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Mind Games IV

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#1 Guest_MorningGlory_*

Posted 18 March 2004 - 06:40 AM


From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston

(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, mild language, mild violence, sharp-dressed assassins)


“And, pray you, Aran Linvail,” Dr. Salzston began, “what brings you to our humble laboratory.”

“I was returning from Baldur’s Gate and thought I would stop in to extend my regards,” he replied and again glanced in my direction. It made me intuitively uneasy.

“Wonderful! Wonderful! Glory and I were just going to break for afternoon tea. Won’t you join us? Perhaps I could update you on some of my current findings and if you have time, Glory could share her project with you as well.”

“That would be lovely, Doctor.” He turned to face me. “That is… if Madam has no objections to my joining you. If it is inconvenient, then I will come again another day.” Again, the warm smile and chilling gaze as he slightly bowed his head in a gesture of polite acquiescence.

“Of course, please join us for tea, Mister –“ I started to reply.

“Please, my Lady, call me Aran,” he interrupted me and again smiled.

“Very well…, Aran, … and please call me Glory,” I said, returning the smile and a brief nod.

“Tea, you say? Ah…., how can I resist such a gracious invitation for afternoon tea from such a beautiful and charming member of our scientific community?” His highly polished demeanor bespoke his artful persuasiveness. A necessary skill in his position, I thought.

“Shall we retire to my office and I will brew a pot for us,” I offered. I desperately wanted Maurice to get a good look at Aran Linvail. If he was remotely involved with Dr. Salzston’s research, I needed to find out as much as I could about him.

“How lovely, Glory,” Dr. Salzston said. “And while you are doing that, I will quickly run to the Academy kitchen and retrieve some of their delightful petit fours. As I recall, you do have a taste for the raspberry filled ones!” He chuckled and I blushed ever so slightly at being reminded of being caught with a pocket of the sweet nuggets during one of our lab classes. I had been gingerly nibbling away in what I thought was complete privacy when my cache had been discovered and confiscated by the good Doctor. It was still slightly embarrassing to remember. “I trust you can entertain Aran until my return. I shan’t be but a moment.”

“Of course, Dr. Salzston.” He was immediately out the door and started across the green lawn at a crisp gait.

“And, Aran,” I began as we started to my office. “I can assume that you have an avid interest in Dr. Salzston’s research? To be so generous in its support, I mean.”

“Oh, yes, Glory. I have a large interest in his research. Let us just say it is more than a passing fancy.” He very graciously held the door for me and allowed me to enter the room first as he again smiled and slightly bowed. Such impeccable manners were usually reserved for nobility.

I nodded in acknowledgement as I brushed by him through the door. He followed.

“Ah…… A Kirani bird,” he sighed and I saw a glint of warm affection in his eyes. “I had one for many years until he succumbed to old age. I never had the inclination to obtain another, considering my business schedule, and all.” A Kirani could be most helpful in his business, I thought.

“This is Maurice,” I said, making the introduction as I filled the pot with water. One of Father’s heating rods would bring it to the temperature necessary to steep the ground leaves into a welcomed brew.

“Say hello to Mr. Linvail, Maurice,” I instructed my young, inexperienced friend.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Linvail,” Maurice said. Linvail walked over to him and gently stroked his head.

“Good afternoon, Maurice. It is a pleasure to meet you.” There was a definite change in Linvail’s tone of voice. It seemed more natural and void of contrivances.

“Won’t you sit down, Aran?” I asked. “The tea will be ready momentarily and I am sure Dr. Salzston will return shortly with an array of cakes and snacks.”

He laughed. “I have noticed over time that he does have this rather healthy appetite, doesn’t he?”

“Yes, as long as I have known him, and that is almost 8 years now. How long have you known him, Aran?” I asked nonchalantly as I placed cups and saucers, honey and lemon on the small table. I tried to make my curiosity sound like small talk.

“About three years, I believe,” he replied as I poured the hot brown liquid into the porcelain china cup. “I was introduced to him through an associate then on the Board of the Academy.”

Egads, I thought. The Shadow Thieves were everywhere and in everything.

“It was a fund raiser, as I recall, and Dr. Salzston was lamenting the fact his research facilities and equipment were grossly inadequate. He went on to say how the true sciences were being overlooked in favor of researching more arcane magics. At the time I agreed with him wholeheartedly.”

“And you have since changed your opinion?” I asked, rather puzzled at his reply.

“Not at all, your Ladyship,” he smiled his half-smile. “I believe he was absolutely correct then and even more so now. For example, the Academy in Baldur’s Gate recently reduced their operating budget with the hard sciences taking the brunt of the financial cuts. It is probably only a matter of time before this facility will be one of the few still actively engaged in modern scientific research in all of Faerun.” He smiled briefly. “And, I have made a rather sizeable financial commitment to the success of Dr. Salzston’s efforts.”

So, he had given Dr. Salzston carte blanche in his projects and the wherewithal to accomplish them. But to what end? The Shadow Thieves did nothing requiring financial investment without expecting, or demanding, a certain payoff many more times than the original seed-coin. What was he looking to gain?

“As a former graduate of this wonderful institution, Aran, I can only applaud your philanthropic spirit. It is very, very generous of you to underwrite such important work,” I said, hoping he would volunteer more information.

“Thank you, my dear Lady, and I do hope you will avail yourself of this facility in its entirety for your projects. Should you require any additional or specialized equipment, you need only ask and it will be yours.” His generosity was overwhelming but certainly suspect. My instincts begged the question, what did he want from me?

He gently blew on his tea to cool it and the pause gave me the opportunity to study his face. He had unusual blond hair with a slight curl to it, naturally streaked with a pale ashen color alternating with a darker hue of ripe wheat. His squarish face boasted a strong, squared jaw line and he had a few attendant wrinkles lightly embedded around his eyes and the corners of his mouth. I couldn’t tell if they were the result of laughter, or the product of age. He had an expressive mouth with a full bottom lip and a slightly thinner upper lip. His nose was nobly aquiline, but narrow, and set perfectly straight between his finely chiseled cheekbones.

He was actually very handsome except for the vacuous ice blue eyes. There was a disparaging hint of unspeakable cruelty about them that made me shudder. I returned to the conversation.

“And our good Dr. Salzston’s research is of particular interest to you?” I asked as I sipped from my cup and again sought to return our conversation to his particular interest here.

“Dr. Salzston is engaged in particular areas in which I have certain curiosities.” He raised his head and smiled at me. “Areas in which I would like to see him succeed.” When he smiled, his face was warm. I guessed that when he was angry, his face was inhumanly cold. I heard the little bell heralding Dr. Salzston’s return.

“Ah, here we are,” he said as he entered through the door and sat down the tray of tiny cakes. Not only were there cakes but a few stuffed meat pastries and cheese as well. “I decided to pick up a little something extra for the evening meal,” he explained. “But please do help yourself.”

We continued our conversation and Dr. Salzston began to tell Linvail about his current findings regarding the illithid brain function. It was much as he had told me a few days prior, but more in layman’s terms. Linvail sat quietly and nodded his head. He had adopted a rather pensive look and I saw he bore an almost habitual furrowed brow that I had not noticed before. One indicative of deep concentration.

“And you have found this ‘switch’, or so you believe?” he asked.

“Yes, I do believe I have isolated the physical part of the brain that activates their psionic abilities.”

“And do you think you might be able to produce something that can, in turn, control the switch?”

I dropped my cup. His question both shocked and rattled me. The cup shattered as it hit the floor and a splash of the remaining tea arced over the rug.

“Oh, my dear girl, are you alright?” Dr. Salzston jumped to my aid with cloth in hand.

“Yes, Dr. Salzston,” I smiled in an attempt to regain my composure. “Just a silly accident, I fear. The cup handle simply slipped out of my fingers.”

Salzston quickly began to pick up the porcelain chards from the floor and dabbed the spilled tea with the towel.

“Oh, dear Glory. We most assuredly do not want any ill fate to befall you on your first day here! How ever would I explain it to your husband?” Salzston was on all fours scouring the rug under the table for broken bits.

“Oh, you are married?” Linvail asked and looked at me, one eyebrow slightly raised and his half-smile pulling at the corner of his mouth.

“Yes. And I have two beautiful children. Twins,” I replied, politely returning his smile.

“And a mother, too….” I couldn’t tell if he was secretly mocking me or if it was my over-active imagination.

“And you?” I punctuated my question with a tight-lipped smile.

“Alas,” he sighed, “I travel so much and my entrepreneurial life-style isn’t always conducive to the tenets of hearth and home. I am afraid I have never found a woman who could be… shall we say … so understanding to accommodate my schedule and my needs.” Again he smiled but it was almost as if he was smiling to himself, the result of some private, ironic joke.

“Hearth and home are truly wonderful things with the right person,” I began. “It gives one a sense of unity. Perhaps you shall yet find that special someone.” I really had not meant it to sound so haughty.

“Perhaps, indeed,” he replied. “Yes, perhaps, indeed.” He sat down his cup. The sudden indifference displayed in his features told me this visit was over. Whatever he had come for, he had achieved and was soon to take his leave.

The good Doctor had collected the debris and again taken his seat ready to begin where he had left off but Linvail interrupted him before he could even start.

“Dr. Salzston, I hope you will forgive me, but I do have an appointment in the city proper and I must take my leave of you.” He stood up. We followed suit.

“But you just arrived,” Salzston protested mildly. “And I did so want to bring you up to date on my other projects.” He almost pouted.

“Now that I know you have such a charming associate working with you, I can assure you I will be returning more often. Of course, when my schedule permits. And, I promise we will resume our conversation within the next tenday as I do want to be brought up-to-date on your findings.” He stepped to stand directly in front of me but the closeness of his penetrating gaze made me terribly uneasy.

“And, Madam, I cannot tell you what a great pleasure it has been meeting you. It is difficult to comprehend that such loveliness could also possess such intelligence.” He picked up my hand and kissed it. Just a moment longer than what was patently and politely called for.

“And, I, you, Master Linvail,” I responded and attempted to take a step back to allow for a bit more space between us, but the chair prohibited me from doing so. It occurred to me he had ascertained this before he even approached me and had cunningly calculated the physical distance between us as well. I was, in a sense, psychologically and physically subdued. He raised his head and slowly released my hand. He intensified his gaze briefly before retreating and turned to shake Salzston’s hand, thanking him again for his hospitality.

Linvail left and I quickly put my notes away and fed Maurice his evening meal as Dr. Salzston and I traded chitchat. I was still slightly unnerved with meeting Linvail. “Dr. Salzston,” I began but he waved his hand and interrupted me.

“Oh, Glory….why don’t you just call me by my first name. It would be so much easier and since we are going to be working so closely together. You know I do not stand much for such formalities.”

“What is your first name,” I asked and lightly laughed. I couldn’t recall having ever heard it.

“Connor. Connor Elytus Salzston. But no one has called me Connor since my Mother, and she died almost twenty years ago.” He was suddenly sad. He really was a very lonely man. I suddenly felt overwhelming sorrow for him.

“Then Connor it is,” I said. “And, Connor, I will be here in the morning bright and early before your first class that we might be able to spend a few minutes together.” It was a reassurance I knew he needed to hear but I wasn’t quite sure I knew why.

“Yes, Glory…I know you must go home to your family, but I have so enjoyed today and the little time we were able to spend in the laboratory. I have never had anyone with whom to work before that…that understands.”

“Not to worry, Connor,” I smiled and brushed his cheek with my fingers. “You will not be getting rid of me anytime soon, I can assure you. We have much to do.”

“Very well,” he sighed. “Then I will simply munch on my little meat pie and then tackle the mysteries of the collar. Perhaps the Gods will grant me perfect insight on this eve!” The idea that he could play with his new toy immediately reflected in his face and lifted his mood.

“Marvelous idea!” I chimed in. But I still felt pity for him. He was a sweet man and he deserved more than a cold laboratory and dead brains in his life.

It had been a long day starting before dawn and now as I sat alone during the carriage ride home I had a moment to think that my husband would not be there when I arrived. That knowledge made me increasingly gloomy as we neared the great house and I felt a wave of self-pity overcome me.

“Not to worry, dear Daughter,” said Father at dinner. I was pushing the food from one side of the plate to the other with no inclination for consumption.

“I know what will cheer you up,” piped up Waukeen and turned to the mirror over the buffet directly behind her. She closed her eyes for a moment and waved her hand. The reflection in the mirror disappeared and was replaced with a dimly-lit scene of the inside of a modest house. I recognized the house to be that of Imoen’s, from descriptions Riona had mentioned. Centered in the scene was a sleeping Hendak snuggled in his bedroll on the floor. He had assumed his most favorite sleeping position – on his side with his knee pulled up sharply. A position we had fussed about since day one as he always managed to catch me in the back of my thigh. I had to chuckle to myself because he could sleep this way now and he didn’t have anyone nagging at him about it.

“Thank you, Mother Waukeen. Maybe we shouldn’t wake him,” I said and smiled. It wasn’t the same as him being with me, but it was reassuring to see him and know he was safe and sheltered. She smiled and nodded and waved her hand again. The reflection of the mirror returned.

“And, my darling Daughter,” she added, “you may call my name at your dressing table and your mirror will do the same. But the spell is of fairly short duration, so use it wisely and sparingly.”

“Thank you, Mother,” I said as the tears began to well in my eyes.

“I do understand, Glory. When I was held captive for all those many years and had no way of knowing, I spent many a tenday wondering and worrying what was happening to my Haan and my Hendak. I do not wish for you to suffer the not-knowing as did I.” She understood completely.

“I…I think I will go and play with the children for a while and then go to bed,” I said. “I formally begin my research tomorrow and I need to be fresh and bright.”

We said our goodnights and I trudged up the winding staircase to the east end. The hall echoed my steps with an empty sound. From the nursery’s outer door, I could hear the faint noise of children playing quietly.

I opened the door to squeals of delight. Margarite sat in one of the rocking chairs with a book in her hand. Both Helena and Haandor toddled to me then looked behind me. I turned and scooped up one and then the other. They both hugged me and kissed me but kept looking at the door expecting it to be opened by Daddy. The tiny faces looked at me almost questioningly. Haandor opened his mouth.

“Da-de,” he said softly. “Da-de?” It was a question. It was his first word.

“Daddy is not here, but he is safe and he will be home soon and he loves you both very much,” I said as if he and Helena could understand what I was saying. They both quietly lay their heads down on each shoulder. Then Helena opened her mouth.

“Ma-ma,” she said softly. “Ma-ma.” Her small hand patted my chest. It was her first word. Hendak had missed their first words.

I spent the next hour playing and reading to my little muffins, trying to make up for the fact that their Father was not there. Margarite helped me put them both to bed and I kissed them goodnight before I retired to my own bedchamber.

I was tired and sleep came strangely suddenly. I found myself in another place. It was a dream, I knew, but it was almost as real as the world where my body lay. It was a beautiful flower-filled meadow.

“I thought you would never go to sleep, my love,” he said. I turned and my smiling Hendak was standing beside me. He embraced me tightly and I could feel the physical sensation of his arms around me. It was just as Waukeen said.

I spent morning meal with my children and then a few moments with Waukeen and Father in the dining room.

“I gather the dream sharing went well?” Waukeen smiled.

“It is quite remarkable,” I said and lightly blushed.

“Very good,” she said and the matter was closed. She had no interest in intruding upon our private moments.

By mid-morning I was deep into Connor’s published papers on the illithid. So much more knowledge had been gained since I had studied several years earlier. Explorers and adventurers such as Riona and her party had brought back valuable information that had proven, and also debunked, earlier theories. There was enough factual information to formulate a more complete picture of them and their culture, but there were still gaping holes. To say that some of the new discoveries were even more chilling than the erroneous theories they replaced would have been a gross understatement.

At first I didn’t hear the bell heralding a visitor in the reception area. Connor was in class until past noon meal so I knew it couldn’t be him. I heard a light rapping at my door.

“Enter.” I suddenly realized I was alone and for all intents and purposes, virtually defenseless. I clutched my amulet that Waukeen had gifted me at our union ritual. It imparted protection but I had never had to rely upon it. The door opened slowly. Aran Linvail stood there with the half-smile that crooked the corner of his mouth.

“Hello, Aran,” I said, somewhat relieved, and rose from my chair.

“Good morning, Madam,” and he bowed ever so slightly.

“Connor..er, Dr. Salzston is in class this morning,” I began. “He is not expected to return until after noon meal.” I was quite sure I was not telling him something he did not already know.

“Yes, my Lady, I must confess I am aware of the good Doctor’s class schedule. I am actually here to see you.” The combination of his smile, his ice-blue eyes and his directness caught me off guard and again I was made uncomfortable. His presence was intimidating, plain and simple. This was a handsome and very powerful man who was accustomed to getting exactly what he wanted and when he wanted it, whatever the means. Professionally, I would have categorized him as amoral. Totally devoid of any sense of moral right or wrong as defined by civilized society. Yes, not knowing what he wanted or the intrinsic value of it piqued my curiosity more than the discomfort I felt under his scrutinizing stare.

“May I come in?” He must have sensed my momentary hesitancy as I detected a softening in the tenor of his tone and his eyes thawed ever-so-slightly.

“Of course. Do forgive me,” I said trying to cover my faux pas, hoping my cheeks did not show the slight blush of the warmth they felt. “May I offer you some tea?”

He walked over to Maurice and patted his head. “No thank you, my Lady. Good morning, Maurice. How are you this beautiful day?” It was a genuine smile on his face.

“Good morning, Master Linvail. I am very well, thank you,” replied Maurice.

“How lovely…” He then turned and walked over to me, taking my hand very gently and raised it to his face. His lips intently pressed the back of my hand and I could feel the warm breath against my fingers. “And, how are you, my Lady, on this beautiful day?” He stood close enough that his eyes were almost mesmeric and I faintly caught the scent of lavender and sage. I steeled my voice.

“I am very well, Aran,” I replied. “And you?”

“Equally so, I assure you,” he smiled down into my face and slowly stepped back.

The intentional intimidation of his overt closeness had again unnerved me but I put on my most professional demeanor. “Now, how may I assist you, Aran?”

He moved around to the other side of my desk and removed his cloak. He was dressed in a midnight blue velvet Eton jacket with a silk brocade waistcoat and black breeches. The front knife pleats of his linen shirt were perfectly stitched and pressed. He seated himself in one chair and draped the cloak carefully over the back of the other.

“Your Ladyship, I need your expert assistance,” he said.

“I am not accepting any patients while I am on my research project here,” I began to explain, wondering what in the Gods names could I ever help him with.

His half-smile stopped me instantly and I said nothing further. It was obvious he wasn’t accustomed to being so readily refused.

“Please….hear me out, then I will abide by whatever decision you make.” He smiled again and cleared his throat. “I have an employee that is in dire need of your talents, dear Lady. And, from my information as to your professional acumen, you may be able to work a miracle for this young man.” He paused and his half-smile appeared. “Perhaps if I could give you an idea of the circumstances surrounding his current emotional difficulties, you might deem him worthy enough to make an exception.”

“Perhaps if I did know of the nature of his difficulties, I could possibly make recommendations and refer him to a very competent alternative therapist,” I conceded to listen to him.

“This is a very bright and educated young man who was once a scribe and librarian in the city of Baldur’s Gate. He was, unfortunately, the victim of an illithid raiding party while traveling to the south of Amn. He was taken as a thrall into their underground city in the Underdark where he served an elder illithid during his scant few months of captivity there. Originally, I am sure they took him for food, but before he was put on the menu, he and the other slaves was rescued by a young adventuress and her party. Perhaps you have heard of Riona?” He smiled again.

“Oh, yes,” I replied and returned my own forced smile. “Who hasn’t?” I offered no more information. I didn’t have to. I knew he already knew I knew her, and well. A million thoughts raced through my mind. What did he really want? Why was he suddenly on my doorstep with a gift straight from Helm himself? A first-hand witness who might be able to impart some very, very valuable pieces of information to help us in our cause? And why had he not ‘introduced’ this witness to Connor before now?

“Well, my dear Lady,” he continued, “the young man is having recurring anxiety attacks as a result of his heinous captivity, even now almost five years later. And I thought that since I am his employer and he is a valued employee, it is my responsibility to obtain the best professional help available for him. And, you have the reputation to do that very thing.” He paused to let it all sink in. I detected a softening in his face as he waited for me to respond.

“You are most magnanimous, Aran,” I replied fully realizing my double meaning. “I perhaps could make time for this special case, especially since you have expressed such a special interest in this young man and his better health. Yes, I would be happy to schedule time to visit with him.”

“I was hoping that your generosity of spirit matched your exquisite beauty, dear Lady.” He paused then leaned toward me. “And, I hope that your husband appreciates you and your many talents,” he said. His voice was imbued with a sincerity that frightened me more than his self-serving, polished glibness of yesterday.

“I can assure you, Aran, that he does,” I replied with equal sincerity. He sat back.

“Now, if I may suggest, I will bring him around say, day after ‘morrow at mid-morn? That way you may have the privacy I am sure you will need while the good Doctor is in class.”

“That would be acceptable, Aran,” I agreed. “And what is this young man’s name?”

“Warhol. Nigel Warhol.”

Linvail left shortly thereafter but not until he had kissed my hand in his inimitable fashion.

I sat in total amazement as I heard the outer door close behind him.

“Maurice, give me your impression of Master Linvail,” I said.

“With regard to what aspects, Mistress?” he replied in question.

“In general.”

“He is intelligent, articulate, educated – though I would guess not formally, judging from some very slight differences of his speech nuance. He is imbued with the social graces of good manners and decorum, quite polished, ” he began.

“A little more in-depth as to character, please, Maurice,” I asked.

“He is very complex, Mistress. Several complex aspects occupying the same physical body. Undoubtedly as a result of his intelligence.”

“How so?”

“He is single-minded and ruthless, Mistress, as evidenced in his eyes and facial expressions. On the other hand, I would surmise he is loyal and true to his word. He does not lie and he will not betray unless that was his primary objective to begin with.”

“And, is he deceiving me, Maurice?”

“Quite the contrary, Mistress. He is most avidly and anxiously seeking your aid, and your approbation.”

The aid part I had figured out, but the approbation? “Approbation?” I asked.

“Yes, Mistress. It is his ego. You make him slightly uncomfortable because your resistance to his charm has challenged him and taken him aback. He is obviously unaccustomed to such a reaction from the opposite gender to whom he has displayed a personal interest.”

“That’s interesting…” I mused aloud. “But, personal interest?” I was puzzled. Had I been with Hendak so long that my instincts had waned? Surely Maurice had misread his attentions toward me.

“Yes, Mistress. To use the modern vernacular, I believe he is ‘taken with you’.” He was most emphatic. Ki would have kept his beak shut before he broached such a blatant statement. I groaned aloud.

“Mistress, did I say something to distress you?” Maurice asked.

“No..no, Maurice. It’s all right. I need to know the facts. It just never occurred to me that might be a possibility.”

I mustered all my concentration and returned to plowing through the remainder of Connor’s papers and a few additional research notes. We did not have a real opportunity earlier to discuss his findings on the collar. He had identified the salt but still did not have a definitive answer on the metal coatings. Perhaps a new alloy, he had theorized offhandedly before rushing to his lecture, uncharacteristically late.

The thought of having a live witness with a first-hand account of the creatures kept creeping back into my thoughts as well as the attendant question of why had I been granted such a gift. I really did not have time to question providence at the moment.

Connor arrived early with food in hand. “I dismissed everyone early,” he explained. “I do so love to teach, but it currently interferes with our more interesting projects.” We wolfed down the food and adjourned to the lab. More tests on the collar. Finally something of a breakthrough. Connor had been correct in his theory. They were alloys, but very strange in that they had not been created using heat as most forged metals were. “The alloyed metals have been created by telekinesis,” he said.

“There are energy signatures that are near unmistakable, and it is not the same signature one would find with heavy charges of electricity. Collective telekinesis is the only explanation I have within our known world. And I think we are going to find it is a unique blend of illithium, silicone, and a trace of maludian.” Okay, we knew what it was. By the Gods, given the physical properties of the three metals, and in the right combination, they could easily provide the perfect conduit for even the most minute of low-level energy flow with no resistance. The alloy could, in theory, conduct thought energy totally unfettered.

“Can we duplicate it?” I asked.

“Perhaps if we had a supply of maludian,” he snorted and shook his head. “Granted, we can’t do it by telekinesis, but we do have our generators, and I think I can adapt the electrical energy output to achieve the same results. The real problem is the maludian.”

Maludian was one of the rarest metals in Toril. The reason? It was also the hardest to mine because of its instability. After extraction, it had to be carefully handled and transported in special chests lined with lead. Exposed in its raw form to natural light caused it to create a mild explosion as it ‘soaked up’ the sun’s radiant energy and burst under the load. And that was just the ore. Refined maludian was either regulated by various authorities or traded very quietly, and carefully, on the black market. It was the most explosive natural material known on all of Toril.

I shook my head. “I will get us some maludian,” I said.

“But, Glory, how are you going to do that?”

“My mother-in-law has connections. And, failing that, I know another possible source.” I thought of Linvail. It couldn’t hurt to ask him. If he could deliver me a live former illithid human slave, then maludian should be a piece of cake for the Shadowmaster of the Shadow Thieves. By the Gods, I hoped that Waukeen could get it for us and I wouldn’t have to ask him.

I sat at my dressing table and sighed as I unbraided my hair and began to absent-mindedly brush it. I had made it through the first day. It was still early and I had put our beautiful children to bed. Both babies had greeted me with enthusiastic “Ma-ma’s” when I came into the nursery. They didn’t look for their father. They knew he was away, but that he would visit them after they had fallen asleep. They would not be denied their usual evening ritual with him.

I had asked Waukeen about the maludian and the illithium. She was quite perplexed as she attempted to recall a source that she might tap.

“I will get some, Glory,” she had said. “But I fear it will not be a great quantity of maludian and it will take a few days. The illithium I can get for you tomorrow in huge quantity.” I had thanked her, grateful that we could secure even a small quantity of the metal. I had wondered where the illithid got their supply. “I am sure they teleport it from one of their off-world, other-dimension cities,” she had explained. “They have resources that we in the Outlands don’t even know of.”

I thought of Linvail. ‘You only have to ask…,’ he had said. Well, it looked as if I was going to ask. But that, too, would have to wait until I saw him the morning after the ‘morrow. The Gods only knew when I could expect to get my hands on the precious commodity. I was too tired to think about it now.

I was suddenly startled as my mirror sprang to life. My reflection faded and in its place was a smiling Hendak with puckered lips. I had to laugh. If he only knew how silly he looked! He backed away and held up a small slate board with chalk writing on it.

“We are camped at the entrance of the UD. All is well and safe. R & A & Party say hello. I love you and will see you later in your dreams! Get one of these for the ‘morrow,” it read.

There was one at the lab I could bring home. Why hadn’t I thought of that? He puckered his lips again and the scene quickly faded. I couldn’t wait to get to sleep.

The next day was filled with the slow methodical testing that is ninety percent of a researcher’s existence. Connor was so brilliant at it, however, and by noon, he had the salt completely analyzed – down to the cohesive substance holding it in one piece. He theorized that it was the same salt contained in the brine pits that reportedly riddled the illithid cities. He guessed it was also present in the elder-brain’s pool, although no one, to his knowledge, had ever brought back a sample that could be used for testing.

“We’ve made great progress, Glory,” he said near mid afternoon when I had to leave. “I will continue to investigate the clasp later after evening meal.”

“Thank you, Connor.”

“And, don’t worry about Maurice. If you do not mind, I will share my evening meal time with him…so he won’t be so lonely,” he explained. “I will even feed him myself, if, of course, I have your permission.”

“He would love that, Connor,” I assured him, knowing it was more for the human’s benefit rather than the bird’s. “But please, no sweets for him. Just his usual, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course, Glory. We shall be good company for each other,” he smiled.

I was all prepared with my little slate board and chalk when my mirror came to life that evening.

He wrote they were in the Underdark and camped inside what was once the illithid city. He scanned the mirror around that I could get a glimpse of his surroundings. It was dark and foreboding, just as I had imagined. In their trek to the city’s gates, they had evaded a drow reconnaissance party but had encountered several kuo-toa. They were easily dispensed with and no one was seriously injured. He held up Balance of Scales and patted it smiling. It must have performed as advertised.

When they finally arrived at the illithid city, they had found no one. I asked him if the brine vats were still operational. He said yes and that even the elder’s pool still had a small amount of fluid in it as the machinery responsible for maintaining was in need of repair. I wrote him to pack as much as they could and return with it as soon as they could. He wrote that would probably be four or five days as they had found a few clues to other possible locations and he would need to clear the trip to home with Riona.

The mirror became cloudy and began to fade back to my reflection. The spell was waning. He quickly mouthed the words ‘I love you,’ and pressed his lips to his mirror. We would continue in our dreams.

I was quite prepared for Aran Linvail and his young associate Nigel Warhol. They arrived precisely at mid-morn.

“Good morning, my Lady,” Aran said and kissed my hand with his usual charm.

“Good morning, Aran,” I smiled politely remembering what Maurice had told me the other afternoon. “And you must be Nigel.” I greeted the young man warmly.

“Yes, Glory, this is Nigel Warhol.”

We quickly made the introductions then I asked Nigel if he would mind waiting in the reception for a moment while I spoke with Linvail in private on a different matter.

“Aran, I need to avail myself of your kind offer to supply me with what I might need for a specific adjunct of my project,” I began rather coolly.

“Anything you wish, my Lady,” he smiled broadly and his eyes thawed ever so slightly. He wanted to please.

“I need a substantial quantity of maludian,” I said.

“Maludian?” He was vexed indeed.

“Yes, maludian. I thought with all of your entrepreneurial connections, you might be able to score a supply for us. Perhaps a 100 kilos of ore? I can refine the amounts I need without running the risk of a possible catastrophe.”

His brow furrowed lightly as he thought.

“Very well, my Lady, you shall have it within a few days,” he finally said. “I will personally guarantee its delivery to you here. And you will need a room devoid of natural light for it. I will dispatch workmen to convert one of the additional storage rooms for that purpose. I assume you will be working with it during the night-time hours?”

“Oh, yes. That is the plan. No sunlight.”

“Very well. You may expect it very shortly,” and he seemed very pleased that he could fill my request. I didn’t dare ask him where in Toril he planned on getting it.

“I knew I could depend upon you, Aran,” I said and smiled. “Now, shall I attend to young Nigel’s problems?”


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