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The Archive: Part Two

Preparations

By Alexander McEvoyPublished 5 months ago Updated 4 months ago 10 min read
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Settling his pack on his back, Warrick thought it felt lighter than usual. So, he carefully removed everything from it and laid each item on a large square of canvas to inventory it one more time.

Neatly folded and arranged in specifically organized piles, his clothes seemed to take up a lot of space. Added to them were the standard tools of his trade that did not need to be immediately accessible from one of his pouches as well as other tools he personally found useful.

Being the type of man he was, very few if any of the items were not strictly necessary. Pens and two notebooks, critical for cataloguing The Archive. Gas masks, extra filters, and a filter cleaning kit, critical for surviving. A hermetically sealed tent invented so that people could sleep underground for long periods. A map of the fixed sections and a way finder - a relic that helped people find their way out, when it worked - and a dozen other things.

Nothing was out of place. Not one item was missing.

He carefully reread his packing list, prepared himself for every expedition, and ticked off each item as he went. Still, nothing was out of place. And yet the pack was lighter than it should have been. How odd.

Then again, he had always been strong and athletic, why shouldn't that streak continue? The training he put himself through was almost as rigorous as training for the army; The Archive was his life, almost to the exclusion of all other concerns - despite his family's objections.

Most of the other members of the club had an idea of who he was. Almost none of them were from less than the upper classes, exploring the Archive without the backing of the company was an expensive hobby, but he doubted that any truly knew him. A social recluse, as the papers had once referred to him, from one of the finest families would certainly never be a Grave Robber.

Unless that were his passion, of course.

Some men of leisure spent their days drinking or carousing. Others in hunting exotic game in the far reaches of the Empire. Still more in books or with models created by the finest craftspeople of the age. Few, if any, spent their lives so dangerously as he did.

Of course, he could always argue that he was just as much a hunter as they were. Just as much a scholar. It was only the social recluse part that held true, after a fashion. What good was it to be found in the garden parties or gentry balls when there was The Archive to explore?

Carefully refolding his clothes and repacking the bag, he thought about that. His family did not exactly disapprove, the Earl of Ulstrom believed in his heir and other children having hobbies, even better if they occasionally turned a profit. It was the fact that he still avoided his 'duties' as his father insisted on calling them. Insisted on avoiding the meaningless, endless parties and social nothingness of the aristocracy.

No. Having a hobby was not a sin. But refusing to participate in society? That was.

He snorted, fastening the last straps on his pack and setting it on an end table. He thought it absurd, if they asked him. Which, of course, none of them had. What was the point of sending him to school, teaching him how to think, then refusing to allow those same educated thoughts to govern his actions? It wasn't as if he didn't have friends. Though in many cases more reliable then noble.

His thoughts wandering away from his parents, he contemplated how best to push Jadzia to court Erdene. Her family might not approve of the match, but his didn't approve of his life, so she could certainly withstand their criticism. Though he doubted they would be too hard on her. As a younger child of a large family, who wasn't set to inherit titles, there was only so much advantage to gain from marrying her to someone more 'suitable.'

Only, he didn't know how to help. His own interactions with romance or courting had been, while not disasters were likewise not useful. The women, and sometimes men when they were convinced his tastes ran that way, his family pushed at him were never to his liking. They were exactly the type of people that made him avoid the social life of his class. Vapid and disinterested in anything other than their own importance or social mobility.

Some people thought he wasn't interested in any of it, but they were just as wrong as everyone else. He was interested in finding love; he saw his friends and siblings falling in love and knew that he could do it too. He wanted to do it too. So why couldn't he simply make himself?

More importantly, how could he help his friend get out of her own way?

Plucking the cap from a bottle of Innsish whiskey, he poured a frugal glass and took a sip. Sometimes the liquor helped him think. Other times, focusing on its flavour and scent pushed unwanted thoughts out of his head. Jadzia had given this particular bottle to him as a gift after their first big find, so he sometimes thought it might help him connect to her way of thinking. Foolish, he assumed, but still these little rituals helped everyone else. Why not him?

For a while, he had had thoughts about courting Jadzia. Thoughts that maybe he had finally found someone who would suit not only his family's requirements, but also his own. The common wisdom was to marry one's best friend, and she was certainly one of those.

But she didn't choose him.

With a vigorous headshake, he pushed that thought away. It wasn't that she hadn't chosen him, but rather that she never had the chance to choose him or not. He wasn't a woman. Nothing to be upset about there, any more than if you didn't like the colour of someone's garden shed. Put simply, their getting together had never been an option.

Then, for a brief time, Erdene had captured his attention. Though she was most certainly interested in men, if the suitors that had come to club after hours to walk her home were any indication, she had not chosen him. Maybe he wasn't desirable - to her, he had to remind himself of that on occasion. Not desirable to her - or maybe he had simply lost out to Jadzia. Either way made no difference. The only important detail was that he needed to try and help his friends see past... whatever was blocking them.

His next sip of the whiskey failed to bring any new revelations. But that did happen, rituals and prayers did not always provide what one wanted. The gods were fickle that way, but still he enjoyed it. The bottle was already half gone, despite his rare indulgences and disappointingly small glasses. Maybe if he finished it... but no, that would be a waste.

Once the glass was empty, he abandoned his questions and undressed for bed. He wasn't going to be able to solve his friend's problem for her, let alone after only one drink. If only he had more experience in these things. Once he returned from this expedition, he was going to ask his sister; maybe her being a woman meant she could explain what he was clearly missing, maybe not. Either way she had more experience with courting than him, so her advice would be better than his guess work.

-0-

Footsteps echoed off the vaulted passage that led to the Grave Robbers' Gate. The steady, almost rhythmic tromp of their boots against the polished stone returned a hundred times, sounding like an army marching off to war. He didn't like that analogy, though. His older brother Edwin had died on some dusty battlefield half a world away leaving him behind and vacating the position of heir to Ulstrom.

Noble and duty focused, he had followed the proper path for a gentleman of his rank. And he had died for his sense of honour. Died and abandoned Warrick, cast him to the wolves by taking a Voxian bullet in the chest as he charged, leading his cavalry troop as they tried to flank the fortified guns.

A bone-deep sense of loss, a pain that resurfaced every time he walked through the grand hall, tore at his mind. Edwin was dead, and he was alone in the world. Well, not entirely alone at that.

Pushing down his grief, Warrick plastered his most confident and friendly smile across his face. It was important that he look confident, in the last moments before he and Jadzia led their expedition into the Archive. Not only for the junior club members that came with them, not only for Jadzia - who always got the shakes before passing through the gate - but for himself.

Despite their clashes, he loved his father, and the man loved him. Though duty and honour had a habit of getting in the way, he had never let those things lead him down the path of so many other noble fathers. Never playing favourites, he had been present, kind, and attentive all through Warrick's life.

And he had taught him an incredibly valuable lesson.

“See them, lad,” he had said when Warrick stood before him with scabbed knuckles after a clash with a rival school, “those boys who followed you into that fight? You made yourself responsible for them when you stepped forward first. They followed you. And more important than winning or losing, you have a duty to them.”

“It wasn't my idea,” the boy Warrick had been muttered, idly picking at his scabs. “Eustace-”

“Did Eustace step forward and say follow me? You took that role naturally, and they followed you. That means they rely on you, whether they know it or not, whether they're aware of it or not, whether you want them to or not. And that means you're responsible for them. You have to make them believe that you know what you're doing.”

Those words in his ears, he quickly outpaced the expedition and turned smartly on his heel so that he faced them. His poured every drop of charisma he could muster into his smile, tried to dredge up the confidence they needed to see in a person who was about to lead them into the darkness of the Archive. It was a dangerous place, one any or all of them might never leave.

Each person in the expedition knew the risks. Tiny voices rode on shoulders, whispered in ears, telling them about all the horrors that waited behind the gate. Guardians and Mythobeasts were not the only threats that the Ancients had left behind, there was always the Archive itself. Air that could suffocate them as they marched, tunnels that could shift or change or collapse without warning, traps left behind to protect the treasures buried under ground.

Jadzia was technically the better expedition leader. He could never hold a candle to her almost effortless handling of the Archive itself, but he knew people. Despite his social recluse reputation, he understood what made them tick and how to inspire, if not loyalty or friendship or love, then at least confidence, camaraderie and teamwork.

So that was the division of labour. He was responsible for the ‘troops’ and she took charge of everything else. Planning, supplies, and organization of the expedition was her department. Once through the Gate he would follow her lead, but when it came to the well-being of the expedition members, he was the highest authority. In general, it was a good system.

He stood so that, from his audience's perspective, he was framed by the massive, gilded door. On the ground behind him, the enormous metal braces that had once held the doors shut from the outside, gleamed in shadowed corners. Doing his best to pose impressively without looking like he was trying, he clapped once for their attention.

It was part of the act, that clap. Done with hands cupped just so, it thundered around the hall, echoing from the vaulted ceiling, returning again and again to remind the expedition that he was there. That he was in command, that he would lead them through.

A wise man had once told him that if he entered a place he wasn't supposed to be in with the air that it belonged to him, most people would never question his being there. Figuring that it was the same with dangerous scenarios, given that his brother, in one of his last letters home, had said something similar, he put on the best show he could.

“By now,” he said, trying to truly feel the confidence he expressed. “You've all heard about the discovery by Archive Delvers Limited. You know that they finally stumbled over a relic of tremendous value. Given how long it was between Raiden's finding of the Club Tablet and this one, you might be wondering what the point of this expedition is.

“The more experienced Robbers know that point. But I want the rest to think about exactly how big the Archive is. I want you to remember the wall of honour, I want you all to remember that we're not doing this for the same reasons as them. We are here because through those doors,” he gestured grandly with one hand, “lies mystery and the greatest treasure in the world.

“And what are the Grave Robbers if not treasure hunters? We enrich ourselves, the Club, and the world. No one will judge you if you're not ready for your first trip underground, or if you think you've seen enough. It's a dangerous place, so if you want to stay behind, this is your chance.”

No one stepped out of line. Instead, their faces firmed, and backs straightened.

“Get ready. Once we're in, there's no turning back” he said, turning his back on them to stride over to where Jadzia sat.

-0-

The above was inspired by a conversation I had with the Estimable Donna Fox (HKB) a few months back during her "The Graveyard Challenge." I highly recommend you go and check it out so that you can find all the wonderful stories in Vocal's very own Archive. Make sure to pack provisions, it's a long journey but trust me, it's worth it.

Part One

Part Three

Thanks for reading :)

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About the Creator

Alexander McEvoy

Writing has been a hobby of mine for years, so I'm just thrilled to be here! As for me, I love writing, dogs, and travel (only 1 continent left! Australia-.-)

"The man of many series" - Donna Fox

I hope you enjoy my madness

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Comments (3)

  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran5 months ago

    "Edwin was dead, and he was alone in the world." This line broke my heart so much because I know that feeling 🥺 Also, Warrick is so nice to want to help Jadzia get Erdene although he wanted to get with both of them in the past. Like he is so sweet and genuine! And oooo, I saw in your comment below to Donna that the gates would close! Can't wait for that! Yes, I like it when things go wrong hahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!

  • Donna Fox (HKB)5 months ago

    Okay, okay, okay!!!! That was everything I needed it to be!! I love the deep dive into Warrick as a being and how we got to see what really makes him tick!! This was so great I can't wait for part three!!!

  • Donna Fox (HKB)5 months ago

    I see this and I am coming back to read it!!!! I want you to know that I see it!!! I can't read it at the moment as I'm working on something else, but I will be making time for it tomorrow afternoon!!! I will bet my next novel on it!!!

Alexander McEvoyWritten by Alexander McEvoy

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