Remember... Ch. 02byCrazyCatGuy©
Chapter 2: Through the Ivory Gate
Yes, it's the second chapter. Finally. Although reading Chapter 1 isn't really necessary except for some reoccurring character names, and some plot points, I hope the story is interesting enough for you to go back and read it anyways.
Comments and criticisms are always welcome.
For Mark, consciousness faded in and out. He vaguely remembered the mission and the ensuing battle: something about destroying a bank of siege engines and the Orcs that suddenly appeared. He had killed dozens but there were just too many. Eventually, most of his squad was dead and... the next thing he remembered was a group of elves looking over him, concerned, discussing something about a spell... then... nothing.
Mark blinked, and groaned, feeling dull pain all over his body. He was in a room. At the elven outpost, perhaps? He was parched; his throat felt as if he had swallowed all of the sand of the Bleak Lands. Slowly sitting up, Mark grabbed the cup of water sitting by his bed and emptied it in one gulp. Dropping the cup, he then picked up the pitcher, and drank deeply from that.
"Captain Raven!" a woman's voice called out to him, "You're finally awake!"
Lowering the pitcher, Mark blinked a few times to focus.
"Erilin," Mark said to the elf standing in the doorway. She had just been assigned to his company by the elven colonel to fill up his forces only days before. "I'm so glad to see you."
The elven woman smiled. "I'm glad that we were able to get to you in time. Our Goddess must have been watching over you."
"How long have I been sleeping?"
"You've been unconscious for five days."
"Five days? What... what happened?"
"You don't remember?"
"Only bits and pieces," Mark shook his head to clear it from the dull fog. "Did anyone else make it?"
"Shit," Mark muttered under his breath. "Is he alright?"
"He has some cuts and bruises, and a concussion, but he should be alright with standard medical care."
Mark examined himself. There was nary a scratch on him. "What happened to me? I feel... fuzzy. But otherwise fine. How was I out for five days?"
"You were in a terrible condition when we found you. We didn't know if we could save you but Magus Keith made a huge scene and eventually convinced the wizards to try to heal you."
Mark narrowed his eyes. "I'm glad they decided that my life was worth it."
Erilin shook her head. "Please don't misunderstand. It's nothing against you. Healing is a complicated enough art as it is and there are no healers here with us, so to attempt to perform a healing with no specialist is incredibly dangerous. One wrong utterance by anyone could result in spectacularly messy deaths of everyone involved."
"Well, did I really need it then?"
She nodded. "Your life signs were so weak, they didn't know if they could heal you at all. If it wasn't for Magus Keith, we would not be speaking right now."
"I should go thank him, then," Mark said as he stood up.
"I'll take you to him," she bowed. "I'll wait for you outside."
It was only then that Mark realized he was completely naked; a set of his clothes lay neatly folded on a nearby chair.
"Uh. Sure," he said as he hurriedly grabbed his clothes to cover himself, bringing an amused smile to Erilin's face.
When the elf closed the door behind her, Mark quickly threw on his uniform, and followed her outside.
"Sorry about that," Mark said, as Erilin lead the way down the hallway.
"About what, Sir?"
"I didn't know I was undressed."
Erilin chuckle. "It's alright, Sir. You've been here long enough to know that we're not shy about our bodies. You would be too after a century or so."
"Well, us humans don't live for that long. I still have to keep my men in check sometimes at the river."
"We have to bathe when we have the time and we don't have the time to be split into two groups by sexes."
"I know, but us humans generally don't see more than one naked woman at once, let alone a group bathing each other." Mark chuckled. "I swear, sometimes it seems like some of you do it intentionally."
Erilin laughed. "Sometimes, yes. There aren't that many women here. We drink and laugh with the men too, but just as men like to do their little exclusive things sometimes, so do us women. Most of the time it's pretty innocent but I do know of at least two ladies who have been eyeing some of your men."
Mark laughed as well. "I've been pretty clear to my men that they do not try anything with any elven women, though."
"We've suspected as much. Your men seem to go out of their way to avoid us sometimes. May I ask why?"
"Mostly for group discipline. Also, if the war's still going on, I need my men to stay attached to only those in their unit."
"But now there are elves in your company as well, including females."
Mark shrugged. "This is a rather new development. I'd still prefer them to not get involved when the fighting's still going on."
"Well, it now seems that the fighting is pretty much over..."
"What? When? How?" Mark stopped mid-stride.
"The Orcs started withdrawing their forces about three days ago. It seems they are headed in the direction of Fort Essence," Erilin smiled.
"Huh. Got bored of a small town and moving on to bigger fish, are they?"
"It seems that way. The excavation team has taken this opportunity to wrap up their work at the dig site and should be ready to leave for Luminare soon."
"That's great news!"
Erilin stopped in front of a large set of doors. "Yes, that's why I would like to take this opportunity to ask you on behalf of some of my friends that you... give your men a little more freedom."
Mark raised an eyebrow.
"There will be a small celebration the night before your company leaves to escort the archeology team back to Luminare," the elf said. "One night won't hurt, right?"
"I'll think about it," he finally acquiesced.
"Thank you, Sir," she grinned. "Magus Keith should be in here. He should be able to fill you in with anything that I have left out about the past five days."
"Alright. Thanks, Erilin."
Mark opened the large doors and was instantly greeted with the sight of a dozen elves in long robes gathered around a large, dirt covered, metal contraption that wasn't here the last time he visited. It looked like a huge flat metal box but with large square holes along the side. One of the elves standing to a side wore a small ornate half-mask, indicating his nobility. He spoke quietly with another robed elf, seemingly unaware of Mark's presence.
"Captain Raven! I'm so glad you're alright," One robed figure emerged from the crowd.
"Magus. It's good to see you." Mark said, shaking the man's hand. "I just spoke with Erilin. She told me that I owe my life to you."
Keith laughed. "Erilin exaggerates. All I did was some convincing."
"Regardless, it was all thanks to you that I am still here today," Mark bowed.
"Nonsense. Captain Raven, you've saved us so many times in combat, the least I could do is to repay the favor."
Mark smiled, and then turned towards the object in the center of the room. "So what's that over there?"
A huge grin appeared on Keith's face. "Come! Let me show you!" he said as he lead Mark over to the object. "This is the most intact artifact of the Ancients that we have ever found."
Mark took a closer look at the earth-filled object. It was roughly box shaped and seemed as big as a small carriage. Large holes circled the upper half of the box, while the bottom half seemed mostly solid, although there seemed to be a few cracks here and there. Although rust had covered most of the metallic surfaces, some parts still held specks of color.
"What exactly is this?"
"We're not sure. From its appearance, I would guess that it was probably used as a container of sorts. We have found similar objects in the past but they were all in far worse condition. As strange as this may sound, this is the first evidence that we have found that these containers were perhaps originally painted."
"How old do you think this... thing... is?"
"Over a hundred thousand years old, at least. This was here long before recorded elven history, and probably even before the Ancients."
"Before the Ancients? There were other races before them?"
"It's hotly debated topic but some of us believe so, yes."
"Wow, that's amazing," Mark whistled. He looked around the room. "There seems to be more artifacts than the last time I was here. Did they find anything else interesting?"
"Yes!" Keith paused to think for a moment. "Well, yes, but most of them aren't even here but are still waiting to be dug up. It appears that this area is rich with all sorts of artifacts; some may even be magical! We have only scratched the surface of this area. We will be returning to Luminare soon to present our findings to the Wizard Council, so that a much larger team of specialists can be sent here to study, along with more protection."
"Is that why he's here?" Mark asked, nodding his head towards the masked elf across the room.
"Yes, Duke Talos is here to observe the wrapping up of our excavation here. Would you like me to introduce you to him?"
"No thank you, it's quite alright," Mark smiled. "But does that mean we will be returning to Rancer as well?"
"Yes, as we will need to wait for the Council's approval before we can return."
"I see. Then when will we be able to leave?"
"I think within the week. Since the Orcs retreated, we have been able to go out to the dig site a lot more, so the wrapping up has been fast as well."
"That's excellent. Thank you, Magus."
"You're more than welcome. One more thing though: while the elves healed you, one of them found a spell embedded in your head. We took the precaution to remove it, as it seemed to be potentially dangerous."
"Oh?" Mark looked at him with some alarm. "What was it?"
"We're not sure, but it seemed to be some sort of orcish combat aggression spell; very similar to the type of spells that orcish battlemasters would construct... although they are generally constructed upon their own troops. It was extremely well hidden, and difficult to remove, which only added to our suspicion that it would be dangerous. Fortunately one of my elven colleagues, Celial Vern, is an expert in the field of enchantments, and was able to remove it after some..."
"By Aria's light! Look at this!" An elf exclaimed from the other side of the metal artifact. Rushing to his side, the other wizards all began to talk excitedly.
Mark looked at the elves with an amused smile, then bowed to the Magus. "Thank you again, Magus. I should let you return to your work. I'll go look for the rest of my company now. I'm sure they'll be glad to know that we can return to Rancer soon."
"Indeed. See you soon, Captain," Keith smiled and bowed as well before hurriedly joining the other elves.
Mark gave the artifact one last glance before heading towards the barracks. He thought about what Erilin had said. His men had all performed admirably the last four months, through the harsh elven winter, so perhaps a reward would not be a bad idea after all...
"So it is settled then," the man stood up from the table. "Thank you, Ambassador Fanelin."
"No, thank you, your Majesty," The drow bowed deeply, giving the young king a perfect view of her cleavage. "Queen Renia would be pleased."
As the drow ambassador departed with her entourage, her hips swaying sensuously, Andrew finally breathed a sigh of relief. Dismissing the remaining ministers, he was finally alone. "Hey Chris, it seems that the drows know that House Norfald is up to something as well. They almost couldn't agree to the border disarmament fast enough," he said to no one in particular.
A shimmering shape appeared behind the king, slowly solidifying to reveal a masked man. "Of course, Andrew. If their intelligence is as good as we suspect, they should have known about this days ago," he replied, his voice distorted by the mask that he wore, sounding hollow and metallic.
"But I didn't expect us to come to an agreement this fast."
"They are perhaps worried about the Mamet Empire as a whole," Chris said, sitting down next to him. "Just because each House of the empire may act independently doesn't mean that they've never fought together."
"That hasn't happened since my grandmother's reign. Father was even younger than me at the time."
"Well, I'm sure Queen Renia still remembers it. She has lived long enough to see it happen three times already. I'm sure she'd be wary of a fourth."
"Perhaps we should talk to the Mamet ambassador about this. What was his name? Roger?"
"Rogen. Theodore Rogen. I doubt it'd help: he'd just say 'each House acts of their own volition, unhindered by the Empire,' or something along those lines."
"Of course," Andrew grunted. "And we haven't received a new ambassador from Norfald yet?"
"No. We probably won't get a new one until their internal power struggle settles down. Perhaps by the winter."
"Ug. I hate dealing with Mamet."
"You and me both, man. Anyways, we can figure that out later," Chris waved his hands in dismissal. "I love having meetings with the drows though."
"Let me guess. Her brilliant intellect just fascinates you, oh so much," he shook his head slowly.
"Oh yeah, definitely that," he nodded seriously before chuckling. "But seriously though: her clothes. I mean, I don't really think it can be called clothes. I've seen women at the beach who wore more material than that."
"To them, clothing is a sign of weakness. Anything..."
"I know, I know: 'Anything more than what they are required to cover is an attempt to hide imperfection.' And damn, she was pretty perfect."
Andrew laughed. "Well, I think that being only able to look and not touch is a terrible proposition. I think I'll just stick to humans and elves. At least touching them isn't potentially dangerous."
"I'll take my chances. Not all of them are dangerous, and the ones that are have to consciously create the toxins anyways. Just don't upset them, and you'll be fine!"
"Whatever," he shook his head with a grin, "it's your funeral. Anyways, we should get going. I get to see Mari again today. I don't want to be late."
Immediately, Chris jumped up from the chair and led the way through the grand halls that lead to the royal gardens.
"When was the last time you saw her?" Chris asked.
"Last month, at the dinner at the Society. You were there..." Andrew paused. "Oh wait, that wasn't you was it?"
Chris chuckled. "No, that was Jaraad."
"Agh! Right! You two need to stop switching the schedules so much. Damn it, when Mark comes back, I'm going to have to get used to going back to the old schedule again," he sighed. "On that note, shouldn't he back soon? How long ago did he report from Crielere?"
"That was six days ago. He should be back any day now. The company, or what's left of it, has been debriefed and disbanded, and the men are expected to report back to their original commanders within the month."
"Great! We should go out for a couple of drinks when he's back. I've been cooped up here for too long," he nodded. "Hmm. Or maybe we can take a vacation early this year."
As Andrew entertained the thought of a long relaxing trip to somewhere where he can get some peace and quiet, he stepped through the doors into another kind of tranquility. Unlike many gardens around the city, the royal gardens at the center of the palace contained completely natural flowers. No magic is used to enhance the appearance or to encourage the flowers to blossom, so every season brings about a different selection of blooms. Although not nearly as colorful as the enhanced gardens, Andrew took pride in the ever changing scenery and took a personal interest in its appearance. Amongst the finely manicured shrubs and trees, some daffodils have already started to bloom, adding colors to an otherwise monotonously green scenery.
At the center of the garden was a large pond with a large marble gazebo. It provided a gorgeous view of the gardens, so naturally it was a popular place for the various ministers to meet and have lunch. However, at this hour, it was already empty.
"We're early, it seems," Andrew said, looking around.
"A little. Mari is very punctual; I suppose it's easy to be, with her talents."
"I guess, though she's told me the jump spell is very tiring, so she doesn't use it much."
"Oh? I thought she jumps here every time."
"Well, she has Society responsibilities before this. I don't think her father would be happy if she just left a half an hour early to come here."
"The Lord Magus keeps a tight leash on her."
"Yeah, I guess."
"He's a control freak. That worries me, you know. Don't get me wrong: Mari's a nice girl and all, but do you think you'll be able to have a future with her? I mean, especially with her father's position at the Society, and his influence over her. Some of the nobles are already voicing their concerns with your relationship, but if the marriage becomes official..."
"I don't know yet, and I'm not sure if I care," Andrew shrugged. "Father and Lord Magus Izer arranged this for us, so I'm at least obligated to give it a try but no more than that. I don't know what she thinks of all this: if she's interested in me in that way, she's not showing it very much. She keeps her thoughts about that to herself, mostly. As for the nobles," he paused, "we'll deal with them as it comes."
"I suppose, but you've been with her for three years, almost four. Do you think she has any feelings towards you?"
"Maybe," He shrugged. "You and Mark and Jaraad have known her for longer. You tell me."
"She's never told me and to my knowledge, Mark or Jaraad either. It's not like we get to see her much more than you. And besides, we don't talk about this with her," Chris shrugged. "Do you have any feelings for her?"
"I don't know!" He was getting a little frustrated. "Maybe?"
"Not 'maybe'. You asked her to that event last year, didn't you? That's gotta be something."
"Yeah, well, Magistrate Locke handed me the invitation personally, and I can't exactly say no to the man."
"I still can't believe that you took her with you. I mean, I've never been to one of his 'events', but I've heard stories. I thought she'd be scandalized."
"Well, I like that kind of thing, so if Mari wants to be with me, I have to know how she feels about it too."
"That's not an excuse! You could've just asked her if she likes being tied up!"
Andrew frowned. "Tying people up is only part of it. And besides, that's rather blunt, isn't it?"
"Compared with just taking her to that 'event'? Sure, as blunt as the pointy end of a sword. I mean, while I don't see why you and Mark are into that type of thing, I accept that about you. You're my brothers. But Mari? She might not be so understanding. She could've freaked and... and... blown up the whole place or something," he said, throwing up his hands.
"If she threw a fit about it, then I would've known we wouldn't have worked out, right?"
"You quite literally like to play with fire, don't you," Chris shook his head. "Well, since she didn't, you think there's a chance that you two will work?"
Andrew shrugged. "Maybe. We'll see. In any case, she doesn't seem to be in any rush either."
A small green light appeared in the air nearby, steadily pulsing like a heartbeat.
"That would be her," Andrew smiled.
Chris nodded. "Have fun. I'll be near," he said as he pressed a region of his bracer, once again fading from view.
Over the span of a minute, the green light began to pulse faster, and grow larger, until it was roughly man sized. With one final flash, a girl dressed in a teal robe appeared in its place, holding a large weaved basket.