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Mind Games VI

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#1 Guest_MorningGlory_*

Posted 18 March 2004 - 06:55 AM


From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston

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


Much to accomplish today, I thought as the carriage rumbled out of the city proper to the Academy. I attempted to schedule time in my head as we rolled along. Yes, maludian would be delivered. Two-hundred kilos of illithium were already neatly stacked in the one storeroom and workmen would be milling about to convert the other into a sun-free area in which we could work to create an inventory of collars.

Maybe by mid-afternoon we could be at a point of doing something constructive. I hoped. We needed to accomplish as much as possible as we would have the salt solutions tomorrow and would need to quickly analyze their components and start to put our puzzle together. Once we had the puzzle put together, we could formulate a plan, and hopefully a viable, expedient one. The pressing urgency of it all was giving me the beginning of a dull headache. But that could have been the wine I had at dinner the night before. I shared Father’s propensity for the intolerance of spirits. Ah, yes, dinner….

My thoughts drifted back to my evening with Aran Linvail. I had no street smarts and he appeared to be near drunk. In the light of this morning, I still had no street smarts and I was sure he was stone cold sober. Some maladies couldn’t be cured with time, only experience. But he had been correct. With my sheltered life, I would never be able to survive in a world like his -- the hard world in which he moved and held sway.

Upon reflection, his over-indulgence seemed so uncharacteristic of him. The Gods knew I had seen Father like that on numerous occasions. But I had learned that Father was usually reacting to something he found extraordinarily difficult at the moment – it was a momentary coping mechanism. By comparison, Aran was a man always in control. Not just in control of himself, but controlling the overall situation around him.

He was such an exasperating and difficult man to read – like a chameleon. I wondered if anyone really knew him. He may have become increasingly direct and insensitive as he over-imbibed, but he was always in control and he never became boorish or anything less than a gentleman. I could be grateful for that, I supposed. I was simply very perplexed what would trigger such incongruous behavior in him. Maybe if I had street smarts I would be able to more readily understand it, I thought ironically. The carriage pulled to the walkway.

The workmen were already milling in and out the front door of the laboratory and I could hear the saws and hammers as I approached. This was going to be a difficult day to get any work done, I groaned. Connor met me at the door.

“Glory! Isn’t it wonderful? I’ve had a message from Linvail that the maludian will arrive around noontime. The workers are rushing to complete our working area for it.” He was most excited at the progress. He lowered his voice. “Oh, and Aran had something delivered for you, Glory. I took the liberty of having them put in your office. There..there was a note for you, as well.”

“Thank you, Connor,” I said. I must have looked totally perplexed. Something for me? What in the Gods’ name would he have sent me, and so early in the morning? I hadn’t made any special requests, and the maludian was really all with which I was concerned.

I opened the door of my office and was greeted with the heady scent of roses. Dozens and dozens of them. Everywhere.

I was stunned and just stood there trying to comprehend what was before me. He must have bought out every flower vendor in the city of Athkatla, and then some. Red, yellow, white, pink, lavender – every imaginable color – and all in beautifully cut crystal vases of every size and description. It looked like the funeral rites for a noble.
“By the Gods….,” I whispered, totally dumbfounded.

“The note, Glory. There is a note,” Connor anxiously reminded me as he stood behind me.

“Yes….. The note,” I said and meandered through the makeshift garden of blooms to my desk. A perfectly white piece of parchment bearing the initials of AL in real gold bas-relief and sealed with wax lay at the corner. I picked it up, broke the seal and unfolded it. In beautiful script it read,

“Can you ever forgive my boorishness of last evening, Madam? Please accept these flowers as a token of my sincere regret for my unconscionable behavior. Aran.”

I sat the note back on my desk and looked around in bewilderment. If I wasn’t perplexed before, it was certainly compounded now. Why this? Why such a grand production when a simple apology would have been more than sufficient?

“Glory, are you alright?” Connor asked. I could tell he was most concerned.

“Yes, yes, I am fine, Connor, thank you,” I replied. “I’m just.. a bit overwhelmed, I suppose.”

“Glory, it is none of my business and please don’t think I am intruding, but Aran Linvail is a, shall we say, ‘different’ type of man.” He looked down and fidgeted with the folder in his hand. “One with which I doubt you are familiar, and, quite frankly, I am concerned for you,” he added.

“What do you mean, Connor?” I asked and shook my head. Was he expressing concern about a possible involvement with Linvail?!

He stumbled on. “I…I know little of these matters, but it is obvious even to me that Aran perhaps has more than just…just a…. a professional interest in you. I think his largess speaks for itself.” He fanned his arm to indicate the hundreds of flowers.

“Connor, it isn’t what you think,” I interjected hastily. “It’s….it’s an apology, of sorts. For..for something he said. He thought he had inadvertently insulted me. That’s all.”

“Glory, just…just be careful. I am not so involved in my research and solitary life that I do not know who and what he is, and the power and influence he –“

“Connor, you need not worry,” I interrupted him. “I, too, know who and what he is. It really is okay.” I smiled at him in an attempt to allay his fears. “And, Connor….Thank you for your concern. It is very, very touching.” And I sincerely meant it.

“Very well,” he sighed in resignation. “But if there is anything, or if you need –“

“It’s alright, Connor,” I repeated and again smiled at him. “I suppose Aran Linvail is unaccustomed to doing anything in a small way. Even a simple apology.”

I could tell he didn’t necessarily believe me. And if I gave him the note to read, he would know I was with Aran the previous evening, which would require more explanation. By the Gods, I almost felt trapped again. Was this by design or was I just being paranoid?

“Connor, perhaps we can have a couple of the workmen deliver these to the Academy’s infirmary. I am sure they will be put to better use there,” I said. I looked at the cut crystal vase with the lavender roses. “All but the lavender ones. I think I will keep those and consider his apology accepted.” I smiled at Connor, hoping that I was reaffirming that the flowers, indeed, were an apology and nothing more. He smiled in turn.

He decided to let the matter drop. “That’s a wonderful idea, Glory. I’ll send one of the men over with a cart.” He left and I picked up the note again. By the Gods, whatever possessed him, I thought.

By the time the flowers were removed, it was mid-morning and Connor and I were going over some notes and other information while we patiently awaited the workmen to finish. As soon as they did, we began to set up a makeshift facility in the darkened room. One we hoped would suffice in re-creating the alloys necessary for the collars. By the time the four containers of maludian arrived, we were almost ready to begin.

I had reviewed Connor’s careful notes and outlines on exactly how we should be able to duplicate the alloys. He had cautioned me this was all theory, and, therefore, unproven, but he was very confident in the probability of our success. I was certainly no master at metallurgy, and little better at chemistry, but I knew enough to see his suppositions were sound. It looked like it would work. To that end, he had requested two simian primates be delivered in the morning in the hopes we might be able to test within the next few days. We worked on the proportional components the balance of the afternoon.

Connor had left to attend a mandatory Academy faculty dinner meeting for an hour or so, after which we had planned to continue for a short time. I had explained I had to leave early evening because of a prior commitment, but I didn’t tell him it was because I had to greet Nigel when he arrived at my house. He had only nodded and said nothing. It was unlike him not to offer a mild protest and I wondered what he was thinking.

It was dusk and I was returning from my office through the reception area to the main lab with one of our new flame burners in hand. It would be most beneficial when we needed to add short bursts of high heat to our lab creations. The front door opened and a young man stood with a parcel in his hand. From his tunic bearing a pair of winged boots, I assumed he was a courier making a delivery of chemicals Connor had ordered earlier in the afternoon.

“Wonderful! Do come in, ” I said and smiled at the gawky young man. “That was certainly quick.” He entered and closed the door behind him as I walked over to him to retrieve the package and sign the receipt ticket. I knew Connor had told them to put a rush on it, but I didn’t think he expected it so soon. It just meant we could start on some of chemical analyses much more quickly.

“Yes, my Lady,” the young man replied and offered a rather toothy grin in return.

He extended the receipt for my signature and as I came within arms-length, he quickly tossed the parcel aside and reached out to grab my amulet. With one quick motion, the clasp came undone and the heavy jeweled necklace fell away skittering on the stone floor. I clutched at my throat in surprise.

By the Gods!! What was going on?!? What was this?! I was momentarily stunned as I watched the young man begin to quickly shape shift into something I had never seen before. His upper body bulked and expanded rending the tunic into multiple strips from the inside out. Fur began to cover his newly formed physique, and his hands were quickly transformed into paws with monstrous claws that grew before my eyes. It wasn’t a wolf, and it wasn’t human. It was a horrifying hybrid of both that walked upright like a humanoid but had the teeth, claws, and obviously the nature of a lupine. My heart instantly raced and I could feel the adrenaline begin to course through me in a heavy rush.

By the Gods! It was a wolfwere!

My amulet… By the Gods, my amulet! My only source of protection from this demon was lying in a darkened corner where I couldn’t see it and I knew I had only moments before his transfiguration was complete. I had to do something. Anything!

I raised the portable burner and pressed the lever and I screamed as loudly as I could. A shot of blue heat erupted from the tip of it as I aimed it at the beast. He howled in pain as the smell of burning hair and flesh filled the room and I continued to spray him with the concentrated fire. But this was not killing him; it was hardly keeping him at bay.

By the Gods! Amid his squirming and howling, he was regenerating his fur and fleshy tissue almost as quickly as I could burn it from his now haunched, hulking body.

I tried to think as I kept burning him. I couldn’t escape, as he stood between me and the only door out of the building. If I was going to survive, I had to find a way to defend myself, yet there were no weapons.

My mind was moving as quickly as the adrenaline that pumped through me. Was there anything I could use against him? Acids? Potions? My mind raced through our inventory. Nothing. Nothing to defend myself other than this paltry lab burner that was quickly running low on fuel.

I thought of the generator in the lab. The electrical energy stored with the attached cells might be powerful enough to kill it. But I didn’t know. Could I possibly use it? Maybe I could use it and deliver a big enough electrical shock to the beast to render it unconscious, or dead, that I could escape. I didn’t know if it would work, but it was the only thing I could think of. It was the only chance I had. But I had to first buy enough time to get into the lab and then make the connections.

The burner was quickly dying and in a sudden burst of inspiration borne of survival, I aimed the last long shot to his face. The blue fire hissed into his snout. His paws instinctively flew up to cover his eyes, but not before I was able to turn the beastly yellow orbs into flaming cinders and blind him. He writhed in pain and an excruciatingly doleful howl pierced the air. I knew, however, it wouldn’t be long before he regenerated his sight and I dropped the spent burner and turned to run for the laboratory door. A flailing set of razor-like claws caught the back of my skirts and I heard them rend and shred into long ribbons as I pulled away.

In a split moment I was through the door and at the generator near the back of the lab. I prayed he would not be able to regenerate his vision as quickly as I could get the device operational.

My hands were shaking almost beyond control as I tried to remember how Connor had taught me to make the connections to the two long wands that could deliver many thousands of volts into the animal. They resembled the pit skewers at the Coronet, I thought. How fitting. If it was the beast’s time, he would meet his god skewered on the slender electrical wands. If it was my time, then I would be skewered on the ends of his claws.

My heart raced and pounded in my ears. I knew I was taking too long. The howling had stopped and I had only made two connections and I couldn’t get my hands to stop trembling long enough to make the other two. I was so terrified I wasn’t quite sure if I was even doing it correctly and in the right sequence.

Remember, remember, I told myself and tried to bring forth the memory of Connor’s hands as he walked me through it.

The beast pushed open the door and entered the room, fully restored. He cautiously and slowly began to approach me, a low guttural growl coming from his throat.

At last! Connection number four. I prayed I had sufficiently and properly conjoined them. I quickly picked up the long wands, careful not to let them touch then threw the lever with my elbow. I looked head on at the fearsome beast. If this didn’t work, there was nothing left.

He cautiously neared me, then stalked me side to side parlaying for an open opportunity. He finally lunged at me.

From somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I instantly remembered my fencing tutor from when I was a child. “No, child, not slash, you must thrust. Arm straight in line with the rapier. Remember, it is an extension of you.” I quickly balanced my stance as I had been taught all those years ago and met his body, shoving the two wands at his chest cavity. I heard the hissing and burning away of tissue as they entered his body. I was barely out of his arm’s reach as he tried to knock me away yet I held my ground and kept my balance.

The air was instantly filled with the smell of ozone and burning flesh. Blue arcs of energy danced and buzzed throughout his body as his hulk filled with spasms and convulsions, and he squealed a high-pitch whine. I held the electrified skewers for what seemed long minutes, more smoke and smell of burning, electrified flesh filling the air and burning my eyes. It appeared to be slowly working, his energy ebbing. But, if this didn’t incapacitate or kill him, there was nothing else.

I looked at the gauge on the storage cells container adjacent to the generator. By the Gods! I had already used most of the stored energy and the abomination still lived! It was suddenly evident to me that I was going to deplete all the electricity before I could kill it. I held on as long as I could, hoping to inflict as much damage as I could as I watched the needle on the gauge slowly dip to zero.

The energy finally drained, I dropped the insulated handles of the wands. He slowly righted himself and pulled the long spokes out from his chest. I watched in horror as the holes were slowly replaced with new flesh and fur. I began to back up, but there was no place to go. This was it.

I felt the wall at my back. I was trapped and there was no escape. My amulet was gone. I had had no chance to call its protection and now I was totally defenseless. How incredibly foolish and stupid I had been to not keep some defense at hand. Now I was going to pay the ultimate price for my arrogance of thinking I was immune to violence, immune to death. The realization that I was going to die calmly settled over me.

Tears began to well in my eyes as visions of my beautiful children flashed through my mind and I realized I would never see them grow up. I thought of my Father and his breaking heart of grief remembered and renewed. And I thought of my wonderful husband and how I would never see the roguish smile or the impish twinkle in his eyes again.

The singular wolfwere was slowly moving toward me now, the long and low continuous growl emanating from his throat. Through my blurred vision I could see the steel-like claws distended and ready to slowly carve into me and shred my life from this world. I raised my arms to partially shield my face as I slowly began to shrink down against the wall, my body caught in spasmodic shudders.

My assassin was torturing me with his slow advance, savoring the terror he could smell with his heightened senses. The eyes that only minutes ago were black charred holes now glowed a sickly yellow and the faint light glistened on the drool at the corner of his fangs. He was knowingly tormenting me with the thoughts of the ultimate carnage he would inflict upon my body.

Crouched against the wall, I closed my eyes tightly and awaited the initial strike of the powerful hands. I prayed to the Gods to be merciful and send me to my final rest with the first strike of his powerful arms.

My silent petition for mercy in death was interrupted by a slight sound from the dark shadows by the door. I opened my eyes and peeked past my forearms. Almost as quickly as I heard the noise, I heard the unmistakable whistling of a series of daggers being quickly propelled through the air. One, two, three, then four. All in rapid, seamless succession, I heard them find their target. Thud, thud, thud, thud. They had found their mark and I knew they were planted firmly in the back of the beast. I slightly lowered my arms and through my blurred vision, I saw the beast fall to his knees in front of me, the disbelief and horror of his own fate written in his now gnarled features.

His ghastly look suddenly froze in place and his breathing halted in mid-hale as foam spewed from the corner of his snout and dripped from his fangs. Magical poison. The daggers were tipped in magical poison, I thought. There would be no last-minute shapeshifting for this creature. He would die from the suffocation of his own paralytic lungs and his heart’s frozen ability to pump his blood through his hulking body mass.

In the background of the deep shadows I could see what appeared to be the outline of a man totally dressed in black. Soundlessly, he slowly approached with sword drawn. With one precise swing from left to right, he separated the wolfwere’s head from its body and sent it rolling across the laboratory floor. The animal’s fangs and teeth clanked against the smooth stone and the raw exposed tissue left a stained and streaked trail of blood and fleshy, hairy bits.

The slayer planted his boot heel against the shoulder of the headless beast and pushed it over. It rolled to the side as the blood slowly oozed from its open neck to form a gooey pool upon the floor. The sheer terror of the sight made me want to scream out. I wanted to scream and scream and scream again. But I could not find my voice. I could only sob and shake and tremble.

“Are you alright, my Lady?” came the soft voice of my savior in the perfect stillness.

I was cowering and silently crying, and in my overwhelming terror, I did not recognize that voice. My eyes were full of tears and I could not see the face secreted by the deep hood of his black cloak. I tried to focus my blurred vision as I slowly began to rise from my huddled place against the wall and was suddenly overtaken with a sharp ringing in my ears. I was overcome with the feeling of dizziness and faintness as I felt my legs begin to give way underneath me. I was going to faint.

Before I could fall, I felt the strong arms of my rescuer around me, holding me, supporting my body. I was dizzy and weak and barely conscious and I slumped against him. I caught the sweet scent of lavender and sage. Was I so delirious that I was hallucinating?

“Aran….,” I sighed weakly. “Aran, is that you, or am I dreaming?” I whispered against his chest. I looked up into his face. I managed strength to reach up and pull back his hood to reveal his ice blue eyes reflecting in the light from the window. There was no coldness. Only warmth and concern stared back at me. I touched his cheek to reassure myself this was not a dream, that he was real and I was alive and safe.

“Yes, Glory. It is I,” he whispered as he held me tightly and I surrendered to him gently rocking me back and forth to comfort me. I don’t know how long he held me, but the strength of his arms and his nearness began to slowly relieve the terror of my close call with death.

My light-headedness began to subside and I was flooded with the realization of what I had just gone through and what might have been. I began to uncontrollably shake and somewhere in my mind I recognized it as the onset of traumatic shock. I also knew I would be engulfed in freezing cold in only moments. He must have known, also.

He maneuvered his cloak to enfold me and pressed me against him. I could feel the warmth of his body radiate through his thin wool tunic as I shook within his grasp. I began to absorb his body’s heat and my shuddering slowly subsided to lesser waves of shivers and chills. As he held me tighter to him, I could feel the strength of his chest as our breathing took on the ebb and flow of one person. I closed my eyes and buried my face in his neck. The soothing and heady mixture of lavender and sage interlaced with his own scent of sweat filled my senses. It was comforting. I was safe and I was alive.

My tremors began to subside, as I still lay limp against him, him supporting the bulk of my weight. He said nothing, but he did not waver and continued to gently cradle me. I did not want to move from my safe harbor of lavender and sage. I did not want to return to the reality of the nightmare that the headless beast reminded me of only scant meters away. I felt warm and safe and secure wrapped within the arms of this man who had saved my life. Without him, I would be carved bits of flesh and bone strewn across the laboratory. It was only because of him I was still alive.

I moved my head to speak, to thank him, but as I did he shifted my body to one arm and tilted my face with his hand. He spoke not a word but his eyes were penetrating. His head bent and for a brief moment he hesitated. Then his lips briefly touched mine. He slowly raised his head and gazed into my eyes, again wordless. He was thinking but his face was expressionless. It frightened me further that in all my fear and confusion I found the brief encounter of his lips against mine soothing and consoling.

Was he waiting for my protest? I said nothing. I simply stared up into his mesmeric eyes awaiting what he would do.

He looked intently at my face as if he were committing the small nuances to his memory. He touched my cheek and traced my eyes with his fingertips so he would not forget the feel. He touched my lips ever so gently with his thumb then slowly outlined the curve of my lower cheek. He pushed back the hair from the loosened braid and touched my ear. All the time he said not a word.

He slowly laced his fingers into my hair and cupped the back of my head. Then he closed his eyes, bent his head and kissed me. His lips were warm and firm and I found it strange that I would so readily welcome them. He tasted innocently sweet and his intense but metered emotion rendered me to his will. He was as overpowering in his passion as he was in every other facet of his life. I knew instinctively he knew no other way, as it was what made him who he was.

It was a long, lingering and passionate kiss and I found myself responding in equal measure. I felt strangely free and uninhibited. Was it gratitude or was it simply being caught up in the moment of my shaken and confused emotions, I did not know. But I did not hold back and met his ardent fervor. Intense lips against intense lips, seeking tongue against seeking tongue, I welcomed his passion and wanted more. It was soothing and consoling. It made me forget.

He softly kissed my cheek and slowly brushed his lips down my neck. I felt an irrepressible faint gasp escape my throat. I drew my fingers through his soft hair and caressed the nape of his neck without even thinking. How did I instinctively know what would please this man? How did I understand the every nuance of exactly what this man wanted and needed? Why did I have perfect clarity? I didn’t have an answer. This effortless simpatico was new and strange to me and added only more confusion to my jumbled thoughts and feelings.

His mouth met my lips again in yet another long, lingering and passionate kiss and I could feel the heat of his hand through my dress as he gently pressed his fingers against my shoulder and my arm, again exploring that he could commit the feel to memory.

I didn’t understand it, but I didn’t want him to stop. I wanted him to rid me of the crippling fear that still gripped my insides. I wanted him to exorcize the demons that only moments ago were bad dreams but now held my reality hostage. I wanted him to take away the tightening in my chest when I now thought of dying. I wanted him to save me from my fears as he had saved me from the beast. And then I wanted to know I was safe and protected. Whatever I had to do to recapture my innocence and my security, I would do.

The kiss ended abruptly and I stood breathless. I was confused and I didn’t understand why he had stopped so suddenly. I didn’t want him to stop.

“No, my darling Glory,” he said and looked down into my face as he caressed my cheek with his fingertips. His face was again expressionless but his eyes showed great emotion. “I will not have you like this. No matter how desperately I want you and would otherwise move the heavens and Toril to have you, I will not have you so that you may hide from your fears.” He paused and kissed my forehead then looked down into my face again. His sadness deepened as he continued.

“I will not allow you to do something that you will hate me for afterward, and ultimately hate yourself for when you face your husband. No, I cannot, and will not, allow that to happen to you.”

I began to sob. I didn’t understand any of this. I didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand him. I was so terrified from what had happened and I just wanted him to kill my pain as he had killed the beast.

He held me close to him. His words gnawed at my confused and shattered insides, but the muffled sound of truth whispered in his words. But I could never hate him, that was impossible now. But I knew I would hate myself if I betrayed my husband’s love.

“Do not cry, my love,” he whispered in a voice I had not heard from him before. He kissed my hair and cradled my head to his chest. “Know that your pain strikes me to the core of my being and yet I know there is nothing I can do to save you from it. I want you more than I can find the words to tell you, but not like this. You would have to come to me with heart and soul unfettered and willing to give all of yourself to me, as I am willing to give all of myself to you. Only then can I take and prove my love to you unbounded. Only then will I make love to you that we are one together.” He paused.

“But I cannot, and will not, share you with another man. I will have all of you, or none of you. Anything less would be a lie unbefitting you or me.” He still held me tightly to him and his voice was sweet and tender.

“I am not such a fool to believe we will ever be together, but know, MorningGlory, in your heart of hearts that I love you, and I will always be in the shadows of your life to protect you, though you may not see me.”

I said nothing. His words stung and only added to the confusion raging within me. To hear him voice the words that he was in love with me was almost more than my tender psyche could handle at the moment. Again I understood and yet I didn’t understand. But still he made no attempt to release me from him. We stood silent for a long moment as I fought for my sanity to return.

“Aran, that is not possible. You can’t love me. You don’t even know me,” I whispered.

“But, my Lady, I do know you. And do not suppose to tell me what feelings rest within me. I have never deluded myself about Aran Linvail, or who, or what, I am. Not in any way. And though I clearly see the folly of such an emotional attachment to you, I also know there is little I can do to change it. And even if I could change it, I do not think that I would.” He leaned to my face and again kissed me lightly on my forehead.

“Now, my Lady, let us see if you are able to stand,” he said as he gently loosened his grasp on me and I was again standing on my own two feet. My knees and legs were weak and shaky. He held me steady with his arm around my waist as we turned and walked toward the door.

“By the Gods!!” Connor had opened the door and stood staring in shocking disbelief. “What has happened here?!!! Glory! Are you alright?!?”

I nodded feebly.

“Our dear Lady has just had a most unfortunate experience with a most unwelcome visitor,” Aran said. “Fortunately, I just happened to be in the neighborhood and heard the commotion. Right now, I think our Glory could probably use a snifter of brandy.”

“By the Gods!!” Connor repeated in utter astonishment as he briefly inspected the dead carcass heaped on his laboratory floor.

“Brandy, Salzston. I am sure you keep some around here someplace,” he snapped.

“Oh..oh yes, Aran. I have a bottle in my office. I’ll fetch it.”

With Aran’s help, I weakly limped to my office. He sat me on the small sofa as he propped the cushions in one corner and nestled me up against them. He picked up my feet and swung them around to rest on the small settee. He sat beside me and lovingly touched my cheek.

“How did I know you would keep the lavender roses,” he whispered and smiled, nodding toward my desk. “That is one thing I did not have in your dossier, and yet somehow I knew.”

“They are my favorite,” I said softly. “And, Aran, it was not necessary to send all of the flowers as an apology. There was nothing to forgive. You were right. I have no street smarts and tonight proved that.”

“Madam,” he smiled. “The lavender roses were for the apology. The others were for another reason that I don’t believe requires an explanation.”

Connor appeared at the door with the bottle, three glasses, and my amulet in his hand.

“I thought we could all use a little something to soothe our nerves,” he said as he handed me my amulet. “I found it by my doorway. Now, will one of you please tell me what in nine-hells is going on here? Why is there a headless, dead wolfwere in my laboratory?”

“Sit down, Connor,” Aran said. “We have a story we need to tell you.”

I was glad all I had to do was sip my brandy and listen.

It took Aran less than an hour to explain the topical points of the illithid plot. Connor sat rapt and absorbed with every sentence and every implication, nodding from time to time, and interjecting questions at the appropriate point.

“By the Gods,” he said in conclusion. “I wondered how long it would take them before they developed such a heinous plan.” He sat sprawled in the straight back chair in a state of near-resignation.

“Then you knew is was a possibility?” Aran said.

“Not just a possibility, but a great probability,” Connor replied. “Logical extrapolation, Aran. It was just a matter of time.” He leaned over and splashed another swallow of brandy into his glass. “Now I understand your urgency, dear Glory.”

“I..I was going to tell you, Connor, within the next few days,” I explained. “I just didn’t want to put you or us at risk for knowing too much too soon.”

“I fully understand, Glory,” he said and nodded.

“I propose that we continue this discussion at some point tomorrow,” Aran stood and said. “Right now, I think I should make sure Glory gets home safely and I know of no one other than myself who can provide such reasonable assurance.”

“Quite right, Aran. Quite right. And if Nigel will be arriving shortly, you certainly need to be there, Glory,” Connor nodded in agreement.

I stood and found that the shakiness had subsided. I didn’t know if it was because of the brandy or just that I was beginning to recover my senses. Aran retrieved my cloak and wrapped it around me and my shredded skirts then picked up my pouch with my notes.

“Oh, and Connor, I will leave a dozen or so guards posted and I will have the beast removed and the lab cleaned later tonight. No reason to upset your academic community with such unpleasantness,” he said.

“If I may, Aran, I would ask to retain the head. I would like to test for signature traces of any illithid domination. It might provide us with additional information.”

“As you wish,” he replied. We bid him goodnight and left. The carriage ride to the Government District and home was long and quiet.

“I am very proud of you, Glory,” he finally said. His voice was thoughtful and almost introspective. “I know you put up one hell of a fight against the beast. I am just sorry I wasn’t there sooner to save you some of the terror I know you went through.”

“No, Aran. I am just thankful you arrived when you did. Thank you for saving my life.” I leaned over and squeezed his hand. “My family will want to thank you, also.”

“That is not necessary, Madam, and in fact, I would prefer they didn’t.” he replied as he gazed out the window unconsciously chewing on his perfectly manicured thumbnail. The moonlight momentarily brushed across the sadness in his face. He hides, I thought. He hides behind the shadow of the moon. Maybe that is one of the lesser-known and lonelier qualities of the Shadowmaster, I thought.

We stood at the door of the great house.

“Good night, my dear Glory,” he said. He could not resist brushing my lips with his thumb as we stood in momentary silence.

“Thank you, Aran,” and I reached up to kiss his cheek. Again, the smell of lavender and sage greeted me. As long as I lived, I knew I would never forget his smell.

He flinched ever so slightly and whispered, “My Lady, you best go inside and attend to the needs of your family.” I stepped back and looked into his face. The sadness from the carriage still remained.

“Yes…, yes you are quite right,” I whispered. I hung my head as I turned to enter the big house.

“My Lady.”

I paused at his voice but could not turn to face him again.

“Do not ever forget what I said this night. It was from my heart and for that I will never apologize,” he said softly.

I nodded as I didn’t trust my voice and I couldn’t risk looking into his eyes again. I left him standing there as I entered the house and closed the door behind me.

I leaned up against the entrance and my eyes welled with tears. Only a few hours earlier I had thought I would never again cross this threshold. Only a few hours earlier I had been knocking at death’s door, and that man who stood alone on the other side of this door had saved my life.

Drusay quickly approached me from down the long hallway.

“Oh, Madam,” he began, “I did not hear you come in. Is Madam all right?” My disheveled sight and obvious tears immediately alarmed him. “Shall I fetch Master Tabor, Madam?”

I shook my head. “No, Drusay. I will go and repair myself and return shortly. In the meanwhile, I am expecting a young man by the name of Nigel Warhol. He will be our guest for a few days. If you would please see to quarters for him and have Gernsey prepare him something to eat. Also inform Father and tell Father I will explain after I put myself back together.” I thought about that last part. Put myself back together. I would never be the same person that walked out that door this morning. But I had survived.


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