From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston
(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, mild language, violence,)
“Now, tell me what equipment I will need and I will go to the Mart later and secure it from Ribald,” I said, impatience edging my voice. “Yes, Aran, make me a list.”
“I will supply whatever is needed,” he said casually as he walked to the table and poured himself a cup of tea then stepped towards Maurice. “Anyway, whatever makes you think you would even know what you were looking at to buy.” I caught his smirking half-smile as he carefully balanced his cup in one hand and gently stroked the big Kirani with the other. His eyes danced with amusement as he glanced sideways at me.
“I know about Ribald’s back room,” I replied indignantly. “I know he carries special items. He certainly would take good care of someone with coin to spend.” I walked behind my desk and picked up the roses and buried my nose in the sweet scent.
“Oh, yes, Glory. He most certainly would take good care of someone who had coin to spend – especially if that person had more coin than the good sense to make the proper selection.” His growing amusement at my expense was most obvious as he returned to the small sofa table to top off his cup.
“Your assertion is unfair, Aran,” I protested.
“Many things in life are unfair, Madam,” he replied and took the chair in front of my desk. “Anyway, you will not be starting with a dagger proper.” His amusement still lingered.
“What?! I thought you said you would teach me! How am I supposed to learn if I don’t even have a dagger?” He was certainly treating my proposed lessons very casually and not with the gravity I felt they deserved. “I am most serious about this, Aran. This is no momentary whim, as I fully intend to see this through.”
“You will… And, I will teach you. But I am no fool to give you a poisoned enchanted dagger on our first outing.” He smirked again. “What do you take me for?”
“Are you afraid I might hurt you?” Two could play this little game. Maybe it was time for him to see how tempermental I could be. “Are you afraid that I might take you out -- Amn’s premier assassin felled by unknown novice -- and earn an entry in the infamous histories of the Shadow Thieves?” I was sure my sharp-edged sarcasm hit home. I meant for it to.
He stared at me a brief moment, annoyance instantly displayed in his pursed lower lip. “No, Madam, it is for your own good. I am afraid you will hurt yourself,” he said dryly and paused. “And what would happen then? I would have the Cowled Wizards after my head as well as half the Gods of Faerun. Not a very pleasant prospect, Glory, from my vantage point.” He paused for another sip and the smirk began to slowly return. “Oh, no, Madam. I will teach you, but it will be on my terms and in my own way. And you will learn as well as your talent will allow, or maybe more, depending upon how generous I might be feeling at the time.”
I was more than annoyed with him now. I wasn’t a schoolchild to be talked down to and I resented his cavalier attitude towards something so important to me. The ‘new me’ reacted without hesitation. “Why must you be such an insufferable ass. You are pompous, arrogant, and…and--” I had blurted it out without thinking. I immediately bit my lower lip, shocked at my unseemly candor. He was totally unfazed and his half-smile erupted into a full-on grin.
“But my dear Lady, I have every reason to be arrogant and pompous. I have the skills, the power, and the wherewithal to back it all up.” One eyebrow rose. “What is your excuse for your elitist snobbery and condescension by which you supposedly judge me in the first place?” His eyes sparkled. He had intentionally provoked me and was toying with me now.
“I most certainly am not an elitist or a snob!” I objected in defense. How dare he! “I am discriminating, yes. And I suppose …I can be trying, perhaps. Yes, I will concede I can probably test the limits of one’s endurance, and I can be difficult about certain things, but just because I might be discriminating, it does not mean I am an elitist or a snob.”
“Of course you are, my Lady. It is part of your heritage of being born to the privileged class. It is a natural consequence.” He shrugged. “And for you to admit that you can be trying and difficult is a very large admission on your part. Very perceptive of you to recognize the possibility.” He was smirking again. “Ah…. And, I see the slight potential for becoming a shrew off in your future.” He stretched back into the chair. “Yes, a shrew armed with a dagger. A most frightening prospect, indeed.” He was teasing me again, provoking me even further. “Has the prospect occurred to you that you have the potential to be … inordinately stubborn, as well?” One eyebrow rose ever so slightly
“A shrew!? Please!!” I scoffed indignantly at his absurdity. “I will concede that I can be stubborn on rare occasions, but it is about things in which I have a firm belief. But you make me sound like a common fishwife, Aran. It’s most distressful and… and hurtful.”
“I don’t mean to be hurtful, Glory,” he said. “Quite the contrary. They are all traits I find quite charming and stimulating -- in moderation,” he chuckled under his breath. “The trying, difficult, and stubborn parts are just salt in the stew.”
“Salt in the stew?” I was puzzled at his explanation and didn’t understand his analogy. “Whatever do you mean?”
“Something my mother use to say,” he replied and sat his empty cup on the corner of my desk. “A stew with no salt is flavorless, indeed, and one with too much is bitter and inedible. But one with just enough enhances the natural flavors of the other wonderful ingredients without overwhelming them.” I knew there was a compliment of sorts in there somewhere.
I turned to look out the window. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. One minute he incensed me, and the next he made me smile. I knew it was all deliberate on his part. He had a way of rattling my composure since we had first met a few days ago. But that was almost an eternity within the scope of the events that had occurred. And after the previous night, my equilibrium was on such shaky ground and I didn’t want to chance losing it. There was a long pause as I stood staring out across the green lawn.
“It changed you, didn’t it Glory,” he said softly. Gone were the baiting and the teasing. “Last night changed you.”
I continued to look out the window, the roses still in my hand. I nodded slowly. Suddenly I felt like crying again. “Yes, Aran. Facing death and being so helpless changed me. I…I have never experienced anything like that. I…I realized that I must change in order to survive.” My voice began to choke. I turned and he was standing beside me. I hadn’t even heard him move – the assassin’s stealth.
“I…I hope that I did not contribute to that change, Glory,” he said reflecting a hint of guilt in his eyes.
“No, Aran. You didn’t. You were there when I needed someone the most. You not only saved my life, but you comforted and consoled me. I think there was a moment after the beast was dead that I hovered between sanity and madness and had you not been there, I don’t know on which side I would have fallen. And I will always be eternally grateful to you.” I reached and touched his cheek. “Thank you for saving me, Aran.”
“It was my extreme pleasure, my Glory,” he whispered and caught my hand against his cheek. “How could I allow the children of the woman that I …, your children grow up motherless… It would be unthinkable.” He had started to say one thing and had changed the words before they left his mouth.
“Then I hope you understand my determination to rid myself of my helplessness. My need to shed my dependence on others for my well-being,” I said. I desperately wanted him to understand what had happened to me. If anyone could, he could. He was there. He saw.
“Yes, Glory, I understand. I felt the same thing many years ago. But you are young and the feelings will soften with time, I promise you. Your innocence will never return, but your trust will with time. It just won’t be blind trust,” he said softly and gently removed my hand. I didn’t even notice I still held it to his face.
“Will it?” I asked. “Will I ever be able to trust a stranger? Will I ever be able to look at someone I don’t know without fearing that they seek to do me harm?” I stared off through the window at the countless strangers milling about the far auditorium. “Will I ever be able to move freely among them without cringing inside, wondering?” I nodded towards them.
He smiled and nodded. “Yes, you will. The moment you begin to build the trust within yourself that you can be self-sufficient and no longer feel helpless, and then you will trust others again. It just won’t be a blind trust where your fate is dictated by the whims and interests of others.”
“You sound like Father. And, Aran, you would have to be the most un-trusting person in all of Amn. How can you be so sure?” I laughed lightly, a slightly bitter edge to it.
“Because I know you, Glory. Remember? I’ve been watching you for more than two years now. You cannot close yourself off completely, at least not for very long. It just isn’t you. You will regroup your innate resources and you will emerge stronger than before. And, you will have your own skills that no one will ever be able to take from you. The latter I can personally assure you.” He smiled at me. “I have faith in you. You will come out of this a strong and self-sufficient woman, I know you will.” His smile grew and his eyes sparkled. “Although I doubt I can do little about the stubbornness that I know is only going to assert itself even more over time.”
Before I could answer him, a knock was heard at the door. Connor didn’t wait for an invitation to enter. “Come see. Quickly! Both of you, now! And leave the roses on the corner of your desk.” He was most excited about something. We quickly obeyed and followed him into the lab.
Within the larger of the two cages delivered earlier in the morning was a medium-size primate, a Fudarian monkey. The most intelligent of its class, it was capable of sign language and following complex commands. This one, in particular, had demonstrated superior intelligence in other experiments Connor had performed. “Fudi,” as Connor called him, wore a collar. It bore a great resemblance to the original illithid collar we had been working on duplicating.
“After your, er, clean-up crew left last evening, I began to construct a prototype of the collar that Riona will be able to use. I had to make a few minor alterations because it will be a humanoid directing the mind control, as opposed to an illithid, however, I think we may have a working model.” He hurriedly clamped a similar collar around his own neck and retrieved Fudi from his cage.
“Connor, how in the Gods’ name were you able to complete this so quickly?” I asked. “And by yourself?”
“Simple, dear Glory. I worked through the night and slept for about an hour around dawn. It was glorious to be on such a quest again!” He was giddy! I didn’t know if it was from his accomplishment or his lack of sleep.
“Now, I have duplicated the original collar which Riona gave to you, Glory, and it is the duplicate that Fudi is wearing. Then I simply devised a controlling collar, which is the one I am wearing, by recalibrating the metals and salts so it would “send” as opposed to “receive.” Not too terribly difficult once I had the other duplicate completed. So, with this controlling collar I am wearing, I should be able to direct his actions in totality. So, are we ready for a little experiment?” He had given us the simplified version of his furious night of creative genius. He had a gift of making it all sound so simple.
Aran and I looked at each other. “Of course,” we said in unison.
“We will do this in two parts. I have written down some simple commands of which I will give you a copy. So that there is no confusion that he should hear a spoken command, you see. Than I will direct him through my thoughts to complete each of the five commands I have written. Then we will repeat the commands but I will call the command number before I think the command to him. Agreed?”
“Proceed, Connor,” I said impatiently. “Please!!”
The first command was to retrieve a bowl from the far table and give it to Aran. Fudi ambled to the table, retrieved the bowl and brought it to Aran.
The second command was he was to shake Aran’s hand. He reached up and shook Aran’s hand. The third and fourth commands were similar in nature. Retrieve, move, etc.
The fifth was different, requiring Fudi to leave the room and return. Connor directed him to go to my office by giving him specific directions and telling him to retrieve the lavender roses on my desk and return to the lab and deliver them to me. Fudi ambled across the room and out the door. A few moments later he returned with roses in hand and delivered them to me. As I bent down to take them from him, he kissed my cheek.
“Oh, my,” I giggled and looked at Connor.
“Just a little levity, Glory,” he blushed slightly. “I hope you don’t mind. I thought you could use a little silliness.”
“It was wonderful, Connor,” I replied, still giggling. The testing was a smashing success.
He removed the collar from Fudi, then the one he wore. “Now,” he said. “I need two humans who would be willing to endure an experiment for the sake of science.” He looked at both of us.
“You…you want us to be your lab rats, Salzston?” Aran asked hesitantly.
“Aran, I have to know if the device – in particular, the controller, works on a human-to-human basis. I can assure you it is 99.99% safe,” Connor explained.
“Salzston, the last time I studied math, 99.99% was NOT a 100.0%,” he said skeptically.
“My dear Aran. You of all people should know there is NOTHING that is 100.0% anything in this world!” Connor replied rather shortly. “Glory? Would you be willing to volunteer?”
“Of course, Connor,” I said. “Give me that. I will be happy to be a guinea pig.” I looked at Aran, daring him to take up the other controller collar. “The worse that could happen is that it doesn’t work.” I slipped my amulet off and replaced it with Fudi’s collar.
“My Lady. This is indeed a new you. All right,” he said, seeing my unspoken challenge. “If Glory is brave enough to risk it, then I suppose I am game, too.” He picked up the controller. “Now, what do you want me to do, Connor?”
“Put the collar on to where the clasp fits over the nape of your neck,” he replied. “Then just direct a command thought to Glory.”
‘Come to me,’ I heard in my mind and immediately walked to him. I didn’t think, I didn’t hesitate. ‘Put your arms around my neck and close your eyes.’ I didn’t think, I didn’t hesitate. I slid my arms around his neck and closed my eyes.
“It works quite well, Connor.” Aran’s broad grin spread from ear to ear. “Very well indeed. I would like to order one set, please, for personal use.”
“Aran…. Please!” Connor admonished him. “This is important and serious business and I have little patience for your flippancy at the moment. And, I am sure Glory doesn’t appreciate being put in such a position as well.” I heard him say this but I had no emotional reaction at all.
“Very well,” Aran said reluctantly. ‘Open your eyes.’ I opened my eyes.
“Looks like my fun is over before it can even begin,” he sighed in resignation.
‘You may put your arms down.’ I removed my arms from his neck. ‘Step back.’ I stepped back.
Connor reached and removed my collar and Aran slipped his from his neck.
“Glory,” said Connor anxiously. “Tell us…”
“It was painless. Aran directed a thought command and I followed it as if it were my own predetermined action. Very clear and very simple. Totally devoid of any emotional response with the command, nothing. It was simply filled as directed.”
“Splendid! Splendid!” Connor was ecstatic. “It is our first real accomplishment, and I think we should celebrate!” Without waiting for a reply, Connor ran into the adjacent smaller laboratory and returned a moment later with a bottle of vintage champagne and three clean glass beakers.
“Connor, should I ask where you were chilling this?” I asked. The only cooler there was filled to capacity with a large inventory of various gray matters from various species and races.
“For the sake of our guest, Glory, it is probably wise if you didn’t,” he smiled as he opened it and filled the beakers until the bottle was empty. Aran looked puzzled.
“You don’t want to know,” I smiled at him.
“A toast! To the beginning of the end of illithid in our world!”
“Here! Here!” we chimed together. The dull thud of half-filled beakers was heard.
Aran soon left to attend to business in the city, and Connor and I adjourned to the small converted storeroom where he showed me how he had worked the maludian into the alloy needed for the collars. He had developed a unique approach of electrifying the maludian, which then magnetized the illithium to join with it in reciprocal bonding.
“Ingeniously simple, really,” he said. “But then, it seems everything about the illithid is ingeniously simple.” I filled him in on some of the things Nigel had related earlier in the morning and promised him a full set of my notes as well as asking him if he would accompany me home for noon meal and our meeting later in the afternoon.
“I wouldn’t be imposing, would I, Glory?” he was most thrilled.
“Of course not, Connor. And I really want you to be there this afternoon because you are so much a part of this now. And Gernsey is a wonderful cook, I might add.”
“Then how can I resist such a marvelous invitation?” he said happily. I wondered which weighed more in his mind -- the prospect of being included as part of the ‘team’ with everyone, or a wonderful home-cooked meal.
Father greeted us upon our arrival. I could tell from the look on his face he had unpleasant news.
“Please, please come in, Dr. Salzston. We are delighted to have you join us. We were just going to have an aperitif before noon meal. I trust I have something here that you might enjoy.” We walked into the lounge and were greeted by Nigel who instantly sprung to his feet. I made the introductions.
“Connor, er, Dr. Salzston has been able to duplicate the collar, Father, as well as a controlling device for humanoid use,” I said, hoping that my news was happy enough to offset his bad news he was about to deliver.
“That’s delightful, wonderful news!” exclaimed Father. “And, I don’t want to spoil that wonderful revelation, but there has been a tragedy, I fear.” His face grew dark and I knew it was really bad.
“They..the authorities found Sashar’s body less than an hour ago--”
“WHAT?” I said.
“They found his body in the bridge district not even an hour ago. His body was intact, but his…his brain was gone. Apparently he didn’t return to the agency after his shift yesterday mid-afternoon. They…they place the time of death at about then.”
I took the glass Father gave me and sat down. “That explains why we were targeted,” I mumbled. “They knew from Sashar’s brain.” I thought of Sashar’s contact, the intermediary between Aran and Sashar. By the Gods! If they knew who I was, then they would know who the contact was! And from the contact, they would link Aran.
Connor and I looked at each and knew immediately that each was thinking the same thing.
“Father, I must somehow contact Aran Linvail and immediately,” I said. Father thought for a moment and the same realization came to him from what I had told him the previous evening.
“Oh, yes, Glory. I…I understand. Very well, you and I will go. I will supply the transportation. Now, Nigel, where might we find Mr. Linvail at this time,” said Father.
“He is usually having his noon meal in the library. He..he likes to read and always eats alone.”
“And, I trust you two can get acquainted while we are gone? I am sure you both would have much to talk about,” Father nodded to Nigel and Connor.
“Oh, yes, Tabor,” said Connor. “I am sure we will be old friends by the time you return.”
“We won’t be too long, I am sure. And if we are detained, Drusay will serve without us. Are you ready, Glory?”
I nodded and Father incanted the teleportation spell. In the blink of an eye we stood in the middle of the Shadow Thieves’ small library. Aran sat at the end of one of the long tables with a plate of food and a well-worn book. He looked up and with inhuman speed; his dagger was poised in his hand.
“How did you—” Then he saw it was me. “Glory?! What in the nine-hells are you doing here?! I could have killed you!!”
I ignored his admonishment. “Father, I think you know Aran. Aran, this is my Father, Tabor. We just got word that Sashar’s body was found less than an hour ago in the bridge district. Have you heard?”
“Gaeston,” Aran nodded in greeting. “No, I did not hear yet. The condition of the body?”
“In one piece minus his brain,” I replied.
“Then that is how they knew you were involved,” he replied. I nodded.
“But if they know about me, they also know about the other intermediary that would tie you to Sashar and to us,” I said.
He shook his head. “Not exactly,” he said. “That is one part that Sashar was not totally truthful about with you. He didn’t know the identity of my intermediary. It..it was for precautionary reasons. In case somehow or other, they did discover his involvement because of his high visibility. But I never expected this to happen. And I intentionally did not put any guards on him so as not to tip our hand.” He fell back into his chair deep in thought then remembered his manners. “Please forgive my rudeness,” he said. “Can I offer you something? A glass of wine, some food—“
I shook my head. “No, Nigel and Connor are awaiting our return. And Riona returns this afternoon. I…I just wanted to make sure you knew about Sashar.”
He nodded and half-smiled. “Don’t worry, Glory. I am quite safe. And we still have our appointment in the morning?” I wasn’t quite sure if he was simply reminding me, or if he was saying it for Father’s benefit.
“Of course. Shortly after dawn, if you don’t mind. I would like a few moments with the children then I will be ready,” I replied. Father looked at me. “I will explain later, Father. We should be returning as there is much to do.”
“Very well, Daughter. Oh, and Linvail. I want to thank you for saving Glory’s life last night. I owe you a debt of gratitude.”
“Just protecting my interests, Gaeston,” he replied dryly and slightly shrugged. “Part of the job.” He looked at me and his eyes told me otherwise.
“Job, or not, Linvail, it’s my daughter and I am grateful,” Father snorted.
Father chanted again and we were whisked home, reappearing in the foyer. “What was that about, Daughter? Tomorrow morning?”
“Yes, Father. Linvail is teaching me how to use a dagger. I am going to learn to defend myself.”
“Oh, Daughter,” he groaned.
“There will no discussion, Father, on this issue. He is the best in Amn. And I have to grow up sooner or later. And I fear if I don’t grow up sooner, there may not be a later,” I said. “Now, shall we rejoin Nigel and Connor? We will have much to cover this afternoon, and I would like to have something to eat beforehand and see the children.”
“You can be so trying, Daughter,” Father gritted his teeth.
“Yes,” I smiled. “I have already been reminded of that fact once today. It’s part of my charm, don’t you think?” My sarcasm wasn’t lost on Father as he chuckled lightly. We joined Connor and Nigel in the dining room.
I left the men in the lounge deep in discussion of the illithid. This was probably the best therapy of all for Nigel. To talk about it and discuss it would put it into perspective for him. And Connor was sensitive to the young man’s mental state. The discussions might, in and of themselves, put an end to his anxiety episodes. A group therapy, in a manner of speaking, but we would see. I just wanted to see my babies. I felt I had neglected them this past ten-day and I needed to be close to them. To reassure me of my own continuity of self.
We played in the nursery for a good hour or more. Suddenly Haandor’s eyes lit up. Then Helena’s eyes followed suit. A flurry of excitement ensued. “Da-de, Da-de!” Hendak was near and my little magical, part-god children knew it. They couldn’t contain their joy. Stuffed bears danced with rag dolls. Balls floated and kept time with all three of the music boxes that suddenly played the same joyful tune. Toy carts tipped and swayed. A little wagon rolled to and fro to the beat. Even Ki sang and bobbed from side to side, but of his own volition.
“Oh, yes, my sweethearts,” I laughed and kissed them. “Daddy is on his way home. He will be here very soon, I promise.” The nursery was alive in joyful concert. It was wonderful as I danced with my giggling, happy babies in my arms.
No sooner had the lively little boxes stopped playing than the door swung open. A smiling, laughing Daddy stood as he was greeted with squeals of “Da-de! Da-de!” and the toys and music resumed in double time. Kisses, hugs, for all. Our little family was complete again.
“And you, my love?” he put the children down and wrapped his arms around me. “Are you all right?”
“I am now that you are home,” I sighed and kissed him. The children giggled and raced around us chanting, “Da-de, Ma-me, Da-de, Ma-me.”
“Silly imps,” Hendak laughed and grabbed each by the back of their shirts and picked them up from the floor. A new round of squeals erupted as the roughhousing began. All I could do was laugh until my side hurt.
We played until their naptime then kissed them and left them in Margarite’s care. They were adequately tired and would have no trouble drifting off to dreamland. We adjourned for a brief moment to our apartment but I knew we would be expected back downstairs momentarily.
He held me tightly. It was a peaceful and safe feeling with his real arms around me. “I’m sorry, my love,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I wasn’t here when you needed me the most.”
“It’s..it’s over and done with, Hendak,” I said. “And, I have learned. But we can talk of this later. I imagine everyone is waiting for us downstairs.”
“I know,” he sighed. “I know there are tasks at hand. But I will make amends later. I promise.” He kissed me again.
We joined the group gathered around the dining room table. It was a rather eclectic group. Four adventurers – Riona, Anomen, Valygar, and Minsc; one wizard – Father; one librarian – Nigel; one half-god – Hendak; two scientists – Connor, and me; and, one hamster – Boo. Waukeen was still in the Outlands but was scheduled to return later in the evening. Riona had already begun to sort and spread out the illithid parchments and scrolls on the far end, and Drusay was busy attending to the wants and needs of hungry road warriors. And, not unexpectedly, Connor suddenly had need of another piece of Gernsey’s cloudberry cake. As we gathered and settled, everyone quieted.
“I regret to tell you all that Sashar was found murdered a few hours ago in one of the back alleys of the bridge district,” I began. “He..he was voided of his brain. They believe he was killed sometime yesterday afternoon.”
“That would explain the attack upon the lab,” Riona said.
I nodded. “Yes, they apparently culled his knowledge either prior to, or, er, during, his demise,” I said.
“That puts you at extra risk,” Riona said and frowned.
“Yes and no,” I answered. “I am really no more at risk than anyone else at this table. Except maybe Nigel. After all, Sashar knew all of our involvement and us. What he knew, they now know.”
“And what of his contact?” Anomen asked. “What about his source?”
“He..he apparently didn’t really know who his source was. He was intentionally left in the dark just as a precaution in case something like this might happen.”
“And, how do you know this, Glory?” Riona asked. “I don’t understand. We don’t know who the connection is, but we know who initiated the contact in the first place?!”
“Yes, we do. We have access to the one who initiated the contact in the first place,” I said.
“And just who might that be?” Anomen asked.
“Aran Linvail,” spoke up Connor. “My research benefactor.”
“Your research benefactor?!?”
“Yes, he built my lab over two years ago with the express purpose of doing mainly illithid research in which I have been involved since. He has funded it single handedly, and at great expense, I might add. Without him and his generosity, we would not have been able to make the startling breakthroughs over the past few days.” Connor had already filled in everyone on the collar duplication upon their arrival.
“I might have known Linvail was involved,” sighed Anomen. “The fine machinations of the Shadow Thieves and we are obviously doing their bidding.”
Riona looked at him. “Ano, I know you are not terribly fond of Aran, but he helped us get Imoen back, and he gave us help with Bodhi when no one else would. We would not be here today without that help. You, Valygar, Minsc, and Jaheira would be part of the rank and file of Bodhi’s undead, and only the Gods know where, or what, I would be.”
“He gained from it,” said Anomen.
“Of course he did, but everyone gained from it. The Order gained from it, but I didn’t see any of them down there with us after I begged them to assist us. Had your father been in residence at the time, it might have been a different story, but he wasn’t even in the country. And, The Church of Helm gained from it, but I didn’t see any of them fighting along side of us. Yes, their prayers were helpful, I am sure, but we needed a little more than that, and Linvail was the only one willing to commit.
“And so he gains now – whatever his intentions. But if we don’t accomplish what he has so ingeniously set forth for us, everyone loses.” She had said her piece. And very eloquently. There was a long silence.
“He saved Glory’s life last evening at the lab,” said Hendak. “He is the one who killed the intruder.” He reached for my hand and squeezed it. “I kept the details to a minimum, my love,” he explained.
“What was he doing there?” Riona asked somewhat puzzled.
“Protecting his interests,” replied Father. “According to him, that is.”
“We have no reason to believe otherwise,” I said.
“He often stops in for updates on research and other issues. He has always exhibited a deep interest in my on-going illithid experimentation and now we know why,” said Connor and glanced at me. “His impromptu visit was not at all unusual, and I believe it was most fortuitous he happen to arrive when he did.” Was Connor attempting to intentionally soothe the issue? He glanced at me again. By the Gods, he was!
“I, too, am very grateful he arrived when he did. Had he not, this scene around our table would be quite different,” said Hendak. Between Connor and Hendak, the non-issue was settled.
“That is over and done,” I said. “I don’t want to waste precious time discussing last evening. And, I am sure that Connor is just as anxious as I to hear what wonderful things you have brought back to us.”
Riona proceeded to enumerate the several bottles of salts and brine that sat neatly stacked on the buffet behind her. Each bottle was numbered and corresponded to a hastily sketched map of the empty illithid city. We would take the bottles to the lab in the morning and begin our work on breaking down the various salts’ compositions. After my lesson, that is. In the meantime, I would have Nigel assist me with Riona’s map and specifically identify the area of origin of each bottle’s contents.
She then pulled out a series of what appeared to be maps she had collected throughout the city and had indicated the original location of each on a separate map. Nigel would be able to again identify the location calling on his memories of the outer and inner circles.
We all crowded around to look at the strange drawings. Nigel pointed and directed us around the first set of drawings on the stack. “This raised marking is our equivalent of meters,” he said. “But, of course, their units are not the same length. As I recall, each unit is by our standards, approximately a half meter.”
“And what are we looking at, Nigel?” asked Riona.
“It would appear to be a rendering, or our equivalent of an architectural drawing. And it looks like it is for a series of birthing pods. Yes, but the overall design is different than the complex where I was held. This seems to be more complex and larger. Yes, definitely larger.” He picked up the corner of the map bearing several strings of qualith characters. “Yes, here it is. The mark of the Creatives Creed. It must have been a new design on which they were working.” He examined it more closely. “Yes, if I had to guess, it would appear that they included some sort of barrier between the Elder Brain and the maturing tadpoles. And it would appear from these attached drawings that the mechanicals are much more complex. Perhaps an automatic cleaning and filtering system.” He looked at me.
“It would appear, Madam, that they have potentially raised the survival rate from one in a thousand to perhaps several in a thousand,” he said. I frowned and nodded. “And, these plans are almost five years old.”
“What does this mean?” asked Valygar. “Does it mean that we are going to suddenly be overrun with illithid?”
“If this is true, not immediately. It takes ten years for the tadpoles to mature to the point to ceremorphing into a full-fledged illithid,” I said. “Assuming they built such a complex somewhere else, we would still have a cushion, so to speak, of a few years.”
“That would give us some time,” Valygar sounded relieved. “I don’t relish the thought of having to fend off the demons in droves.” He shuddered.
“Unless, of course,” interjected Connor carefully, “they have found a way to speed that process as well. Not inconceivable. It is not readily known, but we have done it with frogs already.” He looked at me, his cheeks pulled even more gaunt and his brow pinched in tight neat rows.
I groaned inside. The thought had not even occurred to me they could have accomplished what I knew we had already done ourselves! By the Gods! Were we all going to awaken tomorrow morning to the sound of hissing in the streets below?
“Let us continue through the maps,” Riona said, trying to divert our attention from our rude awakening. Nigel continued through each one. They were either plats of existing parts of the city, or they were drawings of proposed new structures.
“But this one, I don’t recognize at all,” he said shaking his head. “It is a map, but it is nothing of the city. There are pipes and such and it shows here a subterranean depth.” He pointed to a measurement symbol to the side of the opening drawn so carefully on the parchment. “But there is nothing in the city that even faintly resembles this. And I am fairly certain it is not a proposed project, either. No, it is something that exists outside the city. But something important enough to them that they mapped it.” He shook his head and held up the parchment to examine it more closely.
“Boo knows that place!” Minsc bellowed. Everyone turned to look at him. “Boo says it is the place where evil lurks at every turn. It is the place where the bowels of humanity discards its waste and beasts walk the day in the dark of night.” All but Valygar seemed to dismiss his outburst as the typical Minsc interjection.
Valygar looked thoughtfully at him and then again at the map. “Of course!" he exclaimed. "Minsc is right! We should have recognized it! It’s the sewers under the temple district!” The revelation brought a flurry of excitement between the four adventurers as Nigel tried to read the raised qualith on the borders. A door was discovered that no one could remember seeing before, and they knew the sewers only too well. But where did it lead?
“There must be a second part to this map,” he said digging through the stack. “There has to be.” A moment later, “Aha! And I believe this is it.” He gently pulled it from the heap and matched it side to side with the previous map.
“A small outpost would be my guess,” said Connor, and smiled ear to ear. “And nicely hidden just below the Order of the Radiant Heart.”
We had found our ‘city’ connection.
TO BE CONTINUED……………………
Mind Games VIII
No replies to this topic
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users