From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston
(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, sexual situations, mild language, violence,)
“Yes,” said Connor. “It must an outpost of sort. Only four or five chambers. Much too small to accommodate more than a few illithid – maybe seven or eight. Yes, this looks like a sleeping chamber with perhaps eight beds, assuming that is what these small rectangles are. Perhaps an operational center for Athkatla.” His attention moved to the other rooms as indicated on the drawing. “Looks like a community room here, of some sort. Just off a small anteroom from the corridor leading from the sewer proper. Difficult to speculate really without seeing it first hand.”
“True, Dr. Salzston,” said Riona. “Maybe we should do a little recon mission. I don’t think we want to let them know too soon that we are aware of their little lair, but we need to get in there and see what it is.”
“And, just how are we going to do that without being detected?” Anomen asked. “Invisibility is one thing, but these brutes can ‘see’ us by our brain waves alone.”
There was a long minute of silence from the group.
“Well, there is an alternative,” Connor said slowly, scratching his chin. “An undead.”
“An ‘undead’? What type of ‘undead’,” Anomen asked hesitantly.
“I see what you are getting at, Connor,” I said then turned to Anomen. “Oh, no, Anomen. Not a vampire.” I knew he was reminded of their repeated encounters with Bodhi’s legion and his own harrowing experience with being ‘undead’ for a short period of time. It was something we covered in our sessions a year prior, but something that still conjured terror in him. “Something along the lines of a mummy, a zombie, an animated skeleton, or maybe even a shadow. There’s a ‘selection’ from which we could choose.”
“But why an ‘undead’?” Riona asked.
“They have no sentient, working brain!” Nigel said. “Now I remember my master saying that was the one true fear of all illithid, because there is no living brain to control, therefore their psionic powers are useless against them. It renders the illithid virtually defenseless. And, according to him, because the illithid’s eyes are so tuned to the infrared end of the spectrum and there is no radiant heat from the undead, they can’t even see them unless they are right upon them. Brilliant, Dr. Salzston. Positively brilliant.”
“That is correct, Nigel. No brain to read and no body heat to see,” said Connor. Connor looked at everyone over his pince-nez and pursed his lips. A hush descended upon the group.
“Short of digging someone up, so to speak,” said Valygar, “just how do we ‘obtain’ such a serviceable entity?” His sardonic tone reminded me of Anomen’s telling of the encounter with Valygar’s long-dead ancestor who traveled the planes.
“I suppose this is where I volunteer my services?” Father sighed, his eyes dark and his brow wrinkled. Father was a master wizard, but he had a great aversion to necromancy. Dead was dead to Father, and best left that way. “I can supply whatever ghoul we will need. But I will have to consult briefly with one of my colleagues. He probably has an immediate source we could utilize so I won’t have to go scrounging up something from the graveyard, Valygar.” This was a huge sacrifice for Father. It meant he would have to approach one of the other master wizards who was proficient in the dark magics and secure a favor -- a huge favor that would have to be repaid in kind at some point in the future.
“Tabor,” Riona began, “I understand what this means for you. If you –“
“No, Riona. This will be my contribution. And as a good and conscientious wizard, I should keep all of my skills and spells honed, including the darker ones. So I will secure an ‘undead’ for us and we will send it on a hunting expedition. Are we all agreed?” He made it all sound so simple.
“Good,” he continued. “Then we will outfit the ghoul with your little visionary mirror, Hendak, and I will cloak the package in invisibility before we deliver him. We will bring Glory’s dressing table mirror so that I may direct him from a vantage point in the sewers and we can see what in the nine-hells is really going on down there.”
“It’s a good plan, Tabor,” said Riona. “And we know of an entrance to the sewers that would put us close enough and without anyone seeing us enter.”
Father nodded. “I will have to teleport from the graveyard district, no doubt, with our guest adventurer, and meet you there.”
I looked at Father. He was certainly no stranger to risk, but in recent years he had foregone such adventures, being content to dabble in the Cowled Wizards’ politics and more prestigious wizards’ duties. I didn’t appreciate the grit and raw strength of character he actually possessed until I looked in his face. Maybe there was hope for me, yet, if I were, indeed, my Father’s daughter.
“Perhaps you should plan on doing this early tomorrow afternoon,” said Connor. “I am quite sure we could count on a majority of them being in a rest cycle at that time –asleep, if you will. It would be easy for our undead operative to avoid a singular guard, if there is one.”
Riona looked around the group. “Valygar, Minsc, Ano, Hendak and I will leave tomorrow mid-morning and take up temporary residence just inside the sewer entrance by the Order. Nigel, would you be willing to go with us? We will need to draw upon your knowledge more than ever so that nothing is overlooked or taken for granted.”
“After being in the illithid city, the sewers sound tame by comparison,” nodded Nigel. “Of course I will go. I…I have never been adventuring before. Will I need a weapon?” he asked shyly and I could see a glint of excitement in his eyes. A fantasy come true for our librarian, I thought.
“Not to worry, Nigel,” said Riona. “We will be there to protect both you and Tabor while you do your work.” She turned her attention to Father. “We’ll wait there for you, Tabor, until you and your guest arrive. By that time, we will have cleared out any unwanted sewer denizens that might jeopardize or interfere with our mission.”
It was settled. The plan was in place. While the adventurers cooled their heels in the city’s sewers, and Father secured the appropriate ghoul, Connor and I would be at the lab, working on a preventative potion from the brine samples. Of course, we would hurry back to the great house and view the happenings on the dining room mirror after noon meal.
The remainder of the afternoon flew by quickly as Nigel, Connor and I reviewed the balance of the maps and other parchments. Most of the maps were of existing structures in the now-abandoned illithid city, and there were a few more drawings of what we all assumed were future, expanded settlements, but very simple in design.
But one in particular caught Nigel’s attention --a very detailed rendering of approximately ten pages that bore the Gatherers’ Creed mark. It was a complete plan for a complete city, except it was missing an upper subterranean level that would have been the thrall city component. “I don’t understand this,” said Nigel. “This city would be larger than where I was, but there is no thrall city or the guarded perimeters.” His comment caught everyone’s attention.
“How can that be?” I asked. “An illithid city of any size cannot exist without their thralls and the accommodations provided for them. Even in the smaller, initial settlements there are pens and sleeping areas. Yet, nowhere do I see anything -- any living quarters, community, -- for the slaves. Is there a part of the drawings missing?”
“It would appear it is complete,” Nigel said, equally as puzzled. “There are no pages removed from the binding and the page numbering is sequential.” Everyone pushed closer to view the plat in front of us.
Connor’s face grew dark and he sighed heavily. “Perhaps they don’t need special accommodations for their thralls. Perhaps the accommodations already pre-exist.” He sat back in his chair, removing his pince-nez and rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“By the Gods….” I whispered, realizing what Connor was getting at.
“I don’t understand,” said Nigel, looking up at me and shaking his head.
“Connor is saying that for whatever location this illithid city was planned, the potential thralls are already there, complete with so-called accommodations,” I explained.
“The only difference, Nigel, between your illithid city and this one is that I would assume this thrall city is on the surface and the illithid city would be just below. In other words, the thrall city already exists as an inhabited surface city. The illithid were just going to move in underneath it and overtake it.”
“And it’s the Gatherers….,” said Nigel. “By the Gods, they must have communicated and shared their plans to other Gatherers Creeds in other illithid cities before they were wiped out. It’s the only explanation! It has to be!” The group murmured in disbelief.
“I fear you are correct,” said Connor, still rubbing the bridge of his nose. “I believe we are looking at the original blueprint for a prototype of illithid community that encompasses a dominated, surface thrall city, and from the looks of it, a fairly sizeable one.” The words ‘grim’ and ‘bleak’ took on new meanings as I looked at the long faces of our little group.
“Perhaps the search of the illithid’s outpost can further answer some of the questions tomorrow,” Riona offered, hoping to interject a glimmer of hope. “They’re here for a reason, and whatever it is, we will find it. One way or another.”
Dinner was somber with the adventurers excusing themselves directly thereafter to attend to cleaning and preparing equipment for the next morning’s activities. Valygar and Minsc took Nigel under their wing to give him a lesson in Preparation 101. Father excused himself as well and teleported to some dark colleague’s house to negotiate the temporary use of a ghoul. After playing with the children and kissing them goodnight, I retired to our apartment to wait for Hendak.
It was a long day and I was weary. All I really wanted to do was lie safely within my husband’s arms and fall into a restful, deep sleep. But I had to tell him about the lessons first. He arrived a short time later and struck a path straight for the bath.
“I almost forgot how wonderful a hot bath with soap feels,” he sighed and smiled amid the frothy water. I sat down by him on the edge of the marble tub.
“I need to talk to you, Hendak,” I said. I couldn’t help but feel a little reticent, as I didn’t know how he was going to react.
“Of course, my love. But talk quickly, because I have every intention of having you momentarily join me, either clothed, or not,” he chuckled.
“I am scheduled to begin lessons in the use of the dagger in the morning,” I said. His smile slowly faded and was replaced with a note of puzzlement.
“Yes…, and why do you feel compelled to do this?” he asked softly and picked up my hand and held it gently.
“I…I have to do it for me. I promised myself. I have to overcome this feeling of helplessness and I desperately need the feeling of empowerment to rid myself of my fear from last night,” I explained. He nodded thoughtfully.
“I have asked Aran Linvail to teach me, and he has agreed,” I said and waited for Hendak to speak.
“He is the best in all of Amn, my love. I suppose you could not have selected anyone better at the art,” he sighed and nodded. “And this will help you?”
I nodded. “Yes, my love. I will not be able to live with myself if I do not at least attempt to gain some sense of self-reliance. I…I need to feel that I can depend upon me to defend myself, and as it is now, I have no skills to do that. I have to change that feeling of helplessness. Does that make sense?”
“Yes,” he smiled. “It does make sense. I understand your need to shed the fear, Glory. To harbor it would only feed it and result in consequences very hurtful to you. I understand the need to make yourself feel whole and it is something only you can do for yourself.” He leaned and tenderly kissed my hand. “So, when does your learning begin?”
“In the morning. Before I go to the lab.”
“Ah…then we have plenty of time to catch up on my being away,” he whispered and kissed my hand again. “Take off that dressing gown and join me, my love, while the water is yet hot and, as promised, I will wash away all your anxieties.” He smiled up at me.
I stood and untied the silk sash that held the robe wrapped around my body. I dropped it to the floor.
“Dream-sharing is nice, but not quite the real thing,” he whispered longingly as he gently caressed my bare thigh with his wet fingertips. “Come be with me, my love, and let me show you.” He tantalized me with his invitation. Wordlessly I sat down on the side of the tub then slipped into the deep sweet smelling, silken water. He gently pulled me on to his lap facing him and wrapped his arms around me.
“I just want to feel you against me, my love,” he murmured nuzzling his face in my neck. “I’ve missed you terribly.” He kissed me passionately as he held me tightly against him. With our bodies immersed and intertwined in the warm glycerin water, my own desires were instantly fueled into a swell of overwhelming and immediate need. I couldn’t wait. I wanted him to take me and possess me and envelop me in that radiant glow we always had when we made love. It was a wonderful, euphoric and safe feeling and I desperately needed to be a part of him in that way.
“Make love to me,” I moaned softly in his ear. “Now,” I begged him.
He didn’t know how I had missed him
I was impatiently pacing in the foyer the next morning. I had awakened early and tried to dress without disturbing my dear sweet husband who still lingered somewhere on the dream plane. It was nice to gaze upon his handsome body as he lay sprawled face down with outstretched arms, nothing covering him. Last night had been so incredibly intense, I had wished I had time to indulge myself in his ardent maleness yet again this morning. There was still water all over the floor in the bath from the tidal wave we had created the night before and being reminded I had felt a renewed rush of desire, but it would have to wait until later. Instead I had kissed him lightly, gently caressed his hard firm backside, then left to spend a moment with our babies.
Aran was right on time, as usual, and I could not help but notice he was dressed in his assassin’s trademark of black as I had first seen him the night of the beast.
“And, Madam, are you ready to learn?” he smiled.
“Most anxious, Aran. I am most anxious,” I said. “Now, where are we going.”
“To a small cabin just on the outskirts of the city north of here,” he said. “Not very far.” He held the carriage door for me and we settled in for the short ride. “And, this one is for you,” he handed me a covered stein, “and, this one is for me.”
“Aran! A chocoltl latte! Oh, how thoughtful!” I said, pleasantly surprised.
“And, if you complete your lessons and receive high marks from your instructor, there are raspberry cakes and some other little delicacies I had my cook put together this morning.” He nodded to a covered basket on the floor. I bent to avail myself of what I was sure were all my favorite sweets in the world. He quickly grasped my hand and held it firmly. “Nay, nay, nay, my Lady. Treats are only for after the lessons,” and gave me his teasing half-grin.
“How unkind you are, Aran Linvail,” I feigned a mood of poutiness. He only chuckled at me.
“Now, you must bring me up to date on what Riona discovered on her trip,” he said, his mood turning serious. I was still engrossed in relating the prior afternoon’s revelations and suppositions when we arrived at the secluded cabin.
“Ah, here we are,” he said and sprung from the carriage. “We’ll go inside and refill our cups. Marcos is here and I believe he should have reinforcements for our lattes.” He grabbed the basket and took my hand to help me from the carriage.
“Marcos! How good to see you,” he greeted the older halfling who stood in the doorway.
“Master Linvail. It is good to see you, sir,” the little man smiled with a genuine greeting of affection.
“Marcos, I would like to present Madam Glory. We will be here from time to time as I attempt to teach her the art of the dagger,” he chuckled as we entered the cabin. It was sparsely, but comfortably furnished. An unused fireplace occupied one end of the big room, flanked by two comfortable armchairs and several floor cushions on some sort of an animal rug. Midway against the back wall was a small wood cook stove with an adjacent sideboard of utensils, plates, and other kitchen items. On the other side was another door leading out of the cabin. Next to it was a large washstand with basin and water jar. Directly in front of the sideboard was a table with four chairs. A bed with a small table occupied the wall directly opposite the fireplace at the far end of the room, and a tall armoire nearby. A large bookcase filled with tomes was immediately on the inside of the front door and flanked by two tall locked cabinets. Large windows opened to the back of the cabin, yet only very small slit windows opened to the front.
“Madam, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he smiled shyly and bowed slightly. “Won’t you allow me to refill your cup?”
“It is a pleasure, Marcos, and I would indeed appreciate a refill,” I replied. He scurried about retrieving the steaming pot from the small stove and topped off my cup as well as Aran’s. Aran was already searching around in one of the locked cabinets as he removed two sealed boxes and a bundle of what appeared to be black wool clothing.
“Here, put these on,” he said and tossed the bundle in my direction. He pulled a pair of soft black lambskin boots from the bottom. “And here, these are for you, too. I think they’re all your size.”
I must have looked totally perplexed as I stood there holding a black wool tunic and trousers and socks. They were all duplicates of his, only much smaller.
“And, just how do you expect—“ I began.
“Oh, forgive me, my Lady,” he said. “I fear I wasn’t thinking.” He turned to Marcos. “Marcos, would you be so kind to take the driver a cup to drink. It would give the lady the opportunity to change clothes.”
“Oh yes, sir,” he said and hurriedly filled a cup and ambled out the front door closing it behind him.
“Now, my Lady, you may change in peace,” he said.
“Oh, and I am suppose to permit you to watch as I disrobe?” I said sarcastically.
“Only if you would allow me, Madam, I would certainly not decline,” he chuckled wickedly. “But I suppose that being a gentleman dictates that I should turn my back to you and allow you the privacy you require. There are hangars in the armoire, if you wish to avail yourself of them for your dress.” He turned on his boot heel and busied himself with the two boxes as I slipped out of my dress, stockings and shoes and donned the clothing of the Shadow Thieves’ premiere killers. A perfect fit.
“May I, Madam?” he called over his shoulder.
“Yes, yes. I’m just pulling on the boots,” I replied as I sat on the edge of the bed. He turned around and walked toward me.
“Lovely, my Lady. Simply lovely in basic black. But, I forgot the single strand of marbo pearls,” he teased as he looked me over head to foot. “And, before you ask, I had the clothing made especially for you. You have two sets that will remain here, but you will be required to wear them when it is lesson time. We wouldn’t want you to ruin your beautiful silk dresses in the undertaking of such an unsavory hobby, now would we?”
There was common sense in what he said, plus there was a decided comfort in the clothing the assassins wore.
“Now, shall we adjourn to the back and get started?” He opened the back door and we proceeded to what appeared to be a range for various weapons set up behind the cabin.
“I suppose you train all sorts of weapons here?” I asked.
“Ranged ones here – close-up and personal ones over there. The Shadow Thieves have strict standards for its elite members who wield any type of weapon. Including proficiency testing on a timely basis. We wouldn’t want anyone getting inept or rusty at a most inopportune moment.” We walked over to a table set up by a 10-meter range with a large bulls eye target at the other end of it.
“Now, Glory, we will start with these,” he said and pulled several wooden almost-dagger looking items from the first box. He handed me one. “These are perfectly weighted and perfectly balanced – just like the real thing. Only you can’t hurt yourself with them, unless you try very hard.” He pulled his own dagger from its sheath.
“Now watch.” He took the dagger and placed it flat side of the blade down on his finger. It delicately teetered back and forth. “This is how you tell if you have a balanced weapon. And, remember, it must be balanced in order for you to put it where you want it to go.” I nodded. “Here, take this wooden practice piece and balance it on your finger within the notch. Get the feel.” I did as I was instructed. “Now, let me give you one that isn’t so balanced.” He showed me the difference.
He guided me to the closest starting mark and stood beside me. “Let me show you how to hold it,” he said and took my hand and opened it, palm up. “Blade here, dull edge against your palm. Thumb along the left top edge, index finger along the top for aim, the remaining finger tips gripping the right side of the blade. With time and practice, you will develop your sense of style when it comes to the grip.” He gently showed me my finger placement along the would-be blade of the wooden stand-in. “Be careful to keep your hand straight with your wrist in the beginning. We wouldn’t want you to become your first casualty,” he cautioned. “And remember, your blade may be polished, so you must grip tightly to prevent slipping, but not so tight as to skew your aim. Now, let me show you how to stand and how to aim.” I nodded, soaking up every instruction.
The soothing ever-present scent of lavender and sage filled my senses as he stepped behind me and we stood body to body. He extended his arms around me, his left hand and arm in tandem with mine, and his right arm congruent with my right arm as he placed his fingers over mine in a duplicate hold of the ‘dagger’. I instinctively melded against him. His left knee gently nudged my left thigh in an effort to shift my leg slightly forward. “Move your foot at just a slight angle outward for balance. When you come off your throw, you will need to be in a stance to absorb your body’s weight on the ball of your left foot.” He continued to show me how to draw back, how to counterbalance with my left arm, and how to complete the forward motion to the point of release. “The most important thing is vision,” he said. “You must see in your mind’s eye exactly where you want the blade to go before you begin your throw. Take mental aim of the mark, then take physical aim of the mark.”
I turned my head to ask him a question but was immediately interrupted by his eyes only scant centimeters away.
“My Lady, please don’t look at me that way,” he whispered and averted his eyes to the target. “It is all I can do to maintain my gentlemanly decorum with you in this proximity, Madam. Do not tempt me, or the fates, beyond the unreasonable expectation that I can maintain this façade of composure for any duration.”
“I..I’m sorry, Aran,” I mumbled and immediately turned to face the target. I could feel my face turning bright crimson as I tried to concentrate on his repetitions of the drawback, forward motion, release, and follow-through.
“Ready to try and throw one?” he smiled and stepped to the side. “The ends have a special dye that will mark the target when you hit it properly. A perfectly round blue mark will indicate a perfect strike.” He took one and effortlessly hurled it at the target. It hit the target with a muffled sound and a bright blue circle appeared in the center of the bull’s-eye. “Like that,” he said and smiled to himself.
“I’ll never be able to do that, Aran,” I sighed.
“You certainly won’t if you continue to stand there whining. Now get to it,” he chuckled under his breath and crossed his arms as he stepped back further.
I balanced myself, drew back, and threw. The little wooden would-be dagger sailed over the top of the target and into the dense thicket behind it.
“Damn!” I said and repeatedly cursed and stomped my foot. He laughed.
“No, Glory. Vision. Remember, you must first put it where you want it in your mind. Concentrate. You’re not throwing turnips, you know.” He continued to laugh at his own joke.
I took another. Concentrate, concentrate. I pulled back and threw. It felt more natural than the first time. The piece of polished wood whistled end over end and hit the target. A blue smudge appeared in the ring next to the outer ring.
“I hit it! I hit it!” I jumped up and down clapping my hands.
“Yes, you did, if it had been an orc. If it had been a human, you would have barely grazed him, and had it been a gnome, you would have missed him altogether. Now try another,” he said. “And, remember, my love. Always aim to kill.”
For the next hour I did nothing but throw the would-be daggers at the target and my arm and wrist were starting to hurt. And but for a few ‘adjustments’ Aran felt compelled to make in either my stance or in my release, he seemed content with the slow progress I was making. He reassured me that fifteen good hits out of the sixty or so I threw was a respectable beginning.
“I think you have had enough instruction for your first day, Glory,” he said smiling. “It is probably time to get you back home so that you can get to your lab.” We walked back to the cabin where he dutifully discharged Marcos to picking up the littered practice pieces in the back range. Then he turned his back so I could again don my silk dress. It felt constricting after the comfort of the tunic and the trousers that I had neatly folded for their return to the cabinet.
During the ride back to the city, our conversation again returned to work.
“Aran, I want you there with us to see this,” I said referring to the afternoon recon. “You must be.” I was getting cake crumbs all over the carriage and me as I nibbled at the sweet little confection.
“Is this necessary?” he asked.
“Yes, we need you there. Please. You can pick us up at the lab at noon today and we’ll have noon meal then we can watch together. You may pick up on something that one of us might miss. It is so important,” I begged him.
“Alright,” he sighed. “For you, I will do it.” He leaned over and dabbed at a fleck of frosting caught at the corner of my mouth with his thumb.
“No. To end this threat, you will do it,” I replied as we pulled up in front of the great house.
Aran escorted me up the walk as the door opened and Hendak greeted us.
“And how did the lesson go, my love?” he said smiling.
“Ask the instructor,” I laughed. “Hendak, this is Aran Linvail. I don’t believe you two have ever met. And, Aran, this is my husband, Hendak.” I could tell from Aran’s eyes he did not relish this meeting and if he could have, would have avoided it at any cost.
“Aran, it is a pleasure to meet you and have the opportunity to thank you for saving Glory’s life,” Hendak said and extended his hand.
“I’m glad I was there to assist,” replied Aran accepting Hendak’s hand. “No thanks are necessary.”
“We are extremely grateful and indebted to you. Now, tell me, just how good is she going to be with a dagger,” Hendak laughed.
“I suspect she will be quite proficient before her lessons are concluded,” Aran smiled. “She has the natural grace required for those skilled in such art.”
“Not if today was any indication,” I sighed.
“You did very well today, my Lady,” said Aran. “And you will continue to improve with time and practice, I assure you. Even naturals need time and practice.” He looked at Hendak. “I hope that you both won’t think me rude, but I must return to the Docks where important business matters await and I fear that I am already late.”
“Yes. Yes, I have kept you far too long as it is, Aran. Thank you and we will continue tomorrow morning, yes?” I said.
“Yes, Madam. I shall arrive at the same time, that is, if you, or your husband, have no objection.”
“That would be perfect,” I said. We said our goodbyes and watched as he walked to the carriage.
“He’s in love with you, Glory,” said Hendak quietly as he slipped his arm around my waist and we waved goodbye. There was no emotion in his voice; he was merely making an observation. “It’s very strong. I felt it when I shook his hand.”
“I suppose he is,” I replied and turned to enter the great house. There was nothing more I could say on the matter and it was time to collect Connor and get to the lab. There was work to be done.
TO BE CONTINUED……………………..
Mind Games IX
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