From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston
(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, mild language, mild violence,)
It was the next afternoon and Riona and Anomen had responded immediately to our urgent summons. The four of us sat in our apartment parlor, each face contributing to the overall pallor of gloom.
“I…I don’t know what to say,” Riona said. “I can not believe what you have just told us.” She and Anomen were both stunned with the news we had just shared with them.
“I…I thought we completely wiped them out,” said Anomen shaking his head. “We freed their thralls, and we did not leave their compound until every last one of the mindflayers was dead. And we destroyed the elder-brain and its pool of spawn. I am sure of it!”
I hesitated a moment before speaking.
“From the little I know,” I began reluctantly. “The elder-brain is the composite of the community’s dead illithid’s brains, all combined in one location, the ‘pool,’ as it were. Unlike any race we have here on Toril, their brains remain sentient even after the body dies. I don’t know the particulars on how long their brains can exist without benefit of either their bodies or the pool for sustenance, but it is not inconceivable to think if even one illithid remained, they, er, ‘it,’ could have harvested the dead and possibly created yet a new elder-brain. But I do not know their methodology of how this would, or could, be done. And there is also a possibility that other elder brains from other hives could segment and contribute to it over time. The possibilities here are infinite and I honestly don’t know if anyone on the surface would know.” Not what anyone wanted to hear as they all grimaced at me simultaneously. “Maybe Dr. Salzston will know….”
“Who is Dr. Salzston?” Riona asked.
“I have an appointment with Dr. Salzston at the Academy tomorrow morning. He is considered the foremost authority on the psionic illithid in all of Amn and I know him, though not very well.” I explained further. “I took a class on aberrant behavior as it relates to other plane races and it covered a section on the illithid. He taught the class, but at the time, our information was very, very limited. Plus, he helped me with a project before I graduated from the Academy.” I paused remembering watching the tall gaunt man becoming immersed in his own lecture. “I thought I would tell him I am thinking of being published and that doing a research project on the illithid’s brain and it’s chemical analysis as it relates to some of our own potions as a possible subject. If he would agree to sponsor me, it would also give me access to his laboratory for my needs.”
“Won’t he find that strange?” Riona asked. “That is, that it’s not within your area of expertise?”
“Well, indirectly it is. I am qualified and licensed to treat severely disturbed humans and elves, but I don’t. I could tell him I am thinking of changing professional direction and include such patients but I need to publish in order to quickly establish credibility – something of a ‘short-cut’ in my profession. Many of the popular therapies require current potions in widespread use that are based on similar chemical compositions found in the illithid brain. I’ll tell him I am on a quest for a new potion that will aid in treating severe dementia in humans and elves that are caused by brain chemical imbalances. Curing such dementia is currently being done by magics, and many families would rather see their loved ones sink into mental oblivion rather than use magics. He realizes this and I don’t believe he will question my motives. In addition, since it is beginning of summer session, he might be available to assist.”
I was carefully laying my plan in my mind as I spoke. “The only problem will be keeping my true purpose from him. One good thing….he is fairly absorbed in his own on-going research, and most anxious to share it with anyone who is interested, so I doubt he would find my ‘curiosity’ suspect.”
Anomen nodded. “Sounds like a viable plan. I can’t imagine too many people being enthralled with the slimy bastards, so you probably can expect a certain degree of anonymity and privacy. Dr. Salzston probably leads a very lonely and solitary existence.”
I smiled. “As I recall, he does. He is a typical researcher/scientist.”
I remembered Dr. Salzston very clearly. A tall angular man, a brilliant shock of red fluff for hair highlighted by a receding hairline over his pale gaunt face, his slender nose hosting an ever-present pair of pince-nez with an inherent sparkle in his crystalline blue eyes.
He seemed to always be munching on something, even when he was poking around in the dead gray matter of his current subject. Sausage in one hand, sharp medical instrument in the other. I remembered the smell of the specimen and had always wondered how he could even think about food while dissecting the odiferous brain sections. But other than such minor strangeness, he was warm and open and always enjoyed helping others if it involved his area of expertise. And, he was alone. No wife. No children. No siblings. No one. I was too young, at the time when I was in school, to appreciate his dedication to his calling.
“That is a lonely existence,” Hendak looked at me. Riona and Anomen looked at him quizzically.
“Hendak has some minor telepathic abilities himself,” I quickly explained. “At least, I think they are minor. He’s beginning to exhibit some of the powers and abilities brought about by his divine heritage.”
“An inherent trait from my Mother,” he further explained. “And it seems to include only those with whom I share a close emotional bond. AND, so far, it is not necessarily at will. The ‘door,’ shall we say, is usually opened by a strong emotion, or a vivid, sensory memory.” Riona and Anomen nodded their understanding.
Riona turned to Anomen, intently serious. “Ano, we need to get in touch with everyone and go back to the Underdark.” Anomen had clasped his face in his hands, elbows on his knees, and was softly rocking to and fro, thinking. He dropped his hands shook his head and looked at her.
“We have no choice. For the sake of all we hold dear, we must find out if this is for real and if it is, we must eliminate this threat. Even if they are not there, we may find a clue to their other enclaves and hives within Amn and elsewhere. In any case, we have to hunt them down.”
“And I will go with you,” Hendak interjected.
I was only momentarily speechless. “You most certainly will not!” I objected when my senses returned.
He picked up my hands and held them in his. “My love, I must go. I cannot stand idly by while there is a threat of enslavement of our peoples.” He paused and then kissed my fingers. “You know much, Glory, from your books, but you do not know the indignities that are suffered under slavery -- especially this type of slavery. This is the worse kind and I will not have my family hiding in the Outlands waiting for the hoards to descend. This must be stopped now and I must do all I can do to help prevent it.” He looked to Riona and pleaded. “Riona, can you not use another trusted, skilled fighter? I haven’t lost my touch.”
“Hendak, we would be proud to have you fight along side of us, but your family must come first,” she said cautiously and quickly glanced at me.
“My family does come first, Riona,” he said softly. “That is why I must go with you. It is the only way I know I can truly protect them. If this breaks past us, it is unlikely anyone else will be able to stop them before it is too late. Too late for everyone…and everything in Amn and beyond. All of Toril is ultimately at stake.”
Riona looked at me. I knew she was trying to gauge my reaction. I was still in shock that Hendak wanted to leave us and go to fight. It simply did not register with me.
Anomen was the first to speak. “I understand how you feel, old friend.” He turned to me and leaned toward me clasping his hands fervently. “Glory, you did not see what we saw when we first freed Hendak and the others from their incarceration in the Coronet. And, the enslaved we found in the Underdark.” He again shook his head. “Slavery is a heinous, despicable business which no race should endure.” His face paled as he continued, “I have never seen men treated so inhumanely as what Hendak and his fellow inmates endured--not even prisoners taken in war while in the service of Helm. Death would have been a blessing for most.” He paused and hung his head. “And then, there were the children….” His voice trailed off and his face was dark.
“Children?” I asked and looked at Hendak. “Younger than Charona?” Charona, then 13, was the youngest that I had known. He nodded slowly, his eyes gray and cloudy.
“I never told you, my love. It was..it was better to not speak of it. They…they were as young as seven and they were sold to the highest bidder for whatever need or appetite the buyer might have. Riona and Anomen, and their party, saved as many as they could and returned them to their native homes.”
“And the ones that couldn’t be repatriated were taken to the Church of Helm who found good homes for them,” Riona added. “We…we really didn’t have a choice. Some of them had been taken when they were but five or six years old and didn’t know where ‘home’ was.” I leaned back on the sofa, overwhelmed with disbelief.
By the Gods. Children. Little children made into slaves to serve their master’s whims no matter how base the debauchery of the buyer. The shock filled me with instant rage then crushing heartbreak that only a mother could understand. I thought of my napping innocents and closed my eyes. An unbidden sob shook my shoulders and a lone tear rolled down my cheek. I didn’t realize it, but I was starting to cry. Abject fear suddenly wrapped its icy fingers around my heart.
Hendak pulled me to him to comfort me. “It is alright, my love. There will be nothing happen to our beautiful children. I promise you on my Mother’s name.” He cradled me and gently kissed my forehead. “I must do this my love. I must go,” he whispered. “I must do it for our children, and for the children that Anomen and Riona will have, and for all the children of Amn that are here and are yet to come.” He kissed my forehead again then turned to Riona.
“Riona, contact your party. We will meet with Sashar tomorrow at noon meal and prepare to depart as soon as possible thereafter when you have assembled all you need. I need to contact Mother and make sure she is here in my absence. Is that acceptable to you?”
“Yes, Hendak, that will work. It will take a day or so to gather everyone together. Fortunately, we know where everyone is, more or less, so it shouldn’t be difficult.”
“And, as for your fee,” Hendak began. “I would consider it a privilege if you would allow me to engage your services for this quest. I would also appreciate it if you would tell Sashar you have a private benefactor who is willing to pay the fee and the expenses of outfitting and supplies for such an adventure.”
“It won’t be cheap, Hendak,” Anomen said. “The outfitting alone will be a small fortune for what we will truly need.” He glanced at Riona. She nodded in agreement.
“Yes, I know,” he smiled. “But I don’t think Mother will quibble over several thousand coin to ensure the safety of her grandchildren. The coin will be delivered in part to you here in the morning, and in part to the Adventurer’s Mart on your account to use as you wish. I assure you there will be more than enough, so do not skimp on what is needed. As for myself, I will outfit myself, so you need not be concerned with me.”
I knew he had to go with them. And I knew why. But I didn’t like it and as I still lay cradled in his arms I felt a sudden fearful emptiness fill my insides. It nauseated me.
I slept very little that night. Just when I would drop off, I would jar myself awake and make sure Hendak was still beside me. We hadn’t been apart for almost four years – not even one night. The thought of him not being there for even a few days, or a few weeks, made me instantly sad and lonely. Finally, blessed sleep but filled with fitful scary dreams.
I arrived at the Academy a few minutes earlier than my appointment with Dr. Salzston. It hadn’t changed much since I graduated. A new laboratory had been added to the ten acres of white buildings perched on manicured lawns just northeast of the city. And that new laboratory was Dr. Salzston’s new domain. Until it was completed two years ago, he and his research were entombed in the basement of the sciences building. Some generous benefactor had donated the required coin to not only build the new laboratory, but also equip it with all manner of the latest in medical and scientific paraphernalia. Thank the Gods, I thought, at least it is above ground.
“Dr. Gaeston!” He appeared very pleased to see me as he greeted me at his office door just off the reception room. He held a half-eaten cloudberry pastry in his left hand. “I am so very pleased that you are here. Do come in and sit down.” He showed me to a small side sofa and bade me sit. Even with the new building, I noted his personal office had changed very little. Still stacks and stacks of parchment notes, all hand written without the aid of a Kirani bird or some sort of recording magic. To the casual observer, it bespoke massive chaos, but from my short time of working with him years earlier, I knew he knew where every little shred of paper was on any particular piece of research. He had it all organized in his own gray matter and the recording of findings on paper was most secondary to him.
“I never have visitors, so when I received your note, I was so delighted that I ordered fresh tea and pastries. I do so hope they meet with your approval.” He seemed most excited to have ‘company’.
“Thank you, Dr. Salzston,” I smiled. “That would be lovely. And, please, call me Glory.” It was nice to see that he had not totally abandoned his sociability for his researcher’s robe. He was, after all, a very warm and generous-natured person. We sat and sipped tea while we exchanged small talk. He was inquisitive about my family, especially the children, but he soon veered to the subject at hand.
“Ah, yes. So you are thinking of being ‘published,’” he smiled. “Quite the thing to do these days. Especially on your chosen topic if you can, indeed, isolate a new therapy potion in treating severe dementia. And, your timing could not be more perfect. I understand that with Spellhold being re-opened as a government-run sanitarium, such a discovery would certainly be timely, not to mention a Gods-sent to hundreds of patients in such desperate need. Yes, indeed…”
“Spellhold is being re-opened?” I asked. I had not heard this.
“Oh, yes. I would have thought that perhaps your Father would have mentioned it. It’s on the quiet, right now, but I expect that the official announcement will be made within a tenday, or so. The government apparently feels that the more dangerously afflicted can be more easily confined and treated there.” He paused to refill our cups. “The scuttlebutt is that the property was ‘gifted’ by the Cowled Wizards Council upon request by the Council of Six. But, as I said, that’s just hearsay…”
“No, Father has made no mention, but then I haven’t seen a great deal of him lately. He’s been traveling abroad off and on for the past several months.” I made a mental note to ask Father exactly what he knew. And, hearing the ‘Council of Six’ was directly involved piqued my curiosity.
“Yes, but getting back to your proposed project,” he smiled. “That is ambitious, Glory. I do admire you for tackling such an undertaking. And, I think some of my current research might be of use to you, as well.” He smiled from ear to ear and raised his bushy red eyebrows.
“Your current research?” I asked, hoping that it is was on the illithid as I had heard.
“Oh, yes, Glory. Since you were here, and since I have moved into this wonderful new facility, I have made great strides in unlocking many of the secrets of the illithid’s mind. Well, I believe my research will stand on its own. But some rather startling breakthroughs.”
“And, have you ventured into new areas regarding the mindflayers?” I smiled and asked.
“Not exactly. But I think I have discovered not only the exact part of their brain that creates the illithid’s psionic abilities, but the physiological ‘switch’ as well.” He was literally beaming. “And I am near to isolating the physical part that ties the living illithid directly to the elder-brain. A few more weeks, I believe, and I will have it pinned down…..” He paused. “But I haven’t told anyone yet. I want to complete the last part that encompasses the intra-link, then I want to get my notes together so that I can present a paper at the end of summer at the National Symposium of Sciences. I…I wanted to keep it quiet until then. I trust I can depend upon your discretion?” The typical researcher’s ego was alien to him and he slightly blushed with embarrassment at his revolutionary accomplishments.
“Of course, Dr. Salzston! I can assure you that I will certainly say nothing until you are ready to make your findings public,” I smiled. “And, congratulations to you. That is a remarkable achievement.” I leaned over and patted his hand affectionately.
This was a huge discovery. If what he claimed was true, I could indeed use his research, and with a little urging, I could get him to help me with my real goal without him even knowing it.
We talked for another hour after which he gave me a guided tour of the facility. Unlike his personal office, his laboratories were meticulously ordered. Whoever his benefactor was, they had spared no expense in outfitting the building with the latest in research equipment -- apparatus I had never seen before and had no clue as to their function. Dr. Salzston rapidly explained many of them as we went along. “And this little beauty literally magnifies the substance you are viewing on this tiny glass slide,” he was explaining what he called a microscope, “by a series of ground glass lenses through this tiny tube.” He quickly slid in a sample and directed me to peer into the tube. I bent my head and peaked through the tiny pinhole. By the Gods! There were hundreds of tiny creatures moving in errant directions before my eye.
“This, for example, is a close-up view of the tiny parasites that inhabit the tapon trees in the south of Amn. Although we have always know they existed by virtue of empirical lore, with this machine we have the ability to actually see them.”
I thought of my beautiful desk in my office giving off its warm rich smell of vanilla. So it really was as Cernd had described and here I was seeing the little creatures responsible for the first time.
“And, over here we have one of the greatest inventions of all time.” He directed my attention to a half-meter square box with multiple wires running in and out of it. On the side was a crank handle and several nondescript dials rested atop it. He proudly laid his hands on the inconspicuous devise. “This, my dear Glory, is what is known as a generator. Up until now, we have only had benefit of large concentrated charges of electricity and mostly through magical means. And the degrees of those charges vary substantially according to the spell and the spellcaster. One of the biggest problems we have always had, as you will remember, is actually harnessing the energy for a particular use after it was produced by the spell. With this little box,” he patted it lovingly, “we can actually generate a flow of electrical energy, and we can regulate and control it to suit our needs. Of course, this is for low to medium intensity only, but it suits my current research into the illithid brain perfectly.” There was an unusual glee under toning his words and I immediately wondered exactly what he meant. Hadn’t he just told me about his current research? I didn’t readily see the connection. “Not to worry, Glory,” he smiled, “You will be a master at all the new devices we have here because I will personally teach you. Ah, thanks be to Oghma that he has sent you.” He clapped his hands together at his spontaneous supplication. In his eyes, Oghma had sent him a playmate.
Our tour continued with Dr. Salzston’s private laboratory where numerous brains of all races and species were suspended in various liquids in all manner of glass jars. There was also another, smaller electrical generator. This generator’s wiring was connected to a larger glass bell jar with various slender prongs suspended from inside of it. On closer examination, it appeared that something could be placed within the curved plate at the bottom of the glass enclosure, and judging from the length of wiring that was attached to the prongs, they, in turn, could be attached to the something on the plate. From the base of the jar another set of wires ran to a close-fitting skullcap made of leather lying on the table. I deduced that he was, in fact, running electrical charges through the bell jar and into any number of the brains he had at his disposal. But to what end? And what of the skullcap that seemed to be integrated as part the process? Without asking him directly I could only speculate, and I didn’t want to ask him right now. There would hopefully be time enough for that later and I could ill afford to let my anxiety get the best of me now. Anxiety. A researcher’s worst enemy.
After the tour, we made our way back to his office to work out a preliminary working schedule. I would be in the laboratory every morning, but his limited teaching schedule put him in the lecture hall on every other morning of the working eight days of a normal tenday. Other than that, he was totally ensconced in the laboratory. Still no family and still no other human ties except for those he had developed with a few pieces of anonymous gray matter.
I readied to leave. “I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to your project,” he beamed as he walked with me to the road where my carriage awaited. “I have not had such a challenge in a long time, Glory, and it pleases me no end to be able to assist you in any way I can.” He held the door for me as I stepped up into the carriage.
“I, too, am very much looking forward to our association. There is no doubt in my mind that it will prove to be mutually beneficial.” I smiled at him and leaned down to squeeze his hand. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself anxious to get my own surreptitious project started. Under different circumstances this would be enjoyable and rewarding but this was a must-do, can’t-fail quest. Anything short of full success held potentially dire consequences. And it had to be quick. Definitely quick results.
It was a peaceful and quiet ride home where I was greeted by Hendak, Riona, Anomen, and Sashar. We all sat down to the noon meal and patiently waited for Drusay to finish serving before beginning our discussion.
“It went well with Dr. Saltzson,” I began. “Without boring all of you with superfluous details, we begin in four days. He has made some interesting discoveries recently that I believe will aid me in reaching our goal, and I will have the benefit of the whole of the laboratory to myself every other morning when he is lecturing. I….I don’t know how long it will take me. Although I will caution all of you against generating any hopes for an immediate solution.” I nodded in Sashar’s direction.
“That is splendid…splendid that you have succeeded in so quickly securing what you require to research our needs,” Sashar ignored my caveat, but he, too realized it was a do-or-literally-die situation and there was no harm in being optomistic.
Sashar had the opportunity of meeting earlier with Riona, Anomen, and Hendak and had explained in greater detail the information imparted by his source. Unfortunately, it became clear during our conversation that the still un-named source had no information that would benefit me, or my part, directly. The source had also not yet identified the compromised members of the Council.
“We have sent messengers to the other four in our party and two have replied an affirmative, one a nay, and one we haven’t heard from. Valygar is on a brief holiday at his cabin in Umar Hills and we have not had enough time to hear from him, but I quite well imagine we will by this time tomorrow. And, Jaheira will not be able to join us. She and her husband Viga are in a, er, ‘family way,’ and such a trip with such dangers would be very ill advised. Minsc will join us when we pick up Imoen. We will also have Valygar meet us there, assuming he consents,” Riona said. That made six, including Hendak. I had tried to keep the thought from my mind. The thought of him going with them.
“My Mother will be here late tomorrow,” Hendak said. He turned to me. “And what are we going to tell Tabor?”
“I see no choice but to tell him the truth,” I sighed. “Anyway, I have to ask him about the Cowled Wizards granting Spellhold to the Amnish government to be rebuilt and turned into a government-run institution supposedly for the severely mentally insane.” An involuntary shudder raced through Riona. Sensing her reaction, Anomen quickly picked up her hand and squeezed it reassuringly.
“They…they’re going to re-open Spellhold?” she asked. I nodded then looked at Sashar to see if he had anything to add.
“That is a confirmed ‘rumor’,” he nodded. “Apparently it has been in the works for a few months but because of some bureaucrat deeming it of national security interest, we have been unable to disseminate the information to the public.”
“Why would it be a national security issue?” asked Hendak. “Unless, of course, someone, or something, needed an obscure, far-away location for some type of covert operation, or to secret away certain troublesome individuals.” He paused. “Sounds like someone learned a few very bad tricks from some very bad wizards.” He was referring to what Spellhold had become before Irenicus and, subsequently, Riona and her party had arrived. Until then, a small group of less-than-honorable wizards had held sway over the Cowled Wizards and had summarily and arbitrarily sent many poor individuals to a grizzly fate on the dark island. Irenicus had changed that by commandeering the facility and converting it into a successful, albeit heinous, experiment on soul extraction. After a huge battle, Riona and her party had literally chased the mad elf and his vampiric sister from the island, but by the time Riona had rescued her sister Imoen and fled in pursuit of those holding both their souls, no one was left, either jailer or inmate, and no one had set foot in it for the past four-plus years. It was an un-holy, loathsome place filled with tortured souls of the dead.
My training told me we were resurrecting excruciatingly painful memories for Riona. Her eyes paled and she slumped ever so slightly in her chair as Anomen continued to firmly hold her hand. I was sure she was still somewhat haunted by the memories of her Bhaal taint coming to life and near killing all those she loved. It had happened there, and no, she had not told me. Anomen did during one of our sessions. It was the only time I ever saw true fear in his eyes.
“Perhaps the controlled members of the Council of Six had something to do with this,” Anomen offered. “It would certainly fill a certain, er, need for them. Perhaps more ways than one.”
“It would certainly make sense,” Sashar scratched at his chin. “Such a facility far enough removed from the eyes of the prying public would be most beneficial to their cause, just as it was for the Cowled Wizards.” He turned to me, “No disrespect to your father, Glory, as I know he was never affiliated with the nefarious faction responsible for Spellhold at that time.”
“None taken,” I reassured him.
“I will delve into this and see what some of my sources in the Government District have to say. I will also run it by my original source. He may be in possession of a tidbit of information that he doesn’t even know he has!”
“Before I completely forget it and I don’t know what use it can be to you, Glory, but I have brought you a present. Actually two presents,” said Riona snapping from her bad memories. She arose from the table and left the room in search of her backpack. She returned with two bizarre looking neckpieces. I couldn’t tell if they were collars or enchanted necklaces.
“Anomen reminded me I had these. We took them from the illithid’s underground compound in the Underdark when we freed their slaves. They were manufacturing these with some type of machine. Although we never used them, the slaves assured us if we could get close enough to get one on an illithid, the collar would subdue it to our will.” She sat the collars on the table. “I don’t know how it can be of use to you, but they’re all yours.” I picked one up and examined it. It appeared to be a strange intertwining of both wires and another substance, which I couldn’t readily identify. Both were perfectly identical with the wires’ formation fashioned in the exact same manner.
I picked up one and held it out to her. “Here,” I said. “Bring me back a live one.”
She looked at me and blinked not quite sure that she had heard me.
“Yes, that is what I said,” I half-smiled at her. “The best research is always done on a live subject. If you can find and capture an illithid and spirit him away with this, without disturbing the hive, I would certainly have a better chance of more quickly ascertaining exactly how they control their own victims. It would make it possible to produce something – either a serum to protect us from them or a blocker serum to disable their special abilities.” She took the collar from me and I picked up the other. “I will take the other one to the lab with me. I am sure Dr. Salzston would be most interested in such an apparatus.” I smiled to myself thinking how the scientist wouldn’t be able to control his enthusiasm for such a mechanism.
Riona looked at Anomen and then at Hendak.
“Alright,” she said. “The Gods help us, but if you want one of those slimy bastards to poke around on, then who am I to quarrel? You shall have it, my friend.” She looked again to Anomen and Hendak.
“That means we have to find a hive and get in and snatch one of them and bring him back here alive. Without getting caught.”
The three nodded in agreement. There was no discussion. Securing a live illithid would be top of their priority list.
“Splendid! Splendid!” clapped Sashar.
Suddenly I felt more hopeful than I had felt in the past three days. Between what I guessed Dr. Saltzson was covertly researching and the possibility of having a live specimen to test some of his theories, we might just have a fighting chance.
“And bring me a bucket full of spawn, preferably alive, but—“
“You’re pushing it, you know,” she smiled down at me. I could see hope in her eyes as well.
“Yes, I know, but it never hurts to ask. Father always says if you don’t ask, you don’t get.” I laughed. The first time I had laughed in three days.
TO BE CONTINUED………
Mind Games II
No replies to this topic
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users