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Mind Games XII

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#1 Guest_MorningGlory_*

Posted 20 June 2004 - 10:21 PM


From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston

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


Connor and I looked apprehensively at each other as we boarded the carriage and gingerly settled into our seats. The shots were still uncomfortably felt as the carriage pulled into the rutted dirt road back to the city.

“By the Gods, Connor, couldn’t the two of you come up with something a little less painful and intrusive as this gods-damn injection?” Aran winced as the carriage bumped across a small pothole.

“Not on such short notice, my man,” replied Connor. “And if it is any consolation, I know I can’t speak for Glory’s backside, but my ‘pain’ is just as stinging as yours.” There was a pronounced lack of sympathy in his voice.

“Ah, so both of you had injections, as well,” he mused.

“Yes,” I replied. “I gave Connor his and then gave myself one.”

“Too bad I didn’t arrive earlier,” he cocked an eyebrow to accompany his half-smile and looked at me. “Maybe I could have assisted my Lady.”

“I doubt it. You are untrained – medically, that is,” I replied, a slight edge to my voice. My comment was fortuitously punctuated by another dip in the road with a resultant bump.

Connor shot him a look. “Sometimes, Linvail, you can be such a cad,” he said impatiently. Aran threw back his head and laughed, surprised at the scientist’s personal candor.

“Yes, you are absolutely correct, Salzston. I can be a cad. But my Lady here is already very much aware of that particular charm of mine, so I doubt that anything I would say or do could surprise her in the least.” He continued to look at me as he spoke, a knowing smirk playing at the corners of his mouth.

“Yes, Connor, he is absolutely correct. Nothing he could say or do would surprise me in the least,” I smiled sweetly at Aran yet I knew he couldn’t help but see the annoyance in my eyes. “Now, if I may, I would like to ask about Alexa Charletane.”

“Ah, yes. Alexa..” His eyes sparkled in low light of the carriage. A conquest, I immediately thought. She not only works for him -- she is, or was, also a lover. “Alexa is a very, very capable woman – about your age, Glory, who has proven her worth to the Shadow Thieves several times over since she was put in charge of the Promenade a little over a year ago. Do you need…to know precisely how much she has proven her worth? I mean… is it germane to know her exact worth to me?” He was doing it again! He was intentionally taunting me with his tonal inference! And, after my earlier outburst about Waukeen, I was not going to give him the satisfaction of seeing a repeat performance. It was none of my business anyway.

“No, Aran. Her real worth to you is not particularly important, or of interest, to us,” I replied, never flinching from his intense gaze. “Bodine was named as being one under domination, and we believe that Ms. Charletane is slated for subjugation, if she hasn’t been turned already.” I could see that my stark revelation landed with a large thud.

“The way to get to me?” He squirmed uneasily in his seat and I couldn’t tell if it was from the discomfiture of the shot or the idea of being subdued and turned while alone in the intimate company of Ms. Charletane.

“Simply put, yes,” I replied. “We are guessing that the subject is lured into a situation whereby the person under control and the subject are alone. An illithid then ‘arrives’ and turns the subject. It would all happen within a matter of minutes.” I was tempted to embellish the possibilities to make him even more uncomfortable but decided not to because of Connor’s presence.

“And what effect would the preventative have on someone who had already been turned?” he asked. I couldn’t tell for a certainty, but Aran appeared as though he may have been blushing. The idea of being caught with his pants down more ways than one must have bothered him.

“You mean, as an example, if Ms. Charletane had ‘turned’ you, what effect it might have on you?” I asked, taking a certain degree of pleasure in the uneasiness he continued to exhibit.

“Well, yes… as a hypothetical example, of course,” he muttered.

“You would have immediately returned to your senses, my man,” Connor replied as he stared out the window. “And you would have immediately told us that you had been under domination and were no longer. The preventative creates a reflective quality that in effect, short-circuits the trancer and the psionic spell is broken. We don’t believe there would be any noticeable side-affects, but then, we can’t be sure until we actually apply it to one who has been turned.”

“And I suppose we can’t go around giving the preventative to those already turned because that probably alerts the trancers, am I correct?” He sighed, voicing the obvious drawback to the overall inoculation of everyone.

“Positively,” I replied. “But you can rest easily. Ms. Charletane will be no psionic threat to you now. And should she summon an illithid at, shall we say, an opportune moment, and he arrives, he will have no effect upon you, and he should be easily dispensed with. However, you might have to defend yourself against the lady if they determine you a threat of their exposure. I think I would keep my dagger under my pillow, if I were you.”

“Sage advice, my Lady. And, should it be of interest to you, I do that already.” He paused as his annoyance for me verbally matched mine for him. “But in this case, maybe I will simply keep Ms. Charletane out of my bed, and I will stay out of hers. What is that old saying, Connor?” He turned to Connor. “An ounce of prevention is worth – well, whatever it is..”

“We just want to keep you safe, Aran,” I reminded him and smiled rather solicitiously.

“I am sure you have my best interest at heart, my Lady,” he replied and slightly bowed his head in deference, his eyes flashing.

“Yes, yes,” Connor waved him off, not paying particular attention to our banter, totally absorbed in his own thoughts as he gazed out the window at the city’s lights, unconsciously biting his thumbnail between his front teeth.

“The other names on the list. Who are they?” Aran asked. I read them off to him. He knew the majority of them, yet a few he didn’t. I showed him our three-tiered pyramid, the names we had slotted in, and the theoretical ‘blanks’ that existed in our hypothetical structure. He understood immediately. “Perfectly logical,” he agreed. “They would only need a strategic handful to accomplish their goals. Perfectly simple and perfectly logical. I suppose that is what we must expect of these creatures. Damn near perfect brilliance.”

We continued to talk about the brainmate’s revelations and the inherent limitations because of its owner’s death, Connor adding to the conversation with his insights. It dawned on me he was able to maintain his separate train of thought in totality, as well as totally absorb and participate in whatever was going on around him. The more I worked with this man, the more his quiet, unassuming brilliance continued to astound me.

By the time we had concluded our information sharing, we had arrived at the great house. Box and bag in hand, Connor was out of the carriage and around to the side kitchen door before the carriage had come to a full stop. I instructed the driver to deliver the remaining boxes to the front door. Drusay could have them moved to the downstairs later.

Aran walked me up the walkway. “Won’t you come in for an aperitif,” I invited him as we stood at the door. He shook his head quickly as if he had anticipated the offer and was prepared with his decline.

“No, my Lady. You have work to which you must attend, as do I,” he replied curtly. The invitation had made him uncomfortable.

“Very well,” I said and then as an afterthought. “But, Aran. Don’t harm Ms. Charletane. It is important that things remain the ‘status quo’.”

“Are you telling me how to run my business, Madam?” he smiled and the annoyance was immediately gone. “Or, whom I should allow in my bed?”

“No, Aran. I was simply reminding you of the big picture, which I am sure I needn’t have,” I replied. “As for your bed, that is your business, not mine.”

“In the morning, Madam? Our lessons?” he reminded me, choosing to ignore my comment.

“Yes, just after dawn. I want to say good morning to the children first,” I said.

“Of course,” he smiled, “your beautiful children. Then I shall call for you shortly after dawn. And until then, my Lady,” he smiled and nodded as he kissed my hand to bid me good evening. He turned on his heel and walked back to the carriage.

“Aran..” I called after him. He turned, face smiling.

“Yes, Madam?”

“Be very safe, Aran. Be very safe,” I said, not quite sure why I was compelled to admonish him to take such care. Instinct, perhaps.

“Do not worry, Madam. I think you have more than adequately apprised me of the risks I might face in intimate surroundings with someone not protected from the illithid,” and the broad smile spread across his face as he again turned and hurriedly returned to the carriage for his return to the Docks.

The impudent ass thought I was referring to Ms. Charletane, I thought and stood there somewhat abashed. I wanted to yell and say, ‘that’s not what I meant,’ but the moment was lost as he was inside the carriage and I could hear the lilt of a happily whistled tune as it pulled from the curb. I shook my head in exasperation and turned to enter the house.

Anomen met me at the door, his face ashen under his dark beard. “Connor just told me,” he said. He helped me with my cloak.

“Have you seen or talked to your father since this all began?” I asked.

“No, thank the Gods. There hasn’t been time. I… I doubt he knows we have even been in the city. He was gone when we first arrived from Trademeet and he returned while we were in the Underdark. But we didn’t leave word where we were going or when we would be returning. The most he would know is that we were here for a day at the beginning, and he would have no way of knowing we are here now, unless someone else told him.” He was rambling and the worry consumed his voice.

“Anomen, it is okay. It is okay. Calm down. Your father is going to be fine. I promise,” I tried to reassure him. “Is everyone is the dining room?” He nodded then stopped abruptly and looked at me with tears welling in his eyes.

“Oh, Glory, I just can’t lose him now. I just found him, for the Gods’ sakes! Surely Helm would not torment me so! Is this to be my final punishment for killing Surayah?”

“No, Anomen. Helm is not tormenting you, and you’re not going to lose him. I promise you. You are not going to lose him. Now, we have to get everyone inoculated.” I could see the deep worry in his eyes and wanted desperately to allay his fears about his father. “Anomen, I think I might have a plan, to make sure that virtually everyone will be okay. But let’s get the preventative into everyone first then we will go over what we know. Okay?” I turned and found the box I had packed specifically with the preventative and syringes. “Here. Carry this for me. We have work to do.”

He dutifully picked up the box and we continued to the dining room where everyone was gathered. Connor was already filling everyone in on the information we had obtained from the brainmate as we began to fill individual syringes and lay them out on the table.

“Well, I am the only medical doctor here… Anyone else know how to give an injection – properly?” I asked. The small group shook their heads in unison. “Very well, then, for modesty’s sake, I will inject the ladies first – Gernsey, Margarite, and Riona. Waukeen, you are blessed with the Goddess’ immunity to the illithid, so there is no reason for you to subject yourself to this. If you gentlemen will kindly step into the hallway and please close the door.”

The men left the room amidst mumbles of needles and pain with Connor trying to reassure all of them it wasn’t so bad and would be over before they knew it.

“Ladies, this is going to hurt like the nine-hells and will probably leave a nifty bruise for a day or two,” I told them but did not hear one grumble. Women were so much more pragmatic about things like this. It was necessary and it was uncomfortable. So what.

“There are some advantages to being a Goddess,” Waukeen sighed, watching each in turn.

“Do what you must,” Riona said as she stepped up to the buffet, loosened her trousers and leaned with arms braced against the wooden edge.

For the most part, the inoculations went smoothly. Minsc wanted to make sure Boo was protected from the illithid and it took quite a bit of convincing to make him realize that Boo was not in imminent danger.

Still gently rubbing his backside, Hendak wanted to know about the children. “Yes, I am afraid so, Hendak. We cannot afford to take any chances. Of course, they won’t require the dosage we do, but I have to do it.”

He nodded, “I understand. Then I will help, and perhaps Mother can quiet the discomfort for them.” I agreed and we went upstairs to insure the little ones could never be threatened by the mindflayers. Mother Waukeen cast a small spell and took away the pain and stayed to play with them while Hendak and I returned to the others. Of all of the inoculations I had given in my career, those two where the most difficult.

“I trust I can have Drusay serve brandy, or whatever anyone wants,” Father asked, rather annoyed at the whole procedure. His wizard’s pride was bruised more than his violated buttock.

“Yes, Father. I can see no reason a small drink would hurt,” I agreed. “As long as one doesn’t over-indulge. It’s important that the salts get evenly distributed through the system. Too much alcohol will impede that and drag the salts to the liver and other internal organs.” I didn’t want to get too technical with him. Wizards in the best of humors were not given to listening to too many scientific details, much less when they were cranky.

“If everyone would please sit down,” Father enjoined us. “And Drusay, please set up a small service for liquor, if you please.” Drusay nodded and left the room. “Now, I believe I should turn the floor over to Dr. Saltzson. Dr.?” Father seated himself as Connor rose and took the floor.

“We are now immune to the illithid’s psionic powers,” he proudly pronounced. “For all practical purposes that means they cannot bend us to their will – however, let me place one caveat on that. If they still manage to get their four tentacles into you, there is no preventative that can save you. Although, I can assure you, you will ultimately give them a severe case of acid indigestion, if not downright food poisoning, as we mortals know it.” Connor never had a really good way of explaining the downside of something. Everyone at the table looked disturbed, and rightfully so, as to his warning.

“Now, allow me to proceed.” Thank the Gods he wasn’t going to linger on the point. “Here is what we have. We have a preventative and the means to make more and quickly. We have two collars and a controlling collar, of which we can fabricate more as needed, but it will take time. And we have successfully reproduced a bio-agent that we can utilize to infect the illithid community, and/or communities. And we have a brainmate, although the information is somewhat dated as to the current status of the illithid’s plans.

“Through the brainmate, we have learned the identities of several of Athkatla’s citizenry that have been turned. We are estimating there are a planned 45 conversions and within those conversions, and if they are totally successful, it will be enough for the illithid to completely control the Council of Six and the government as a whole. As I explained earlier, we have the names of approximately 16 persons. As of the time of the brainmate’s owner’s demise, they already had the Security General and his Assistant General, as well as the Director of Prisons and the Assistant Director of Prisons. We do not know how many additional have been added, except we know two of the Council have been turned. We are assuming their names do not appear on the list simply because of how the illithid’s subjugation structuring appears to be unfolding. Glory and I worked on this briefly before arriving.” Connor had quickly sketched out a few additional ‘pyramid’ graphs for the group to peruse. “I apologize you will have to share, as there wasn’t enough time to sketch more.”

“I’m glad to know that I can be of some use,” Father interjected, and a few simple words later we all had copies.

“Thank you, Tabor, I am sorry I didn’t think of asking you sooner,” said Connor and nodded his appreciation.

“Now, we are assuming they have very carefully selected their targets for subjugation to keep their plan simple, clean, and deadly effective. As you can see, we have what appears to be a three-tiered pyramid with a six-block top. The six at the top being the Council of Six.” He continued to explain our best guess at what the illithid’s ultimate goals were.

“Then,” interjected Anomen, “using your assumptive logic, the next step up from my father would be the Prelate! Prelate Wessalen! His name would be inserted in the top box as one of the Six!”

I leaned over the table and touched his hand. “Yes, Anomen, you are absolutely correct. By reasonable deduction, his name would occupy one of the top six slots.”

“By all that is holy,” he whispered. “They have managed to subvert the Order of the Radiant Heart.” He shook his head slowly from side to side in disbelief. “And by the Gods! They even have a Shadow Thief!”

“Yes, a lower-ranking captain but only one level away from the Shadowmaster,” I replied. “And we inoculated Aran Linvail, so we feel there is little risk there, no matter who occupies the middle tier in the Shadow Thieves’ grouping.”

“By all that is of the Gods themselves,” Father whispered. “Waukeen’s own church. Oh, Glory, the very High Priest that performed your union ritual has been subverted.”

“Yes, Father, I know,” I sighed sadly.

“And my own father,” Anomen broke down and openly wept. “My own father.” Riona leaned over to comfort him.

“Anomen, we will figure this out. You are not going to lose your father, I promise,” she whispered and pulled him to her. “Do not worry, my love.”

She turned and looked at me. “We must make a plan. Can these people be saved?”

I nodded. “Yes. The risk is that we don’t find and eliminate the illithid and their trancers at the same time the victims receive the preventative. The moment the victims receive the preventative, the trancers will know. If the trancers are infected with the bio-agent prior to the victims receiving the preventative, we think the victims under their control at the time could be severely and adversely affected because we don’t know exactly what effect the agent will have on the illithid. But if we don’t eliminate the illithid, they will be back with something to get around the preventative, and we have to strike at them using the element of surprise. And, they were working on that very thing as long ago as five years. The Gods only know if they have made progress or not. We do know that up until the time of the demise of the brainmate’s owner, the salts were still effective against them. Our best guess would be that would be no more than six months ago.”

“Then we need a plan whereby we deliver the bio-agent and almost simultaneously deliver the preventative,” Riona said.

“Precisely,” I agreed. “And, if we can find their city, I think I might have a viable plan by which we can do both.”

“I’m listening,” Riona nodded.

“Connor and I believe we can distill the salts and make an ingestible compound that would be just as effective as the inoculation. It will take us another day or two to complete it. We will then plan a big party. Yes, a big party here at the great house. If we need an excuse, we will make it an early birthday party for the twins. We will invite everyone that is anyone and pay particular attention to those on our list and those we feel might even remotely be victims, fitting our pyramid criteria. And we will serve our own special toast of sparkling wine that will happen to contain the ingestible form of the preventative.

“Riona, you and your party will deliver the bio-agent so that it’s effects will be felt almost simultaneously with our party. We will know more about this agent on the ‘morrow when Connor resumes his questioning of the brainmate. As the agent was among the samples you brought us, I am sure the brainmate can identify it for us and give us the particulars of it. We just need to find out the virus’s incubation time so that we can coordinate its effectiveness with the administration of the preventative.”

“And may I ask, do we know for sure the preventative actually works?” Anomen asked.

“Honestly, no. We don’t know and won’t know until it is literally tested,” said Connor. “We are 99.99% sure. But there is that .01% of being unsure until it is proven.”

“So we will not know until someone goes and faces a mindflayer, true?” he asked the question that everyone was thinking.

“That is true, Anomen,” I replied and nodded.

He looked around the table. “Well, then we need to proved it to 100%, and I am willing to do it, but I certainly cannot ask or expect anyone to come with me.” He raised himself from the table. “How long does it take for this to become effective?”

“As long as it takes for it to circulate within the body and be carried to the brain and basically saturate it… an estimated 2 to 3 hours at the most,” replied Connor.

“Anomen, you cannot do this,” objected Riona shaking her head.

“Someone must do it, and I am the logical choice, and before you even say it, you know you cannot go with me, Riona. You will be needed here in case..in case it is not 99.99% effective,” his voice dropped. I knew he was being spurred on by the thought of what these creatures had done to Sir Ryan. He had finally found his true Father, and he was going to do all within his power to defeat these creatures. Even if it meant he must be the guinea pig for our preventative.

“I will go with you,” Valygar said calmly and stood with his friend.

“As will I,” said Hendak. “You stood with me, Anomen, when I needed someone. I do so now in return. Plus, I do have some maternal benefits that might be advantageous if the preventative proves not to be as effective as we might hope.”

“And Boo and I will go!” boomed Minsc.

“No, Minsc. You must stay with Riona. She will need your big boot to kick the butt of evil if we fail. You and Boo have to stay here,” said Anomen. “Anyway, we don’t need more than three of us. We don’t want to look like an adventuring party. We just need to get back into their outpost and see if it works and then get the nine-hells out of there. I think the three of us can do that.” The three standing men nodded in agreement with each other.

“Oh, very well, then I will go and open the gods-damn door for you,” Father sighed and grumbled loudly. “Two trips to the sewers in one day. By the Gods will I ever rid myself of the stench caught in my nose!”

“And I will supply the transportation,” said Waukeen as she stood at the door. “That is, with Tabor’s able assistance. I can take two, Tabor can take one plus himself.”

“Waukeen, you cannot be going down into the sewers,” Father objected. “I will not allow it. These young men can walk or ride to the Temple District. I will teleport myself when they arrive.”

She smiled and sighed, “Tabor, my love, you will need someone to keep you company while they roust the illithid from their cozy little nest; and to get them back home again should any real trouble arise. And I promise that if you allow me to accompany you, you will smell nothing but the fragrance of sweet honey flowers during the entire trip. But, of course, there is the bath when we return…” Her voice trailed off into a soft chortle. Father cleared his throat and slightly blushed.

“I suppose it is useless to argue with a Goddess,” he sighed. “Very well, we shall wait another hour and depart. Agreed?”

“Agreed,” the three men said in unison. Anomen turned to Connor. “What can we expect if it doesn’t work?”

“They will sense your mental brain energy and immediately attempt to subdue you at best. Much like Nigel here was subdued,” Connor nodded to Nigel.

“Yes, a high-pitch whine of which I could only hear in my own head. Eventually when it becomes so high that it is undetectable, they have you within their domination,” Nigel offered from his personal encounter.

“The salts provide a protective, and reflective substance to the brain itself,” explained Connor. “In theory, any psionic energy they might send to you would at best be reflected directly back to the sender, or at the least bounced off in various and random directions. They shouldn’t even be able to detect you. At least not for being a sentient being.”

Anomen and the others nodded in understanding. “Very well. Let us prepare our weapons and ready ourselves for our little experiment, gentlemen,” said Anomen. “By the time we have done all of this, it will be time to leave.”

“Mother Waukeen, can you do our mirror at the distance?” I asked and motioned toward the familiar mirror over the buffet.

“I will activate it for you before we go,” she smiled. “And Hendak can wear this small one around his neck so we may view the happenings from inside the lair.” She waved her hand and another small mirror appeared.

“Shall we make ready?” Anomen asked, anxious to get this behind him. I knew thoughts of his Father were overwhelming his mind. He would do all within his power to save him, either directly, or indirectly.

It seemed only a scant time later and we were all gathered again in the dining room. Strange, I thought, as more and more it had begun to resemble a war room in a great state government. I supposed that was fitting. This was a war of sorts in which we were engaged and three of our finest warriors were again to set upon the enemy.

“Do not engage them, if possible,” Connor said. “It is important that you merely look as wandering intruders that happened upon them while roaming the sewers. And if the preventative works, they will never know who you are anyway. It will puzzle them tremendously, but it will not deter them from their appointed tasks.”

“Yes, Dr. Salzston,” nodded Anomen. He turned to kiss Riona. “Say a prayer to Helm, my love,” he whispered. She nodded.

“Be careful, my love,” I kissed Hendak tenderly.

“Just have a nice hot bath ready when I return,” he smiled. He caressed my cheek gently. “Not to worry, we will return shortly.” He held me to the cold armor and kissed my forehead.

“Shall we go, gentlemen?” Waukeen cooed as Father chanted and the five evaporated in a hazy blue mist. The mirror on the wall sprang to life as they arrived precisely where they had been earlier, at the secret entrance of the illithid lair deep in the sewers. Those of us remaining gathered around our little makeshift theater and proceeded to watch as the mirror turned into the familiar split screen, one view covering the outside of the door and the other from the mirror around Hendak’s neck. I could see Father chanting and as the outer door slid open, the three intrepid men entered the corridor leading to the illithid outpost.

“Connor, what exactly will happen if it works?” Riona asked.

“If it works the way it is suppose to, and how I predict, exactly nothing will happen. I will be surprised if they even really notice them. Although I didn’t elaborate, I believe the salts will change their thought energy patterns to the point that the illithid may not even perceive them. And, given the mindflayers’ bad eyesight, they may actually go unseen, unless they get right up within a few meters of one. That, mind you, Riona, is the best-case scenario,” he replied thoughtfully as he watched the mirror intently.

“And the worst-case scenario?” she asked hesitantly.

“There is not going to be a worst-case scenario,” I said. “But if there were, Anomen and Valygar would come under domination much as Nigel did, and Hendak would fight to save them. He has his mother’s ability to make his mind blank, sort of like a sieve, if you will. Anything they would send to him would simply not find a place to ‘land’. But that is not going to happen.” I reassured her as best I could.

We watched intently as the three traversed the corridor and opened the outer door. My heart momentarily stuck in my throat. Two illithid stood at the cabinet in the dimly lit outer room retrieving what appeared to be outdoor cloaks and other garments. They were communicating between themselves as evidenced by the tentacles flailing in various directions and they didn’t even notice our threesome enter. Our little group stopped and waited. Still no reaction from the creatures as they obviously prepared to foray up to the surface world. The three slipped by and to the open door into the common room. Two illithid sat at a far table playing what appeared to be a dimensional game of something akin to chess, tentacles waggling and their beaked mouths hissing in various tones. Still no reaction of recognition of our presence.

“Okay, Anomen,” said Riona anxiously. “You’ve proven it works. It works well. Now get the nine-hells out of there.” She was talking to the mirror.

“Boo says you have kicked evil’s big behind and time to come back to us,” chimed in Minsc and nodded toward the mirror. “Don’t make Boo and me come down there!”

The three must have heard all of our spoken and unspoken pleadings and quietly moved to return to the corridor just before the two illithid in the outer room decided to venture out of the lair. We all held our breath as they scurried down the dark hallway and out the door and I could see Anomen quickly telling Father of the two approaching mindflayers. Father quickly closed the door and chanted the teleportation spell. The five quickly evaporated into a soft blue haze just as the door slid open again and the two illithid emerged into the sewers. The mirror went black. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief as the five materialized in front of us.

Anomen was all smiles. “Glory, Connor. I am proud to announce that the preventative is a smashing success. Congratulations!!” Jubilant laughter and congratulatory slaps on the back were suddenly in order. The men removed their armor and laid their weapons to the side.

“Drusay, before we call it an evening, I think we could all use a glass of the good brandy,” said Father and Drusay served each of us a snifter of Father’s finest brandy.

“To our brilliant research team!” said Father raising his glass.

“No, to our brilliant, brave and intrepid research subjects!” said Connor.

“To all of us,” Waukeen laughed gleefully and we all downed our glass in joyful celebration.

“Now if all of you will excuse me and my wonderful wife, I believe we have an appointment in our bathtub,” Hendak said. “I have seen very little of her these past few days and I intend to continue making up for lost time.” And before I even had time to be embarrassed or even blush, he had scooped me up and carried me out of the room amid laughs and words of jovial encouragement. I waved goodnight to all as we rounded the corner and headed for the stairs.

“My love, my love,” he whispered as he pulled me next to him in the warm fragrant water. “How can I ever tell you, how can I ever show you, how much I love you.” He wrapped his arms around me and kissed me. One of those long and wonderfully passionate kisses that promises so much and delivers even more.


I was up before dawn and dressed, leaving my wonderful sleeping husband sprawled over his half of the bed and my half of the bed. I roused him briefly to coax one more lingering kiss from him and then made my way to see the children and bid them good morning. I knew Aran would be there shortly and it was going to be another long day.

I heard the knock at the door as I walked down the hallway. “I’ll get it, Drusay,” I called and opened the door.

“Good morning, Madam,” he bowed slightly.

“Good morning, Aran,” I replied happily.

“And, are we ready to go?” We ventured down the walkway to the carriage.

“Oh, yes, indeed. Yes, indeed. And I trust you had a good evening?” I asked.

“Quite. And yours as well, I trust?” He held the door for me and offered his hand.

“Oh, yes, very nice indeed. We proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the preventative is a smashing success. It works, Aran. The preventative works!!”

He climbed into the carriage after I was seated. “By the Gods, how—“ He handed me a mug of hot tea.

I interrupted him. “Father and Waukeen took Anomen, Valygar, and Hendak back down to the lair and the three of them went in. The illithid took no notice of them at all. Not at all!”

He sat back, closed his eyes and sighed, “Thank the Gods… Thank the Gods.” His relief was very evident.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” I giggled. “And this morning we are going to try to verify the bio-agent through the brainmate. Then we have to find the illithid city.”

“The illithid city?” he asked.

“Yes, we have to find the originating city that is trying to establish the settlement here. It is the only way we can find and get rid of the trancers,” I explained.

“Maybe I can help with some possible locations,” he offered as he sat and thought. “I’ll see what I come up with by the end of the day. You know the Shadow Thieves have a very wide network of information.”

“How well I know,” I said dryly, remembering my ‘dossier’ that he had put together over the past two years.

“And not to change the subject, Madam, but I do want to finish the conversation that we started in your beautiful children’s nursery yesterday.” He sighed and pursed his lips.

I stared at him. I didn’t want to do this. Not now. “No, Aran. There is no conversation to conclude. I apologized to you for my intrusion into your personal life, and I do hope you will accept it.” I paused, my voice even and low toned. “Your female companionship is none of my concern, whether it is a Goddess, or a Shadow Thief, or a courtesan, and I should not have so rudely overstepped my bounds. It is your life and I do not enter into it. I will forever be grateful to you for saving my life and I will also be indebted to you for teaching me how to defend myself. But beyond that, I believe I need to take some time here after the wolfwere incident and try to sort out the emotions and some of my reactions attendant to it. Again, I apologize for my inappropriate actions and words and hope you will accept in the spirit in which it is tendered.”

Well that was just about as stilted as anything I had ever heard from my own lips. I reluctantly looked at his eyes. He wasn’t buying my little speech. I was going to have to do a better job at sounding a little more convincing. Gods, I was a bad liar, having had no real experience of concocting on-the-spot prevarications because of never having a need to. And, although I didn’t understand why what I had said shouldn’t be the truth in total, I was more bewildered than perplexed as to what the underlying truth really was. I simply didn’t know. More importantly, at this moment, I didn’t have time to cope with ‘me’ considering the overwhelming, bigger issues at hand. Why did he feel so compelled to do this right now? Why was he so intent upon continuing this discussion? What possible good could it do anyone?

He leaned forward toward me to make sure he had my undivided attention. “Forgive me, my Lady,” he began in that soft sweet voice he seemed to only use when no one else was present.


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