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Mind Games VII

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#1 Guest_MorningGlory_*

Posted 18 March 2004 - 07:01 AM


From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston

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


With the back of my skirts in shreds, I didn’t dare remove my cloak until I was upstairs and secluded within our apartment. I dropped it on the floor and leaned back against the door. My haven, my home of heart. The place where Hendak and I shared our life together with our children. The most important place and center of my world. I was safely here at last.

A torrent of racking sobs erupted as I ran into the adjacent bedchamber and flung myself on the bed. My pillow would silence my wailing as heavy tears began to flow uncontrollably into it and a jumbled profusion of sweeping emotions deluged me. They dashed and whirled inside me, attacking me with the chiseled claws and sharp teeth of demons unleashed, all clamoring for and demanding immediate recognition and attention. The gamut ran from the onrushing horror and fear of the night, to anger, to rage. Then waves of more anger, more rage, culminating in pure hate. Untenable emotions that were foreign to me ebbed and flowed unchecked, then repeated again. Raw, primal feelings I had only read of in my textbooks, or listened about in lectures, or heard from the mouths of patients. Now I understood as they insidiously wrapped me with sinewy tendrils pulling me under and into a rip tide of putrid, fetid, screaming hell. They held me in locked in their vicelike grip and mercilessly tore at me in my place of solitude, my home.

The pillow muffled my wails as I began to pound the corner of it with my clenched fist. I. Was. So. Angry…… My knotted hand pounded harder and my mournful wails grew increasingly intense in direct proportion to my internal rage.

I was not only angry that the beast had defiled me by almost killing me, I was also angry at myself for being so blindly ignorant -- for being so trusting and not seeing the danger. And when the danger became blatantly known, I was helpless to do anything about it – I could not fight to defend myself. My self-directed rage magnified the realization of my helpless, unwitting self. Did I have to depend upon the beneficence of a half-god and a master assassin and thief to protect me? Was I so incapable? Was I so weak and totally vulnerable? There had to be more to me than this! There had to be! I pounded the pillow that much harder as my cascading tears poured into the pillow.

And, what would happen next time, I thought. What if fortune abandoned me and I had to totally depend upon my own skills and wits? Would I survive? Probably not. The ugly truth was that I had no skills! It was only because of some innate survival instinct I had lasted until Aran arrived and saved me. But would fate fall in my favor again? Providence was fickle. The next time -- if there were a next time -- would someone be there to save me? Would the dice roll in my favor, or was I already doomed to fall victim to the perils that I might face?

I continued to wail as I lay there and tried not to think of ‘next time’. I shuddered to imagine that my fate rested in the hands of some unknown, or known, deity and their disposition of the day, or whether someone far more capable than I would be available at the precise moment my life hung in the balance that I required their intervention.

Suddenly, a foreign, new feeling flooded through me, taking hold of me, lifting me up and bringing with it a warm solid strength I did not recognize. From deep within me a strong voice whispered through the emotional gales raging in my mind. ‘You have the power to put your fate into your own hands,’ it said, clearly and distinctly. Then Father’s words from long ago quickly followed in its wake. I heard his voice clearly as if he were standing beside me. ‘Grasp your own fate, Glory,’ I heard him say. ‘Make it yours, because if you do not, there will be Gods and mortals alike to grasp it for you and lay claim to it for their own designs.’

The words of the mysterious voice and my Father slowly saturated my mind. And, as they did, my wailing and crying began to subside, and the rages within me began to calm. The realization of the verity I had just experienced settled into me and I could feel the bonding that only truth can make with one’s soul. It could only be described as an epiphany, but whether it was from an unknown God, or my own inner strength, I did not know. I was instantly taken by the sheer force of a new determination and will. Something within me had gurgled and bubbled and then made itself known. A part of me that had lain sleeping for all my life was now awakened. I recognized it as part of me, and it knew me, but this was the first time I had never met ‘it’. A new wave of thoughts borne of this new determination began to grow and overshadow the feelings and thoughts of fear and inadequacy.

I clenched my teeth, I tightened my fists, I swore. By the Gods, I was never going to be helpless again. I had a choice, and I would take my own fate into my own hands and not leave it to others’ pernicious meddling. By the Gods, I would learn to see what threatened me long before it appeared. Then, by the Gods, I would learn how to eradicate it, how to stop it before it even started. I would not, could not, ever let myself be at the mercy of ignorance ever again. Whatever it took. I was a survivor and I would find the way. My unknowingness could be cured and my wits and instincts could be honed. And, I was not without resources. I was intelligent and I could learn, and now I had the drive to do so….. I would learn how to use these innate skills and new, learned ones in a finely-tuned concert to protect myself. And, even more importantly, my cherished ones and all else I held dear.

And the evil that had assaulted me, that had singled me out to kill me and render my children motherless, I would hunt down. This baleful, vile thing would not succeed. I would do all within my power to find it and exact the vengeance upon it in retribution for nearly destroying me. Oh, yes, it would pay… I would learn and it would pay. By all that was holy, it would pay for stripping me of my innocence and my sense of security. This new power of determination inside me would be channeled into a concentrated stream of pure retribution. Somehow I would exact the debt owed to me. I would have my revenge and annihilate it.

My determination continued to flow through me as an eerie calmness settled over me. The anger and the hatred were now checked and put into the little places in my mind I had made for them as the last of my tears began to subside. I sat up on the edge of the bed. Was this still me? Or, was this a new me? This violence had awakened a slumbering part of me I didn’t know existed. Professionally, I knew that people subjected to brutal and unspeakable violence could manifest various behaviors in response to it. Was my epiphany just… typical? I couldn’t answer and my changing mindset told me it was a rhetorical question that did not matter now.

I calmly stood and went to the closet. ‘Business at hand,’ something within me whispered. ‘You must take care of the task at hand.’ I pulled a pair of lounging pants and one of Hendak’s shirts from the rack to change then I proceeded to remove my tattered dress. The back of the skirt had been shredded into long silk ribbons by the hand of the beast. Transfixed, I held it and stared at it. No, I would not dispose of the dress. I would keep it to remind me of how my innocence was stripped and slivered into nonexistence in the same way the dress had caught and torn in his razor claws. It would now be a symbol to remind me of my mission. To remind me that providence had been cruelly kind. Yes, I needed to keep the dress until I had overcome my ignorance and accomplished my goals. Only then would I dispose of it. I carefully folded it and placed it in the bottom drawer of the closet bureau.

I sat down at the dressing table and I looked in the mirror. This wasn’t the same person that sat here and looked in this mirror only this morning. My face was red and swollen, but I could instantly remedy that with a mix of herbal crèmes. But no crèmes and no magics could change the look in my eyes.

I began to unbraid my hair and shook it loose. Long dark curls draped well past my shoulders. The crèmes were doing their own brand of magic and the swelling and redness instantly subsided. I gently tissued it away. I touched my cheek where only a short while ago Aran had kissed me. Yes, in the aftermath of terror, I had kissed a man who was other than my husband and had enjoyed it. I looked at myself in the mirror thinking I should have regrets about it, but I didn’t. If anything, I regretted I didn’t have regrets. It had been so surreal, as if I were another person. Yet I was grateful at being alive -- and I was alive only because of him.

I continued to stare at the mirror, and as I did, what he had told me came back to me with vivid clarity. A sharp, fleeting pang of guilt stabbed at me. If there were to be any regrets of our brief encounter, it was hearing him tell me he loved me. Even he had said it was folly -- but a folly he would do nothing about. He was real and worldly and did not delude himself. I had no choice but to believe him. Did he so enjoy wallowing in such self-inflicted torment? Damn him! I closed my eyes and cursed him again and again. Why did he have to burden me by telling me that? Why did I feel responsible for his feelings even though I did nothing? I had no control over how he felt about me. ‘You cannot do this,’ the voice within cautioned me. ‘You cannot indulge yourself with recriminations of things over which you have no control.’ I opened my eyes and began to brush loose the curls. It was hard to push the thought of him from my mind. He had been there. He had saved me and taken care of me when I needed someone the most.

But, what was he doing at the lab tonight? It had never occurred to me to ask him. He had been dressed in assassin’s clothing himself. Black, faceless, deadly with a host of enhanced daggers tipped with the trademark of the high-ranking killers. He was way beyond that within his organization. Did he just go out on occasion just for the thrill of it? Why was he there? Did he know there was a threat??!!! The thought startled me.

I jumped at a knock on my outer door. It was Father.

“Glory? Are you all right?” he asked as he entered the room.

“In here, Father,” I responded through the open connecting door.

Father always wore his concern in the furrows on his brow and even across the room I could see them firmly etched. “Are you alright, Glory?” he repeated himself as he walked over beside me.

“Yes, Father,” I replied calmly, my emotional control surprising me. “There was an intruder at the lab this evening, but he was quickly dispatched. It was upsetting at the moment, but I have since recovered.” My own even tone of voice surprised me.

“What type of ‘intruder’?” he asked warily as he sat down nearby on the edge of the bed.

“A beast. A werewolf, I believe. I…I didn’t get a good look before he was killed and disposed of.” I lied to him for his own good and continued to brush through my hair. I didn’t want Father worrying over something that was done and past.

“By the Gods,” he whispered. “How…how—“

I interrupted him. “I am not quite sure how he gained entry. But he was quickly killed.”

“And, pray tell, who killed the beast? Salzston?” he asked. His eyes had grown wide with astonishment.

“Aran Linvail was there. He dispatched him quite handily,” I replied matter-of-factly.

“Well, I am not surprised. Linvail’s expertise as a master assassin is legendary throughout all of Faerun. Lethal and deadly. His enemies never survive.” The furrows deepened as he gazed at me intently. “And just what was Linvail doing there in the first place?”

“I don’t know.” That was really true. I didn’t know. “He is Dr. Salzston’s benefactor and research sponsor. He is the one who built the laboratory and equipped it for him. I can only imagine he was there to see Salzston.”

“Glory, what does Aran Linvail have to do with all of this? I know there is more than what you are telling me,” he said with a note of trepidation. He wasn’t buying my glossed-over explanation. I looked at him straight away.

“Father, Aran Linvail saved my life.” My voice was filled with deadly calm. “If he hadn’t been there, I am quite sure I would not be sitting here now.”

“Glory! –“ he began. I raised my hand to halt the stream of questions I knew was coming.

“Father, I am fine. Everything is okay and there is no need for alarm. Look, I will tell you everything I know,” I said knowing I would eventually have to tell them all that I knew anyway.

As I began to detail Linvail’s involvement with the illithid affair, Father began to relax. I told him all I knew -- the financing of the lab two years ago, the information on the illithid plot, Sashar’s involvement, finding Nigel and bringing him to us, the maludian. I told him everything and he listened quietly nodding his head. I carefully omitted the real details of the attack of the wolfwere. It was just best that Father not know everything.

“So you were at Linvail’s last evening,” he said and sighed. I nodded. He sat quietly for a moment then shook his head.

“I blame Hendak for this. I understand how he feels, but his first obligation is to the protection of you and my grandchildren. This threat upon you would not have happened if he had been home. He should have been here.” He was angry. “And your amulet, Glory. Did it not protect you?”

“I…It slipped from my neck and my hand when I went to call upon its protection,” I replied. I didn’t dare tell him the whole truth. “And, Father, this is not Hendak’s fault. This would have happened even if he had been here. Someone, or something, wanted our work halted,” …and apparently me killed, but I didn’t voice that part of it. “Hendak being here would not have changed things.”

There was irony in what he said. Had Hendak been here, I knew I would probably not be alive at all. If Hendak had been home and not with Riona’s party, my instincts told me Aran would not have been at the lab.

I pulled my hair back and tied it with a simple ribbon and again looked in the mirror. Yes, the naiveté I saw only this morning had evaporated as so much mist earlier in the lab. It had been replaced with a steely determination to heap vengeance upon the head of my assailants. I arose and slipped on dressing sandals. “Come, Father. I am sure that if Nigel isn’t already here, he will be shortly. He is a nice young man and I think you will like him and find him interesting.”

“I did meet him, just briefly. He arrived just before I came upstairs, Glory,” Father said thoughtfully. “And I imagine he is probably in the dining room by now. A former illithid captive, you say?”

“An invaluable one. A thrall to one of their upper-class government officials. A wealth of information as well as a fascinating story.”

“How do we know he is being truthful?” Father asked.

“He has the very best reason in the world to be telling the truth,” I replied. “Linvail has promised him that if he can help us, he will be, shall we say, reunited with his love. A great incentive.”

“Ah….,Love is a very powerful and persuasive influence, Glory,” he nodded and we left to go downstairs. His words smarted ever so slightly.

Nigel was in the dining room heartily indulging in his second helping. He rose from the table when we entered and dabbed at his mouth with his napkin as he hurriedly swallowed his mouthful of food.

“Nigel, how good of you to join us as our guest for a few days,” I smiled as we approached the table. “I understand that you have already met my Father,” I said as Father and I sat down to join him. Nigel extended his hand and Father again greeted him to our home.

“And, Nigel, I trust your quarters are comfortable?” I asked as Drusay served Father and me plates of broiled fish.

“Oh, yes, Madam. It is most kind of you and Master Gaeston to invite me,” he began.

“Please, Nigel. Call me Tabor. Master Gaeston makes me feel very old indeed,” Father smiled. “Glory tells me you are a scribe and a librarian.” I had told Father a little of Nigel, including his current position with Linvail as the custodian of the Shadow Thieves small collection of books. Father was most intrigued with what ‘thieves’ might read.

“The classics are all there,” Nigel began. “Along with various histories. And then, of course, military strategies and campaigns. Those seem to be of particular interest to Master Linvail. There are a few on arcane magics as well as a few on modern sciences. And he directs what goes into the library and what does not. Of course, I can and do make suggestions to which he listens. But he is not one to abide the frivolous, so-called modern romantic writings. A waste of perfectly good words and parchment, he says,” Nigel explained. Father nodded in agreement. As I thought about it, it sounded like his library, except exchanging out the military strategies and campaigns for an equal number of arcane magic books.

“He’s quite literate, you know,” I volunteered. “Linvail, I mean. Very well read. And, collects first editions from what I understand.”

Father nodded again. I think he was mildly impressed that one of such nefarious reputation could be interested in such learned pursuits.

“Nigel,” I said as Drusay cleared the last of the plates. “We will begin early in the morning, right after breakfast. I hope we can spend at least an hour, maybe two, before I have to leave for the lab.”

“Very well, Madam,” he said. “Then, if you would have no objections, I will retire for the evening. It has been a long day, and I really do enjoy a bit of reading before dropping off for the night.”

“By all means,” I replied. “It has been a very long day for all of us.” He arose from the table and leaned to shake Father’s hand.

“And, please make yourself at home, Nigel,” Father began. “Should you need anything, just ring. Tomorrow I will give you a brief tour of my modest collection of books and writings. Then you can compare what thieves read with what wizards read.” He chuckled.

“Thank you, sir. I would enjoy that.” and with that Nigel bid us a good evening and left to go to his quarters.

“Are you sure you are all right?” Father asked me again as we sat alone at the table sipping the last of our wine.

“Yes, Father. I…I admit to being shaken at the time, but I am fine now and you and I know there are more important tasks at hand. I do not have the time to indulge in thinking of what might have been.” My own sudden burst of pragmatism surprised even me.

He nodded and looked at me. “I’m glad you are safe, Glory. I supposed I am indebted to Linvail for that.”

“Father, I don’t think he would see it that way. He…he has his own agenda for seeing us succeed. Although I don’t know exactly what it is, I am sure it isn’t the most altruistic at heart.” I sighed. Suddenly I was exhausted. All I wanted to do is sleep.

I kissed Father goodnight and trudged back up the stairs. Before reaching my door, I quietly entered the nursery. I tiptoed in and two smiling little faces raised from their beds to greet me. “My babies,” I whispered and a lump rose in my throat. I cuddled and kissed them both and coaxed them back to sleep. It was time for Mommy to sleep.

I stripped my clothes and left them in a pile by the side of the bed and slid between the sheets. My pillow was saturated from all the tears. A faint scent of sweet honey flowers greeted me as I buried my head into Hendak’s pillow instead. Sleep would be welcome relief, but I didn’t know if it was going to be peaceful or not. In a short while I would be in the middle of dream sharing with Hendak and I would have to tell him what happened. All of it. How he would react was unknown and I was too emotionally spent to be concerned. I lay staring at the top of the canopy over our bed until sleep finally overtook me.

I awoke in a beautiful garden with a carved stone bench. I stepped toward it and suddenly felt my husband’s strong arms around me. “What is wrong, my love,” he whispered in my ear, his voice full of concern.

I turned and looked up into his eyes as I fought the choking feeling in my throat and my eyes welled with tears.

“What has happened?” he asked seeing my face, his concern growing.

“I was almost killed today. An…an assassin, we think.”

“Are..are you all right? You’re not hurt?”

“No..no, I am all right. But I thought I was going to die,” I said and choked back the tears.

He clutched me tightly to him. “By the Gods, Glory,” he whispered. “Here, come and sit and tell me what happened.”

I began to explain in vivid detail as we sat on the bench. The wolfwere, the burner, my dress, the electrodes, and Linvail’s fortuitous arrival. He sat and listened intently with his arms tightly around me.

“Oh, my love,” he whispered. “Thank the Gods you are safe. Thank the Gods that Linvail was there.”

“Hendak, I…I have to tell you something else. I…I kissed him. After he saved me, I…I kissed him. I don’t know why, but I did.” I had to tell him. Eventually he would know anyway. “I…I am sorry, Hendak.” I said and the tears I had managed to withhold until that moment silently trickled down my face. “You know I love you and I would do nothing to betray you. I –“ He interrupted me.

“Shh….shh…. Not to worry, my love. I know. I know.” He looked down and brushed the hair back from my face and wiped the tears with his finger. “It’s all right, my love. I understand…I understand. I am just thankful he was there. As for kissing him….” He paused and smiled. “I understand, Glory. I could never be angry with you, my love. You lost a part of you today. A part of your sweetness and innocence was ripped from you by the harsh intrusion of a cruel world of which you have no real understanding.” He leaned forward and kissed me on my forehead. “And, I can still feel how terrorized and brutalized you were and I can feel the anger you had. But, I also can feel and know how deeply you love me. And whether you had kissed him or not, I am still indebted to him for being there and saving you, whatever his reasons.” He held me to him and caressed my cheek. “Not to worry, my love. Rest and sleep now. Know how much I love you and I will be home tomorrow.” He held me until I slipped again into the state of deep sleep.

A new day. I had greeted the children and told them their Father would be home today. The words sounded so wonderful to my own ears as I heard myself explain to them, more for my benefit than theirs.

Nigel had already finished his morning meal and I asked Drusay to bring us tea and a small tray for myself in the Lounge. Ki was also in attendance for the duration of our session.

“Nigel,” I began. “I will cut right to the chase. I need you to tell me everything you know about the illithid. Even the smallest detail cannot go ignored. Can you do that?”

“Yes..yes, Madam,” he replied. “I can do that.”

“I do realize this is not easy for you, but I cannot begin to tell you how important it is. Then we will work on the related anxiety episodes. But right now, I need to know as much as you know.” I tried to impress the urgency of my request without sending him into another anxiety attack and rendering him useless.

“Yes, Madam. I can do this.” He had correctly interpreted the urgency in my voice.

I reviewed my notes of our first conversations. “Nigel, you were explaining the birthing pods when we stopped the other day.” He nodded. “You explained the ceremorphosis process.” He nodded again and slightly squirmed. “You mentioned the criteria for the host – that they had certain needs in their hosts. Did you ever hear or learn what those criteria were and why?”

“When the master took me to the inner circle, he also explained that there were certain neurochemicals that had to be present in the host’s brain in order to initiate the changing process by the tadpole once it was introduced. Apparently some races lack these chemicals and are simply unsuitable.”

“Did he ever mention which ones were acceptable and which were not?” I asked.

“Humans and elves were the most ideal. As well as the drow, githyanki, gnolls, and orcs. But there are certain physical characteristics in humans that are prized. Unsuitable were halflings, dwarves, giants, kuo-toa, and gnomes. But some of this information I got from another elder’s thrall. A neighbor whose master was the head of the Creatives Creed and did research on improving the process. They were seeking to expand the criteria for hosts and to improve the survival rate of the tadpoles themselves.”

“In short, they were seeking to expand their own population precipitously, correct?” I wanted to make sure I understood his implication.

“Yes, Madam. That was my impression. More illithid, more control.”

“You mentioned the tadpole survival rate. Can you elaborate?”

“The survival rate is quite poor, Madam. From what our neighbor learned from his master, an adult illithid only produces two egg sacs during his entire lifetime of approximately 120 years. Those sacs are placed in auxiliary pools adjacent to the elder brain’s pool where they hatch into the tadpoles. But they do not mature to the next stage for implantation until almost ten years later, and in that time, many die of different causes. The least of which is that the elder brain sometimes relishes a convenient snack. The result is that perhaps only one in a thousand survive the long maturation process.” One in a thousand, I thought. By the Gods, what if they increased that survival rate to only two in a thousand? And it certainly sounded like that was exactly their goal.

“How are they nourished?” I asked. No one here on the surface knew that the tadpole phase lasted so long and it had to be impossible for them to survive on the nutrients provided in the egg sac.

“They are fed a mixture of ground brain meal combined with additional chemicals. It, too, was a formula derived by the Creatives Creed. There are thralls that are delegated with the tasks of cleaning the pools and feeding. On rare and special occasions, the illithid who have a certain maternal/paternal feeling toward their spawn will arrive with a freshly-harvested brain to feed them.” I found the thought grossly repulsive.

“You mentioned ‘creed’ before, Nigel,” I began. “What exactly is a ‘creed’?”

“Yes, Madam,” he replied. “The illithid have very specific and very different philosophies. It seems to be a part of their personal make-up to hold to such strong opinions. The creeds are simply groupings of affiliated illithid possessing the same philosophical and ideological ideas and leanings.”

“Are these religious in nature?” I asked, somewhat confused.

“No, Madam. They are more political, although a few are truly philosophical in nature. Such as the one in which my master was very entrenched – the Gatherers. It was his creed that elected him to represent them in the Elder Concord. He had held that position of esteem for the better part of 60 years. But, unlike the other creeds in the city, the Gatherers had an inter-community affiliation and communication. The other seven or eight creeds were all independent of other communities’ corresponding organizations.”

“Nigel, are you saying that each of the creeds elected a representative to the ruling council within the city?” I asked.

“Yes, Madam. They had their own republic form of government, the Elder Brain serving as the theoretical executive head and the Elder Concord serving as representatives of the illithid populace according to creed affiliation. All very civilized. Probably more civilized than our own Council of Six, if truth be told.”

“And there was no coalescing between communities? No larger, national government or organization?”

“No, madam. No recognition from one community to another. Except for the Gatherers Creed.”

He was correct. It was civilized. A genius race whose biggest flaw in their art of conquest was they were not successfully linked or organized from city to settlement to village to city. They were all independent of each other. All but the Gatherers Creed, that is. I wondered if within the five years Nigel had been freed if the other Gatherers had finally succeeded in convincing the other factions to join together for the sake of conquest. It was so logical, how had their singular flaw escaped them all this time?

We continued our discussion of the various other factions, or creeds, and he explained as much as he knew about each of them. Being an educated thrall, and ironically praised for the use of his brain as opposed to the possible epicurean delights of it, had given Nigel certain advantages in his incarceration. His master was obviously intrigued by his intellectual curiosity and actually went out of his way to feed it. Before our session ended, I had to ask him.

“Nigel, forgive me being so indelicate, but I must ask. Why do you think your master let you live? Given the illithids’ appetite for intelligence consumption, why do you think your master did not succumb to simply devouring you?”

He must have known the question was coming and he faintly smiled.

“My master, as I told you, was quite old. And for simply nourishment sake, the illithid only require a brain once in a month’s time. I believe that he relished me more for my company and abilities than he did for a snack. And, as he explained, if he wanted to relish the flavor of a particular brain, he would go to a performance eating get together, which he sometimes did. Some were deemed required social occasions.”

“Do I dare ask what ‘performance eating’ is?” I asked. I knew I wasn’t going to like the answer. Again he smiled faintly.

“It’s a recreational past time, of sorts, as well as an excuse for socialization. Second to the gladiator tournaments, it is probably the most popular.” He sighed. “There are actually epicurean illithid, if you can imagine. And approximately once in a ten-day, one of these renowned gourmets will hold a ‘party’ of sorts. He invites various of the elite and has very carefully preselected the subject thrall for such delicacy to be consumed. What criteria they might employ, I do not know, except that is does vary from party to party. Taste, I imagine. The attending illithid form a psionic bonding of exactly what nature I am unsure, but when the hosting illithid does consume the subject, the other participating illithid receive the same exact physical and mental sensations as if they had consumed the subject themselves. My master assured me it was quite festive and the sharing experience was more than satisfying for his needs and age.”

I hated to leave at this point, but I had to get to the lab. We had already spent well over an hour and I wanted to continue when Riona and company arrived this afternoon. But I wanted Nigel to do a little homework in the meanwhile.

“Nigel, I simply must leave shortly, but we will continue this afternoon after Riona returns. But I want you to do me a favor in the meantime. I want you to trace me out a general map of the entire city – the top level thrall city, the outer circle, and, as well as you can remember it, the inner circle. Can you do that for us? Then we will sit down and you can give us all a description in one sitting.”

“Yes, Madam. That is certainly no problem. And your father has been kind enough to allow me the run of his library, so I will go and quickly draw it out for you.”

“And, Nigel. I neglected to ask you, but do you know how to read any qualith at all?”

“I…I can read a very small portion. It is a very complicated series of codes of communication. But my master had deemed me worthy of learning and not fearing any possible reprisal or threat, he was teaching me. I think for him it was an experiment, much as we teach a dog to fetch a stick. But I fear I can only make out certain things.”

I breathed a huge sigh of relief. “That is wonderful, Nigel. Riona is bringing back many parchments as well as some maps. All of your help is going to be sorely needed.”

A few more minutes of discussion and I had Drusay call for the carriage. I couldn’t honestly say I was looking forward to entering the lab this morning but my determination had taken on a new dimension. A drive fueled by the desire of shedding my helplessness and exacting vengeance. I decided it wasn’t a new me after all. It was just going to be an improved and expanded version of me. My trauma was not going to make a prisoner out of me. I was going to use it as a springboard to make something more of myself. I was about to take my own fate into my own hands.

Connor met me at the door. “I am glad to see you are all right, Glory,” he said, almost sheepishly.

“Yes, Connor. I am all right. Not the best I have ever been, but I can assure you I am my father’s daughter, and I will survive, and survive well.” I smiled at him.

“Good. And, I have fresh tea for us to start the day.”

We sat in my office sipping tea and running over the day’s outline. Realizing the extent of what we were up against, Connor seemed invigorated by the challenge. Working on the edge appealed to him and also inspired him to even greater brilliance. I was amazed at how fast his mind worked and found I could hardly keep up. In the middle of the night he had arrived at a new theory. An inspiration of his prayers to Oghma, or so he said.

“I do believe that we will find that the salts Riona is bringing to us can be culled into a preventative potion to ward off any illithid mind threat to any individual,” he said triumphantly. “I believe that there is something in those salts that can create a certain chemical imbalance within our own brains that would be imperceivable to us, but would ‘short-circuit’ any psionic influence already present and also prevent any from occurring.”

“Do you know if we would suffer any side effects?” I asked in utter amazement at this man. He was an inspired genius.

“Now, that is, if my assumptions are correct as to what those samples contain that she is carrying back for us,” he cautioned me. “But, no, nothing I can readily see. It would only be a slight chemical imbalance. Not one that would create any problems in thought patterns or memory cores within the humanoid brain. I doubt that any person in normal health would even be able to tell any difference,” he mused as he unconsciously rubbed the day-old red stubble on his chin. “Perhaps a slight headache for the more sensitive.”

“And the collars?” I asked.

“Ah, yes…. The collars we will resume work on when we get the salts analyzed and create our potion. And, of course we will have to prove they work. Then we will have a means of prevention. That is step one. As for the collars, we will need to produce several for Riona’s possible use. I am quite sure they will come in very handy for her upcoming exploits.” He raised his eyebrows and looked over his pince-nez. I nodded in agreement.

“And..and the lab?” I asked.

“Spic and span, my dear. And no signature trace of illithid domination in the brain of the beast. Apparently he was nothing more than a hired assassin, albeit a formidable one. And you know, that brings up questions about the illithid’s involvement with certain elements on the surface world, as well. As in, do they actually have independent dealings with some of the more base creatures here topside?”

I nodded and a shiver ran through me.

“But Connor, why would they use a hired assassin instead of a dominated thrall?” I asked.

“I quite well imagine that whatever illithid are secreted in the area, they are already consumed with controlling the ones under their domination within the government, or the Gods know what else. They are, for all intents and purposes, probably ‘maxed out’.”

That made sense. And if that were true, then there couldn’t be too many physically within the area. Connor himself had worked on the theory that their range of mental influence was no more than seven or eight miles. Assuming there were links from the illithid here to the location of the trancers, there still couldn’t be more than a dozen or so secreted within the city or within that seven-mile circumference.

We heard the bell in the reception area and quickly glanced at each other. I instinctively grabbed my amulet and clinched it tightly as my heart palpitated.

“I thought I would stop by and see if everyone was well this beautiful day.” Aran stood in the door smiling, a dozen lavender roses in his arms. “And, I thought I might join you for tea, if you have no objections.”

“Of course we have no objections,” Connor laughed in relief. “Do come in. I will fetch another cup.”

He walked over to me and picked up my hand to greet me. Gone were the black cape, the black tunic, and the black trousers. He had donned his elegant finery for the civilized daylight hours. But the ever-present lavender and sage permeated the air along with the roses.

“Good morning, my Lady,” he said. “I do trust you are well today?” His voice was sweet and solicitous and he gently kissed my hand. “These are for you. I was in hopes they might brighten your mood -- of course, should your mood need brightening.”

“Thank you, Aran. I..I am much better today,” I replied taking the roses. Damn him! Why did he do this to me? Why did I let him implicate myself in his feelings!

Arriving with cup in hand, Connor quickly assessed the situation and making an excuse to check on a brewing concoction in the lab, excused himself momentarily.

“I…I need to talk to you,” I said as I walked over and closed the door behind him.

“Yes, my Lady. What about? Is there something you need? ” He was most genuine and the uneasy flirtatious glibness was notably absent.

“I want to know what you were doing here last night. And I want the truth,” I said. “Did you know there was a threat against me? Did you know and you didn’t tell me?”

He sighed and shook his head. “No, Glory. I did not know there was a threat. When I saw the messenger from the distance, I assumed he was a courier, just as you did. I only became concerned when I did not see him leave. Then I knew something was wrong.” The implications from my questions unnerved him and he walked to me and gripped my shoulders. “You can’t think I allowed that to happen to you! You think I would subject you to such horrors that I could come in and play hero!!? Do you seriously believe that I would risk you being hurt, or worse, being killed?!” He was suddenly angry and his voice was raised as he thought of my insinuations.

“No, no, no….., I don’t believe you would risk me being hurt. I…I just wanted to know what you were doing here,” I said shaking my head trying to keep tears from forming.

“I was watching and protecting you, if you must know,” he said. “Granted, I didn’t do a very expert job at the onset, but that, my dear Lady, was exactly what I was doing here.” I looked into his eyes. He was telling me the truth and I suddenly felt very ashamed and small. This man had saved my life and I had just accused him of putting it at risk. I must have seemed so excruciatingly ungrateful.

“I’m sorry, Aran…I’m sorry, Aran. I had to know. I had to hear you tell me,” I whispered and continued to choke back the tears. His face softened.

“I…I understand,” he sighed and shook his head. “It’s over and done with now.” He loosened his grip on my shoulders and his hands fell to his sides.

“No, it is not over and done with,” I said. “I made a vow to myself last night I would never be caught like that again.” He looked at me and frowned, not knowing what to expect.

“What exactly do you mean, Glory?” he asked. “Are you referring to before the animal’s death, or after? Because, if you are referring to after, then I can assure you--.” I interrupted him.

“No, Aran, I am referring to ridding myself of my helplessness. I want you to teach me how to use the dagger,” I said and paused a moment for the words to settle on him. “I want you to teach me how to fight with it and how to throw it. And I want you to make me good at it. And from what I understand, you would be the best teacher because you are the most accomplished in all of Amn.”

I had caught him unaware. He blinked. And, ever so slightly he blushed.

“Glory…I…I’ve never taught anyone how –“

I interrupted him again. “Then I suppose I will be your first successful pupil.” I paused. “Aran, you were right. I have no street smarts and I am totally incapable of defending myself short of my instincts and my bare wits. And we both know that will not take me very far. I have no skills and am totally ignorant when it comes to weaponry and its use. But I made a vow to myself last night that I would change that.

“Now. Will you assist me, or must I seek less competent instruction from the second-best assassin in all of Amn?”

His brow furrowed as he stared at me for a very long minute saying nothing. He bit his lower lip and finally nodded. “I will teach you, Glory. I will teach you how to defend yourself. And what of your husband, Madam? Will your husband care that I teach his lovely wife how to wield a dagger?” The edge in his voice was as sharp as any dagger’s blade.

“Since you are reputed to be the most accomplished in Amn, I imagine he will be quite pleased I had the foresight to select such a formidable instructor,” I replied.

“I can see I have no choice, my Lady,” he nodded. I could tell he didn’t like this idea, but he knew if he didn’t help me, I would make good on my word and find someone who would. As for Hendak, I knew he wasn’t going to be pleased, either, but they were both just going to have to live with it. It was a promise I had made to me.

“Good. Then you will pick me up at dawn in the morning at my house and we will go wherever one goes to learn such a skill,” I said. He audibly groaned.


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