Chapter 8: A New Day
It was well into the morning when Hannibal awoke from the first peaceful night’s sleep he had since leaving the Temple. Light shown in the balcony doors and the chandelier glowed softly. He rubbed his face and yawned, stretching as he sat up to look around. The sound of a breeze buffeted the balcony doors. Selina lay next to him on her side facing him, her hair somewhat disheveled, partially covering her face. A soft purr emanated from her chest as she slept. He looked at her and marveled how he was ever allowed to have such an exotic and beautiful soul for a mate. Smiling, he gently stroked her hair, wondering at the softness of it. As he did, she stirred and woke, rolling on her back as she yawned with a growl. Pushing her hair aside so she could see clearly, Selina looked up at Hannibal and smiled. “Good morning, princess,” Hannibal chimed. “How’re you feeling this morning?”
“I’m good. And you?” Selina asked in response as she sat up next to him, giving him a quick kiss on the lips.
“I’m feeling pretty good myself,” Hannibal answered. “It’s a wonder what a bath and good night’s sleep can accomplish.” He kicked the blankets off and moved over to the edge of the bed, hanging his legs off the side of it.
Selina followed suit and sat behind him, putting her arms around him, giving him a gentle bear hug from behind as she laid her head on his bare shoulder. “Yes,” she agreed. “A hot bath and good night’s sleep can do wonders, especially if the bath has healing properties.”
“I heard that,” Hannibal said with a smile.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m so hungry I could eat a moose,” Selina stated.
“Forget the moose,” Hannibal said. “I feel I could eat an entire elephant.” Just as he finished speaking, a knock arose from the door. “Who is it?” he asked.
“Nicodemus,” a voice returned.
“Come in,” Hannibal answered and the door opened, revealing Nicodemus, Harry, and Nathanael. They came in as Selina sat on the bed cross-legged next to Hannibal, straightening out her nightgown as she sat. She also pulled her hair back so it flowed down her back as Nicodemus, Harry, and Nathanael approached the bed.
“How did you sleep?” Nicodemus asked.
“Very well, sir,” Hannibal answered.
“And you, young lady?” Nicodemus asked Selina.
“Very good, thank you,” Selina replied. “We haven’t had a good night’s sleep in over two weeks.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Nicodemus said with a smile. “I see the bath did its work well. Your wounds are healing up nicely.”
“Argus suggested the bath after you left,” Hannibal reported. “He said it had healing properties and now I tend to agree with him. We soaked in the tub while the water jets ran for almost an hour. It was so relaxing that we fell asleep.”
“Only when we woke did we realize the potency of the tub’s healing power,” Selina said. “It’s like our healing machines at Tiamat.”
“So I’m told,” Nicodemus replied. “Nathanael told me all about it after he took his bath last night.”
“Did you two take a bath together last night?” Nathanael asked.
“It was Selina’s idea,” Hannibal admitted. “My ribs were apparently broken and I was so tired I could hardly sit up, so she jumped in to help me out. It was nice.”
“I see. In that case, I won’t pry. It’s none of my business,” Nathanael replied as Harry found a chair for Nicodemus, who sat down in it a few steps in front of Hannibal and Selina. Harry then brought forward two more chairs for himself and Nathanael.
“Don’t worry about it, Nathanael,” Hannibal said with a warm smile. “Nothing happened. We just soaked our weary bones. That’s all.”
“Yeah, right,” Harry chimed sarcastically as he sat down. “And I have bridge on Mars I want to sell you. You do realize it’s okay for you two to have a little fun, you know.”
“Your friend is correct,” Nicodemus agreed. “I’m well aware of your wedding vows because of your friends here and from the Ancient of Days. Just as long as you don’t cross that line, you can do whatever you like…be as intimate as you want with each other. It’s not in your nature to violate such a sacred oath.”
Hannibal glared at Harry for a moment with pretend anger. “Tattletale,” he mocked.
Harry laughed it off. “Well, at least I’m not married to a puddy tat,” he retorted sarcastically, mimicking Tweety Bird.
“Touché,” Hannibal crowed, seeing Nicodemus’ puzzled expression. “Don’t mind our bantering, Nicodemus,” Hannibal explained. “Harry and I do this all the time. It’s only done in fun.”
“Ahh,” Nicodemus stated. “You and Harry are best friends, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” Hannibal admitted. “He’s saved my butt more than once and vice versa. He’s the closest thing I have to a flesh and blood brother.” He reached out with his fist and Harry touched it with his fist.
“This is good,” Nicodemus replied. “It may seem strange how you two taunt each other, but I can see you two clearly have a deep bond of friendship. That’s something that is not in great supply here in this land. It can serve as an example to the rest of us.”
“You’re not the only one who thinks their teasing is strange,” Selina stated. “My father and I are still trying to understand why they do that to each other.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hannibal replied. “It’s just the way we are and as I said, it’s all in fun to lighten our moods.”
“He’s right,” Harry agreed. “Trying to figure out why we tease each will only give you a headache. It’s just that we have a somewhat warped sense of humor. But all joking aside, Hannibal; we were beginning to worry about you when you and Selina didn’t get up like normal. It’s almost eleven in the morning.”
“Yes,” Nathanael agreed. “I’m relieved to see that you’re all right.”
“Thanks for being concerned,” Hannibal said. “I had no idea that it was this late in the morning. That download must have been more tiring than I thought. I would like to thank you again for the prayers yesterday. We would have never overcome it without your help, Nicodemus.”
“I’m glad we were able to help,” Nicodemus replied, smiling. “The power of the Ancient of Days is great and when properly applied, there’s nothing that can’t be accomplished.”
“Amen to that,” Selina said.
“Yes, that’s so true,” Hannibal agreed. “Everything about this expedition the Lord has done. I’m just along for the ride.”
“Were the clothes suitable?” Nicodemus asked.
“Yes,” Hannibal replied. “They are about the finest clothes I’ve ever worn. They are so comfortable. What are they made of?”
Nicodemus chuckled and stated, “It’s made from some of the local crops. The thing that makes them so fine is the manufacturing process. In fact, the material is commonplace here. Speaking of clothes, we took the liberty to provide you with a complete wardrobe. If you need anything to wear, just look in the wardrobes and dressers.”
Harry rose and went to the nearest wardrobe, opening it. It was filled with clothes ready to wear: shirts, pants, and several dresses for Selina. Hannibal and Selina looked over into the wardrobe as Harry opened it. “Looks like they’ve got you covered,” Harry said with a chuckle.
“All of the wardrobes and dressers are filled with clothes for both of you,” Nicodemus informed. “Whatever you need is there.”
“Thank you,” Hannibal said as Harry closed the wardrobe. “I had no idea we were going to be welcomed like this.”
“We’ve been awaiting your arrival for many, many cycles,” Nicodemus replied. “Now you’re here and you are welcome.” He cast his gaze over to the dresser and saw both the Relic and Artifact on it, adding, “And you have brought some strange items with you.” He rose, going to the dresser to look at the items. Hannibal followed and stood beside him in front of the dresser. “These are very interesting pieces. Where did you find them?” Nicodemus asked as he picked up the Relic to examine it.
“The piece you are holding we found in the Temple about a month and a half ago. We still have no idea what it’s for. We’ve studied it extensively. It’s completely unique. The writing on it is not the Stone Language and the only lead we have on it is a myth from Kaitia,” Hannibal replied. “The language is alien to us. Even my inadvertent exposure to the Teacher of Tiamat hasn’t been that helpful in deciphering it. It’s an enigma.”
“Really?” Nicodemus replied with great interest as he sat it back on the dresser and picked up the Artifact. “What about this?”
“That thing is just as much a mystery as the Relic,” Hannibal stated. “We found it in route here. On the way here following the great road on the other side of Skull Pass, we found a massive step pyramid with a crystal capstone in the valley of the Zinzera at the base of mountain. We were forced to take shelter in it when a terrible storm blew up out of nowhere. Hailstones the size of grapefruits fell out of that storm. Anyway, while we waited for the storm to pass, we explored the pyramid and found it in the very core of the pyramid.”
“Tell me…what did the center look like?” Nicodemus asked.
“Well, getting there wasn’t pretty,” Hannibal began. “There were traps everywhere: blades coming out of the walls, floor, and ceiling…trap doors with spike pits, etc.... The heart of the pyramid was sixty feet wide by fifty feet high, roughly circular. A giant crystal protruded into the chamber from the roof right in the middle of the room. All around the walls were these stone gargoyles carved into the walls. A pedestal sitting on a raised platform right below the crystal lay in the middle where I found that thing. Dirt-covered triggers littered the floor. I managed to get to the middle and found what I thought was the trigger for disengaging the traps. After pushing it, I retrieved the artifact and when I did, the stone gargoyles came to life and tried to kill me, not to mention that every trap in there went off. I barely made it out of there in one piece. The gargoyles must have been some kind of ancient security mechanism left behind to guard the pyramid. The technology that allowed those things to move like a flesh and blood creature is unknown to me.”
“Indeed,” Nicodemus chimed softly as he listened to the account. “I’d heard the old gods of the 1st Age had the ability to construct stone golems to protect treasures. But I thought they were myth.”
“What’s a golem?” Harry asked.
“A golem is a magical construct made of certain pure materials and brought to life to perform certain tasks by a wizard,” Hannibal stated. “They can be made of any material, including stone. But I’m not sure those gargoyles were golems. They seemed to be some kind of robotic mechanism made of stone without the demoniac life instilled in a true golem.”
“Oh,” Harry replied. “I’m glad someone knows about this magical shit because I don’t.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Hannibal said, smiling warmly. “Just be happy you didn’t learn about it the way I did.”
“I am,” Harry answered.
“Did you see any writing in the pyramid?” Nicodemus asked intently.
“As a matter of fact, I did,” Hannibal returned. “There was one phrase written over and over in the passage to the center of the pyramid. It said ‘We are watching you.’ Needless to say, it unnerved me because of that crazy general we’d been dealing with since we set foot in the area and the Zinzera’s interference in our expedition.”
Nicodemus looked intensely at the Artifact. He scrutinized its shape and the strange writing, which was just like the writing on the Relic. “We haven’t had time to study it since we procured it because of all that has happened in the last few days,” Hannibal explained.
Nicodemus looked at it a few more moments, and then gently sat it on the dresser. “These items are very interesting. But enough talk for now. Now that you are up, you must come and dine with us. A great banquet is being prepared as I speak. It’ll be ready in two hours or so. We will feast and celebrate your safe arrival. Then we can speak of these things some more. I’m sure you have as much to tell us as you wish to know,” Nicodemus said, putting a hand on Hannibal’s shoulder. “I’ll go now so you can get ready. Your friends know the way to the dining hall. When you’re ready to join us, please do.”
“Thank you,” Hannibal replied gratefully as Nicodemus turned to leave the room. “We’ll be there.”
Nicodemus nodded and walked away. “Hey, wait for me,” Harry called out to Nicodemus as he left. “I’m coming with you.” Nicodemus paused at the door as Harry said to Hannibal, “See you in the dining hall.”
“All right,” Hannibal said as he sat on the edge of the bed. “We’ll be down in a little while.” At that, Harry followed Nicodemus out of the room, leaving Nathanael with them. They sat there for a few moments without saying a word. “How did our supplies fair?” Hannibal asked abruptly. “How much did we lose? I lost most of my clothes to the battle.”
“Well, the tents were lost in that last fight,” Nathanael reported. “They were completely shredded. Most of the clothes we had were also damaged, as were the food supplies. Strange as it sounds, the cameras and film remained pretty much intact as were the personal items we brought. Some packs fared better than others did. It could have been much worse.”
Hannibal listened intently and replied, “So it seems. What the Lord deemed unnecessary was damaged and what He wanted us to keep was intact. By the way, how did you sleep last night?”
“Very well, thank you,” Nathanael answered. “It was nice to not have to constantly be looking over your shoulder. And the bath was wondrous. It healed all my wounds as it seems to have done for you and Selina.”
Hannibal nodded and agreed, “Yeah. It helps to be in a secure location like we are now. It helps to relieve the stress. I still have a hard time believing we’re actually here. It’s almost like a dream. Hopefully, it won’t turn into a nightmare.”
“Yes, let’s hope it doesn’t,” Nathanael said as he rose from his seat. “I’ll wait next door for you. When you’re ready to go to the dining hall, just knock on the door.”
“All right,” Hannibal replied. “Give us about forty minutes or so.”
Nathanael nodded and went out into the hall. “I’ll be right over here,” he said, pointing to the right as he turned right. Hannibal nodded as Nathanael closed the door, leaving Hannibal and Selina alone again.