Swift Hunting

by

Jordy



“The ordinary laws of Nature are suspended. The various checks which influence the struggle for existence in the world at large are all neutralized or altered. Creatures survive which would otherwise disappear.” –The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

By the time she's regained her feet, dusted herself off and checked that her weapons are still with her, she has already realised that this is no ordinary valley. Not that 'ordinary' has been a particularly prominent feature of this adventure so far, but even by the standards of the last few days this is something different.

Assailed by so much greenery, her vision overrides her other senses, and it’s several seconds before she registers the sound of rushing water. When she does, her awed gaze follows the cataract from the rainbowed spray-mist at the base, up and up to where moss-clad rocks loom overhead, overhanging this great emerald- (the word amphitheatre comes to her unbidden, a whisper of prescience, one hand drifting reflexively toward the grip of her gun) while beyond them rise peaks so white that they dazzle the eye. The air here on the valley floor is warm, waves of humidity rising from the grass to caress her sweat-filmed skin, though now and again a breeze reaches chilly, probing fingers down into the rift, carrying the scent of fresh snow straight from the Andes.

The tall plants beside her shiver gently in the wind, catching her attention. She fingers one of them, curious; its leaves are broad and fleshy, their surface waxy, leaving a whitish film on her fingertips. Some have spines or jagged thorns, but the ones bearing only flowers are no less deadly, their shocking yellows and vermilions crying poison! to all with eyes to see.

Beyond the broken span of the bridge there’s a clear enough view of the sky above, and how is it that no aeroplane has ever passed over and discovered - but that's a mystery for another time. Right now, she has a job to do.

The expanse of grass spreads out before her, bejewelled with droplets of moisture. It looks inviting enough, and she really should be moving forward by now, but something makes her hesitate. Perhaps it’s the unearthly quiet, broken only by the sounds of the waterfalls and the occasional wild, lonely bird cry. Beneath the exotic scent of the foliage, there's a strange smell in the air, rancid and animalistic…

And then she sees it.

The creature - bird? lizard? comes stalking out of the mist, pebbled skin glistening in the spray from the nearest fall.

It hasn't noticed her yet, so she has time to take in, with widening eyes, the lithe reptilian body, the whiplike tail, the rows of serrated teeth, the long, vicious, curving kick-claw on each foot.

Not a bird. Not a lizard. It drops to its forefeet, tail raised, snout scenting along the ground.

Lara, for her part, isn’t even aware that she’s holding her breath. She can get away, she thinks, if she backs off carefully - silently - one foot behind the other; she might even be able to climb back up that sloping tunnel of dirt and retreat to relative safety, forget she's ever seen this impossible place-

That’s when it looks up, right at her.

Unlike the wolves, unlike the bear, it doesn't charge right away. Instead, head cocked and tail moving slowly from side to side, it considers her. The intelligence in the yellowish eyes leaves her in no doubt that she's being appraised just as minutely as she, moments ago, had done the appraising, and despite the humidity she feels suddenly cold.

They stare at each other across twenty feet of turf, across untold millions of years.


Her priorities are uncomplicated: territory. Offspring. Food. Defend the first two and seek out the last.

The valley had been strangely quiet this morning. Venturing forth ahead of the others as she always did, well before the yellow disk reached its height and prey vanished into nests and burrows in the heat of the day, she had examined her surroundings more closely than usual, all of her keen senses working in concert. She has little reason to be cautious - after all, there is only one thing her kind fears - but something makes her hesitate. There’s a strange smell in the air...

Then the intruder - threat? prey? enters her field of vision, and whatever passes for remembrance flits across her brain like flashes of light interspersed with darker patches: there had been one like this before. The same shape, the same scent that makes the juices surge in her gut. This is good; it means fresh meat for herself and her kin, and most importantly, for the hatchlings mewling back in the nest.

It had not been an easy hunt. As well as the taste of tender flesh, she recalls pain. Loud alien noises that hurt her ears, and a sudden hot piercing sensation that made her twist and snap at her own flank in agony, leaving a scar that has never fully healed. But like the last time, there is only one and she is never alone…


As Lara watches, the creature seems to come to a decision. It rears its head back and utters a series of harsh, barking coughs. And they come, threading their way through the ferns, eyes bright and deadly; one, two, three more.


When the attack comes, she isn't quite quick enough in diving out of the way and though several of her bullets find their mark, so does the tip of a sickle-shaped hind claw. It scores a long red line of pain along her thigh, just missing the artery.

The initial volley of gunfire had scattered the creatures – even now she can’t quite bring herself to form the word dinosaur in her brain - but the reek of fresh blood excites them further, and they voice their eagerness for the kill in a series of throaty ululations as they regroup and come at her again with frightening speed.

They’re quick, these pack-hunters, much too quick for her liking. They close in less than a second and she rapidly calculates that in this instance, discretion is the preferred option.

She barely reaches safety in time, hauling herself onto the rocky ledge as the jaws slam shut an inch short of her heel.

From the safety of her temporary haven she concentrates her fire on the one closest, managing a headshot. It drops, contorting violently as it hits the ground, and even in the death throes the other animals have to step carefully clear of the still-snapping jaws, the lashing claws that tear long furrows in the ground.

Two others meet the same fate. As she jumps down, confident of victory, the single remaining animal backs away slowly, but just as she’s thinking it’s in retreat, another two come out of nowhere to flank it, and her heart sinks. This time they don’t rush forward; they fan out in a semicircle before her, heads bobbing and weaving. They might snarl and squabble over her carcass later on, but for now they act as one. She backs away, aware that she can’t cover them all with her pistols, and worse, sensing that they know this as well. For the first time, it occurs to her that these are odds she may not be able to overcome.

But they’re more cunning even than that. Just in time she realises that this is more than a tactic, it’s a distraction. Suddenly conscious of the space at her back, she obeys the nameless instinct that tells her to duck, throwing herself flat just underneath the lethal arc of the leap that would have borne her to the ground even as the jaws fastened in her neck.

Thwarted, hissing angrily, the ambusher rejoins its fellows, wheeling around to face her. But then the original and largest animal swings round abruptly, turning back the way it came; it raises its head and sniffs the air before giving a guttural cry. Suddenly agitated, the others break formation and mill around in obvious alarm, uttering a series of ear-splitting squeals before they surge forwards again.

Lara reloads, takes aim. But the creatures' movements are different this time, uncoordinated. More like a scramble than anything. They're not running at her now, but – and this does not bode well - away from something.

She's just contemplating what could possibly frighten such savage predators when the earth trembles under her feet and something comes around the corner like a primeval juggernaut, hurling the smaller beasts before it.

Lara sighs and says a word that would have shocked her father.

_________


Arms folded and head tilted critically to one side, she stands before the finished piece. It had taken the two of them all morning to mount the head, using a system of ropes and pulleys almost as old and stiff as the butler’s creaking joints.

She glances round as he joins her, for once carrying not a tea tray but a large book, and they take a few seconds to admire their efforts. It had cost a ridiculous amount of money to have it brought back to England, stuffed and preserved, but she has money, and to spare. Finally she nods, satisfied. “Perfect,” she pronounces.

Winston manoeuvres the book carefully onto one of the glass cases, the one holding the shattered pieces of the Scion, and they both lean over it, heads almost touching.

"I already know this one.” Lara jerks her chin towards the gaping jaws behind them, frozen forever in a wrathful roar- “It’s a Tyrannosaur."

"You're certain?"

"Really, Winston. Have you never seen Jurassic Park?"

"Incredible..." mutters the old man, and sneezes loudly. The massive encyclopaedia hasn’t been hauled down from its shelf for a while, and at his age he can’t be expected to dust everywhere, after all.

“Here.” His employer reaches into her pocket and produces a somewhat smaller, though still impressive trophy, holding it in front of his face. Winston’s lips tremble slightly at the sight of the curved ten-inch claw, although he tries to conceal it.

“You worry too much, Winston,” says Lara, knowing what’s on his mind. “I’m here. Safe and sound. Besides, it’s all good experience…” Here in the safety of her own home she can afford such nonchalance, but there’s a scar on her thigh that she’ll bear to the end of her life.

Winston takes the claw somewhat gingerly, examining it. “A veritable lost world you’ve discovered,” he observes.

“’Lost world’?”

"Really, Miss Croft. Have you never read Conan Doyle?"

"Touché."

Winston turns another page, and, matching an illustration to the wickedly sharp souvenir in his hand, finds what he’s looking for: "Here we are, milady. Dro-mae-o-saurs,” he says, pronouncing the word in stages, with care.

“That looks about right.”

"Velociraptor?" the butler suggests.

"Mmm…too small."

"Megaraptor?"

"Too big."

Winston's gnarled finger traces down the page to the next entry. "Utahraptor!" he says triumphantly.

Above the list of data known and surmised - dimensions, anatomy, behaviour, territories - is the translation of the creature's name: thief from Utah.

"Don't worry, Winston." Lara lays a confident hand on his shoulder. "I'll be ready the next time I meet one of those."





THE END


NOTICE: This story is a work of fiction. Lara Croft, her likeness, and the Tomb Raider games are all copyright of EIDOS Interactive. There is no challenge to these copyrights intended by this story, as it is a non-sanctioned, unofficial work of the author's own.