From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston
(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, mild language, violence,)
"I have witnessed jealousy in many forms and to many degrees, and although you may not readily recognize it within yourself because of being unfamiliar to its clutches, I can assure you that your uncharacteristic outburst yesterday regarding Waukeen had all the earmarks of it." He continued on. "You may want to check one of your many professional texts to verify the signs of such an psychological reaction, if you need to refresh your skills." He crossed his arms as he sat back and continued to stare at me. "I tell you this not in an attempt to persuade you into believing something untrue, but to caution you from deluding yourself. You can lie to me, Glory, but you can't lie to yourself."
"I…I haven't had time to work through what happened the other night, Aran. Any of it.
I was merely offering my apologies for my inappropriate behavior and intruding in your life where I have no right to." I fought very hard to keep my composure under the weight of his words. I was on the verge of tears and I did not want him to see me cry.
"No, Madam. You weren't apologizing; you were offering an excuse for your outburst. And as I recall, you have offered a variety of excuses. Everything from your father's involvement with Waukeen to the continuing trauma from the lab incident."
"And you will recall I also told you I couldn't explain something I didn't understand myself," I replied, trying hard to keep my voice level and composed. "I know I feel this deep bond to you because you saved my life and I know I trust you implicitly as a result of it. But these are visceral feelings and have far-reaching implications. Another natural consequence of this bonding is possibly and understandably possessiveness. I just don't understand the basis of it within myself, but I will unravel it. But I can't right now. We have much larger issues with which we must contend and resolve." I paused and took a deep breath.
"Aran, the same set of circumstances would manifest themselves differently in every individual. I can't just pull a textbook off the shelf and look up 'Glory' and find my answers. I have to systematically sift through until I find my own individual answers and I don't even have the opportunity to do so right now."
"I can understand and accept your word when you say you don't know," he nodded. "But don't insult me in the interim with silly excuses that have nothing to do with what is going on between us."
"Aran, there is nothing going on between us other than a deep friendship and adoration born of infinite gratitude for what you have done for me," I said. "I…I know what you said the other night and maybe you felt that way at the moment, but, Aran, I'm very happily married to a man whom I love very much and I have two wonderful children." I didn't want to delve further into what had happened between us at the lab. For the first time since we had kissed, the possibility that this man actually loved me startled me. But I was at a complete loss to know why I would be knocked so off-kilter. I had not the time or energy to contemplate it.
"I.. I just have to work through this. When this illithid matter is resolved and life gets back to normal, I will have the opportunity to do so. I…I just have to cope as well as I can in the meanwhile and keep my wits about me as best I can. But I don't want my problems to become your burden. I would feel terribly guilty if that happened."
"Glory, your problems are inherently my problems. Not because you choose to deem them so or not, and not because I have consciously decided to make it so. It is just the way it is. It goes with the territory." He almost smiled as he uncrossed his arms and leaned forward again. The softness in his eyes had returned. "If there is anything I can do, Glory, to help you through this, I hope you will tell me." He started to reach for my hand, but I could tell he thought better of it and retracted it to the side on the seat instead.
"But you are helping me, Aran," I returned the smile. "You're teaching me how to be more self reliant. I can't ask more from you than that, and, of course, your understanding until we get through this. I…I know I am not quite myself and your indulgence afforded me with my rash behavior is very much appreciated."
He blinked and nodded. "As long as you promise me that you will not deceive yourself, Glory. For you to ignore the truth would be detrimental to both of us." I didn't know or understand exactly what he meant.
# # #
The aroma of freshly brewed tea and something marvelously sweet from the oven met us at the cabin door. Marcos scurried up and carefully helped me with my cloak. "Yes, Madam," he chortled softly. "Master told me how much ye like raspberries. It's me mother's own recipe for Avoreen Jam Cake, and it should be safely cooled by the time ye return from yer morning activities."
"Marcos, that is so kind and thoughtful of you." I was very pleasantly surprised. "And raspberries are my favorite." I squeezed the little man's calloused hand in thanks.
"Do not spoil our guest, Marcos," Aran chided mockingly as he retrieved my practice suit from the cabinet, a broad grin across his face. "She is here to learn, not to be catered to and spoiled with sweets."
"Sweets for the sweets, me mother used to always say, Master, sir." Marcos continued to chortle as he left to take the driver a mug of tea that I might change clothes.
He handed me the black practice gear and my boots. "Your clothes, Madam, and no sweets for you until you hit the bull's-eye," he said, half smiling and tapped me lightly on my nose with his index finger to make his point. "You have to earn it."
"A slice for every bull's-eye?" I negotiated. "That would be fair, wouldn't it?"
"Hmm…," he rubbed his chin. "Yes, that should be an acceptable reward for a good performance."
# # #
I actually had garnered two pieces of the gooey treat by the time lessons were over. Two bulls-eye. The last one a perfectly centered blue circle within the center ring. I don't think I had been that elated when I received my credentials upon graduating from the Academy.
"Marcos, serve me two slices," I laughed, bursting through the back door of the cabin with Aran close behind. "I earned them."
"Then sit yer self down, Madam, and Marcos will fetch a plate," he said, all grins. He cut into the round and laid two chunks of the pastry onto the dish and sat it before me. "And I'll fill yer mug with some fresh brew as well, Madam."
Aran put the practice daggers away in the cabinet and joined me at the small table as Marcos served his dish and filled both our mugs.
"It's wonderful, Marcos," I said, my mouth full of the succulent treat. "Please tell your mother it is worthy of the Gods themselves, and thank you." Marcos smiled and nodded, his eyes twinkling. Aran only laughed and shook his head.
"I'll just go and tidy up the range and leave ye two be," Marcos excused himself politely and left through the back door.
"Do you always eat like this?" Aran asked, watching me relish the wonderful confection.
"Well, I earned them, and I am going to eat them. Plus, it is delicious."
He pushed his plate aside. "I was thinking." He paused. "There is supposedly no way to tell if someone has been turned, correct?" I nodded. "At least no way of which we are aware at the moment." He tapped his fingertips lightly against the table.
He had my attention. I could tell he had come up with something but wasn't sure if he wanted to tell me just yet.
"Yes, Aran?" I coaxed him on.
"I have meetings scheduled with all my District Captains today. It's our usual once a month rundown of each District's operations – what's going on, monthly revenues – things like that. What if you and one of your Kirani birds were present?"
"What are you getting at, Aran?" I was perplexed as his proposal made no sense whatsoever.
"I meet with each of the District Captains individually. What if, when I meet with Alexa, you and either Ki, or Maurice, are in attendance? And what if I request that Alexa bring Bodine with her, just to get a first-hand report on the rebuilding of the northeast end of the Promenade. The Kirani would be able to record any slight variation in any physical deviation, am I correct?"
"Yes…" I nodded, still unsure where he was going with this.
"Well, we know Bodine is dominated, and we don't know if Alexa is. Maybe there is something that your Kirani can pick up on that would help us identify the 'turned' from the 'unturned.' Is that a possibility?"
I sat mulling over his suggestion. And, it was quite possible there would be some ever-so-slight physiological change that Ki or Maurice could pick up on that couldn't be ascertained by magic or any other method. After all, that was the exact reason I and other therapists used them in our practices.
"Yes.. yes, I would agree. If there is any deviation, Ki or Maurice would surely note it, and Maurice is especially trained and gifted in that area," I said, nodding. "But how will you explain my presence? Let's see, how about, 'And this is Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston, who will be observing you to see if you are under illithid domination while we go over these secret financial operations of the Shadow Thieves. Of course, we will have to kill her later, because she will know too much of our operation –"
"Nothing quite so uncivilized, my Lady. I will introduce you, and it will simply be assumed," he interrupted me and a broad smile spread across his face.
"What will be assumed?" I asked innocently and took a drink of my tea.
"That you and I are lovers. That you are there for one reason, and one reason only, and you are simply waiting your turn."
The hot tea involuntarily sprayed in a not-so-fine mist all over the front of Aran's black tunic catching him quite by surprise.
"Did I hear you correctly?" I choked. He started to laugh as he soaked up the tea with a cloth.
"Yes, my darling Glory, you did hear me correctly. As I told you some time ago, it is the perfect cover and now we need to use it." He was still smiling from ear to ear as if the prospect of the charade pleased him to no end.
I couldn't argue with him, however, as I thought about it. It was a good plan, and the only viable one that would allow me to get close enough to observe someone who was already turned. We could have done the same with Sir Ryan, but it would have been far too risky. But between Maurice and myself, we could determine if there were any telltale physical signs of domination that would be missed by casual observation.
I nodded as I dabbed at my chin and mouth with the cloth. "It's a good plan, Aran. A very good plan. Send someone over this morning to pick up Maurice then I will come over for noon meal. At the very least, we will find there is no difference between turned and unturned. It's certainly worth a try and then we can proceed from there.
"I suppose I should get changed so we can get on with the day?" I smiled. "Connor will be anxious to get to the lab and on to identifying the bio-agent this morning." He nodded.
"I will send a carriage for you at noon, my Lady," Aran said as he helped me from the cab when we arrived at the lab after picking up Connor at the house.
Connor and I bid him farewell and proceeded into the lab to again set up the brainmate that we might further investigate his knowledge of the mysterious agent found in the double sealed bottle.
"Hello, Connor." Connor repeated the brainmate's thought as he donned the controller's collar.
"Hello," Connor responded. "I have some questions about some additional items that we have in our possession, if you would not mind."
"Not at all, Connor."
"We have a double lined bottle with a bacterial agent within it bearing the markings of the Creatives Creed. Would you be familiar with any such item?"
"Can you describe the agent?" the brainmate responded.
Connor described the physical properties of the microorganism.
"Yes, Connor. That microorganism is most deadly to us. You must use great caution in handling."
"What does it do?"
"It is a genetically engineered contagion that causes a disease called 'heightened ashen'. It affects the respiratory system by completely closing up the mucus glands to the epidermis and the dermis. In doing so, the victim drowns in its own fluids, but not before the infected victim develops dementia caused by excess fluids in the brain. These excess fluids not only short-circuit psionic abilities, but can cause psionic flarebacks, and in rare cases have been known to cause encephlo-combustion."
This was one very, very nasty bug for the amphibious monsters.
"And why would the illithid engineer such a dangerous contagion?" Connor asked, totally perplexed that they would even possess such a thing.
"We didn't. A mercenary group from another dimension delivered several active samples to various illithid cities here in Toril. The plot was discovered by the Gatherers Creed prior to the enemy dispensing the bio-agents and disaster was narrowly averted." We knew we didn't have to ask what happened to the delivery teams of aliens.
That explained why it was even in existence, at least. We weren't the only ones across the planes being threatened by these mad creatures, and someone, or something, had figured how to defeat them long before us. Providence had simply delivered their solution to us.
"What is the incubation time?" Connor asked.
"Approximately 3 days from introduction, under normal circumstances. Symptoms arise in another twelve hours with increasing severity; and, death is certain within another two days."
"And it is not airborne?" Connor asked.
"No. It is transmitted by physical contact."
"To your knowledge, is there a cure?"
"No known cure." Connor removed his collar and looked at me.
"We have to find that city," he said, his voice full of determination. "Nigel and I will go over those maps this afternoon while you are at the Shadow Thieves. I will take our brainmate friend home with me along with the collars. Maybe I can get it to 'translate' the qualith by sensing my touch of the writing."
"That's brilliant, Connor," I interjected.
"I don't know if it is going to work or not, but we have to short-cut our search. We're so close, Glory. We are so very close," and his voice trailed off into thought.
A ring at the door interrupted us. Maurice's ride to the Docks had arrived.
We spent the next two hours working on the bio-agent, creating a new batch and double-checking for any mutations from the original. It was a productive morning. We had three containers of the deadly illithid toxin ready by noon. Now if we only knew where to deliver them.
Aran's carriage arrived precisely at noon. Connor and I had gathered our precious brainmate, the collars, the small generator, several chemicals, and several pounds of illithium into three large boxes. Connor also filled a lead-lined box with maludian. We locked up the lab as the driver and the footman loaded them into the back of cab.
"After we look at the maps, I'll have Nigel help me distill some more of the salts. I will work on an ingestible form, as well. We need to begin doing that if we are going to have enough preventative on hand for the guests at your upcoming gala," he explained. "And your father was kind enough this morning to offer me use of one of the large storerooms in the basement that we could continue the distilling process throughout the evening hours as necessary."
"Good idea, Connor," I nodded. "And, in the meantime, I will get to see firsthand exactly what one of the 'turned' looks and acts like, with Maurice's help, I might add."
We boarded the carriage and made our way back to the city, first delivering Connor to the great house along with his makeshift laboratory in a box or three. I was then taken to the Shadow Thieves headquarters in the Docks District where the Shadowmaster himself met me at the side portico.
"I am so pleased that my Lady could join me this afternoon," he smiled as he greeted me most formally. I immediately noticed several of his subordinates milling around, trying to look busy but slyly casting curious glances in my direction. He slowly raised my hand and kissed it with great deliberation.
"And I am delighted that the Shadowmaster extended such a lovely invitation to me," I replied in a coquettish voice that I hoped most could hear.
"And may I assist you with your cloak, my Lady?" he continued and stepped closely behind me as I unclasped the wrap and he took it gently from my shoulders. He leaned over to whisper in my ear. "You're doing well. Now, just follow my lead." And he threw back his head and laughed in a suggestive tone. I giggled in response, feigning embarrassment. That seemed to satisfy the curiosity of those observing with an unspoken excuse for my presence as we walked into the anteroom of Aran's huge suite. The doorman closed the door behind us. He took me by the hand and led me up a winding staircase to the right.
"Aran, where are we going?" I whispered. "I thought we were going to have noon meal."
"And we are, but, you, my Lady, must change clothes first," he replied in a hushed voice.
"Change clothes!?!" I replied. "What's wrong with what I am wearing?"
"Shhh," he turned to quiet me as we entered a hallway and walked to the one door where it led. He bowed as I entered first then followed and closed the door behind him.
"There is nothing wrong with what you are wearing, if you're having luncheon with the Ladies Auxiliary of Helm's Church, but my Lady, you have an important task to complete this afternoon and you must look the part in order to accomplish it. Else, we run the risk of raising dangerous inquiries," he explained in a deadly serious voice, although it was impossible for him to hide his secret enjoyment of this from me. I turned and looked around the room. By the Gods, I was unmistakably standing in the Shadowmaster's bedroom. I was somewhat taken aback.
"Aran, this..this is your private suite?" I asked.
"None other," he paused as I slowly perused the large room.
It was a long oval room, a luxurious sleeping chamber at one end and an elegant sitting area/parlor at the opposite end centered around a large, natural stone fireplace. The rich wooded paneling gracing the walls showcased rare masters' works of art alternating with built-in bookcases filled with texts and scrolls. The floor was covered in a single, delicately knotted wool rug from the North Country. It was soft and spongy underfoot.
The bed was large and boasted intricately carved tapon wood stanchions supporting the dark red and gold damask canopy overhead. The canopy matched the smooth spread gracefully draped over top of the bed with a full compliment of matching lightly fringed pillows. I noticed two books lying to the side of one of the cushions and another on one of the matching wood tables at the side. Lampstone lights also sat on each of the side tables.
A large service bar of the same intricately carved wood was placed strategically between the parlor area and the sleeping chamber area, several bar chairs lining its perimeter. The glint of fine hand-cut crystal reflected from the glasses stacked neatly on its top next to matching decanters of various liquors and wine.
The parlor portion was graced with large sweeping floor-to-ceiling windows and multi-paned doors on either side of the massive fireplace, and was covered with simple sheer draperies. The double doors opened onto a small balcony that looked directly onto the open waters of the confluence of the port and the ocean. I could only imagine what it was like here when one of our early summer squalls rolled into the city. Two sofas covered in soft black lambskin leather flanked each side of the fireplace, a large square marble table between them with two short, backless seats directly in front of the hearth. Two chaise longues sat farther back opposite the table and fireplace, sharing an adjoining table and another lampstone light. Another book sat midway open to the side.
"I like beautiful and exquisite things." He wasn't offering an excuse, he was citing a fact as he walked to the bar and poured two glasses of sherry and returned to offer me one.
"Aran, if you are thinking that now you have me here —" I began curtly.
"Glory, I am in no way thinking anything of the kind," he interrupted me. "I brought you up here to change clothes because it is the only private room in the entire complex that is not secretly watched or monitored. Now if would you rather, we can have this conversation in one of the other rooms, and you could change there if you wish, or we can remain here for the present where we have privacy from prying ears and eyes." He walked over to a huge walk-in closet and drew four long flowing garments from the rack and laid them upon the bed. The unmistakable rustle of the finest silks caught my ear as I sipped at the sherry.
"I trust at least one of these will meet with your approval," he said, holding his arm out as though he were making a sales presentation. "All very tasteful and all very seductive, I might add. I personally selected them and I am quite sure they will fit you perfectly. And there are matching slippers and stockings in the dressing room off of the bath." He walked over to another door and opened it. From where I stood I could see the beautiful black marble floor of what I assumed to be the bath. "And you will also find hair combs, brushes, lotions, perfumes, --whatever your heart desires. The only thing I ask is that you get rid of the infernal braids." And he shook his head. The look on his face told me that he apparently didn't like my braids.
I walked to the bed and looked at the dresses. The emerald green silk caught my eye immediately and I picked it up. "That would have been my first choice had I chosen for you," he said, trying to be nonchalant.
"Aran, it's..it's… a dressing gown with a matching long robe! This is scandalous! I can't wear this!" I protested.
"Don't be such a prude, Glory," he chided me. "And, yes, you can wear it. Just think of it as an elegant lounging dress and robe, which is exactly what it is. And I was most careful that your modesty wouldn't be compromised. Although I will concede it is very suggestive, everything, shall we say, 'pertinent' is duly covered from prying eyes." His tone spoke volumes of his annoyance with my sense of propriety.
I pulled the robe from the long gown. It was a simple and elegant design. A low cut, deeply plunging, sweetheart neckline with spaghetti straps, a fitted bodice to keep everything in place, and a softly sculpted aline skirt from the hips. The robe was in rich emerald green-on-green brocade with the long bell sleeves and the front edges of the closure trimmed in heavy satin. I couldn't argue it was indeed elegant, but far more revealing than anything I would have chosen. But compared to the azure blue and the red ones that still lay on the bed, it was downright school girlish.
"I thought you said I had choices," I said as I picked up the red one and my face immediately turned the same color as the transparent silk adorning the top of it. I couldn't imagine ever wearing anything like that in front of total strangers!
"I didn't say they were good choices," he smiled and crossed his arms. "Just choices."
I looked again at the green one and sighed, wondering if I could even do it justice.
"Go put it on," he urged and nodded his head to the bathroom. "You will look stunning in it, I'm sure," he reassured me. I gave him a reluctant look and went into the bath to find my way to the dressing room.
I knew he was right. I couldn't exactly play the part if I looked like a schoolmarm. That wouldn't convince anyone, let alone Alexa. I changed quickly and traded my slippers for the satin-heeled green slip-ons. I sat down and quickly unbraided my hair and brushed out the long dark curls. To the side of the brushes were two emerald-studded hair combs. He must have known in advance I would pick the green, especially considering the alternatives. Oh why not, I thought, and pulled a handful of the thick curls away from one side of my face and double backed the combs into place. It was a striking difference to the severe braids I almost always wore. Was this me? I had forgotten how nice it was to look totally feminine.
I examined the dressing table. It would have been a little girl's dress-up dream comes true. Every lip rouge, cheek color, eye color imaginable as well as the most exotic perfumes and oils from all across Faerun. I decided to forego the perfume. I finished with the makeup and took a turn in front of the cheval mirror. A little repositioning of the cleavage, and….acceptable. Not true courtesan material, but passable. I hardly recognized myself.
"Well, do you think I can convince anyone that I am your latest paramour?" I stood in the doorway.
"You could easily convince me, my Lady," he whispered, shaking his head. "You look positively ravishing." He slowly walked over to me.
"Thank you," I nodded. "A girl does enjoy hearing those things from time to time. Now, are you going to starve me, or do I get noon meal with this part-time gig?"
"You, my lovely Lady, have been around Connor too long," he sighed. "But, yes, as I recall, noon meal was part of the bargain, and I have had my cook prepare a repast for us before Alexa and Bodine arrive. If you would allow me, Madam?" He offered his arm as we left the room and ventured back down the stairs to the anteroom and back into the main hall. We returned to the same small room where we had dined before. The same headman was in attendance.
"Gerard, this is Madam Glory. Her wish is your command," he said. Gerard acknowledged me with a slight bow of his head and what I perceived to be a genuine, but faint smile. "Two glasses of the very good dark red and tell Cook to serve in ten minutes."
"Yes, sir," and Gerard bowed again and backed away from the small table, turned on his heel and disappeared through one of the back doorways.
"Are we being watched?" I leaned over and whispered.
"Well, not in here, either, my Lady," he confessed. "But I didn't think you would want to change down here with the servants milling about." His eyes sparkled.
"You are a cad, you know," I smiled.
"Yes, Madam, but as I said before, this is no new revelation to you," and he smiled. "Here, I have a gift for you – to make up for my churlishness," and he winked as he handed me the oblong velvet box. I opened it. It was a beautiful tiered emerald necklace.
"Aran, it is beautiful," I gasped. "But I can't accept this."
"Ah, but my Lady, you must. It is imbued with magic that will protect you, just in case."
"But I have Waukeen's amulet." I reached to my throat. By the Gods! I had forgotten to put it back on when dressing! "Aran, my amulet. I left it upstairs!"
"I don't believe it could be in a safer place, my Lady," he cocked one eyebrow as Gerard served our wine. "Not to worry. I think you will agree this may be more appropriate for this occasion. This will protect you from ordinary weapons." I took the necklace from the box and proceeded to clumsily try to secure it around my neck, the long thick curls impeding me. He rose from his chair and walked to stand behind me. "Would my Lady allow me to assist?"
"Would you?" I pulled my hair to the side as he bent and locked the clasp into place. His warm fingers against the back of my neck sent an unexpected shiver through me. "Thank you, Aran." And I quickly pulled my hair back into place to cover for my surprise reaction.
"You are most welcome, my Lady," he bent and whispered in my ear.
Lunch was soon over and Mr. Bodine and Ms. Charletane's appointment time grew near.
"Where do you meet with your subordinates?" I asked.
"I conduct business from a formal office, like anyone else," he said. "Were you expecting a clandestine corner here in the building somewhere?" He chuckled at me. "It's about a 30-meter walk from here through that door and down the hall." He motioned to a doorway opposite the kitchen area. "Are you ready for your debut as the Shadowmaster's current mistress? I already have Maurice stationed on his perch and awaiting your instructions."
"I am as ready as I will ever be," I sighed and offered a faint smile. I couldn't help but feel a faint rush of butterflies in the pit of my stomach. This was a role that was most foreign to me.
We exited the dining room and made our way to the Shadowmaster's office. It would have been the envy of any merchant in Amn -- opulent, tasteful, all the trappings of success in the business of thievery.
"Maurice, are you content?" I asked him and stroked his head.
"Yes, Mistress. Master Linvail has been most kind and gracious," Maurice replied.
"Good…good. Maurice, these humans that are coming to talk to Master Linvail are of particular importance to me. You must very carefully record all of their physiological reactions. Now, I know it is not easy doing that for two people simultaneously, but we must know all the deviations from the accepted norms. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Mistress. And do not worry, I can easily record two humans at once," he replied.
"Very good. Now I am just going to sit over here and say very little of consequence, but I will be watching, also," I explained. "I am here, just as you, mainly to observe." I turned and nodded to Aran.
I sat down on the small leather sofa slightly to the side of his desk and curled my bare feet up underneath me with my elbow resting on the high arm. The green robe draped seductively over the rest of the settee. "Is this.. 'vampish' enough?"
He glanced sideways at me from his high-backed leather chair behind his desk and smiled his half-smile. "Yes, Glory, if you are attempting to 'vamp', as you put it, then, yes, you are succeeding. At least with me, you are having the desired effect." A sturdy knock was heard at the door. The time had come.
"Enter," he called. In walked a six-foot tall, exquisitely beautiful blond-haired woman, and a more diminutive, seedy and swarthy male. They came and stood in front of the desk. Alexa wasn't just statuesque; she was majestic in tight black leather pants and jacket trimmed in red leather edging. Between her stiletto-heeled boots and the ponytail gathered at the crown of her head, she had to be at least six feet and another four or five inches. She was not particularly slender, but more Amazonian, with very developed muscles straining through the leather of her outfit.
Her facial features were finely hewn -- from the peoples from the Northlands, and if I ever thought I would never see eyes colder than Aran Linvail's, I was wrong. Alexa Charletane had him beat by ten lengths. Ice blue chips from the nearest iceberg where she was born, I thought, and knew instantly that the blood running in her veins was just as cold.
"Who's she?" Alexa asked in a voice like butter and nodded in my direction, the straight long pony tail swinging precipitously with the motion of her head.
"She is of no concern to you," Aran replied dryly as he shuffled a sheaf of papers in front of him. "She is my guest. My very 'special' guest, I might add, and I want her here."
Alexa walked over and sneered down at me as she paused.
"I recognize you from the Promenade. You're that fancy doctor over by the Mart, aren't you?" She paused and crossed her arms over her ample bosom as she glared at me. "Aren't you married to that half-god that owns the Coronet? Yeah… I know who you are….One of those social-types come to slum with the thieves. Half-god got you bored already? Ready for a little romp with the Shadowmaster, eh? I just wonder if you'll be able to keep up….." She leaned forward toward me. "He is a demonic taskmaster in bed. Better be ready, Doc. You might need some healing when you're done," she whispered in a low guttural tone and finished with a low and evil laugh.
It was very obvious that the raging, seething jealousy was near uncontrollable in this dangerous woman and I didn't dare flinch under her glare, but held fast without saying anything. Aran must have known this about her and that was why he gave me the amulet, I thought. To protect me, in case he couldn't.
"And, Alexa, if you value your life, you will forget who she is and that you ever saw her here. And you will forget right now. And that goes for you, too, Bodine." I had never heard Aran's voice sound so cold or so threatening. "Now, we have business to attend to and I have other plans this afternoon rather than wasting my time with you. Come and sit down." It was a direct order and she reluctantly backed away and complied.
I watched them both as they spoke and talked of the 'business' in the Promenade. I detected nothing except the abject hatred thrown in my direction from time to time. I just hoped that Maurice had picked up something that was useful.
The meeting was soon over and they rose to leave. Aran stood up from behind his desk and walked to the side by my sofa. He reached for my hand and I stood up beside him as he put his arm around me in a show of unified affection. She openly sneered at me again.
"I don't know why you would ever want some hot house flower like her in your bed, Aran, when you could have a real woman," she said, teeth slightly bared.
I draped my arms around his neck, pressed my body against him and looked defiantly at her. "Maybe he's looking for a different type of stimulation, Alexa. Something less barbaric and something more subtle and sensually erotic – the difference between a brutish thistle and a Calem orchid," I said in my best imitation of Waukeen's cooing voice, then rubbed his arm possessively with my hand. Her face glowed red with rage but she said nothing.
"It's time to get back to work, Alexa," he said in a low voice. "And you would be wise to take my words to heart. Your very life depends on it. You, too, Bodine. Now get out of here and get back to work." He nodded to the door.
They nodded, turned on their heel and marched from the room closing the door behind them. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and quickly stepped back from Aran and looked at him. I started to tremble. He was overcome by amusement and his chuckle quickly turned into a chortle.
"What is so gods-damn funny, Aran? You could have been a little more forthcoming in your support, you know!!"
"That was either the greatest display of courage I have ever seen, or the epitome of stupidity portrayed in splendid drama," he laughed. "You just faced off against Alexa Charletane and are still breathing. At least for the time being. But don't be surprised if your office gets torched within the next few weeks." He found all of this extraordinarily funny. I didn't find it amusing in the least as the belated release of adrenaline raced through me.
I forced myself to ignore him and immediately turned to Maurice. "Maurice, did you note any changes, or lack of changes outside of standard norms in either of the two visitors?"
"Yes, Mistress. The young gentleman's eye pupils did not respond as expected. His rate of response was only 10% par, Mistress." The illithid had not mastered controlling the autonomic systems yet. Eureka. We had found their 'tell'.
"What does that mean?" Aran asked, suddenly sobering.
"It means we just found our key. For whatever reason, the illithid have either intentionally, or inadvertently slowed the victim's eye dilation process to a 10% norm response time. We humans, mortals, wouldn't notice in casual conversations, but Kirani would."
"This means we can celebrate?" he smiled. "And, you, my Lady, have earned a brandy for your sterling performance." He momentarily began to laugh again as he pulled open his bottom desk drawer and retrieved a brandy bottle and two squat glasses. We sat down on the sofa. "Now, how can we benefit from this information?"
"Well, obviously, knowing the Kirani can pick up on it gives us a way to identify turned individuals that we don't already know about. Right now, it is the only way, and we may have to rely on them until we can put our overall plan into effect – find the city of origin and infect it, have our soiree of 'healing'. But we don't know how long all of this is going to take. Connor is working on the ingestible salts, which shouldn't be a problem, and he is also cultivating more of the bio-agent at my house. He and Nigel are going over the maps this afternoon in the hopes of finding something that would lead us to the city of origin. Connor thinks he has found a way to read their language by using the brainmate as a sort of 'translator'. So, hopefully, by the time I get home, they will have made some progress as to where these cities are, and in particular, the one we are looking for. But I just don't know. Everything is still based on 'if', 'if', 'if'."
"But you, my Lady, were the most perfect paramour. A thistle and a Calem orchid… hmmm. Interesting analogy," and he began to laugh again. "You still never cease to surprise me, Glory."
"Aran, I am positively ashamed of you," I started. "I can't imagine what in the nine-hells you could ever find attractive in that barbarian." I shuddered. "She's positively uncivilized." It bothered me he would find someone so rough and crude attractive. The thought that he actually slept with her was truly repugnant.
"That's part of her charm. And, other than the extraordinarily long legs coupled with that wild bestial nature? Oh, no, there is nothing there to be attracted to…. No… nothing at all," and he continued to chuckle as he poured another shot into our glasses. "And, do you find yourself enraged that such a woman might find favor with me?"
"Strangely, Aran, I find the thought rather disgusting. I gave you so much more credit than that," I replied. "Anyway, it is none of my concern if you choose such uncouth companionship."
"Shall I make a small toast?" he said holding up his glass ignoring me. "To a very successful day. You scored not two bulls-eyes today, but three, my Lady. Two at the range and one Alexa Charletane."
Our toast was interrupted by a frantic knock at the door.
"Enter," Aran called.
"Sir.." The Thief was near breathless. "There has been a terrible accident at the Academy. The Laboratory has suffered a terrible explosion and has been reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble."
"Thank you, Gavin. I will call you when I need you," he replied calmly, but tersely, and the Thief nodded and left.
By the Gods! If Connor hadn't decided to go to the great house to work, he would have been in there as would I have been if not for coming to the Shadow Thieves!! We had been saved by only a few hours. I looked at Aran, the shock of the realization filling my face.
"They're getting closer, Glory," he said, gritting his teeth. "Gods-damn close. But so are we."
TO BE CONTINUED………..
Edited by MorningGlory, 06 October 2012 - 06:05 PM.