|"She nodded to her friends and departed up the low, narrow staircase...."|
The next thing Laurel knew, sight and sound and light and color returned all at once with the worried, sweating faces of Carsius and Augustus over her.
"Laurel, what happened?" Carsius asked, glancing over her. "Why did you leave the alcove?"
"Did you do it?" Augustus wanted to know, "Were you able to reach the mother-mind?"
Gorrmunsa stood behind Carsius, examining the stylus. "She used the analthraxine," he informed the men. "Judging from the psychic shock, I'd say she had to take it while under extreme duress from the althraxine exposure."
Renata hung at the back of the group, worry and fear plain on her face, and Laurel felt her mental faculties returning to normal. She wagged her head.
"I couldn't do it," she finally gasped out, "there was too much going on; I almost got lost in the influences." She gazed around the circle. "Did one of you administer the analthraxine?"
"What, you didn't do it yourself?" Augustus inquired.
Laurel shook her head, "How could I? I was too deep to have any control of my body. Somebody did, though; I would have thought it was another part of the psychosis, but she helped me off the floor—"
"She?" Carsius looked at her strangely. He glanced around the room. "The only other lady here is Renata; did she help you?"
Laurel answered immediately, "No; this girl had pale hair; she almost looked like a boy, actually.” She waved her hand dismissively, “Anyway, she was the one who helped me, or I don’t know what I would have done.”
Carsius sighed, “At any rate, this experiment has failed.”
Laurel frowned, “Not entirely; I can do it, I’ve done it before. I just need—“
“What else could you need?” Augustus asked.
Laurel pondered, “The first time I was able to take down the mother-mind, I was standing directly in front of her. Now, we don’t know exactly where she is, but perhaps if I got up higher, I would not be so—overcome with smaller influences.”
Augustus looked up at Gorrmunsa. “What is the highest point in this house?”
Gorrmunsa pondered the dimensions of the building. “That would be the tower, up above the attic.”
“All right,” Laurel leaned forward and tried to push herself into a standing position. “Let’s go there.”
Carsius caught her shoulder and helped her to her feet. “Easy, now,” he warned.
Laurel continued to struggle to her feet, “I can do it, I can—“ she took one step and stumbled a bit. Carsius reached across and caught her.
The Elf-maiden sighed. “How much time do we have?”
Carsius checked the clock in the hall. “You were out most of the morning,” he said, “It’s just after midday right now.” He surveyed the paleness of Laurel’s face, the fatigue in her limbs.
“She won’t be able to withstand another infiltration like the last one,” Gorrmunsa spoke abruptly, “not unless she rebuilds her strength with nourishment and rest.”
“Let us all convene in the dining room for luncheon,” Carsius announced.
Laurel frowned, but she was too weak to protest.
The six friends sat around the large table, eating in silence.
Finally, Augustus burst out, “Are you sure a taller structure would work?”
Laurel, feeling much better after the wholesome meal, nodded and pushed back her plate.
“The influence I was getting had to do with my immediate area—the library—and things associated with it or near the house: a neighbor throwing a party, the bookstore across the street, and the florist shop down the way. I think that’s one of the ways a wyrt takes over a host, is through immediate thoughts first, and once a thought is decided upon, well, that’s almost like opening the door and allowing the wyrt to take up residence. I think if I get up as high as I can, in the tower Gorrmunsa mentioned, the stream of influences will not be as thin, and I can perhaps latch onto the one I need.”
“The Scholarship Pillar, correct?” Deej asked.
Once everyone had finished, Laurel, Gorrmunsa, and Carsius went up the stairs, past the second floor, and into the attic, where the man and the Kytarr stopped. Gorrmunsa handed Laurel a fresh stylus, not needing to remind her how it worked. Carsius pointed to a small door in the right wall of the attic.
“That’s the door that leads to the tower,” he said as the wyrts milled about them, even up here where the likelihood of a host was slim to none.
Laurel stared at the door. "So I am going alone?"
Carsius replied, "Yes; Gorrmunsa and I will wait at the landing down here."
Gorrmunsa again stepped forward with a syringe of althraxine.
"Are you sure you want this a second time?" Carsius asked her before the Kytarr injected her.
Laurel took a deep breath; it trembled quite a bit.
"I'm ready," she stated softly.
Gorrmunsa nodded and plunged the needle in.
Once again, Laurel felt the sensation of her mind tugging away her like a horse pulling at the reins, champing at the bit.
She nodded to her friends and departed up the low, narrow staircase that lead her to a room no bigger than the alcove of the library. She had left the door open behind her, allowing a sufficient amount of wyrts to follow her.
Finally, she took a seat at the side of the room and allowed them to crawl on her.
Below, Carsius and Gorrmunsa waited patiently. The Kytarr sat on his haunches, watching every wyrt blindly wandering toward the flux of althraxine.
Carsius listened carefully. He could not hear Laurel, but the hairs on the back of his neck elevated as he sensed something was about to happen.
Gorrmunsa's ears flicked forward and he raised his head.
Then the moaning began. Carsius and Gorrmunsa remained where they were as Laurel's voice, moaning, weeping, and occasionally screaming as she fought with the wyrt influence. Carsius gripped a strap on his cape as he listened, and it was not until the cries began subsiding that Carsius felt an object in his hand; he'd torn the strap right off it's stitches.
Carsius listened for several minutes.
"She is quiet," he remarked to Gorrmunsa.
"That's not all," the Kytarr murmured. "Observe the wyrts."
Carsius glanced around the room. The puff-balls were still.
"Something's happened," Carsius muttered as he reached immediately for the door.
Gorrmunsa followed his fellow operative up the stairs.
Carsius drew his knife as he climbed, and when he reached the room at the top he yelled, "HOLD!"
Standing over Laurel's unconscious form was a dark-haired figure wearing dark clothes, with dark-tinted skin, just drawing the stylus out of her arm. The stranger looked up as Carsius yelled, and immediately put on the attitude of surrender as if there was no escape. The silver-colored eyes widened as Gorrmunsa stepped around Carsius and crouched over Laurel.
The Kytarr sniffed and his sensitive whiskers detected slow, steady breath issuing from Laurel's lips.
"She lives," he informed his friend without taking his green eyes off the stranger. "How did you get in here?" he demanded. "Is there an alternate route? Who are you?"
Carsius laid a restraining hand on Gormunsa's shoulder. He saw the fear in the silver eyes. He stepped forward and tried to invite with a gentle smile.
"Hello," he said, "you must be the girl who helped Laurel earlier. I see you have helped her again."
The dark-haired stranger looked down over the Elf-maiden.
"Thank you," Carsius replied, trying to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder. The shrouded girl shrank away and would not let him touch her. "What is your name?" Carsius asked.
"Ra'dith," the girl murmured in the same husky voice.
"Where do you come from?" Gorrmunsa demanded tersely.
Just then, Laurel stirred. Ra'dith bent down and supported her head and shoulders with strong, steady hands. Laurel reached up and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Ra’dith,” she whispered, speaking the name the silver-eyed stranger had told her that morning. "I knew you weren't a phantom."
Ra'dith said nothing.
"Laurel!" Carsius slipped his hand under Laurel's shoulders, and Ra'dith backed away. "We thought something terrible had happened to you. We knew something had happened when the wyrts stopped moving. What went wrong this time?"
Laurel sighed and her eyelids drooped briefly. "It can wait till we're back downstairs with everyone else."
Carsius nodded and turned back to Ra'dith, "Would you be so—"
The girl had vanished. Gorrmunsa was on his feet instantly, scanning every crack and crevice for some secret door. He found none.
"That was only a few moments," Carsius mused.
"I thought I had been watching her the whole time," Gorrmunsa growled in frustration, "But the one time I turn my eyes away, she escapes!"
"How strange," Laurel agreed weakly.
"No matter," Carsius dismissed the mystery to concentrate on the more pertinent present task, "Let's get you downstairs. Can you stand?"
Unlike before, when Laurel could rise to her feet after resting, this time she found her body too much fatigued to move.
Carsius moved to lift Laurel's body, calling the Kytarr to help him.
The feline being still prowled the vicinity, looking for some sign of Ra'dith. "I cannot believe that dark shade could just—"
The Kytarr responded immediately. Together the two operatives carried the Elf-maiden in an arm-sling down the stairs to the parlor.