It was a ten-day later and MorningGlory sat alone with Ki staring vacantly out at the spires of Waukeen’s church from the empty nursery’s windows. In her hands she clutched the piece of parchment that had been addressed to Waukeen and left in Helena's crib. Periodically, she would unfurl the dog-eared missive and again read the note. It was a ransom note.
‘Retribution is mine. Vow your loyalty to me and exchange yourself, and I will free your progeny back to the material world. And if you do not, I will hold them in penal servitude throughout all of eternity. Eternity is such a long, long time....’
It was signed with the mark of Demon Lord Graz'zt, Waukeen's former jailer.
The parchment was of the material world, but the ink that formed the words glowed and shimmered a sickly sanguine red. Her Father, Tabor, had told her it was blood from the underworld, steeped in the ugly dark magic from the recesses of the Abyss where only evil incarnate lived. Waukeen had not the heart to take it from the poor young woman, fearing that to do so would shred the last fragile strand of reality that kept her tethered to life.
It had been a flawlessly-executed and heinous plan. Both her children, Helena and Haandor, and her husband Hendak had been ripped from the material world simultaneously. The children were snatched from their nursery as they lay down to sleep. Tabor had guessed an Abyssian demon, judging from the acrid magical residue still present immediately after their abduction. The demon had been able to breach the wards put in place weakened by Waukeen's absence. The emergency that had called Waukeen to the Outlands was no emergency at all, but a cleverly designed ruse to get her and her protection away from the intended victims so that the foul deed could be carried out.
Hendak had been abducted as Riona's party traveled along a dark road trying to get back to Athkatla. From what could be ascertained, a different demon accompanied by two mortal mages employed for the specific task caught them by surprise. As the wizards engaged the others with diversion, Hendak was swept away in the blink of an eye. In addition to the generous fees the wizards earned for their duties, they received a most unexpected bonus from their employer. Two days later, their flayed bodies were found stretched and nailed across the entrance of Waukeen's Promenade in the wee hours of the morning, a symbolic warning to the Goddess and mortals alike that the Demon Lord was not to be trifled with.
A knock came at the nursery door, but no one was sure whether Glory consciously heard it or not. The door slowly opened and Tabor entered carrying a small tray of food. She didn't acknowledge when anyone entered the room as her fixed stare at the spires remained uninterrupted. She hadn't eaten anything in almost three days.
“You must eat, Glory,” Tabor pleaded with his daughter. “You must eat and you must stay strong.” Tears glistened in the old wizard's eyes as he watched her yet again turn away from the tray he set on the table beside her. It would now be three days since she last ate, and he had begun to harbor a sinking, growing fear that she might waste away into death's clutches.
“Let me try,” a soft voice whispered, as Anomen crouched in front her, attempting to break her vacant stare out the window. He gently took the parchment from her hands, laid it aside, and then protectively folded his hands around hers.
“Glory, you saved my life once, and made me realize what was truly important in this world. You cannot give up. You wouldn't let me give up and I won’t let you give up. You must eat and you must survive until we return. We're going to get them, Glory, and I promise you as Helm’s own servant, I will return your children and your husband to you.” He paused, his voice cracking. “Do you hear me? Do you understand?”
She blinked. Anomen looked up at Tabor then back to her face. “Do you hear me? Do you understand? We’re going after them, Glory. You cannot give up. You must stay strong. Your children will need you when we return, and you cannot let them see you like this. You must the Mother that they remember, Glory, and you must find within you the strength to survive and survive well until we return.”
She blinked again, a stirring of recognition in her eyes.
"Can you hear me? Glory, tell me you can hear me and understand what I am saying."
She focused on Anomen’s face and slowly nodded.
“Good, then you will eat what your Father has brought to you, and you will promise me that you keep hope in your heart. I do not wish to bring your children and your husband home to a house without their Mother and wife waiting for them, to greet them with love, and laughter, and the Mother and wife they remember. Do you understand what I am saying, Glory?”
She slowly nodded again as the tears began to well in her eyes. He leaned over and gently kissed her forehead.
“Very well. We are leaving in an hour’s time and we shall return as soon as our mission is accomplished and we have all safely in hand. Do you understand?” She slowly nodded again as he wiped at the cascading tears streaming from her eyes.
“Now, I must go and make ready, but Tabor is going to stay to make sure you finish all he has brought you. Your family will be home soon, I promise you,” he vowed then rose. "Keep faith and hope," he whispered as he leaned to kiss the top of her head then turned to leave the room.
Glory looked at the tray then slowly began to pick at the food as Tabor silently watched. He occasionally dabbed at his eyes with a small napkin. A soft knock at the nursery door and he bid them enter. Another visitor had arrived.
“Hello, Glory,” the familiar voice said as he approached. The smell of lavender and sage preceded him and she turned to see him. She had not seen him since that night, just before she had raced up the stairs to find her children gone.
“Maybe.. maybe you can get her to eat, Aran. I'm not having much luck," he sighed.
“I’ll try, Tabor,” Aran said softly. “I’ll do what I can.”
He nodded. “Good… good. Then I’ll leave you two alone. Maybe your being here will help.” A despondent Tabor quietly left the room.
"Glory, I brought you something.. Something special from Marcos." He pulled a small package from under his cloak and pulled a straight back chair to sit beside her. "It's your favorite.. Jam Cake." She watched him as he untied the wrapping and slid the confection onto the side of one of her plates. She looked up at him. "I wanted to come sooner, but I didn't know if I would be welcome," he said, reaching out to stroke her cheek and gently pushing her long hair back behind her ear.
"Aran?" Her voice was hoarse as it sputtered and crackled. It was the first time she had spoken since that night.
“I’m here, Glory. It’s me,” he said and took a small piece of cheese from the plate to feed to her. “You must eat, Glory. Your children are depending upon you. Since you are only mortal like the rest of us, you require food to sustain yourself. You must eat.”
“My babies… gone,” she wheezed. He eased the cheese between her lips with no resistance.
“Yes, Glory. I know. We’re going to go get them back and return them to you safe and sound. Now chew...”
She did as she was told and swallowed. “We?” she whispered and new tears began to follow the damp tracks left from the earlier ones.
“Yes, I’m going with Anomen and Riona’s party, Glory. But I'm not leaving before you finish eating your cake, and you can't have cake until you have some cheese and some broth." He continued to break pieces of the cheese and slip them between her lips, alternating with spoonfuls of broth.
"Why? Why you?" New columns of tears streamed down her cheeks and she sought to impede their flow with the back of her hand.
"Waukeen has personally requested me to do so. She asked me to do it for you. She’s asked me to kill the Demon Lord Graz’zt once and for all -- it's the only way we can get Hendak and your children back, Glory. You'll have to trust me..." He broke a piece of bread and put it to her lips.
"Now eat, or no cake.....” and he smiled at her.
Author's Note: And thus ends the second story in the series. Thanks to all who have read it and its prequel, "Angst & The Analyst," and a special thanks for a very special cameo by Viga (your choco-chip cookies are in the mail). And is there a third in the series? If I told you that, that would be a spoiler, wouldn't it..