ryan, and Benjamin pulled off the Derech Jericho into the southeastern slope of the Jerusalem Cemetery. Through the Land Rover’s tinted windows Lara could see thousands of stone boxes outlined by the glow of street lamps. Centuries of the dead sprawled out over the side of the Mount of Olives. From the map Lara had memorized she knew one of those stone boxes was hiding the entrance to the tunnel that would take them right under the Temple Mount.
“Is this close enough?” Benjamin asked Lara.
She checked her copy of the map. “This is probably as close as we can get. We’ll go the rest of the way on foot.”
“Right,” Benjamin said as he parked the Land Rover on the side of the road. While Lara and Ryan pulled heavy duffels out of the back, Benjamin quietly affixed new license plates to the car. In silence the trio set out, weaving their way through the rows of miniature tombs. Their breath left small clouds in the frosty night air. Lara guided them to the approximate location of the entrance and began to search. It was difficult in the darkness but Lara didn’t dare use a flashlight. The second entrance—the one being used by Carlos Vicente—was less than a kilometer away to the north and lights might attract some hostile company.
“What are we looking for?” whispered Ryan.
“Any kind of inscription or marking,” replied Lara. “There might be a Templar cross or an ideogram for entrance.”
Ryan and Benjamin nodded. They fanned out across the area, heads bent low to the ground. After thirty minutes Lara was beginning to lose patience. Normally she could do this kind of thing in broad daylight with a small army of graduate students as backup. This was nigh impossible. She checked her map again, wondering if maybe she had missed something in the process of copying, then she looked around to reorient herself. There you are! Thank God for Templar traditions. Lara smiled to herself. At the base of one of the tombs were the letters: N F F N S N C. Lara waved for Ryan and Benjamin to join her.
“I’ve found it,” Lara said pointing to the inscription.
“Are you sure?” asked Ryan. “Because we won’t be able to do this more than once.”
Ryan nodded and pulled a spool of detonating cord from his duffel. He wound the cord around the base of the lid, tied it off and attached a blasting cap. Once this was done he and the others retreated a few meters. Benjamin pulled a pickax from his duffel and nodded to Ryan. There was a loud thud like the sound of a large stone being dropped as Ryan detonated the cord. The three of them rushed forward and grabbed ahold of the lid. With a few loud metallic strikes—much too loud for Lara’s taste—Benjamin wedged the pickax in the crease made by the detcord. With a concerted heave, they dislodged the lid. Lara couldn’t see anything inside. She stuck her arm in—nothing but air. She picked up a stone and tossed it in. One…Two…crack.
“This is it,” she whispered.
“Good, because I think we might have woken the neighbors,” said Ryan. In the neighborhood across the Derech Jericho a few lights had appeared in the windows.
“We better get down there quick,” Benjamin replied. He tied a length of rope around a neighboring tomb and tossed the rest down the hole. Ryan shouldered his duffel and went down first followed by Lara and Benjamin. As soon as they hit the ground they began donning their gear—tactical vests, backpacks, infrared headgear, Micro Tavors, and sidearms. Lara put on her infrared goggles and used the infrared light on her submachine gun to take a look around. The tunnel was little more than two meters tall and one meter wide. They would have to walk single file most of the way.
“Lara, you’ll take point,” Ryan said as he squeezed past her. “We’re right behind you.” Lara noted with some curiosity that Ryan had a short katana strapped to his back. She wondered what purpose that could serve but decided to hold questions for later.
“I hope not right behind me,” Lara quipped. “If I have to stop suddenly I’d rather not have you blundering into me.”
“Right. Lead the way tomb raider,” Ryan chuckled. Lara was glad of that sound in this dire hour.
They started off in single file down the tunnel. After a few meters it began to descend. The air was cool and damp. Lara started to sweat a little under the weight of her weaponry and ammunition. She normally preferred to travel lighter—it allowed her greater mobility—but she recognized that this was no normal raid. At the end there was not going to be a prize to recover, just lots of zealots with guns.
“How much farther till the first trap?” Ryan asked.
“Sixty paces,” responded Lara.
“What do you think it will be?”
“Since we’re dealing with crusading knights, I’m betting on something basic. They wouldn’t have the time or expertise to set up something elaborate like the Egyptians would have done. Plus it has to be something that can be easily bypassed by someone who knows about it. We’re probably going to be seeing a lot of deadfalls, pits and trip wires.”
The tunnel began to bend ever so slightly to the north. Lara held up her hand for the two men to stop. She bent down and flashed her light over the floor. “False floor,” she said. Without waiting she took a running start and jumped over. Given the height of the tunnel, Lara had to duck her head and tuck her legs to make it. Once on the other side she backtracked as far as she safely could. “You need to make it at least this far. Don’t forget to duck.”
Ryan and Benjamin both cleared the gap easily. “Three more to go,” Benjamin huffed. Lara couldn’t help but feel this was going to be easy. At the site of the next trap, however, her optimism was crushed. She stopped and scanned the floor, the ceiling, and the walls. She checked her map and checked the area again.
“What’s wrong?” Ryan asked.
“There’s nothing here,” muttered Lara.
“What do you mean?”
“Just that. There’s nothing. No trip wire, no false floor, no holes. Nothing.”
“Maybe you made a mistake,” Ryan offered.
“I don’t make mistakes with things like this. Not with your life at stake,” Lara snapped.
Her words hung in the damp air for a moment before Benjamin dared speak: “Maybe the map was wrong.”
“Or maybe the trap fell apart,” Ryan said. “It’s been centuries since these things were made.”
“No. The trap should be here and it’s not. And there’s no evidence that there ever was a trap here. This is all very wrong,” whispered Lara.
“We’ve got to move, Lara,” said Ryan. “We’re behind Carlos as it is.”
Lara nodded. “Here goes then.” She stepped forward. Nothing. She took another step. Still nothing. Another step. Her stomach started to churn. This is all very wrong.
Suddenly she heard the sound of stone grating on stone in front of her. A stone block was slowly covering the passage ahead. “Run for it!” Lara shouted.
Lara sprinted ahead and dove under the door. She did a cat roll and came up to her feet facing back down the way she had come. Ryan and Benjamin weren’t going to make it. Lara wedged her Micro Tavor under the door to keep it open. Ryan crawled under. The sub-machine gun began to groan under weight it was never meant to support. Benjamin started under but he was not as spry as Lara and Ryan. “Grab his arms!” ordered Ryan. They took hold of Benjamin’s hands and yanked him through as the gun collapsed. The stone door finished its descent, sealing them in.
“Are you alright?” Ryan said between gasps.
“I’m fine,” Lara replied. She could feel her heartbeat in her ears. “Are you alright?”
Ryan nodded and dusted himself off. “I’m fine too,” said Benjamin.
“How come you didn’t see that coming?” Ryan asked.
“It was well concealed. I underestimated their skill level. I won’t make that mistake again,” Lara replied. She tried to sound self-assured but truth be told that last trap had shaken her. It was more than well concealed. It had been nearly invisible.
The tunnel ahead began to slope down sharply. The trio followed it, this time more cautiously. After almost ten minutes of slow going, they arrived at the next trap. At least Lara assumed it was the trap. The tunnel in front of them was flooded. “This would certainly have stalled an enemy advance,” Ryan noted. “Not many Moors would have known how to swim and they wouldn’t have been able to take torches with them.”
“Fortunately, I’m not a Moor,” Lara said as she stripped off her tactical vest, camo jacket and pants. From her pack she pulled a few chem lights and cracked them. Lara stepped into the dark water and shuddered. “Unfortunately, I’m not a polar bear either.”
“Take this,” Ryan offered her the end of some rope. “So you don’t get lost.” Lara nodded and plunged into the water. The shock almost forced the air out of her. She forged ahead with one hand clutching the chem lights and the other the end of the rope. After a few meters the roof of the tunnel came down to the surface of the water. Lara took several deep breaths, blew the last one out as much as she could, took in a great gulp of air, and dove in. She kicked her legs hard and swam ahead. She had been swimming for almost twenty seconds and there was no sign of the tunnel sloping up again. She tried to surface and only met hard rock. She dropped the chem lights and went back the way she had come. Her lungs were about to burst when she broke through the water.
“How is it?” Ryan asked.
“I c-couldn’t get through,” Lara mumbled. “Th-the distance is t-too great.”
“There must be some way, some trick to it,” said Benjamin. “They had to have a way to get back through if they wanted to.”
“I’ll go this time,” said Ryan.
“N-no,” chattered Lara. “I’m already w-wet. I’ll n-need someone dry to heat m-me up when I get b-back.” With numb fingers Lara grabbed more chem lights and cracked them.
“We can get you back faster with the rope,” offered Benjamin. “Just tug twice and we’ll pull you back out. That should give you more time to look around.”
Lara took a deep breath and dove back into the water. She swam back to where she had previously dropped her chem lights and began to search for clues. Five seconds passed. Nothing. Ten seconds. Nothing. Lara began to panic. The passage behind them was sealed now. If she couldn’t find the way through they wouldn’t be able to escape much less stop Carlos. Twenty seconds. Lara had been underwater for almost a minute.
Then she saw it.
She grabbed the rope and tugged twice. It took five endless seconds for her to break the surface. She came up gasping and spluttering. “Found it.”
“What is it?” Ryan said as he helped her up out of the water.
“There’s a p-pressure switch and d-drain,” Lara mumbled.
Ryan couldn’t really see her in the darkness but he could tell Lara was close to hypothermia if not there already. He pulled Lara close to him and rubbed her arms with his hands. She molded herself to Ryan’s body as if he were the last warm thing in the world.
“Let me go in,” he whispered in her ear.
Lara nuzzled her face into his chest and said: “You d-don’t know where it is.”
“You could tell me where it is.”
“Shh. Just h-hold me.” Ryan obeyed. He alternated between passing his arms over her shoulders and arms and rubbing her back. And after a while he just held her. He held her never minding that they were trapped deep underground. Never minding that if they got through they would be fighting for their lives against a demon-man and his heavily-armed followers. In that moment there were just the two of them. And that was all that mattered.
“I hate to be the one to rush you but we’re running behind,” said Benjamin. As he spoke those words the spell was broken. Lara reluctantly detached herself from Ryan and turned back to the water. She set her jaw and put her mental armor back in place. The time for happiness was past. Now was the time for dangerous work to be done. She pulled out the last of the chem lights and cracked them. With a gulp of air Lara dove under the water. She found the pressure switch marked with a Templar cross and dug into it with her boots. The water slowly began to drain. The exertion of holding down the pressure switch was sucking the oxygen from her lungs. Lara struggled to keep the switch down but she was so very cold and tired…
When she awoke she was lying on the floor of the tunnel. Ryan and Benjamin were both standing over her. “You’ve got hypothermia,” Ryan said. “We need warm you up and get you into some dry clothes.”
Lara nodded. “I’ve got some silk pajamas.” She knew that was silly but at the same time it seemed the right thing to say. In the back of her mind she knew that that just confirmed she had hypothermia. Even her brain was sluggish.
Ryan pulled off her wet tank top and her spandex tights and then handed his own vest, jacket, and shirt to Benjamin. He pulled Lara up against his chest bringing their skin together. “Oh dear, what’s my mother going to say?” Lara murmured.
“We’ve got one more obstacle. Can you do it?” Ryan asked.
“Why not?” she whispered. Lara could feel heat in her body again. And with it her brain began to come back online. Slowly, their immediate situation became more clear. She was in the dark in her underwear being held next to a man’s bare chest. Her first thought was how awkward this should be. But it didn’t feel awkward. It felt right.
After a few minutes Ryan put his hand on Lara’s abdomen. “You’ve got some heat back. Let’s get dressed and once we start moving you should get through the worst of it.” He helped her put on the camo jacket and pants she had taken off earlier. The dry clothes brought instant relief but they lacked the comfort Ryan’s chest and arms supplied. Once Ryan was clothed they moved out.
Now the tunnel before them began to slope upward. Lara estimated that they were under the Derech HaShilohah, less than a fourth of a kilometer from the Temple Mount. The next trap was close. She checked her watch. It was 5:50. Less than six hours until the signing of the Hendley Peace Accords. The dignitaries would be arriving in less than five hours she figured.
After about fifty meters Lara met something surprising. “Ryan I need some light,” she said. Ryan handed her his Micro Tavor and she shined its infrared light over the ceiling. There was a vertical shaft a about a meter in front of them. Lara carefully inched her way forward so that she could see up inside. At the top, about two meters from Lara’s head, was a rack set with dozens of sharpened metal spikes. At the edges she could see rope and tackle set so that it looked like the spikes and rack could drop if something was triggered. She scanned the floor and the walls. Nothing.
“What is it?” Ryan asked.
“It’s a trap but it’s not marked on the map.”
“The map hasn’t been wrong yet,” said Benjamin.
“That’s what worries me,” responded Lara. She sighed and pulled a magazine from her vest. She lobbed it down the tunnel right through the expected danger zone. Nothing was triggered. Of course not, Lara chided herself. They haven’t been stupid thus far. The sensor would need human weight. Lara put one foot forward and tested the ground. Nothing was triggered. “I’m going to make a run for it.” Lara stepped back and sprinted under the spike rack. Nothing happened.
“Maybe it’s broken?” wondered Benjamin.
“No. Everything in here works,” Lara replied. “We assume anything else and we end up dead. Now come on then. We’ve got to keep moving.” Ryan sprinted across followed by a somewhat reluctant Benjamin. Nothing happened. They moved on but Lara couldn’t help but feel that they were on borrowed time. The trap behind them bothered her. It was her tomb raider intuition acting up. And Lara had learned to trust it.
Fifty meters on Lara met with another surprise. There was a horizontal shaft cutting off to the left at a diagonal. Lara shined her light down it. It appeared to be heading straight to the Temple Mount. Again it was not marked on the map.
“Which tunnel do we take?” asked Ryan.
“Maybe we should split up,” offered Benjamin.
“No,” Lara replied. “We go follow the map, straight ahead.” She marched ahead scanning each centimeter of the tunnel walls, floor, and ceiling. They were almost to the next marked trap. Her instincts were screaming at her. This is all wrong.
Then she heard it.
The creaking of metal, the whining sound of rope being drawn through tackle. But it was coming from in front of them. “Go back!” Lara shouted. Ryan and Benjamin turned and ran. Out of the corner of her eye Lara saw the glint of metal spikes approaching fast as she turned to follow. She wondered if this set of spikes would make it all the way to the stone door and pin them there. No, it doesn’t have to. Lara’s mind assembled the puzzle just as they passed the diagonal shaft. “Back here!”
She dove into the side shaft. Another body landed next to her. A second later she heard the spike rack whistle past followed by the sounds of metal clanging and a wet crunch. Lara’s heart leapt into her throat.
“Ryan? Is that you?” Her voice caught a little.
“Yes. I’m here.”
“Benjamin?” No answer. Ryan jumped to his feet and ran down the tunnel. Lara lay there, her body still processing the terror-induced adrenaline surge and now, the rush of relief tainted with guilt. Ryan came back a minute later. He was carrying two Micro Tavors. One was stained with blood.
“Oh God,” Lara whispered.
“It’s not your fault,” Ryan said as if reading her mind. They stood in silence for a while. Lara clenched and unclenched her fists. How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I see this coming? she remonstrated herself. As angry as she was at herself for not saving Benjamin she was glad it hadn’t been Ryan. But being glad just made her feel even more guilty. Ryan passed his sleeve over the body of the weapon to wipe off as much blood as he could. He handed his sub machine gun to Lara and kept Benjamin’s for himself. Without a word the two headed back into the main tunnel and continued their ascent. Ten more minutes passed before they reached a dead end.
Lara groaned inwardly. As much as she tried to keep them engaged elsewhere, Lara’s thoughts were on the graveyard of her mind. Had a new headstone been added needlessly because of her decision to follow the map?
“So it was the other tunnel we were supposed to take,” Ryan sighed. Lara wondered if he had come to the same conclusion she had. She passed her light over the walls in the hope of finding something. Nothing.
But no. There was something. It was tiny, barely visible on the rock face but there was something. A small indentation…
“Ryan, please tell me you still have that crucifix your mother gave you.”
“I do,” Ryan reached inside his shirt and pulled it out. Lara took it from him and placed it in the indentation. It fit perfectly. The rock around the indentation shuddered and groaned. A small doorway appeared. Lara pushed against the rock and it opened.
“This is it,” Lara whispered. Ryan shouldered his Micro Tavor and came up in front of Lara.
“Whatever happens to me,” he said solemnly. “Promise me you’ll keep going.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Just promise me.”
“I promise,” Lara said slowly as she shouldered her own weapon. Ryan nodded, turned, and led the way into the main tunnel, the path that would take him either to absolution or death.