From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston
(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, mild language, mild violence,)
CHAPTER V - Part I
The young man sitting in front of me was only a few years younger than myself. With brown errant curls and a slightly disheveled look, he looked the stereotypical keeper of the written word. We exchanged small talk for a few minutes to get acquainted and I made the obligatory disclosure on the Kirani recording. It was time to get to the heart of the matter.
“Nigel, Master Linvail tells me you are having difficulties from time to time because of your encounter with the illithid a number of years ago,” I said opening the real session.
“Yes, Madam,” and he visibly shuddered. “I…I am. I have these waves of fear that come upon me from nowhere. And…, and… I break out in a cold sweat and have a hard time breathing. Then I become panicked. Like I’m closed in. Like I have no control over my self.” He paused and looked at his nervous, fidgeting fingers. “Master Linvail told me you would help me rid myself of these terrible things.”
“I think we can do this,” I replied trying to reassure him that he was not going to have to endure the continuing trauma the rest of his life. “Now, would you like to start at the beginning? And take your time. If you feel indisposed at any time, we can take a break.” And, I had thoughtfully brought a selection of potions with me to ensure we would have no breakdowns or worse.
“I was traveling alone with a small caravan returning to Calimsham for a holiday. I had never been anywhere and I had one day just decided to go and see what I had read so much about.” He faintly smiled. “The lure of mysterious and different places, I suppose. We were very late into our second day and had set up camp for the night not far from the reported entrance to the fabled dark elf city of Ust Natha. It was not long after the evening meal that ‘they’ appeared from between the trees. Must have been a dozen of them, faintly hissing and tentacles wavering to and fro – fearfully ugly creatures.
“I had looked up from my plate just as they emerged and was suddenly stricken with a piercing whine that only I could hear in my own head. It… it was deafening. I remember grabbing my ears, as if doing so would shut it out. It did not. It only increased in pitch and intensity until it became unnoticeable. But I could feel it there. I could feel this presence completely permeating my thoughts. It was quickly filling every corner of my very being and dominating me as it went. I knew I was me, and yet I wasn’t me.” He had grown ghastly pale and suddenly took a sharp breath. I could see the onset of a panic attack in the making.
“Take your time, and remember, it is only a memory. It cannot hurt you now.” I attempted to keep his mind focused and also inject a thought of perspective and reason. “Relax, and take a long, deep breath.” He did so and the color began to return to his face. He continued.
“Apparently it had affected all of us simultaneously as we all arose and through some unspoken, but understood, direction, we fell in line and were teleported to their underground city.”
“Did you know anything about the illithid prior to your abduction?” I asked.
“I had read the accounts, both the accredited and the speculative essays, from the library in Baldur’s Gate, so, yes, I was familiar with them. At least in theory. Little did I know the published information available to us is mostly conjecture and at best unreliable, and at worst, totally erroneous. But I was about to learn first hand.” He gave a shuddered, involuntary twitch.
“What did they do with your party when you first arrived?” I asked.
“There were 30 of us, or so. And we were taken to a small building near the center of the community. But, I noticed as we walked from the city gates where we first materialized, down through the streets to the building, that I saw no illithid -- only various other races occupying shacks and hovels. All going about their business. There was even a merchant or two -- a food store and a dry goods store. I didn’t understand it at first.”
“What do you mean, you didn’t understand it at first,” I asked. “What is it that you didn’t understand?”
“I didn’t understand why there would be this large underground community of mixed races supposedly under the domination of the illithid and yet there were no illithid present. It defied my concept of slavery. Other races of humanoids incarcerate or shackle their thralls. But not here. All the community’s occupants were unfettered and free to move as they pleased. Or, so it seemed by casual observation.”
“What happened when you arrived at the building where you were taken?” I asked.
“We were completely stripped of our clothing and made to line up. Then two separate illithid inspected us each individually. One attached two of his tentacles to our temples to gauge our brains, our intellect. I found out later it was how they initially determined where a new thrall was sent. Some were eventually sent to the holding pens for selection into service – household, gladiatorial games, whatever. Others were immediately dismissed as inconsequential and escorted to the food pens for sale. And, others were immediately designated to the birthing pods.”
Again, the involuntary body twitch. “We were then branded with an identification sequence.” He rolled up his sleeve to show me a small patch of discolored raised scar tissue on the biceps of his upper left arm. On closer examination, I noted the mottled, rough flesh was distinctly laid out in a series of eight lines of equal width bars varying in length. I knew it represented a composite two-line entry of the illithid written language “qualith.” Although we had had access to the language for many years, no one had yet cracked the code to decipher it. But it had been ascertained that it was written in four-line series, or quatrains, of sequentially raised bars of varying length, and was read four lines simultaneously. The illithid literally read it with their tentacles because of their almost non-existent eyesight, therefore the “raised” feature. It was of the same ilk as our own Braille language for the sight-impaired.
He traced the scarred tissue with his fingertips then rubbed his arm. “ As I stood there, one of the illithid simply looked at my arm and caused the flesh to bubble and burn from the inside out. I.. I never felt a thing. The first four lines are that initial marking. The second set of four my master put upon me. It.. It was his title deed to show ownership when I was eventually delivered to him.
“After a physical examination of sorts by the second illithid, we were telepathically directed into our groupings. I was one of the few lucky ones. I found out later from my master they had found my basic intelligence adequate to serve him, an established elder illithid who also was a member of the Elder Concord, the illithid’s ruling council. My fate had been somewhat determined from the beginning. I did not even have to go to the thrall pen for open bidding by the illithid populace, as they delivered me directly to my master’s house. I was to serve and live in his house which was in the outer ring of the illithid city.” I must have looked perplexed as he began to explain.
“You will recall I said I did not see illithid as the we entered the city? The illithid’s city occupied a lower-level series of dwellings, under the city of thralls,” he explained and I nodded my understanding. “The outer ring was the illithid portion of the city, their houses, the city square, the Creed Houses, the fighting pits, and what have you. The inner ring was where the birthing pods and the Elder resided.” Again, an involuntary twitch of his body.
“How did you get from the thrall city to your master’s house?” I asked, wondering if they used only teleportation between the two areas.
“The two were connected by long winding stairways at various points between the Thrall City and the Outer Ring. However, the Elder Brain circle was only accessible by two ways – teleportation and there was a passageway that was hidden with a secret door. But only certain of the Elders had the ability to open it.”
I was making notes as quickly as I could.
“What did you find when you were delivered to your master?” I asked.
“My..my master lived in the one of the bigger mansions which overlooked the main central plaza. He was older and as he explained to me later, it would not be long before he would be joined with the Elder. A cause for celebration – this death of the body and the joining of his brain with those who went before. But, to make things easier for him until that glorious time, he had decided he needed another thrall to live in his house. He already had one house servant, a young female drow captured from nearby. She had been with him for some time. But he expressed to me that he wanted someone with a modicum of the concept of ‘book learning’ as I was to take care of his library and his writings to be passed on after his body’s demise. With his age he had become something of a philosopher, as well as a historian, and had a substantial collection of writings he had accumulated throughout his long life.
“Strangely, he also had several books from the surface, which I didn’t understand why until the drow told me that there was a brief predecessor to myself who was instructed to do nothing but sit and read all the surface books – mostly geography and history, some religion. Upon completing the last one, the poor wretch shaved his head and planted himself in my master’s food stock awaiting my master’s next meal time. It was the master’s way of vicariously reading them himself. According to the drow, he was a delightful feast in all senses of the word.”
“You…weren’t….forced…..to…..eat…,” I hesitantly interjected the obvious question.
“Oh, no madam,” he quickly reassured me. “Food stocks for the thralls, or slaves, were limited, but a food supply was grown and maintained by the thralls in the upper community. And, as thralls serving one in the most privileged class, both the drow and I ate well, though not any surface food. It was her duty to see that we were properly nourished, and she would go to the market in thrall city and haggle for only the best with the halfing who maintained it. She also secured clothing, blankets, and other necessities for us. She..she took good care of us,” he paused and a hint of blush crossed his cheeks.
“You were fond of her, Nigel?” He nodded. “What happened to her?” I asked softly, almost fearful of the answer.
“She..she escaped with the rest of us, but I lost her in all of the confusion immediately following our liberation. I…I couldn’t find her as we all treked up and out to the surface. It was such chaos. She.. she was lost to me.” His voice was filled with sadness. It was evident he was more than just attached to her as one survivor might be to another.
“You were attached to her, Nigel?” I asked softly.
“I…I think I loved her. And, I know I shouldn’t have -- her being drow -- but she…she was the first female I ever…I was ever with.
“The master started it. He would make us, er, ‘perform’ for his visitors. And they would gather and watch for an evening of entertainment. In the beginning, I was mortified and appalled, and she would always try to encourage me by saying this was something we could do that they couldn’t and that we should be proud and throw ourselves into such sexual revelry. After a time it became easier and I began to believe her, and… and we needed no prompting from the master. We performed the physically impossible for them and as they greedily fed on the psychic energy we created in every climax, in every orgasm, we enjoyed every moment of our lust. She…she taught me that. And she taught me everything she knew of the carnal arts. But most of all, she taught me how to survive.” He mournfully sighed.
“Then, the master selected us as breeding stock together. We…we were to have children. We were then able to share our bed at rest time and attempt conception. The master believed we would be more successful if we were left undisturbed in this regard. We were able to be close and intimate and we were both grateful.”
That was terribly generous of the master, I thought to myself. A small reward for providing his voyeuristic comrades with such debauchery.
“What was her name?” I asked, wanting him to know that I was not there to judge him because he had developed deep feelings for someone that on the surface world would have forced him into exile. It was good he had found comfort and companionship during his captivity. It was good he had found this drow who obviously cared very much for him.
He smiled as he realized he could talk about her without recrimination. “Yes, her name is Cheseria. At least that is what she told me. She said that was close enough. And, she proudly claimed she was cousin to Drizzt Do’Urden.”
We all knew of Drizzt. His exploits in the northlands were legendary. To claim association with such a famous black elf told me she was no ordinary drow. Even if she wasn’t, admitting a relationship to one of heroic deeds spoke of her character.
“Wherever she is, do you feel she is safe?” I asked.
“I can only imagine she broke away with the handful of other drow and returned to their city. It all happened so quickly. And she probably thought that life would be near impossible for her on the surface,” he sighed again.
“Nigel, were you ever taken to the inner ring?” I asked changing the subject. I was anxious to find out as much as I could as time was beginning to grow short and I would have to wait until the ‘morrow afternoon before I could see him again.
“Yes, Madam.” Again the involuntary twitch and shudder. “On a couple of separate occasions.” Again the involuntary twitch and shudder.
“Can you tell me why you went and what you saw there?” I asked softly.
He seemed to brace himself. “The master brought me with him the first time to inspect the birthing pods.”
I had heard of the birthing pods and Riona had briefly sketched them out for me.
“We were just in time for a new implantation procedure,” he began. “Although the secret of the process is highly guarded, the illithid are still very proud of their methodology of continuing their race.”
“You mean the raising of tadpoles?” I asked and couldn’t understand why such an intelligent race would be so proud of such a lower-species accomplishment.
“Oh, Madam, if it were that simple. Remember when I mentioned the theories that are accepted as fact but are not? That is one of them.”
“Can you tell me how a fully-grown illithid is accomplished if it isn’t grown from the originating tadpole?” I was totally confused. They were amphibians, this we knew. And we knew they spawned egg sacs that in turn hatched and produced tadpoles. Tadpoles developed into adults. Frogs did it. What was so different about illithids?
“Mature, adult illithid do produce eggs, Madam, and these egg sacs are placed in adjacent pools to the Elder Brain pool. They are watched over by the thralls until they hatch into tadpoles. As such, they are no different than any other amphibian that we know on the surface. They swim freely and they mature into a larger, more developed form of a tadpole. Of the many thousands that begin, however, only the hale and hearty – a scant few -- actually survive the pools. It is at this point that any similarity to amphibians, as we know them, ceases. At the appropriate time, the thralls are directed to retrieve them from the pool for the next step.” His explanation held me spellbound.
“They use a method called ‘ceremorphosis’,” he said. “Well, that is as close as I can find in our language. It is the process by which a mature tadpole is introduced into the ear of a living host – humanoid, but of a certain criteria. It then burrows into the host’s brain eating as it goes. It replaces the tissue it consumes with its own tissue that it generates. Then it conjoins and absorbs the lower brain stem of the host and assumes the autonomic functions of the body. The humanoid brain has been totally replaced with an illithid brain at this point.
“As soon as this happens, an actual morphic change begins. The once human, elf, or whatever, begins to physically turn into an illithid. The process replaces the original tissue of the host with illithid tissue that is generated by the body itself. It takes seven days and during that time it is being changed, it is nursed and fed by the thralls who work in the attendant nurseries. These morphing illithid are totally helpless during this transmutation, I might add.”
I looked straight at him. I could not have heard him correctly. I must have missed something.
“Let me understand what you are saying, Nigel,” I began. “You are telling me that the illithid take a tadpole, put it into a humanoid’s ear, he eats his way to the brain steam and then the host gets changed into a young, mature illithid in 7 days? Did I hear you correctly?”
“That, madam, is precisely what I am telling you. My master explained it to me because that was the reason they wanted to breed the drow and me. They felt the probability of viable, strong offspring that suited their criteria was excellent. They were breeding a special army, or so he said. He felt I should be proud to be contributing to such an honored cause and wanted to show me.” He became very sad and I knew it was the drow and thinking of what might have been had he escaped with her in tow.
To say this information was almost beyond comprehension didn’t describe my reaction. I calmed myself. So this is how they became ‘adults’, I thought. Nothing like this had ever been reported before. This was toril shattering. How could they have kept this such a secret?
“Nigel, do you know of any reason why we on the surface would not have heard of this before?”
“Madam, of the handful of slaves that to my knowledge have escaped, I doubt that any of them were as unfortunate as myself in witnessing such a horrifying event. It was only because of the ego of my master that I was made priviledge to their procreative means.” They were an arrogant, smug race, there was little doubt.
“And, when we were freed and the Elder Brain defiled, there were no gestating illithids in the nurseries. That, plus the general thrall population had not a clue. When someone ‘disappeared’, it was assumed he was used for food, or for the gladiator games. Only a scant handful knew.”
“And the thralls who kept the nursery? Do you know what happened to them?” I asked.
“They were killed by the illithid, I am sure, before the inner circle was breached. I am sure that when their bodies were discovered, it was assumed they were there to see to the needs of the Elder.”
Yes, that made sense. But there was one thing that did not make sense. Why had he kept this to himself all this time? And why was such an intelligent scribe and librarian connected with the Shadow Thieves?
“Nigel, I have to ask you. Why have you waited nearly five years before coming forth and telling your story? Your information could have served a higher purpose during this time and maybe even saved lives.”
He looked down at his fidgeting fingers.
“For three reasons, Madam,” he mumbled then looked up. “The first was because I feared for my life that if any remained from the city, they would hunt me down and take me back to that, or an equally awful place. The second, because I thought no one would ever believe me, and the third and most important, Aran Linvail told me if I would tell you everything I know, he would secure the return of my drow to me. And he promised me a house in the deep forest where we might go and live in peace.”
“Ah…,” I said. “Aran Linvail.”
“Yes, Madam. He has been very generous to me since he found me two years ago. I…I was most destitute and wandering aimlessly. He gave me the job of caring for the small library of the Shadow Thieves. Master Linvail is well-read, Madam. I…I didn’t realize they might be, er, literate. But it is honest work I do, Madam, and I do so love the books. I…I have even taught a few of the guards how to read.”
“You are to be commended, Nigel. That is a very kind thing to do,” I said and paused to think. I needed to get him someplace safe and have him accessible for Riona when she returned. “Okay, Nigel, this is what I want you to do. First, where do you live?”
“I have a comfortable room adjacent to the library. It’s just sleeping quarters.”
“First, tell everyone that your aunt has taken ill and you must go to visit her for a few days. And don’t worry, as I will clear this with Master Linvail. Then I want you to pack a few belongings and come to my house but only under the cloak of darkness, do you understand?” I quickly jotted the address. “Be there tomorrow evening and come alone and on foot. Oh, and expect to stay several days. I want to introduce you to your liberator of five years ago as she should be back by then, the Gods willing. In the meanwhile you and I are going to scour your memory as best we can, but we must be out of prying eyes to do so.”
“My liberator?” he asked puzzled.
“Yes, Riona, the young woman who freed the illithid city, will be here within days. She is my good friend and I know she will want to meet you.”
“But what about my job, Madam?” he asked, almost distressed.
“Don’t worry, Nigel. If we don’t find Master Linvail accommodating, I can assure you a post within the Grand Library of the Cowled Wizards.” From the look on his face, that prospect was not unappealing.
“Now, in the meanwhile I want you to tell no one, other than Master Linvail of our meeting or conversation, do you understand?”
“Yes, Madam, I understand,” and we both rose from our chairs. I walked him to the door leading to the outer room.
“If you don’t mind, Nigel, I would like to speak to Aran again in private,” I said nodding towards Linvail.
“Not at all, Madam. I shall sit and wait patiently.”
“Very good, and I will see you at the appointed hour?” I smiled.
“Oh, yes, Madam, I will be there,” he replied and looked at the address on the slip of paper.
Linvail looked at me rather quizzically as we entered my office.
“Madam?” The furrows had returned in his brow as he closed the door behind him.
“I have invited Nigel to be my house guest for several days. You will need to arrange for another librarian at your, er, establishment. I have instructed him to tell everyone he is off to tend to a sick aunt.”
“Very well, Madam,” he bowed slightly. “Your wish is my command.”
“Aran, I think the time has come that we must be honest with each other,” I said. “I am quite sure you didn’t bring Nigel here just for me to possibly help him.”
“Madam, I have been honest with you,” he smiled, totally ignoring my remark about Nigel.
“No, Aran, you have not.” I didn’t know if being so candid with the Shadowmaster of the Shadow Thieves was going to be such a good idea or not. His smile faded abruptly. “You have not told me everything you know.”
“As you have not told me everything you know, my dear Lady,” he replied and the smile returned.
“Then shall we make a pact?” I proffered.
“Oh, you mean, you’ll show me yours, if I show you mine?” His double entendre made my cheeks slightly color.
“You know perfectly well what I mean, Aran,” I snapped, my exasperation beginning to show. “The time for playing charades is past.”
“Ah…, and a spark of fire, too, Madam,” he continued to smile, his arrogance taunting me.
He was quickly becoming insufferable as my patience was growing quite thin and he seemed to sense that I had reached my limit in his little game. He stopped smiling and his eyes stared coldly, but for only a moment.
“Very well, if you will allow me to invite you to evening meal at my ‘establishment’, as you seem to enjoy calling it, I will reveal all to you, as I know it,” he said crisply. Was this just more of his cat and mouse game?
“And, dear Lady,” he was quick to add, “if you have any reservations as to my honorable intentions, I can assure you that I am not in any position to bring down Faerun’s Pantheon of Gods and Goddesses upon my head for attempting to compromise the wife and daughter-in-law of one of its own.” His annoyance now matched my own and his pursed lower lip was a dead giveaway.
So he did know more than he had been letting on. He knew my connection to Waukeen. He knew I was married to Hendak. He had to know Riona was one of my best friends. He probably knew everything about me. No, he probably knew everything about everything and everyone! And, he was an arrogant pragmatic ass on top of it all! But he knew something I needed to know about the plans of the illithid and it was obvious he wanted to tell me. Why, I didn’t know. But I was going to find out.
“And you can assure me safe journey from the docks to my house once our business is concluded?” I asked, equally annoyed.
“Madam, I, personally, will pick you up at your house after you have spent your evening time with your children, and I will personally deliver you safely back to your house when our business is concluded.” From his tone, I deduced I had apparently, and unwittingly, insulted him with my comment.
“Very well, you may call for me shortly after dusk. The address is --,” I replied.
“Madam, I know the address,” he interrupted me and continued on. “And, your maludian will be delivered tomorrow afternoon. All l00 kilos will be in four lead-lined boxes. And a very, very small amount of refined metal will be included as well. Do use caution in its application.” His admonition held a modicum of condescension. “The workmen will also have the storeroom converted on the ‘morrow so you will have a safe place in which to work.”
“And, Madam, there is no need to thank me.” He crisply nodded, quickly turned on his heel, walked out the door and closed it sharply behind him, leaving me with my mouth open.
How damnably rude! Damn him! What an insufferable, arrogant ass! And I had just agreed to have dinner with him! Whatever he knew of the illithids had better be worth it, I thought. I audibly groaned.
“Mistress, are you all right?” asked Maurice.
“Yes, Maurice. I am fine.” I knew I didn’t sound convincing.
TO BE CONTINUED.......
Mind Games V (Part I)
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