From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston
(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, mild language, mild violence, heart-stealing rogues)
It was already a busy day. I sat at my writing desk to begin my basic research outline. I actually devised two--one for my real project, and one for my ‘supposed’ project. I had also integrated the two schedules as well as I could so as not to duplicate efforts and to not raise suspicions while Dr. Salzston was assisting. It was going to be tricky, but I had no alternative options. I knew in the back of my mind that eventually I would have to bring him into my confidence. I would have to rely upon my instincts to know how and when without jeopardizing my objective.
My eyes ached and I removed my half-glasses and massaged the bridge of my nose. From where I sat in our apartment, I could see the spires of Waukeen’s Church gleaming in the late morning sun. The sight was comforting with the little white powder puffs drifting lazily behind them in the azure sky.
I thought of the conversation with Father the evening before. Yes, he had known about the Spellhold disposition, but it was a gift of reciprocation. Loosely translated, the government was willing to ‘overlook’ certain legal transgressions by a handful of zealous members of the Cowled Wizards if the bureaucrats could get their hands on Spellhold. As the Wizards had no future plans for Spellhold and would also be relieved of the unpaid taxes that had accumulated over the past several years, the Wizards’ governing body felt it was a win-win-win situation. Of course he had voted ‘yes,’ and never thought to question anyone’s motives. For the Wizards, it was simply a good business decision.
My questions had, however, stirred his curiosity and had led me, and the others when they joined us, to tell him the complete story. I had thought he would react with his usual intensity, but he did not. Instead, he had slumped back in his chair, his face suddenly drawn, and his eyes grew even darker. He had calmly nodded, almost knowingly.
“I see…,” he had said. He looked at Hendak. “And you are going with Riona and Anomen?” He nodded toward them as they sat on the opposite sofa in the lounge.
“Yes, Tabor. I must. But Mother will be arriving tomorrow to be here and assist with any, shall we say, security issues that might arise until I return,” he replied.
“As a father, I understand that you must do what you must do, Hendak,” he nodded. Then he had turned back to me.
“And, Daughter, you are going ahead with this research that is needed?”
“Yes, Father. I have already arranged everything,” I had said.
“Well, we must all do what we can, and must do, in situations like these. Athkatla and Amn have enjoyed many years of peaceful prosperity. It seems only part of the natural cycle that a perilous threat of some nature should rear its head.” Father’s philosophical side was virtually unknown to me. “I will busy myself preparing special spells for you to give to your sister Imoen, Riona. I understand she is very capable at spell casting,” he had said. “You will need every advantage and this is one area with which I can assist.”
“Thank you, Tabor,” Riona had said. “Your assistance is most welcome.”
We had hastily downed our evening meal and Father had gone to his study to work on the promised scrolls into the early morning hours.
Yesterday’s musings were interrupted with Margarite at the door.
“Madam, we are ready for our outing to the Coronet,” she reminded me.
“Oh yes, Margarite,” I replied. “As soon as I apply a little rouge, I will be ready. It will only be a moment – I will meet you downstairs.”
A few moments later I was putting on my cloak and we were taking Helena and Haandor to visit their biggest fan club – the crew at the Coronet. It would be a respite from the tension of the prior few days.
It was a nice visit. Cook had prepared my favorite stew, all the while perching either one, or the other, twin on her hip showing him, or her, her culinary skills and no less than two special seasoning secrets. And, she had prepared her special chocolatl mousse that the twins decided was the greatest thing that had ever passed their two little teeth. Bernard even found time to elicit a few shrill shrieks of delight by bouncing each up and down several times. It was interesting to watch the big and usually gruff, burly man being so gentle and playful with them.
Hendak left early with us but not before telling Bernard he was going to be away for possibly a few weeks, and he was in charge of the place. His departure was most unusual, especially with no notice, and Bernard looked troubled and puzzled. Just a few things he needed to take care of for Waukeen, Hendak explained. Bernard nodded and seemed momentarily satisfied with the explanation.
By the time we arrived at the great house, Mother Waukeen greeted us at the door. “Tabor is awaiting us all in the lounge,” she smiled as she picked up her grandchildren and was instantly smothered with drooling baby kisses and hugs. They loved their grandmother with the golden eyes. She kissed each one and then turned to me. “I will just help Margarite put the little ones down for a nap and return shortly.” She turned and walked toward the stairs, babies and grandmother giggling at some unspoken conversation while Margarite trailed closely behind. ‘Ohhh…’ I groaned inside. ‘What are my children going to be like when they get older?’ I just didn’t know if I was up to the task of successfully mothering two very special children. I would have to ask Waukeen what I could expect of their unique abilities and deal with them as they developed. Thank the Gods I had Hendak, Father, and her to help me through what I was sure would come.
Father greeted Hendak and me as he poured a glass of sherry for each of us.
“Riona and Anomen are on their way back from the Mart,” he told us. “A final shopping spree, I imagine.” I noticed the new scroll case sitting off to the side of the serving table. “Yes,” said Father as he nodded to the case. “A small contribution to the cause. Some of my best work, I believe. It’s been a long time since I have worked so diligently on such a collection.” His weariness tinged his voice. Waukeen entered the room and his face brightened.
“Mission successful,” she smiled. “Tykes are duly dream bound for the moment.” She took the glass offered to her and lightly kissed Father’s cheek. “Thank you, my darling,” she cooed and we all sat down. A few minutes later Riona and Anomen arrived and joined us.
“We got a confirmation from Valygar,” Riona said. “He will meet us at Imoen’s late tomorrow. And we finished up getting what we need from the Mart. Ribald was rather curious what we were up to. I suspect he still gets an itch for an adventure every now and then.”
I cringed ever so lightly. It all meant they were leaving early tomorrow.
“I have prepared a selection of scrolls for your sister, Riona. There are duplicates of most and in many cases I have included three of the same. I know she is fairly proficient, and I have tried to keep them practical as well as controllable for her,” Tabor said as he handed her the scroll case.
“I, too, have brought you something, my son,” said Waukeen. She waved her hand and a bright flash extended noiselessly from the center of the room as it momentarily blinded all of us. When our vision cleared, a brilliantly bladed short sword lay on the floor. The afternoon sun caught the edge of the blade in a split prismatic spray of the red spectrum. Overall, there was an odd reddish hue to the blade’s forged material. She walked over and picked it up by the smooth silvery hilt. “I had Gond make this for you,” she explained and walked over to Hendak and handed it to him. “He named it the Balanced Scales.”
Hendak took the sword and the metal of the hilt immediately molded to fit his grip. He stood up and walked to the center of the room where he parried an invisible foe to judge balance and handling. Step. Thrust. Step, step. Slash down right, pull back, thrust, slash left across. Riona and Anomen smiled and watched his fluid movements. He stopped almost as soon as he began and shook his head with approval. The scene chilled me to the bone. I had never seen Hendak wield a sword and it was obvious that the skills he had developed during his years as an enslaved fighter had not been dulled. Other than being a half-God, there was a good reason he had survived.
“It’s excellent, Mother,” he said and smiled at her approvingly. He gently caressed the gold coin pommel mounted on the end of the hilt. His Mother’s signature.
“I am glad you find it satisfactory, my darling son,” she smiled as she resumed her seat next to Tabor. “This blade is very special. It is forged from the fused scales of an ancient red dragon of some renown. I won’t go into exactly which dragon, but let us just say, one with great distinction within his ranks. Consequently, the blade is nearly unbreakable. When Gond forged it, he enchanted it bringing forth its inherent power of fire so that when you use it, it will also project searing white heat into its victim.” Everyone sat rapt with Waukeen’s explanation of her gift. “I have also added a little ‘extra’ of my own to its abilities. You will be able to distinguish truth from falsehood as long as the sword is in your possession. When someone, or something, is attempting to deceive you, the blade will glow a shade of red. And the intensity of the glow will be in direct proportion to the degree of the falsehood. It is virtually infallible.” She paused. “Try it.”
Hendak held the sword point down and turned to Anomen. “Anomen, do you love Riona?” he asked.
“Yes, I do,” he answered. We all looked to the blade. The blade did nothing.
“Anomen, would you lay down your life for her?” he asked.
“No,” he lied intentionally. The blade suddenly sprang to life with an intense, eerie red glow accompanied by a low hum. We watched the effect subside.
“Very impressive, Mother. Very impressive, indeed,” Hendak smiled and inspected the blade further. He walked over and showed it to Anomen and Riona. He handed it to Riona and the hilt immediately melded to her grip. She smiled and stepped to the center of the room gently wielding the weapon. She nodded with approval and returned it to Hendak.
“Guard it well, my Son, and may it protect you and lay low those that would seek to do you harm.”
“Thank you, Mother. It is the most magnificent gift,” and he walked to her and kissed her cheek.
“Oh, and before I forget, I do have one other small treasure for you,” Waukeen said and with a wave a small round mirror appeared in her hand. “I have, shall we say, ‘transferred’ a portion of my ability to communicate at great distances that you might be able to ‘see’ home, and that we may be able to ‘see’ you upon your journeys. However, there are no audible abilities attached to it because of the distance factor with which I know we must contend. You need only to speak my name in order to bring forth the picture and mentally direct its path. ” Then she smiled and added, “However, I am sure you will want to utilize your dream sharing with Glory during your sleeping hours.”
“Dream sharing?” Hendak was perplexed as he and put the sword in the elegant scabbard that had appeared with it. He took the mirror from her.
“Yes, my dear boy. You may visit Glory when you sleep. Much in the same way I visit the both of you and the children in your dreams. Just consciously direct your dream to where you want to be and awaken within it. Call Glory’s name and she will appear to you, almost as you see her now. Then awaken her in your dream. Your bodies will both remain where you are sleeping, but your essences can commune on the dream plane. Do not fear, you will master it in no time.” She paused. “It is just a small part of your heritage that I did not tell you about because I thought you had no need for it until now.”
Father lightly cleared his throat. From the amused look on his face, he had apparently had a few visitations of his own as a result of Waukeen’s dream sharing. In any case, he didn’t look particularly surprised at her revelation.
Hendak looked at me and grinned. “It won’t be so bad, my love,” he said sitting down by me and taking my hands in his. He didn’t understand what comfort it gave me that in the middle of the night I could simply reach over and touch him, and just know he was there. I had to again remind myself that I completely understood why he had to go, why he had to do this.
The conversation turned to the additional weaponry and supplies Riona and Anomen had secured at the Mart. My thoughts drifted back to Dr. Salzston’s laboratory. The new and different equipment intrigued me in the same way the Balanced Scales intrigued Hendak, Riona, and Anomen. The generator attached to the bell jar was of particular interest to me. What had he been doing? Nothing he had said or shown me in his cursory outline of notes even remotely addressed the strange contraption with the adjacent leather headpiece. Was he actually accessing quiescent memories stored in the brains of sentient beings? It was, offhand, the only explanation that I could derive, but it was still incredibly far-fetched. It was the grist of dark material for stories and myths that were attributed to un-holy necromancers.
“Glory,” Hendak repeated. Hearing my name brought me back to the group.
“My apologies,” I said. “I was just thinking about Dr. Salzston’s lab and some very interesting and new equipment he is utilizing in his current experimentation.”
“Well, that is in part the answer to the question which was posed,” Hendak smiled. “Riona asked you if you had every thing you need now.”
I smiled. “All but the real, live, specimen I have requested. And, of course, the bucket of beasts, as well.” The request for the spawn had become a running joke over the past day. Everyone laughed and the immediate levity helped to cut the heavy atmosphere. “Seriously, I am sure I will have everything I need. I will actually begin in two days, but I will be over there and set up in the interim and Dr. Salzston has been kind enough to offer me a temporary office that will suffice quite nicely. Charona will be keeping my office open part time and many of my patients are being referred to other associates. Those who wish to delay treatment because they do not want to change therapists, and can afford to do so from a ‘health’ point of view, are being told that I will be returning within a matter of several tendays.”
Again, Charona was doing exactly as I asked and asking no questions as to my motives. Gods, I was going to miss that girl when she went out on her own and married the young Knight.
“All I really have to do is go by my office and pick up a few odds and ends to take with me, and, also, Maurice.” Maurice would be invaluable in recording and organizing my research notes. How Dr. Salzston was able to accomplish anything while constantly stopping and writing results and observations was beyond me. Years of experience, I supposed.
“And to put everyone’s mind at ease,” Father began, “the great house is under the protection of a masterful wizard and a truly divine Goddess.” He leaned over and kissed Waukeen’s hand. He was on his fourth glass of sherry and the strain was still visible in his tired eyes.
Hendak nodded. Mother Waukeen would supply us with divine protection in his absence as I knew he would have no less for his loved ones in his absence.
Drusay stood in the double doorway to announce that dinner was served. It was a bit early but there were still preparations to be made for the early morning departure. Riona and Anomen would check and recheck the goods that would accompany them and the packs had to be loaded and readied. They would use a supply horse to Imoen’s house where they could reallocate the supplies and additional weaponry to the other party members. Then they would go on foot to the entrance to the Underdark.
Anomen had told me of the Underdark during one of our sessions. It rivaled Spellhold with its foreboding world filled with unnatural nether creatures and the remnants of the dark elves. Every turn held dangerous and bleak consequences for any misstep by an unwary surfacer. The spore mushrooms alone could be lethal and I didn’t want to recall the ‘really dangerous’ creatures, as Anomen had described them.
Dinner was somber. Father tried vainly to lighten the mood but was unsuccessful. Even Waukeen’s attempts to help him enliven our little group seemed somewhat subdued and half-hearted.
Riona and Anomen excused themselves immediately after mixed berry pie to go and pack the supplies stored in the carriage house adjacent to the stable. Hendak had offered to assist but was told a third person would be in the way and he should take advantage of spending the time with the twins and me. He didn’t argue with them.
We kissed Father and Waukeen goodnight and made our way up to our apartment. We could hear the twins playing with Margarite in the nursery.
“Shall we go and see our wonderful babies?” Hendak smiled and took my hand to lead me. We entered to squeals of delight and toddling babies coming in our direction. They had both only been walking for the last tenday and still didn’t quite have their balance mastered. One stumbled, falling on the floor and immediately brought the other down with him. Babies rolled on the floor giggling uncontrollably as Daddy reached down and picked them up by their shirts, one squirming uncontrollably in each hand. Ki ran from side to side on his perch. He loved watching these play times as much as the twins enjoyed the actual playing.
As was her custom, Margarite excused herself to her room for the duration of our family togetherness. It had become our custom to play, to ready them for sleep, to read stories, to rock, and finally put them in their little beds for their night’s rest. We did this together every night that other obligations did not interfere. Tomorrow night I would enter and they would stumble past me looking for Daddy, but he would be somewhere between here and the Underdark.
“And you promise you will be careful and not do anything foolish?” I still had a tear left, as I lay snuggled up against him with his arms wrapped tightly around me.
“Yes, my love, I promise I will be very careful. I have no intention of abandoning this half-mortal coil anytime soon,” he said and kissed the crown of my head. “But know I will miss you my love.” Our lovemaking had been tender and full of emotion. Knowing that we could not be with each other for an indeterminate time made us both realize our closeness was a treasure we had cultivated over the almost five years we had been together. We had unfortunately grown into the habit of taking it for granted.
I fought the sleep that eventually took me from the haven of my lover’s arms.
The morning dawned hazy, humid, and red with the promise of a sweat-filled day. Everything was packed and stowed and the three adventurers had readied themselves for the first leg of their journey. They would be at Imoen’s house late afternoon if all went well.
They were preparing to depart and we all stood outside the stable ready to say our goodbyes. I knew this scene was new and awkward for Riona and Anomen. When they adventured or traveled, they simply put together their things and went. There was no family for them other than Anomen’s father, Sir Ryan Trawl, and Anomen’s travel plans were more a topic of conversation as compared to emotional sendoffs. But Sir Ryan understood these things having campaigned many years for the Order. The ‘road’ was a way of life.
This was different. Father, Waukeen, the twins, and I all stood in the dewy, early morning waiting to take our turns of hugs, kisses, and blessings granted for a safe and successful journey.
“Remember, my Son. You need only to say my name and the mirror will activate,” Waukeen reminded him as her small delicate frame embraced the metal-clad man. “And, do not worry, as Tabor and I will see to our family here.” I could still see the maternal concern in her golden eyes.
Hendak kissed Helena and Haandor goodbye and elicited a sweet smile from each of the sleepy children. He then turned to me. He put his arms around me and drew me close to the cold, impersonal breast plate he was wearing. The metal was a barrier between us, and one that was totally foreign to me. “Do not forget what I told you,” he whispered in my ear. “And above all, know how much I love you, my MorningGlory.” He kissed me passionately. “I will see you in our dreams, my love, and I will be home before you even miss me.” I already missed him and he wasn’t even gone. He held me tightly and I fought back the resumption of silent tears.
We waved them off down through the alley into the red haze of the eastern sunrise.
Although my heart wasn’t in it, I spent the balance of the morning organizing my outlines for delivery to the laboratory. I had work to do and there was no time like the present to get it started. I ordered a carriage to take me to my office to pick up the few things I needed there.
Charona wasn’t at all surprised to see me. “A few things I need,” I explained and she helped me with a few books and some general supplies. “And, Charona, make sure you pay yourself your full wage of coin while I am involved in this project. And when you get bored, have Sir Conrad come and keep you company.”
She blushed ever so slightly at the sound of her betrothed’s name as she helped me put Maurice into his cage for transport. “Yes, Mistress,” she said.
“And, if you should need me for anything, send a messenger to the Academy,” I said as we closed the carriage door and were on our way. A jovial Dr. Salzston greeted me and by mid-afternoon I was prepared to begin my project.
I sat in my new temporary office. Maurice occupied a new perch at the window.
“Well, Maurice, what do you think of our new quarters?” I asked.
“Quite lovely, Mistress,” he replied. “I do appreciate the pastoral view so much more than that of the Promenade. It is much more conducive to my work for you.”
“It is only temporary, Maurice, until I can conclude my project,” I reminded him.
There was a light rap at the door. “Enter,” I replied. The door opened and Dr. Salzston stood with a plate of fruit and cheese and a pitcher of chowderberry juice.
“I know you haven’t had a noon meal yet,” he smiled. “And I only had a snack earlier, so I took the liberty of having a repast sent ‘round to us. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Please come in and I do not mind at all. It has been such a busy day I forgot to eat!” I was moved by his thoughtfulness.
He entered and sat the tray and pitcher on the low table adjacent to the small sofa. We nibbled and talked. The talk quickly turned work-related.
“I do have one thing, Dr. Salzston, that I would like your opinion on.” I went to my desk and retrieved the collar Riona had given me. I returned and handed it to him. His blank look told me he was not familiar with it. I began to explain.
“It is a neck collar that was given to me by a friend when they found out I wanted to do this project. It is an artifact of the illithids’ design that they use on their slaves. It was retrieved from an underground city far south of here where it was manufactured. It reportedly has the ability of controlling the subject’s will and mind. The most remarkable thing is it is reportedly effective on the illithid as well.”
His bottom lip pursed and his brow slightly furrowed. He said nothing as he turned it over and over again in his hands examining the intricate coils of metal intertwined with the other unknown substance.
“I have never seen anything like this, Glory. Your source is reliable?” he asked. “This is indeed what it is purported to be?” He looked over his glasses at me.
“Impeccable source. Yes, I am quite sure it is what it is purported to be.”
“Then perhaps we should find out exactly what it is made of and see if we can ascertain how it works!” His enthusiasm was immediate. A new toy. “Come, and you can begin to explore the wonderland of equipment at our disposal.” He was anxious to share his toys as well. We left the remainder of our food and made our way to his private lab. Two hours later we had some answers, but not all.
“The metal is gold on gold,” he explained. “But it is coated with two other metals with which I am unfamiliar.” He sighed. “The other material is a molded, inert salt compound but it is not coated with any substance. I am hesitate to guess, but if I had to conjecture anything, it would be that the configuration of the coiling pieces, in effect, ‘short circuits’ the will of the wearer and channels the conscious will of the controller into the subject wearing the device. Energy travels quite clearly and unfettered through gold but is stopped dead by certain salts and can even be absorbed by specific salts. Perhaps the unknown metals coating the gold are receptors of a sort.
"A sort of thought catcher that works against the wearer in favor of supplantation by the controller. The physical product of the brain, as you well know, being nothing more than specifically patterned energy and it simply redirects it.” He turned the collar over again and ran his fingertips along the individual smooth ropes that emanated from an elaborate square clasp. “And although I am not sure that I can disassemble this without destroying it, I would guess this closure contains the mechanism that actually operates the thing.” That would make sense, I thought, seeing as how the clasp itself would sit exactly on any humanoid’s brain stem and whatever intricacies it contained could render a victim virtually senseless.
“I will need some more time to identify the salt, however,” he said slowly nodding his head. He looked up at me. “May I continue to look into this, Glory?” he asked. At first I didn’t know how to answer. If I said ‘yes,’ I might not see the collar again, and yet, if I said ‘no’ without a good reason, it might look suspicious. “If I could please have it back on the ‘morrow,” I said impulsively. My instincts were working again.
“Of course, dear lady,” he smiled. “I know I will have our answer by the morn.” And he winked, fully confident he would be true to his word. We were interrupted by the sound of a small bell indicating someone was in the outer reception area.
“Oh, my,” Dr. Salzston looked slightly perplexed. “I wonder who that might be. I wasn’t expecting anyone. Were you?”
“No. Perhaps it is one of your students,” I offered.
“Shall we see?” He immediately took the collar and put it safely away in a locked cabinet.
We walked from the lab down the hall and through the door into the reception area where a tall, attractive, elegantly-dressed man greeted us. I did not know him but Dr. Salzston did.
“Ah, it is so good to see you,” the Doctor began and hastily walked to the man offering him a hearty handshake of greeting. “It is so fortuitous that you would stop in this afternoon as there is someone here whom I want you to meet. Oh, silly me. Perhaps you already have met and know each other..” He ushered the man to where I was standing. Whoever this man was, he was apparently important enough that the good Doctor was being most solicitous. “This is Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston who will be in temporary residence with me here on a collaborative research project.”
Who was this man? I thought I knew all of the nobles and the wealthy wizards and merchants. They were all in Father’s social circle. But I did not recall this man with such an imposing presence.
“And, Glory, may I present Aran Linvail. He is the generous benefactor of our facility, and, I might add, continuing research grant coin.” The moneyman, I thought.
“It is a pleasure, my Lady.” His smile was warm but his eyes were cold pale blue shaded with thick, dusty blond lashes. “Your reputation precedes you.” His voice was low and melodious yet his eyes were most chilling.
The man’s perfectly manicured fingers gently picked up my hand and brushed it ever so lightly to his lips. I could not help but notice the unusual gold signet ring he wore on his little finger. It bore what appeared to be the bas-relief of a cowl.
“You are much too kind,” I said, almost cautiously.
Linvail…Linvail… Why did that name ring a bell? How did I know the name but not the face or the person? By the Gods!
OF COURSE! From my sessions with Anomen! It all came flooding back. Aran Linvail was the Shadowmaster with the nefarious Shadow Thieves, the dark underbelly of the city’s crime element. By the Gods! He was Athkatla’s premiere crime lord!
Why would a higher-up within Amn’s number-one crime organization have such an avid interest in scientific research, and to the point where he would actually pay for it?
“It is a pleasure to meet such a generous benefactor and patron of the sciences,” I said and almost choked on my own words.
TO BE CONTINUED……
Mind Games III
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