Up on the surface, Carsius rolled body after body away from himself as he heard Laurel scream. He had no idea where she was, much less how he was going to be any help, when out of nowhere, Ra'dith appeared beside him and began improving the odds. Carsius looked up and found Captain Lyam, whom he knew had volunteered to assist Laurel.
"Lyam!" he cried, "Where is Laurel?"
Lyam pointed off to the leftmost doorway at the back of the room. "She said she had to get there!"
Carsius watched the Elf weed her way through thrashing Inoculates and disappear down the tunnel. He turned to Ra'dith, who busily mowed down (in a non-lethal way) hordes of Inoculates.
"You need to help her! Go help Laurel, don't worry about me!"
Ra'dith kicked a pile of Inoculates over while flinging another Overseer into a stack of Novices and their victims.
"Laurel is safe," Ra'dith replied simply.
Carsius glanced toward the tunnel. There was a grate across it now, but the Inoculates were throwing themselves against it, trying to break it down, while others headed into other tunnels. "They're going to get her! She can't make it on her own!"
"Laurel is safe."
"Confound you!" Carsius was going to show the little female what he thought of her cavalier manner. He got in Ra'dith's face. "You were supposed to protect her! You promised she would not be harmed! You said she wouldn't leave your sight!"
Ra'dith held his gaze like a seasoned general. "Laurel is safe," she repeated. "Laurel has not left Ra'dith's sight. Ra'dith has kept her word."
Carsius felt anger and concern swell inside him and threaten to choke him. He was so furious he almost could not form the words. "Then WHERE THE HELL IS SHE?"
"You must help her."
Carsius was beginning to lose his head. "What do you mean? How can I help her when I can't even get to her? I thought that was your task!"
"You must believe in her."
"Believing's not going to help!" Carsius snapped back. "Do you have any idea what she has to do?"
Faith... Carsius calmed as he recalled what Laurel had said about faith, and now understood what Ra'dith was trying to say. He was master of his own mind once more, and resolutely Carsius thought, Hang in there, Laurel! The mind cannot alter what the heart knows to be true!
Down in the caverns, Laurel rounded another bend, one with almost no wyrts. She was almost grateful; she didn't think she could stomach the sight of another splattered lump of mutilated flesh Ra'dith would leave behind. She paused to discern the right direction—and suddenly collapsed.
Instantly, Ra'dith was at her side.
"What is wrong?" Ra'dith asked her.
Laurel couldn't answer, such an overwhelming dread had taken over her mind. That little place that she had been using to find the mother-mind had suddenly torn completely open, threatening to engulf her. Laurel could hardly raise her quivering finger to point toward an opening in the tunnel ahead of them, indicating that this was where the mother-mind tried to conceal herself. The mother-mind's assault on Laurel was so strong, Laurel could not even recall how to breathe. Ra'dith pulled out a small vial of her ointment and poured it over Laurel's head. Instantly, Laurel's body relaxed and she gasped great lungfuls of air.
"There!" she panted, still pointing. "In there!"
Ra'dith helped her to her feet just in time for another defensive psychological blast. Laurel cried out and leaned heavily against Ra'dith, who supported her staunchly and fairly dragged the beleaguered Elf-maiden toward the cavern indicated. A swarm of wyrts lined the cavern, but by now Laurel had begun to fight back, so none of them dared move toward her.
In the center of it all, the mother-mind sat, a squat, round shape covered in those same hypersensitive filaments. A shudder sent waves over her amorphous frame, and Laurel cried out again, but this time, she set her teeth and stared at the mass.
"You cannot have me now," she seethed, and abruptly fell silent.
Laurel held out her hand, unable to speak. Ra'dith understood what needed to be done. She picked a wyrt off the ground and placed it in Laurel's hand. Laurel focused her attention on the small creature, holding it out toward the mother-mind, but her enemy fought back, blasting her with a stroke so powerful that Laurel clenched her fist and when she opened her eyes, the wyrt was crushed to death. She could not open her fist, so Ra'dith did so for her, peeling back her fingers one by one and nestling a fresh wyrt within the remains of the previous one. Laurel focused again.
"The mind cannot alter what the heart knows to be true."
Laurel blinked. Where had that thought come from? It was as foreign as an attack from the mother-mind, yet rather than coming against her, this particular truth seemed to flow through her and blast the mother-mind. Laurel watched as the affirmation seemed to cause a physical divot in the mother-mind's surface, and the blob reeled with a groan.
Laurel felt new life flow into her mind and body. Again, she thought of the counters that she had used over the course of the mission. Using the truth from her heart, she advanced her own onslaught against the mother-mind.
"There is no being in any world of supreme intelligence; all beings may err!"
The mother-mind flinched.
"One must be tolerant of another's unique abilities and understanding!"
The mother-mind shuddered.
"It is the unique abilities of each being that contributes to the success of all!"
The mother-mind reeled.
"It is a being's responsibility to bear the blame for his own actions, and to make decisions for himself!"
The mother-mind quaked.
"In bearing the responsibility for his actions, one must agree not to set himself over another, or apart from others, but purpose to work with an among others, for unity's sake!"
The mother-mind was in such a state that her thrashing threatened to bring the whole cavern down upon them.
But Laurel had not finished. Rather than focusing her mind upon the mother, she reached deep within and unleashed her heart, thinking of the poor innocent Inoculates who had been so mistreated and deceived into their present states. Bolstered with the love she felt for her fellow beings, she declared with a loud voice,
"THE MIND CANNOT ALTER WHAT THE HEART KNOWS TO BE TRUE!"
Laurel knew her words would be the killing blow, but she had not reckoned on the magnitude of it's effect. She barely took a breath after uttering the last word before Ra'dith's arms were around her, carrying her out of the cavern. The two heard a sickening burble and saw the flow of blood from the cavern as the mother-mind and all her wyrts exploded.
The river of blood rushed toward them, but Ra'dith's swiftness kept their feet on dry ground. They made it out of the caverns and emerged into the tunnels and halls of the Temple-University.
Laurel saw many of the Mentors and Overseers, but they all seemed living-dead, not acknowledging or attacking, merely sitting peacefully on the ground.
When Laurel and Ra'dith reached the court where they had left the others, the only people standing were the Resistance fighters. The Inoculates all sat on the ground with blank, empty expressions.
The operatives gathered at the center of the room. Everyone embraced Laurel and cheered.
"You did it!" Renata cried.
"Well done, Laurel!" Carsius congratulated her.
Laurel accepted their affection gratefully. "I could not have survived it without all of your help," she admitted, "and—" She turned to indicate Ra'dith and stopped.
All other noise died.
Laurel blinked. She closed her eyes, rubbed them, and looked again.
Querulously, she whispered to Carsius, "Tell me, do your eyes see also what my eyes see?"
Carsius could not find the words to reply to her.
"It's a bloomin' miracle!" Barmier gasped.
Standing in their midst, having the same clothes, the same hair, and the same silver eyes—were not one...but TWO Ra'diths!
Say what now? How is this possible? Any ideas? Check back in the story to see if you can figure out the mystery--or tune in next week for the FINAL INSTALLMENT of the series!