Tomb Raider: The Ten Thousand Immortals — Golden Fleeced

'What do you know about Jason and the Argonauts?'

The following post contains spoilers.

UPDATE (October 1, 2016)
It’s funny how your opinion of your own work can drastically change with the passage of time. When I first wrote this piece, I thought of it as comprehensive — revisiting it as I put together The JHN Files, though, I see it for what it is: unnecessarily bloated, practically a retelling of the novel with a few opinions sprinkled here and there, almost impossible to find amid all the pointlessness.

I also find my present-self disagreeing with my past-self. Below, I make a point of criticising the story for its apparent disregarding of the fact that, at the end of Tomb Raider, Lara stated that she wasn’t going home. If that line was to be taken literally, then my criticism still stands, but, now, I see that she might not have been talking about going home in the literal sense. She witnessed much on Yamatai, Lara, and that statement might be a reflection of that — physically, she’s returning home, yes, but mentally, she can never really go back. Her world has changed.

I deliberately let some time pass between my reading of Ten Thousand Immortals and the writing of this post. I’d only intended that time to be a week or so, but, with one thing and another, it’s been quite a bit longer. The idea was to see how much of the book stuck with me. Some of it did, but it’s a good thing I took notes as I went, too…

Right off the bat, and in a direct contradiction of her bold statement in the closing moments of Tomb Raider, we find Lara at home in her flat. This isn’t the first time our heroine’s declaration of, ‘I’m not going home,’ has been seemingly forgotten by those in charge of the story; we found Lara in her flat at the beginning of the comic series, too, which, at the time, was assumed to be the direct follow-up to Tomb Raider. When I learned that Ten Thousand Immortals was set before the comics, I was certain that contradiction would be set right.

Nope.

At the beginning of the story, Lara finds herself having a panic attack, her body reacting to a backfiring exhaust by plunging her into memories of gunshots on Yamatai. I like the fact that Lara hasn’t come away from her ordeal unscathed — it’d be thoroughly unbelievable if she had — and it does present a possible soliton to the issue of Lara’s having gone home after Yamatai. As she made that declaration, Lara would still have had the adrenaline of Yamatai’s trials coursing through her veins. Maybe, at that point, she absolutely intended to set out in pursuit of answers, but then a delayed reaction to all that stress kicked in, putting those plans on hold and plunging her into therapy.

I’d be happy with this explanation, and would immediately forgive the story department their apparent forgetfulness. Humanising Lara in this manner would be much more acceptable to me than doing so — or, rather, attempting to do so, by surrounding her with a gaggle of cringe-inducing friends. Friends who, I hasten to add, go suspiciously unmentioned in the pages of Ten Thousand Immortals.

The story proper kicks off when Sam finds herself hospitalised from what seem to be the effects of an overdose. In a note left for Lara, she claims that the lasting effects of Yamatai are too much for her, that she doesn’t think she can be saved from Her, the capitalisation of which, it takes Lara a horrifically long tome to realise, means that she’s referring to Himiko.

Were it up to me, Lara would have realised the significance of that capitalisation at once. The fact that she doesn’t leads to the book having one of the same problems I had with the game: even when things become very obvious, Lara persists in having no idea what’s going on until the story needs her to. From a purely plot-focused perspective, that’s fine — there are things characters just don’t need to know immediately, and writers often have a certain structure for the story in their heads. But when sticking to that structure becomes detrimental to the believability of the characters, that’s when problems arise.

Lara is a brilliantly intelligent young woman, and the whole, ‘Why the capital letter, Sam? Why did you write Her with a capital?’ is an insult to that intelligence.

Still, she gets there in the end, and the story marches on — or, I should probably say, boards a train.

With modern medicine seemingly unable to do much for Sam, Lara chooses to turn to less orthodox methods of healing. She consults The Book, a ‘… collection of bits and pieces of information: notes, drawings, clippings, and references collected and added to over a long period of time. It drew together different sources, making connections, asking questions, and posing hypotheses. It had passed through any number of hands, had been annotated over and over again, and was a rich and wonderful resource…’.

While I do consider The Book to be a little too much of a convenience, I have to admit that I do like the idea of it. The novel makes reference to the information contained within The Book being a bit of a mess, and in need of sorting. I’d be interested in seeing this become sort of a running thread through future Tomb Raider stories. Lara could prove and disprove certain things in The Book as she works through her adventures — and who knows? Maybe the information within The Book can send her on a few, too?

As for its appearance in Ten Thousand Immortals, however, The Book provides a little bit of foreshadowing for what’s to come, and sets Lara thinking about the Golden Fleece, which, she recalls, was rumoured to have healing properties.

Lara gets in touch with one Professor Cahalane, who agrees to meet with her. Of the opinion that Lara’s seeking the Fleece is foolish, Cahalane nevertheless suggests she go to Oxford to meet with a Professor Babbington. ‘If he doesn’t know a thing or two about your Golden Fleece,’ Cahalane says, ‘there isn’t a man who does.’ And so Lara heads for Oxford.

The journey there isn’t particularly pleasant for Lara. None of the trips she takes over the course of the story are, really. She’s convinced she’s being tailed, and, as such, has a routine she follows when she travels. Namely, positioning herself in the best possible place to get quickly away from things, assigning somewhat ridiculous codenames to people she finds suspicious, and, in the case of her trip to Oxford, striking up friendships with random groups of students for protection — oddly immediate friendships for someone who has some major paranoia going on. She barely knows Willow and co., and yet later, as things become more and more serious, she’s arranging a sleepover.

At Merton College, Professor Babbington — who has an impressive collection of artefacts (more foreshadowing) — proves to knowledgeable on the legend of the Fleece, indeed, but he doesn’t believe it ever really existed. He invites Lara to stay for some lectures, and it’s at one of these that she first meets Kennard Montez, an American-accented student who spends a lot of his time flirting with her, but who also seems to know a good bit about the Fleece. Eventually, he tells her of a man in Paris by the name of Herodotus Menelaou, who once claimed to own a piece of the Fleece.

There’s a fair gap in my notes, here, but I remember vaguely that Lara reaches Paris and immediately has a run-in with a group we’ll later find out are the Ten Thousand Immortals themselves, fulfilling the foreshadowing in The Book, and meeting their leader, Ares. My notes pick up again just after said run-in, whilst Lara is making her escape. I’ve written that, as of the beginning of Chapter 13, I’m intrigued by this Lydia character. And I was. I enjoyed the fact that she seemed a formidable opponent for Lara, almost doppelgänger-like in her capabilities.

On the whole, I was entertained by Lara’s flight through Paris — I remember smiling to myself at the thought that there’d probably be a big grin plastered over the faces of any Angel of Darkness fans as they read it — but it wasn’t without its issues. One moment, Lara is teetering on the edge of a panic-induced breakdown as she flees, and the next she’s finding it all ‘exhilarating’. It’s either a case of inconsistent characterisation, or a little glimpse of the woman Lara will one day become. Because I’m a fan of the series, I tell myself it’s the latter, but there’s no getting around the fact that it reads a little jarringly in the context of the book.

After managing to evade the Immortals, Lara heads off to meet with Monsieur Menelaou, a likeable old Greek who has also had run-ins with the Immortals, but who — after telling Lara the ‘true’ story of the Golden Fleece and revealing that he actually does have a portion of the thing itself — is unfortunately (but also quite conveniently) killed by the group mid-meeting, prompting Lara to go on the run once again, taking his piece of the Fleece with her as she does in a little tin that is itself of historical import, being Queen Mary’s Christmas gift box for 1914.

Pulling off another — and quite enjoyable to read — escape from the Immortals, Lara heads off to the Greek Island of Anafi. Invited to observe a dig there by Oxford’s Kennard Montez, she finds herself the focus of the unwanted attentions of a certain Mr. Peasley and his associated, Mr. Frink.

Christ. The introduction of these two cronies is so incredibly cheesy that it made me laugh. It really did, Mr. Reader. Even their names are corny. As amusing as their introduction was, however, by the end of the chapter I was thoroughly fed-up with them. They really are just too over-the-top in their cheesiness, too stereotypical of the types of character they represent.

And before we leave that particular chapter behind, I have another bone to pick with it. When Peasley and Frink apprehended Lara and forced her into their car, Lara, and I’m quoting here, ‘simply didn’t have the time or presence of mind to protest’. That, ladies and gentlemen, is just plain insulting. It’s perfectly find for Lara to not have had the time to protest, but to say that she lacked the presence of mind to do so… it makes me wonder if the writers have any respect for Lara at all.

Moving on — and in a truly bizarre subplot — it turns out that Peasley and Frink work for Christian Fife, a once-famous actor whose career has fallen into near-total ruin as a consequence of his having Huntington’s Disease. Huntington’s is incurable, at least by conventional medicines, and, somehow, Fife has worked out that Lara is after the Fleece. He’s convinced himself that it will save him, and plans to use Lara to obtain it. She, however, despite having some sympathy for Fife’s condition, is having none of it, and after fooling Fife into trusting her, makes her escape.

Said escape is, perhaps, my favourite part of Ten Thousand Immortals. Lara scrambling down the steep slopes of Anafi, climbing down through the ancient dwellings into the cave system below, and the climactic events in the pool at the end… all of it feels very Tomb Raider.

Thanks to some friendly locals, Lara is able to hitch a ride back to Montez’s boat when she reaches Anafi. There, she fills him in on what happened that night. The respite doesn’t last long, though: the boat is set upon by people Lara recognises from Paris: Immortals.

When the action ends, Lara returns to her hotel to get her stuff, before going back to the boat. Montez wants her there, to keep her safe. Unfortunately for him, though, Lara stars to have serious doubts about his motivations. She recognises a member of Montez’s team as one of the people who had been following her earlier in the story, and, after discovering that Montez’s dig hasn’t been going on for anywhere near as long as he’d claimed, decides that she has to get away from his boat. Before she has time to act, though, the Immortals attack once again, and the resulting battle raises still more questions about Montez and his crew. For a bunch of archaeologists, they are damn good at fighting.

Lara doesn’t stay to watch, though. Using the commotion as a distraction, she slips into a dinghy and heads for shore.

After a fashion, she’s on her way back to the UK.

Getting there, Lara decides that it’s too late in the day to head straight for Merton College — her reason for heading back there being that she’s finally realised that the gold from the Fleece, now making up a statuette, was in Babbington’s collection all along — so she phones her ‘friend’ Willow to arrange that questionable sleepover I mentioned earlier.

Even having been through certain bits of the book again in the process of writing this piece, Lara’s almost immediate trust of Willow and co. still sits uneasily with me. The relationship serves its purpose, though, and next morning, Lara finds herself back in Babbington’s office.

She confronts the Professor, telling him that she knows what became of the gold from the Fleece. Surprisingly, Babbington doesn’t beteay even the hint of a reaction — and before he can get around to doing so, he and Lara’s meeting is interrupted by the untimely arrival of Peasley and Frink.

Having tailed Lara from Anafi, the goons proceed to restrain Babbington and inform Lara that Christian Fife is very angry at her ‘betrayal’ in having left Anafi without his permission. They demand she tell them where the Fleece is, threatening to put a bloody end to Professor Babbington if she doesn’t. Lara faces an internal dilemma. For a moment, it isn’t clear whether she’s going to let Babbington be killed or not. Her ‘only concern was for Sam’. On the one hand, this could be taken as Lara being a little callous, but on the other, it could be a nice little hint of the single-minded focus that — I hope — is going to drive her in her future adventures.

Before things can come to a head, however, the Ten Thousand Immortals are suddenly on the scene. Chaos ensues. Frink and Peasley are taken down, and Babbington with them, his body pinning Lara to the ground, where she passes out, coming around just in time to hear one of the Immortals, Hydarnes, reveal that he has found the statuette that she herself came for, and to see the other, Lydia, put a bullet in Peasley’s head.

The events that follow are pretty much an extended climax for the novel. And they’re really not what I was expecting. I thought Lara would end up at the site of the original Fleece’s creation — but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of journeying to Zemo-Savanti, Lara finds herself caught in the middle of the Battle of Hogwarts, Oxford-style.

Just as Peasley is killed, a third party arrives on the scene, and attacks the Immortals, who are, themselves, at a loss as to who these new opponents could be, and who promptly call in reinforcements to help deal with them. The chaos continues. The strange attackers prove very effective, taking down Lydia and another of the Immortals, Xerxes, in short order.

After a protracted fight with a not-as-dead-as-he-seemed Mr. Frink, Lara leaves Babbington’s office. Hiding from a few Immortals, she overhears a familiar voice. Kennard Montez is there, and he is in league with the mysterious newcomers, who he refers to as Trinity — an organisation referred to in Tomb Raider — and believes can deal with the Immortals quickly. He is, however, unaware that Lara is there, too.

She uses this to her advantage, and sets out to find Ares, the leader of the Immortals, after guessing that Hydarnes would have reported directly to him with the statuette. And find him she does.

Ares does indeed have the statuette. He feels that taking it from Lara is justice for her having destroyed Yamatai, for Himiko’s powers being lost to him forever. Reaching into his jacket, he removes a Derringer pistol, claiming that it is the very gun that killed Abraham Lincoln, and, therefore, that Lara will be in good company when he shoots her with it. Unbeknownst to Ares, however, Montez has arrived on the scene, and shoots him before he knows it, allowing Lara to use the distraction to seize the statuette and flee.

Unfortunately for her, though, Ares survives being shot, and it isn’t long before she finds herself confronted by him once again. This encounter lasts longer than the previous one, and over the course of their conversation, Ares asks Lara if she herself has not killed to be where she is.

‘For my own ends?’ Lara replies. ‘Never.’

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an incredibly debatable statement. On Yamatai, Lara killed to survive, but, later, she also killed to save Sam. She kills in Ten Thousand Immortals, too, all in her attempt to procure the Fleece, again to save Sam. What are these if not Lara’s ‘own ends’? Ares calls her out on this, too. And, for once, I find myself agreeing with him.

Ares prepares to shoot Lara. She questions if he’ll be able to kill her now that she has gold from the Fleece, but he tells her that the Derringer has ‘magic of its own’. Ares never gets to fire, however, for he is shot in the back before he can, leading to an utterly ridiculous-sounding death scene. Falling over, as stiff as a board… the metal image this creates doesn’t convey a sense of drama — it makes me want to laugh.

After managing to avoid him for a little while, Lara finds herself in a stand-off with Montez. She asks him who the hell he is, bit quickly changes her mind. ‘No… don’t tell me, because if you tell me, you’ll have to kill me.’ It’s a good thing I read this as derisive sarcasm, because if Lara was intended to be serious, then I think I’d probably shoot her myself.

Montez expresses regret that Trinity used Lara instead of allowing him to recruit her. It turns out that he told her about Menelaou only because Trinity wanted to see if she could get any information out of him. He tells Lara that she’s going to have to hand the statuette over, which leads Lara to call him a bastard a frankly alarming amount of times. She does what she’s told, however, and Montez again expresses his regret over her not being eligible for recruitment. Apparently, Trinity assessed her as ‘too maverick for their organisation, too independent, too free-spirited’. For once, I love a part of the book — these are things any woman calling herself Lara Croft should be.

Montez tells Lara that they would never have been able to get Menelaou’s piece of the Fleece without her, and then shoots her. Twice. When she’s down, he shoots twice more. I reckon a simple, ‘Thank you,’ would’ve done.

Montez meets other members of Trinity at a nearby bat, where they stage a conversation to make themselves sound like nothing more than students caught up in the day’s chaos.

Back at the college, Lara comes around, proceeds to pass out again in a haze of utter confusion, and then comes around a second time, feeling sick and sore, but otherwise — apart from a pretty nasty wound on her head — apparently okay. Her feeling of sickness is overwhelming, and she slips into unconsciousness a third time. When she wakes again, something’s different. She’s being tended to my a paramedic, who she convinces that she’s in a lot less need of attention than some of the day’s other casualties, and accompanies down to an ambulance to have her head would dressed.

Whilst there, she is approached by a policeman, and feigns a panic attack to avoid being questioned for the moment. After dressing her head, the paramedic leads Lara over to the Hall, which is a good thing, because it’s where she left her bag earlier, containing the invaluable Book. The bag, however, isn’t there. Lara learns that all personal property was collected after the chaos ended, and is being processed elsewhere. The paramedic volunteers to go and fetch it for her, and while he does, Lara finally succumbs to being questioned by a very insistent policeman, who only — and reluctantly — ceases his probing when the paramedic returns with Lara’s bag and helps convince the policeman than, owing to her anxiety disorder, she really can’t remember much of what happened.

As Lara prepared to leave, the paramedic tells her to look after herself. And this is where Ten Thousand Immortals commits what is, in my view, its biggest sin. In response to the paramedic’s words, Lara thinks: ‘If only he knew. With Kennard Montez still out there, I might need a lot more looking after than he thinks.’

I hate that line.

Seriously, I cannot express to you enough how much I despise it. I thought the point of everything Lara’s been through thus far was that she was learning to take care of herself, learning to be the hardened tomb raider we know and love, and who certainly doesn’t need looking after by anyone. With that hideous line, the writers almost sweep aside a huge amount of Lara’s character development. It makes me wonder whether parts of this book were even proofread.

Taking a deep, calming breath and moving on, though, this is where Ten Thousand Immortals starts to wrap up. Lara agrees to stay with Willow for the night after the paramedic’s insistence that she needs watching over due to her head trauma. As Lara undresses in her room, she discovers something ‘extraordinary’.

The little bit of the Fleece from Menelaou’s Queen Mary Tin has been in her pocket all along; though the tin had been taken off her by an Immortal, it had taken a bullet, and the little piece of gold had fallen through the hole caused by said bullet and into Lara’s pocket. It’s never stated outright, but it’s a pretty safe bet that this saved Lara’s life throughout the day. Montez, we can assume, did shoot her. The Fleece saved her.

After spending a few days in Oxford, Lara finally travels back to London, and to Sam. Her friend seems much better. Given the timeframe of her miraculous recovery, Lara wonders whether Ares’s death broke some connection with Yamatai, and whether her simply having the ‘Golden Fleece’ in her possession had been enough to heal Sam. Either way, Lara gives Sam the nugget of Colchis gold.

‘What do you know about Jason and the Argonauts?’ she asks as she does, and though no description of her tone of voice is given, I can’t help but imagine her smiling as she says it — can’t help but imagine the words in Keeley Hawes’s voice, speaking them in the same tone she used when Lara playfully asked Zip, ‘What would give you that idea?’ after he said he was beginning to think she forgot her climbing gear on purpose at the beginning of Tomb Raider: Legend.

And that, as they’re fond of saying, is that. Curtain call.

I have to admit, I really didn’t mind Ten Thousand Immortals. I didn’t love it, and I can’t deny that I found some of the things it said about Lara utterly offensive to her character, but I didn’t actively hate reading it, for the most part. It’s like one of those cheap movies you see on TV, one that doesn’t require a whole lot of thought to keep up with, but which is watchable all the same.

I found myself picturing neither reboot Lara nor Definitive Edition Lara as I read. I’m not entirely sure why, but I think it might be because, for various reasons, I identified with this version of Lara a hell of a lot more than the others. Not having a particular image of her forced upon me, my imagination ran free.

Certain parts of the story — particularly the very Tomb Raider escape from Fife’s mansion — made me genuinely excited for Lara’s future adventures. I found my hands itching for a controller, and that, of course, brought a fresh wave of disappointment over Rise of the Tomb Raider’s apparent Xbox exclusivity. I suppose it’s best to think of it in terms of, if Microsoft hadn’t stepped in, perhaps the game wouldn’t have been able to me made for some reason. Still, though, it’s a hard pill to swallow.

Oh, and one more thing… where were the tombs?


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