MIND GAMES XVIII
Posted 07 October 2012 - 02:18 AM
From the Journals and Papers of Dr. MorningGlory Gaeston
(Rated PG-13: Adult themes, mild language, violence,)
My prearranged carriage sat waiting as I quietly slipped from the front door of the great house into the damp, predawn air. No one was awake, and wouldn't be for another hour, and my absence would eventually be detected and written off that I was at my usual lessons and no one happened to see me dash out the door.
No one saw me enter my office at the Promenade, either, as the first glimmer of dawn tried to pry its way through the light fog. I scurried to the backroom to see what Ribald had left for me in the way of armament. It was like mid-summer’s holiday giving as I inspected what he had laid out for me the evening before after I had gone home. Lightweight armor made of ankleg shell, bracers and gauntlets, boots, a small shield, a helmet and an assortment of exquisite throwing daggers as well as a small knapsack filled with various potions. I hastily stuffed the collars and the bio-agent I had taken from the house into the pack. They would all be right on top where I could access them quickly if needed.
Ribald had thought of everything. I hastily removed my dress and donned my shirt and pants and boots. I put on my armament piece by piece just as he had instructed me, double checked all the clasps, ties and buckles then fitted the daggers’ belts over it sashed down from my shoulder. The one special dagger he had given me to use hung at my side in its own scabbard next to the Demarchess.
We were about to see how well I had learned, I thought. Test time, and, although my heart raced, I did not think of failure. I picked up the shield and my helmet and headed down the stairs to the practice room.
“Ahhh.. Here she is. Right on time,” Ribald smiled from ear to ear as he stood with two darkly cloaked figures -- one a little taller and bigger than Ribald, and one just a bit shorter. “This is our charge, gentlemen. As I’ve already briefed you on what we’ll be doin’, I guess I can make the introductions now.” Ribald was battle-ready, complete with a full belt of throwing darts barely visible across his chest under a cloak similar to one that I had seen Father wear.
“Good mornin’, Missy,” he greeted her. “This here’s Simon, the tall one. He’s a damn good fighter and he’ll be leadin’ us."
“Madam,” Simon briefly bowed and smiled. A handsome young man with a meticulous beard, the warmth of his deep brown eyes instantly struck me. Simon then turned to his companion. “This is Dran. He’s mute, but his fighting skills more than make up for his lack of voice. He can hear you, but he can’t speak." Dran seemed shy, only barely nodding and avoiding looking at me square in the face. His physical challenge must have made him very self-conscious as I sensed him shying away, trying to retreat back into the hood of his cloak.
“Yes, Missy, he is most accomplished, despite his lack of speech,” chimed in Ribald.
"Now stand still, Missy, while I check your armor and make sure nothin’ is amiss. Can’t have nothin’ happenin’ to you down there.” I nodded as he quickly and expertly began to review my work. I looked over the two mercenaries. Dark hooded cloaks over some type of dark stealth armor complete with dark gauntlets and, I assumed, bracers. Stealth boots, too. Simon bore a bastard sword sheathed in an ornate scabbard slung over his right shoulder. Another shorter blade was partially visible under the cloak. A large shield rested against his thigh. The other one didn't have a bastard sword but I could see a short sword neatly sheathed under his cloak. His shield, too, rested against his leg. It was obvious that neither were outfitted cheaply.
“And, you are all set to go." Ribald concluded his inspection. "A fine job you done there, Missy.”
“Thank you, Ribald,” I smiled at him then turned to the other two. “It is a pleasure to meet both of you. I trust everyone has taken their medication?” All nodded an affirmative. “Very well, shall we go see what in nine-hells they’ve turned that dungeon into since they've started rebuilding it?”
“Right this way, Missy,” grinned Ribald as he picked up his ornate staff from the table on the side. “We’ll be takin’ the scenic route.” He walked over to a heavy door in the back of the room behind the various targets and with a wave of his grizzled hand opened it. It led to a small stairwell directly down into the sewer. Scenic route, indeed.
Simon led the way, he and Dran sharing the onerous duty of scanning the dingy and odoriferous tunnel for things of the dark that would wish to fry us, eat us, or otherwise do harm to us. Watching them work together, it was apparent to even me that the two were an established team. It was strangely comforting. I cautiously followed in the middle and Ribald trailed behind me.
The tunnel ran in a straight line ending abruptly at an iron-grated door. Through the rusted slats, we could see the tunnel split into three other tunnels on the other side. Simon looked back over his shoulder then pondered the choices up ahead. “I would guess that from the distance we have traveled, these run under the old dungeon,” he said. Dran silently nodded in agreement.
A faint slithering noise was heard and just as quickly as it started, Dran moved silently into a dark recess just behind us where I could see the faint iridescent glow of a green glob. As I tried to focus on the creature, a sizzling ball of glowing slime flew at Dran, catching his cloak but having no effect. The glint reflected from his short blade gave evidence of rapid successive thrusts into the creature and the hissing suddenly stopped.
“A shame we have to kill the poor little things,” sighed Ribald, as he looked on. “They do a great service in keepin' the sewers clean of all sorts of debris.”
“What do we do about this door?” Simon asked, our attention returning to the obstacle in front of us as Dran rejoined us and gently shook off the remaining droplets from his cloak.
Ribald stepped forward and attempted to shake the grated door. It was unyielding. “It’s warded,” he nodded.
“But, can you open it?” Simon asked.
“Nothing ol’ Ribald can’t open with a special little ‘knock’,” Ribald chuckled. A short incantation later and the door silently swung open.
Simon looked at Dran. “Left tunnel first?” he asked and Dran nodded.
“Why the left first?” I asked.
“If what you’re looking for exists, it would be reasonable they would be as far back from the actual promenade, Madam, as possible,” explained Simon. Made sense to me.
“Let’s get movin’,” prompted Ribald and we slowly began moving down the dark passageway.
“Here,” Simon nodded toward a ladder extending up the side of the tunnel. He glanced at Dran who nodded with approval. “We should ascend here,” he explained. “That way we can sweep from this back corner to the front of the complex until we find what you’re looking for.” I knew he was giving the extra explanation for my benefit and I was thankful.
We scaled up the laddered bars one by one with Simon pushing aside the top grate leading to the bottom-most floor of the former structure. “New grate,” I heard him mumble back to Dran. The silent man nodded in recognition and we each ascended up and through the hole. A quick scan of the area revealed we were alone.
The minimal lighting in the large room immediately reminded me of the outpost. But this was all new construction boasting meticulous inlaid tiles of some unknown polished stone, and a myriad of shiny metal tanks, open vats and intricate piping to the far end. But directly in front of me lay the mother lode.
From the renderings retrieved from the Underdark, I immediately recognized it as a soon-to-be occupied home of the elder brain, complete with large spawn pools interlinked to the back and the sides. I pointed. All nodded and we cautiously walked toward it. I peeked over the edge into the huge tiled pool that was already filled with solution. Bubbles lightly frothed at one side of the liquid indicating that the mechanics of the filtration system was already in place and working. It was being readied for its primary occupant, and from the looks of it, the estimated date of occupancy was soon. Very soon.
I retrieved an empty bottle from my pack, unstopped it and dipped it into what I knew to be the heavy brine water. A gift for my partner in scientific research, I thought as I carefully stoppered and returned the bottle to my pack. I would need a peace offering for Connor if I didn't get an illithid, as me going on this little adventure would probably make him angry with me for being, in his opinion, so reckless. Even Conor had his limits.
From what I had memorized of the plans, I knew there should be a secret entrance in the wall behind the farthest spawn pool that would lead directly to the main water supply tanks. Again, I pointed and we quietly crossed the floor and around the pool, then nodded toward Ribald. A wave of the mage’s hand and a section of the wall moved aside. As we entered, we were greeted with the rhythmic whirs and clicks of automatic machinery at work.
Dead center of the smaller room loomed a large shiny metal tank, some fifteen meters high and just as wide. Two large gauged pipes ran into the domed top and an intricate myriad of smaller ones ran from the bottom of it through the floor below. I spotted the laddered rungs attached to the side leading to the top. From the drawings I had seen, I knew there had to be a small sealed opening in the top where the Illithid could access the water if any additional solvents were ever needed.
I pulled one of the two bottles of bio-agent from my pack and began toward the tank. Ribald grabbed my arm and firmly shook his head ‘no’. He wordlessly took the bottle from my hand and handed it to Dran who nodded and hurriedly made his way to and up the side of the tank. We watched from below as he opened the small hatch and dumped the bottle’s content then carefully resealed it. It was done and I breathed a sigh of relief. Regardless if our plan for reuniting Athkatla’s dominated peoples with their own souls and wills worked or not, this newly constructed illithid settlement was now rendered 'null and void' for future habitation by the beasts.
Dran was quietly descending the tank when from the far wall another door opened and no less than twenty of the hissing creatures entered the room. We momentarily all froze in place, hoping that the creatures were there to only give a cursory glance and then return back to the outer room. No such luck.
I watched as Simon silently pulled his shorter blade from his side. Dran had pulled back his cloak and revealed a belt of throwing daggers and already had one pulled and poised as he balanced himself midway up the side of the tank. Ribald nodded toward my scabbard as he stood with his staff firmly in both hands. I quietly drew the Demarchess and stood ready, hoping that the monsters couldn’t hear the pounding of my heart as it clattered against my breastplate.
A small muffled thud was heard. I quickly glanced and saw the stopper for the bio-agent had fallen from the top of the bottle that Dran had used and was now rolling across the floor, the half-metal top tinkling merrily as it did. The collection of waving tentacles stopped in mid-hiss as they blindly looked for movement. The leader hissed and twittered to which the group began to spread out and systematically advance. Can’t let them spread out, I immediately thought, remembering what Aran had taught me about assessing my advantages and how to utilize them before they evaporated. I must have not been the only one thinking that as Dran hurled the first dagger from his strategic loft. It caught the ‘leader’ square in the forehead and he crumpled into a heap exactly where he stood.
Simon led as we rushed toward the alien group. Dran took advantage of his aerial position and took aim at the beasts on the periphery so as not to allow them to get back of us. The illithid immediately realized their psionic powers were useless against us and as a few attempted to retreat to safety, the majority met us head on.
With deadly aim, blades whipped and whistled through the air from Dran's perch. The smell of magic mingled with the smoke of burning alien flesh as Ribald made short work of the cluster in front of him. Simon sliced seamlessly at the grasping arms thrusting at him, hacking limbs and tentacles, left and right, to get his blade into the vulnerable soft heads and guts of his opponents. Two in tandem started toward me arms and tentacles distended. Blade at the ready, I lunged the Demarchess into the soft belly of the one closest to me and as I pulled up on the hilt in my now-paralyzed victim, I heard a faint whistle fly by my ear. From the corner of my eye, I saw the other beast immediately crumple to the ground, the hilt of a dagger barely visible from his mouth. I turned quickly to see Dran lithely descend from the tank to join us. I looked around at the carnage. All were dead -- or so I thought. I turned to see that Ribald and Simon firmly held the only survivor.
“You all right, Missy?" Ribald grinned and nodded towards my pack. "And where’s that collar you were tellin’ me about. I think we got you a candidate for it.”
“Right here,” I replied as I sheathed the Demarchess then pulled the collar and the controller from my pack. The mindflayer wrenched and squirmed until I secured the collar around his slippery neck. I wiped my hands of the slime from his skin and then slipped on the controller. He was immediately docile under my thought command. It worked.
“Well, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with me own two eyes,” Ribald said in amazement as he and Simon slowly loosened their grip on the beast.
“Since we have what we came for, perhaps we should think of getting out of this place,” said Simon as he wiped his hands on his cloak. “They’re not going to be too happy when they see we’ve left them a little ‘welcome to the neighborhood’ present.” He nodded toward the intermittent heaps of lifeless illithid bodies.
“Aye, right as rain you are, Simon,” Ribald nodded. “Best we be getting’ back and tuck our little friend away. Wouldn’t want his besties lookin’ for him, neither.”
We hastily retraced our steps back through the floor, replacing the grate, then back through the sewer to the basement of the Mart. Ribald placed the illithid in a magically warded cage in a room adjacent to the practice range.
“You best be getting’ upstairs and changed,” Ribald urged, “and, I’ll pay the lads here for services rendered. From what I understand, you have a big party you have to prepare for tonight.”
“That is true, Ribald. I trust you are attending?” I nodded, still enthralled that a real, live mindflayer sat in the cage before my very eyes.
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world, Madam,” Ribald chuckled. “Dug out my finest fancy duds for the occasion.”
Then before I forgot, I turned to the two mercenaries. “Thank you both. You have done both the city of Athkatla and me a huge service that can never be repaid. It is most appreciated. And, Dran, I want to thank you for saving my life. Had your aim been any less, I might not be standing here in one piece.” The man shrank back under my words and turned his head that I couldn't see his face in the shadow of his hood.
“He’s, er, a bit shy, Madam,” Simon offered. “No praise necessary -- he's just doin' his job, you know. He'll be paid right handsomely for it, too. But we both thank you for those kind words.” Even Simon seemed to be a bit awkward with my words of gratitude.
“Now run along and get yourself home, Missy,” Ribald said. “But give me that controller thing before you do.”
“Oh, yes. Almost forgot. I’ve instructed him to remain calm and docile and do as you instruct him. As long as he wears the collar, you only need to assume the controller when you want to change that command.” I unlatched the clasp and handed it to him.
I bid them all farewell and returned to the back storage room to change into my street clothes. As I began to remove the various belts and weapons, I made a horrible discovery. My Demarchess was gone! My beautiful dagger that had saved my life was missing from its scabbard! Somehow, I had lost it but even after a moment of mentally retracing my steps, I still didn't know how or when. My companion -- my friend -- was gone!
I simply didn't have time to contemplate it at the moment. It was more important that I get back home so as not to arouse any suspicions to my absence other than the usual explanation. I would have time later on to sort out what I had seen, and more importantly, what I had accomplished this morning. And, I desperately -- desperately -- needed a bath.
To Be Continued...........
Posted 07 October 2012 - 11:27 AM
Posted 07 October 2012 - 05:54 PM
Good to see the illithid capture in this chapter! I thought it went quite smoothly and read like a scientific expedition - the brief moment of danger to MorningGlory felt quick to read. Nice to see the psychological logistics of someone wanting to experiment on illithids.
There are severe constraints in writing a first-person point of view with something like this. Especially when the FP is not battle- or fight-savvy. The natural inclination is to drift beyond what they are experiencing and seeing, unless you're telling it in subjective hind-sight, which wouldn't work here. It was limited and quick to add just enough 'salt to the stew' without having the character turn into Joan de Arc and single-handedly 'clean house' at the utter amazement of her fellow professional, seasoned adventurers.
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