From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston
(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, mild language, violence)
“Drusay, have you seen Dr. Salzston?” I stopped the ambling manservant in the foyer.
“Madam, I do believe he is in the kitchen with Miss Gernsey,” he replied.
“Drusay, would you please fetch a carriage for us to take us to the lab? And, I trust the bottles are boxed and ready to go with us?”
“Yes, Madam. All are boxed and already loaded per Madam Riona’s instructions. I shall call the carriage for you directly.”
“Thank you, Drusay,” I said hurriedly and made way to the kitchen. Connor was sitting and talking with Gernsey. She sprung to her feet when I entered.
“What may I get for you, Madam,” she said, somewhat flustered as I had caught her off-guard. She blushed slightly and it didn’t immediately occur to me I might have stumbled upon a private and personal conversation.
“Nothing, thank you, Gernsey. I just came to fetch Connor as the carriage is waiting for us,” I said.
“Then, I shall see you at noon?” he turned to her as he rose from his chair.
“Of course,” and she blushed again. We left the kitchen and hurridly made our way to the carriage waiting at the end of the walk. Hendak held the door for me.
“Be very careful, my love,” I whispered in his ear and kissed him. “And, don’t forget. You’ll be needing another bath when you get home tonight – after spending the day in the sewers, I mean, and of course I will be there to help.” I giggled and kissed him again.
“I can assure you I won’t forget. Especially not after the one last night,” he grinned and held me tightly against him for a brief moment, both of us remembering the intensity of the night before.
Our ride to the lab was uneventful and once there the driver helped us unload the boxes of salts and brine to the lab. We sorted, marked, and set to work. The identification of the 100-plus bottles was going to be a long and tedious job. We had analyzed only a handful with the morning well half over. We stopped for tea and to reflect on our meager progress.
“There seems to be a logical pattern here,” Connor said as he tapped the lab table with his pince-nez and we reviewed the location map. “It would appear that the brine from the elder’s pool originates from the salts in these small domes in this secure storage area. The resultant solution is perfectly consistent with the salts I have identified in other illithid brains.” He began to mark the map with a color code identifying like salts with locations.
“How does that compare with what is found in humans and elves?” I asked, remembering what Nigel had said about certain ‘neurochemicals’ found in the more desirable of thralls. I had already shared that information with Connor the day prior.
“Humans and elves have a trace amount of these salts. What we and elves have in ample quantity, er, comparatively speaking, is a bromide salt. That, and a potassium illithium salt. Humans more of the latter than elves. But it is not present in halflings, or gnomes, or dwarfs, for example.”
“That could explain Nigel’s contention that halflings, gnomes, and dwarfs are unsuitable candidates for either thralls or ceremorphesis,” I said. “That and the natural patterns that must be present for the actual morphing to take place.”
“Yes, I would assume that as well,” Connor agreed but I could tell he was deep in thought. “But what we need is to find a metallic salt that would, in effect, not only insulate the brain, but create a reflection back to the sender. In effect, short circuiting the would-be controller. We need a chemical mirror.”
“How can we do that, Connor? It would take years of testing to find the right combination, and we don’t have the luxury of time.”
“Yes, Glory, I know. But I have a very strong suspicion that we have the answer right in front of us. The illithid, for all their genius, are terribly methodical and predictable – another major flaw of the species. It only stands to reason they would have researched exactly what their own weaknesses were. And, as methodical as they are, they would have discovered these chemical agents, created them in a laboratory, catalogued them, and locked them away for analysis at some future point, possibly hoping to find a means to combat them. No, I am quite sure the answer is right under our proverbial noses.” He nodded his thoughtfully in a recurring up and down motion.
“Then we should concentrate on those found in the Creatives laboratory,” I said. “If any of the illithid were working on this, it would have been them.”
“I agree,” he nodded and clipped the spectacles back on his nose. “And there is no time like the present to begin.” We looked at each other then set about our task.
We culled all the bottles from the Creatives laboratory and set them in front of us. Twelve in all, and if Connor was correct, one of those held the secret to protecting the surfacers from a world overrun by slime-ridden, psionic dominators.
We had analyzed three of the bottles when Connor excitedly called me to the microscope. “Glory! Glory, you must come and see this!” I couldn’t tell if he was exuberant or simply near-hysterical from the stress. I rushed from my own scope and peered down the long tube.
“By the Gods,” I whispered as I watched hundreds of small organisms wriggling about the glass slide. “What in the Gods’ names is it, Connor?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. The closest thing I have ever seen is a similar organism that causes a type of very rare disease in humans with symptoms similar to the plague. But it is so rare and it strikes only those with a mutant antigen in their blood, possibly one in ten thousand populace. But, here look at the bottle that I took the sample from.” He handed me a bottle that appeared to be the original container – not one that Riona had filled, but one she had simply taken directly from the Creatives’ lab. The bottle was heavier than the others and appeared to have a special dual lining. The qualith was certainly more plentiful and several repetitions in bold, raised characters.
“If I had to guess, Connor, I would say these are very serious warnings as to content,” I said and pointed them out to him. “And if these are warnings, then those little creatures must be a threat to the illithid. And the bottle is dual-lined as well to prevent breakage and any type of leakage.” I inspected the original seal. “Yes, whatever this is, they certainly didn’t want it loose.”
“My thoughts precisely. Undoubtedly, a very nasty bio-agent. Impossible to tell if it was manufactured, or occurs naturally. They must have been doing experimentation on finding a vaccine or cure for it.”
“Do you think we are susceptible to it?” I asked. I shuddered at the thought a wolfwere couldn’t kill me, but a small invisible something could. “Are we at risk, Connor?”
“I can’t be sure,” he began, “but my initial guess would be no. If the organism is akin to the one I mentioned that causes Berlugo Plague, then I doubt we would even feel a tickle as it traveled through our system. That, plus the Berlugo virus is not airborne, it is spread by surface contact. But we can inject a couple of the mice and see how they react over the next few hours. The Berlugo does act very quickly within the body, so we should have something from the mice within a short period of time. But this…” He again looked through the scope. “These little creatures are reproducing at a phenomenal rate.” He removed the slide and prepared a new one and slipped it into the scope.
“Ah, yes, now I think I might be on to something. Here, look..” He stepped aside and I again viewed. It was the same organism but the activity was at a bare minimum. The tiny creatures were moving at a snail’s pace.
“Why the difference?” I asked.
“When I prepared the first slide, I diluted it with a drop of saline solution. But I added nothing to the second. Apparently the little creatures get a kick out of simple sodium chloride. It would appear they quite literally thrive on it.”
“Connor, is it too much to hope that we have found a possible bio-agent?” I smiled from ear to ear. “Connor, should we hope we have found a possible means to defeat them once and for all?”
He still peered down the tube of the scope. “Yes, my dear, to both of your questions. And I believe we have inadvertently found a way to produce it in copious quantities. The quantity of the little creatures are doubly at an incredible rate! Salt. Simple table salt. Now, let’s prepare a little syringe and get those mice injected. If there is going to be a reaction, we should see some results before we leave at noon.” Within minutes all three mice were back into their cages after having had the virus introduced into their systems.
“Now, so that we do not jeopardize our little supply of miracles here,” Connor began, “I will reseal the original bottle. But so that we can continue growing our own little supply, we will prepare a solution of saline and turn them loose in it. They will think it is a day at the seashore,” he chuckled as we set about the task.
“We need to get to the remainder of the bottles, Connor,” I said. “We have to leave in another hour or so.”
He scratched his chin. “Okay, Glory. You take half of the remainder and I will take half. We will get as far as we can and then I will return later this afternoon and conclude.”
“No, Connor. If we don’t find it now, we BOTH will return later this afternoon and work until we do find it,” I said. “In any case, you are going to be at my house for dinner tonight.”
“Glory, whatever do you mean?” He was puzzled and I smiled at him.
“I saw how you and Gernsey looked at each other. She would never forgive me if I left you here slaving away without proper nourishment. No, you are coming home with me, and that is that, my good Dr. Salzston.”
He slightly blushed, a very strange sight considering his bright red hair and eyebrows. “Why, Glory, I haven’t the faintest idea what you are talking about,” he sniffed.
“Oh, give it up Connor. You can’t fool me,” I chuckled. “I saw how you were lusting after Gernsey’s cloudberry cakes yesterday.”
His blush deepened. “Madam, the more time you spend with that…that hooligan Linvail, the more you are beginning to sound like him. Common ruffian talk, Madam!”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, Connor. Forgive me for teasing you. But I have never seen Gernsey entertain a gentleman in her kitchen before, and she has been alone for the fifteen years she has served in Father’s house. You are the first, my dear friend. And, deep down inside I couldn’t be happier for the both of you. Love at first bite, er, sight.” I had to laugh at my own joke, although it seemed lost on Connor.
“Not…not even Drusay?” he asked timidly.
“Drusay is her uncle, Connor. He is the reason she came to be with us in the first place. Although, don’t go getting any ideas of removing her from her station. You would have one very, very irate wizard on your hands.”
“I…I will keep that in mind,” he said nodding his head. “Now, young lady, shall we return to our tasks at hand?” The sudden annoyance in his voice reminded me of our classroom days and again I chuckled to myself. Yes, overall I was feeling better today. Maybe the lesson had helped, I thought.
We were through with half of the twelve and no closer to finding the one we were looking for when an immaculately dressed Aran Linvail arrived to take us to back to the great house. I couldn’t wait to tell him about the microorganism we had discovered and its implications. In his usual manner, he pursed his lower lip, furrowed his brow, and nodded intently, deep in thought.
“And the mice?” he asked.
“No change as when we left,” said Connor staring out the window of the carriage. “And quite frankly, I don’t anticipate any. I truly believe we will find that it only affects illithid, and perhaps other amphibians as well.” He was very matter-of-factly about it all.
“And do either of you genius’ have any thoughts on delivery?” Aran was miles ahead of us in the overall scheme of things.
“Delivery?” I was confused with his terminology.
“Yes, how to introduce the organism into the general populace of the illithid communities,” he said.
“That can be accomplished in a number of ways,” Connor said. “And, I am sure Riona would have several good ideas on the subject as well.”
“You’re right, Connor. That part is probably best left for discussion with her,” said Aran then turned his attention to me as he changed the subject. “And, have you recuperated from your lesson this morning, my Lady?”
“Yes, I have,” I nodded and grinned. “And I am looking forward to tomorrow when again I can hurl little pieces of wood perilously close to a large bull’s-eye target and then watch you scurry about collecting my many misses.”
He laughed out loud. Connor couldn’t help but chuckle himself glancing at the both of us.
“If I insisted that you run and collect your own bad throws, perhaps your aim would improve,” Aran continued to laugh. “You will owe Marcos considerably before this is over, Madam.”
We soon pulled up in front of the great house and bounded from the carriage. Somehow I just knew that Gernsey had prepared something very special for noon meal.
“I thought I heard voices,” Waukeen said, as she entered the dining room, resplendent as always. We had already seated ourselves at the table awaiting Drusay. Aran and Connor rose from the table to greet her. She walked to my side and gave me my customary kiss on the cheek. “Darling Daughter,” she cooed. I stood to make the introductions.
“Mother Waukeen, I would like to present Dr. Connor Salzston, my research associate and dear friend from the Academy. Connor, may I present the Goddess Waukeen.”
Connor dutifully bowed and taking Waukeen’s hand, gently plied a kiss of deference to the back of it. “It is such an honor, Waukeen,” he said.
“And Mother, I would like to present Aran Linvail, our research benefactor and grantor. Aran, may I present the Goddess Waukeen.”
“And how are you, Aran,” Waukeen purred. “It has been a very, very long time, hasn’t it?”
“You are as lovely as always, Waukeen,” he replied and picked up her hand. But instead of kissing her hand, he gently kissed her cheek.
“Oh, you two know each other,” I said. The surprise of finding they were already acquainted threw me completely off guard and left me slightly embarrassed.
“Yes, Aran performed a valuable, shall we say, service for me just prior to the Time of Troubles when he was just a very young man. I have never forgotten and I believe I still owe him for it.” Her smile was radiant.
“It was nothing, Waukeen,” he smiled. “I was happy to be of service to you.”
They knew each other. Why did that make me suddenly uncomfortable? Was it the surprise of it, or was it the curiosity of exactly what the former association was?
“And, Waukeen, will you be joining us for noon meal?” he asked.
“Yes, I think I shall. I gather we will all be observing our brave heroes down in the bowels of the city a little later, and it will give me a chance to catch up with what is going on in the realm of the Shadow Thieves in the meanwhile,” she said as Aran pulled out the chair beside him that she might sit down. “Drusay, just some cheese and fruit, if you don’t mind.”
“Yes, Madam,” said Drusay and left the room.
I didn’t understand this. Aran was practically fawning over Waukeen, which annoyed me tremendously. Plus, I was bothered over something that happened over thirteen years ago and I didn’t even know what it was. And, it wasn’t even any of my business! By the Gods! It all bothered me and I didn’t know why but I knew it shouldn’t.
I quietly picked at my plate as they continued to engage in sociably glib chatter. I suddenly lost my appetite and decided to leave them to their overly charming prattle for a few moments with my children.
“I hope that you will excuse me,” I interrupted them. “I haven’t spent any time with the children today and our schedule seems to preclude any time for later, as well. I think I will squeeze in a few minutes while I can.” I smiled and rose from my chair. “Waukeen, I trust you will entertain everyone while I am gone?”
“Oh, yes, my Daughter,” she cooed. “Go and be with my precious grandchildren.”
I walked quietly down the hall and up the stairs to the nursery. Babies were just finishing up their own noon meal. “Ma-me, Ma-me!” they wailed in unison, excited to see me.
“Mommy will read a book while Margarite finishes feeding you,” I said and kissed each of my little imps on the head. I picked up the nearest book and sat in the rocking chair reading aloud. Mid-way through the small book, I heard a knock at the door.
“Enter,” I said. Aran stood in the doorway. I turned to Margarite who was wiping the last of a missed bite of something from under Haandor’s chin. “Margarite, I will stay with them while you go and have your noon meal, if you wish.”
“Yes, Madam, thank you” she said and excused herself as she brushed past him and out the door.
“I hope you don’t mind the intrusion, my Lady. But after hearing you speak of them, I wanted to meet your children,” he said as he entered the room and closed the door behind him. He was smiling but for the first time since I had met him, he seemed a bit uncomfortable at first glance.
“Of course, Aran. Come in, come in. They just finished eating.” I said as I put the children on the floor to play. “This is Haandor and Helena, my truly remarkable children.” He knelt down to their eye level and sat back on the heels of his perfectly polished boots.
“Such beautiful children,” he smiled as he attempted to befriend each of them with the offer of a nearby toy. Feigning shyness, they slowly came towards him. They weren’t accustomed to strangers in their nursery. He wound up a tiny toy puppy for Haandor and sent it scurrying across the floor.
“You’re upset about Waukeen, aren’t you?” he said as he watched the twins waddle after the robotic dog. “I could see it in your eyes before you left the room.”
“No, Aran. Whatever you have, or did have, with Waukeen is none of my business. I have no reason to be upset or otherwise,” I replied. I turned and walked to Ki’s perch and stared out at the spires of Waukeen’s church over the city. I had tried my best to sound convincing.
“Glory --,” he began and I interrupted him.
“Did you sleep with her, Aran?” Was that my voice? Did I really just blurt that out? Where in the nine-hells did that come from, I thought and groaned inside. I turned and looked at him, in total surprise at my unexpected outburst. It was something I just did not do. “Aran…Aran, I am so sorry. It…it is none of my business, and my apologies for my intrusion into your personal life.” I could feel my face slowly coloring a deep dark red.
He abruptly stopped rewinding the toy for the children. “That is what is bothering you?!” He looked up at me totally flabbergast.
“I’m sorry, Aran… I have no right to pry into your private life – for things that happened 13 years ago, or something that happened last week.” I couldn’t look at him and mindlessly turned to feed Ki.
“Glory, are you’re jealous?” he asked. “If you are, I am shocked -- and I think I am flattered, because I didn’t think you capable of jealousy,” he said with a nervous laugh. He continued to wind the toy and then released it.
“No, Aran, I am not jealous,” I said in my own defense and floundered for a viable excuse to explain my behavior to him. “It’s just that my father and Waukeen have been involved for well over a year, and knowing that, I suppose her attentions toward you seemed a bit overt to me. It was unsettling and I had no idea you two were involved before. I… I was just thinking of him.”
“You may have been thinking of him. But I know, and you know, that is not the crux of this, Glory. You may be able to deceive yourself with such an excuse, but my instincts tell me it is not true.” He arose from the floor and walked over to me. Grasping my shoulders, he turned me around to face him. “Now, look at me and tell me the truth.” I looked up into his piercing eyes.
“Maybe…maybe I am jealous,” I began. “It…It’s something foreign to me. I don’t know and I don’t understand. Maybe it is because of how I see you. Since you saved my life, I mean. I…I guess I feel you’re my protector, you’re my savior, and I don’t like the idea of sharing you with anyone, in any way.”
“You don’t like the idea of sharing me?” he threw his head back with an ironic laugh. “And I suppose the irony of your comment is totally lost in your own self-absorption?”
“I said I know I have no right to feel this way. But you asked for the truth and I am trying to tell you,” I replied. “But, I can’t explain something to you that I don’t understand myself.”
“Forgive me, Madam, when I say that I don’t know if I entirely believe you or not. You’re going to have to do a better job of explaining it than that, Glory, and your children’s nursery is not the place for this discussion,” he said then paused. “And, I promise you, we will indeed finish this discussion, but not here and not now.” He turned away and again directed his attention to my playing children.
He resumed his spot in the middle of the floor and was immediately accosted by the two scruffy imps. He is a chameleon, I thought as I watched him. How could such a cold-blooded killer of men be so warm and gentle with children? I turned to finish feeding Ki and be alone with my own jumbled thoughts. Was he right? Was I jealous? I had never been jealous in my life. I didn’t know if I would even recognize it within myself. Or was it that I was being possessive of what I felt to be my sense of security since the attack. I was being truthful with him when I told him I didn’t know the answer.
“Uh, Glory… uh, Glory!” The near panic in his voice returned my attention to the present and I turned to see the reason behind it. The nursery was alive with magically animated toys. I had to chuckle at the surprise on his face.
“Oh, yes, Aran. Something your dossier may have omitted. The children have a host of special powers, levitation and animation among them. Natural wizards, I believe is how your dossier should classify them. And the toys? It’s just their way of sharing with you -- it means they like you,” I said.
He looked at me skeptically at first. “Really? I have never been around children before. They like me?” He was more intrigued with the fact that they liked him, not that they were both such a unique rarity in their abilities.
“Yes, really, and yes, they like you. The toys are their invitation for you to play with them. Go on,” I urged him. “It isn’t dangerous. At least not yet.”
He was still slightly reticent, but the children’s delighted squeals and pulling on his jacket sleeves invited him to join in the revelry. I sat down in the rocking chair to watch them. An elegantly dressed Shadowmaster who was one of the most powerful men in Amn, and two little magical ruffians rolling and playing amid enchanted toys. It was a sensory overload of vivid dichotomies.
Margarite soon returned with a message that our company was requested in the dining room. I kissed the children goodbye as Aran picked them up, one in each arm. They then turned their attention to their new ‘friend’, and amidst little arms hugging him, he garnered a shy kiss from Helena before we left to return downstairs.
“I know nothing about children, but these are truly wonderful, Glory,” Aran smiled as we descended the staircase. “What a wonderful joy they must be for you, but the magic must be unsettling.”
“Thank you. I think they’re magnificent, even magic aside,” I smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed meeting them.” A few more steps and a long silence as the short-lived discussion from the nursery reentered my thoughts.
“And the answer to your question is ‘no’,” he suddenly said, not looking at me.
I stopped on the stair step. “What?” I didn’t understand what he meant. He stopped on the step below me and turned to face me, the piercing eyes had returning.
“I said the answer to your question is ‘no’. I did not sleep with Waukeen. If you must know, I assassinated someone for her at her request. It was a very discrete matter at the time that required great secrecy.” He looked in my eyes searching for my acceptance of his offered explanation. He must have found what he was searching for in my face. A glimpse of relief washed over him. It took a moment for me to consciously absorb his admission.
I said nothing as he gently picked up my hand and we continued down the stairs to the dining room. Why did I feel relieved knowing this? Why did knowing he had killed someone for her make me feel better than if he had confirmed he had slept with her? I felt guilty for having all of these feelings and I didn’t even know why.
“And, Aran, what do you think of my beautiful grandchildren?” Waukeen said as we entered the dining room.
“They are marvelous, Waukeen. Positively delightful. I even managed to ply a small kiss from the fair Helena upon my departure,” he chuckled.
“Still wielding that dire charm, I see. You always were such a rogue with the women, my darling,” she purred. “A rogue with superior intelligence, a heart of burning ambition, and many, many natural talents. I am not surprised that you have risen to such lofty heights within the Shadow Thieves. I do hear your name quite often in the Outlands, especially since your recent promotion. And, of course, I always say, ‘I knew him when’.”
“You are much too kind, Waukeen,” Aran replied with his half-smile. “It has really only been through providence itself that I have attained any status or recognition.”
“Your humility is most unbecoming to you, Aran,” she cooed. “I don’t believe providence, or any of the Gods, had anything to do with it. I am sure it was your own brilliance and determination that paved your path.” She laughed softly under her breath. It was obvious she greatly admired him and was probably still indebted to him. Regardless of what he had just told me, it still somewhat ruffled me to watch her flatter him so.
“Maybe I should go and tell Connor we are almost ready to begin,” I interjected and without waiting for a reply, escaped through the butler’s pantry into the kitchen. Again, Gernsey blushed because for the second time today I had interrupted what appeared to be a personal conversation.
“Excuse me,” I smiled, “but I believe it is almost time, Connor.”
“Yes, of course, Glory. I will be there momentarily,” he replied.
I returned to the dining room just in time for Waukeen to wave her arm and the large mirror over the buffet sprang to life with a scene of Riona and company somewhere down in the sewers. It was a dank, dark and ugly scene, and they appeared to be battling some type of animated slimy creature. I had never seen my wonderful husband in any sort of battle and it was enlightening to see this side of my skilled warrior. With almost artistic strokes Hendak quickly dispatched the creatures with his Balance of Scales. I watched as the white searing heat from the magical blade was injected into the green slimy goo. One after another, they sizzled and then shriveled to black under the direction of his expert application.
“Ah, yes, we will have a splendid view,” she said, the pride of a mother showing on her face. “When your father arrives, Glory, we will ‘switch’ half of the mirror to the small mirror’s view. I fear if we used this unlimited view inside the illithid compound, the magic energies would alarm them to our presence. The smaller mirror shouldn’t generate enough to affect them at all, especially if they are asleep. So, we will have a split screen, so to speak. Half will be through the vision of the small mirror, and half will encompass our little group collected in the sewers.”
“Superb,” said Connor, joining us. “Positively superb.” We stood and watched, waiting for Father. Within minutes a blue haze appeared and Father stood in strange black robes with a short wiry looking humanoid by his side.
“By the Gods,” Aran whispered and his face paled. “It’s a lich. He’s secured a lich.”
“Not to worry,” said Waukeen. “Tabor is a very, very accomplished wizard. His spell will hold the lich and hold well for the duration.” I could tell even she was momentarily surprised by the appearance of a lich. I had never seen one except in Father’s books, but I knew how strong and dangerous they were. It unnerved me to see such an evil thing with my Father.
We watched as he secured Hendak’s small round mirror around the lich’s neck, then chanted. The lich became invisible. In the meantime, Riona cast the ‘knock’ and opened the secret door. Waukeen waved her hand again and half of the mirror began to show the view from the lich’s mirror as it slowly traveled past the now-opened door and down a dimly lit corridor. The intrepid adventurers saw what we saw from the lich’s mirror with my dressing table mirror that had been dismantled earlier in the day to accompany them. Nigel acted as navigator for Father while viewing a copy of the map discovered the previous day. Connor, Aran and I kept tabs by using the original map.
“We’re coming up to another door,” said Connor anxiously. “Ah, unlocked. Of course they would feel a sense of security once inside the outer door. I doubt we find anything locked here inside.” We watched the phantom lich gently push the door open just enough to slip inside the first chamber. Dimly lit by recessed lighting sourced in the ceiling edges, it was difficult to make out what the room contained. The lich stopped while Father and Nigel conferred on the map.
“It is so very dark, but perhaps I can improve the clarity a scant bit,” sighed Waukeen. “But I can’t do much more for fear of our being detected.” She waved her hand again and the scene did improve. The lich moved slowly toward a series of tables and cabinets along one of the far walls.
“Appears to be storage facilities of some sort, probably for outdoor gear. I would suppose anything of real value to us would not be stored so close to the actual entrance. I think if we will find anything of value, it will be in this room.” He pointed to a chamber that was directly on the other side of a larger adjacent room to our current location.
On paper, the adjacent room appeared to be a community room of some sort. Various chairs arranged around small tables with some unknown larger structures off to the side. There was also what appeared to be a water source, although we couldn’t be too sure. The room directly off to the left of it was what we assumed to be the large sleeping chamber. The room directly to the right appeared to be our goal. Storage cabinets lined the walls and long narrow tables were indicated in the center. They almost looked like our own lab tables.
“Did you note your insights with Nigel?” I asked.
Connor nodded. “Yes, we went through the map thoroughly this morning.” He again pointed to the room in question. “We both thought if there was anything we could use, it would be stored in here.”
“What do you think we will find, Connor?” asked Aran.
“I haven’t a clue, old boy. Haven’t a bloody clue,” he said, peering intently at the mirror. “But I am hoping we will recognize it if and when we see it.”
The second door came into view of the lich as Father directed him across the room. It was slightly ajar and the small undead slipped easily between it and the door jam. Empty armchairs and tables came immediately into view. Enough seating for eight or nine illithid at a time. The lich pivoted left to right to provide a panorama of the room. The door to the sleep chamber was closed. But in the far back there appeared to be a lone figure seated in a chair. Father instructed the lich to move a few meters forward. As he did, we could tell the lone figure was an illithid at rest in the chair.
“A nap?” I asked.
Connor nodded. “That would be my guess. No tentacle movement. Sort of like how we have our eyes closed when we sleep. Perhaps our ‘guard’ is asleep on the job. A good thing for us.”
The lich was instructed to complete the panoramic view of the remainder of the room.
“What are those?” I asked as the unidentified structures from the map came into view.
“Those, Glory, are know as food stocks,” said Connor somberly. “They are similar to the stocks utilized for punishment by some of the religious zealots up in the Cloud Mountains. They are made of wood and the subject places himself with head and hands through the notched holes. Then the top piece of the stock is swung over thereby securing the subject in place.” His voice had the chill of a scientist explaining a grisly, yet accepted fact of phenomena.
“Those are food stocks?” I said as the lich was instructed to advance closer to them on his way to the door on the left. It appeared that swarms of flying insects were gathered in and around the wooden devices.
The view then became horridly and gruesomely clear. I thought I was going to be ill. Amid the swirls of flies in the far left stock was the leftover of the illithids’ last meal. Human hands hung lifelessly through the wrist holes and the horrified disfigured face of a human stared vacantly at us from the head hole. The top of the hapless victim’s cranium lay on the floor beside the base of the stock, and the remainder of his open skull was visibly as empty as his stare. I gasped and covered my face with my hands. I felt Aran’s arm slip around my waist as he gently pulled me next to him.
“By the Gods,” Aran whispered in near disbelief. “If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I would not have believed it. So this is what they do. This is how they feed. It almost makes the vampires look civilized.”
“The illithid’s equivalent of a dining room, I believe,” said Connor dryly, completely immersed in his scientific curiosity.
Thank the Gods that Father didn’t dwell on the grisly scene. He instructed the lich to proceed to the door on the right. Again, the door was slightly ajar, just enough for the wiry little lich to slip into the room without disturbing it.
It appeared empty and we all exhaled in relief.
“Ah, yes. Now to work. Your father showed great wisdom in selecting a lich, Glory. Quick, dexterous, all the qualities we needed in an undead spy,” said Connor. He inched closer to the mirror.
The lich quickly scanned the tables. The work areas were perfectly clean. There was nothing. Everything had to be in the cabinets.
“Quickly, quietly,” Connor said under his breath as though he were giving special instructions to our spy. “Yes, yes. Open the door quietly. Yes……” He stopped abruptly as his mouth fell open and his pince-nez tumbled from his nose to the floor. “BY THE GODS!” He had seen something that had gripped his total attention.
“Waukeen, can you tell Tabor to have the lich retrieve the small round globe on the shelf directly in front of it? He must safely bring it back to us!” His excitement was near uncontrollable.
“I can communicate to Hendak who can tell him,” she said.
“Could you please? If we get nothing else from this expedition, this is the prize of all prizes.” His face was positively aglow as he rubbed his hands together. “We do not need anything else. We have it all in that beautiful little orb.”
“What is it, Connor?” I asked trying to make out the small orb in the bad light. I didn’t recognize it from my studies or any of Connor’s research notes.
“That, my dear Glory, is what I had always believed to be a myth. But apparently, it is not a figment of some ancient adventurer’s imagination. It is real…. It is what the old timers call a ‘brainmate’.”
“Connor, what in the nine-hells is a ‘brainmate’?” I asked. I didn’t recall ever hearing of a ‘brainmate’ in school or in any of the texts I had read.
“It is reputed to be a small node from the Elder Brain of the community from whence our visitors hale and as such is totally imbued with all the instructions for our visitors’ mission,” he smiled. He couldn’t take his eyes off of the scene as the lich carefully collected the orb and brought it into the dim light.
“See? It looks like a miniature brain itself,” he smiled. I looked closely. He was right.
“And just what are we going to do with it, Connor?” I asked, totally confused.
“My dear lady. We are going to take it to the lab and interrogate it.”
“And how are we going to do that?”
“With our new collars,” he smiled. His own brilliant brain had already mapped out a course of action with the new toy displayed on our viewing screen.
“And won’t they miss their little piece of the rock, or at the least know that we have it because of the telepathy?” I asked.
“Not likely. The old adventurers told that each illithid had their own personal brainmate when on far away missions that doesn’t interact with any illithid other than its owner. My guess is it is either a spare, or belonged to one of their party that met an unfortunate and untimely demise. By the preserved illithid brain in the glass jar that was adjacent to it on the shelf, I would guess the latter. And, he certainly won’t be needing it, or missing it, anymore.” He gingerly rubbed his hands together. “And with our collar, the brainmate can be easily fooled, I am sure.”
“You are brilliant, Connor,” Aran said. “Absolutely bloody brilliant.” He was in total awe of our wonderful Dr. Salzston.
“All in a day’s work, Aran. Simply all in a day’s work. Now all we have to do is get our sweet little lich out of there without being found out,” Connor said, a look of near manic glee on his face. He still hadn’t bothered to retrieve his pince-nez from the floor.
The lich secured the globe in the pouch he carried and turned to retrace his steps. He slipped back into the community room and Father had him briefly scan for the illithid napping in the chair.
He was gone! We all held our breaths as Father slowly pivoted the lich to completely scan the room. The illithid soon came into view. He was bent over the human remains in the food stocks with his tentacles busily searching out any remaining bits of gray matter that might have been overlooked in the dead human’s skull. I covered my eyes again and felt my stomach lurch. Aran momentarily tightened his arm around my waist.
“A midnight snack for our friend,” said Connor. The lich slowly pivoted toward the door to the outer room and began to move toward it. He slipped effortlessly around it and quickly made his way across the chamber to the long corridor. He entered the bleak passageway and quietly closed the door behind him.
Thirty more meters and we would be home free. Under Father’s direction, the lich quickly scurried to the outer door where our party waited anxiously. Father was dispelling the invisibility spell even as he traversed the last few feet, yet it seemed an eternity before he visibly stepped through the secret door and immediately handed the pouch to Riona. Father wasted no time and within seconds he and the lich disappeared in the same manner they had arrived. A faint blue haze hung in the dark air.
Riona quickly chanted and closed the door again. All was as it was before they had arrived and entered the lair. And, hopefully, the illithid would be none the wiser.
It would be another hour before Riona arrived with our prize and I hoped not as long before Father returned.
“I can’t speak for anyone else,” I said, “but I could certainly use something to drink. Would anyone care to join me in the lounge?”
“A marvelous idea, my dear,” said Waukeen. “We can toast to what appears to be a very successful mission.”
“I’ll just go out to the kitchen and see if Gernsey might whip up a little snack for us. I am just suddenly ravenous,” said Connor. “I will join you in a few moments.”
“Take your time, Connor,” I said. “We’re in no rush, I’m sure. And, Connor, don’t forget these.” I bent down and picked up his glasses.
“Thank you, Glory,” he smiled, then made a mad dash for the kitchen as we started to the lounge. Yes, when Riona and party returned, Connor and I would take our little jewel to the lab and find out exactly was going on. I was both anxious to know and fearful what it would be. Both would be resolved soon enough and we would be just that much closer to being rid of the threat of the beasts.
TO BE CONTINUED……..
Mind Games X
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