Fred heard them coming long before the squeaky front door was pushed open. They were quarrelling.
"You know how much I dislike sun and open spaces, I don't know why we had to come here," one mind flayer said.
"You know why we had to come. He won't come to our meetings and he needs to know," answered the other.
"Why does he have to know? He doesn't want to know! He's joined 'their' society. He's practically a lightdweller himself these days. He's turned his back on us!"
"Ah, but that is why we need him in the loop. The inhabitants trust him. He can be useful."
The owners of these "voices" (illithids speak psionically via the mind, not physically) entered Fred's kitchen without a greeting. Fred was annoyed.
"I have told you that I am not interested in your schemes," Fred scolded them. "If you continue to involve me, I shall let the authorities know what you are about and where to find you."
"What in the far reaches of the planar regions is that?" Yaulthoon leaned over a pot that was steaming on Fred's small cookstove. An odd but somewhat enticing smell was wafting out of the pot. "I can't decide if it's delicious or disgusting."
"That is my breakfast."
"Yes, obviously, but what is it?"
"Brains, of course. Lightly blanched in arcane ooze, with a little powdered blood thrown in for flavor." Fred was quite proud of the recipe, he had developed it himself.
"Human brains? Elf brains? Maybe a kobold?" Haxxorrax was now sniffing the pot with some interest as well, his tentacles quivering. "Why wouldn't you eat them fresh?"
Fred sighed, his mouth tentacles blowing out as he exhaled.
"Cow brains. I cook them so they aren't so bland."
Yaulthoon and Haxxorrax both pulled back from the little cookstove in horror.
"Cow brains? Cow brains? What have you come to, Fred? No wonder you've gone all soft. You can't survive without the brains of sentient creatures! " Yaulthoon exclaimed. "Look, I have some extra brains over at my place that I'm not using in my work. Come to the Harborview Lofts with me and have a little something to get you feeling like yourself again. You need to get out of this dingy hovel and see how the other half lives. There's just no reason to live among halflings in squalor when you could be enjoying the finer things."
"I can and do survive just fine on the brains of non-sentient food animals. It takes a little getting used to, but I am still just as sharp as ever," Fred insisted as he lifted the pot and poured out the fluid over the sink.
The iridescent greenish-yellow liquid congealed and concentrated in the bottom of the sink... then it tried to climb out. The sides of the sink were too steep however and the ooze slid back. Fred poked at the ooze and sniffed it, his tentacles sensing the air. This ooze was losing its potency, its greenish color was almost grey. He would need a fresh arcane ooze soon. Fred slid the greyish lump out of the pot and onto a plate then set it on his small table.
"And I greatly enjoy my cottage here in House Jorasco, but thank you for your concern. There is a peacefulness in this enclave that suits me."
"Oh, but I have a lovely commoner I've just pulled off the street last night, Fred. An apprentice artificer, his brain smells divine. But I really only need a few fingers and a leg from him, maybe a length of skin. The brain will just go to waste. I simply can't eat another thing for a week," Yaulthoon encouraged him.
"Mmmm, I'd like to try that one!" Haxxorrax's white eyes lit up.
"It's much too fine for you, Haxxorrax," sniffed Yaulthoon. "You wouldn't appreciate it at all."
Fred sat down at his table, wrapped his four tentacles around the greyish mass and sucked it in.
"I no longer eat the brains of my fellow sentient beings," he reminded them, trying not to slurp. "I do important work here. I am a retrainer of feats for the Adventurer's Union. You know that. I could send any number of my clients to deal with the two of you, if you do not leave me alone. I am no longer part of your little cabal to release Lord Belashyrra. I believe it is a mistake."
The visiting illithids both drew back from Fred, as if they didn't want to be damaged by whatever might strike him. After a second or two, Haxxorrax spoke.
"When Lord Belashyrra is released, he will not appreciate your attitude. He will reward those of us who have been instrumental in his release, and that will be me!"
"You arrogant squid!" Yaulthoon shot back. "I am the one who will impress our Lord Belashyrra! I am creating a new species that he can be proud of, beautiful minions to carry out his orders. I am the one building him an army."
"Maybe you should spend less time trying to impress him and more time trying to release him," Haxxorrax shot back.
"Hmph. From what I hear, one or both of you set up Darastrix to fail. And now he's dead. How shall he be rewarded by Lord Belashyrra?"
"Darastrix was a fool. He allied himself with sahuagin. I don't even consider sahuagin to be sapient creatures worthy of being food, much less allies. He was doomed to fail," sniffed Haxxorrax.
"Really? My understanding is that he was very close to breaking one of the gatekeeper seals, only someone sent information about Darastrix and his plans to the protectors of the island..."
"Can you imagine Lord Belashyrra's triumphant return from Khyber attributed to fish people? We may be creatures of Xoriat, of madness, but we have more style than that!" Yaulthoon waved a hand dismissively. "We warned Darastrix against his plan of action but he just had to use that Mindsunder crystal he found. He had to prove he could control a dragon. His arrogance got him killed. He thought he was so superior."
"Now he's an icicle!"
"He'd be lucky if he were an icicle from what I hear. He was shattered into tiny frozen particles!"
Both visiting illithids laughed, a scornful, mirthless noise in Fred's mind. Fred wanted them gone.
"Leave my house," he told them. "I have things to do and I will tell you for the last time, I want no part in your plans."
"Oh, you will have a part to play Fred, whether you like it or not," Haxxorrax told him. "It's in the Prophecy. My contact in the Twelve is working with Basmore Trask and he is monitoring what the Prophecy forecasts for Xen'drik. We illithids have a major part to play and you, like it or not, are still an illithid."
"Although if you are what you eat, he's turning into a cow!" laughed Yaulthoon. "Moo..."
"We're leaving now but heed my words Fred- you do have a role to play."
And with that, they left the way they had come. Fred watched the two mind flayers cross through the enclave gardens, still arguing with each other.
"Come, let's see what Lord Ymemrish the Cold, Lord Uliuthir and Lord Vrellithrix are up to. I hear they have plans to take over the Parthilcar Tower Crypt and seize control of this enclave. It sounds delightful. We can remind them that we are all supposed to be meeting on Tuesdays to coordinate the release of Lord Belashyrra..."
"No one comes to the meetings! Why are we bothering at all? And Ymemrish is cold because he summons frostmarrow skeletons to do his bidding! It's hardly worth a title. Hmph. I demand you start calling me Lord Haxxorrax the Hungry since you are being so stingy with your leftovers..."
They paid no attention to the plants, dragging their robes across them and leaving a trail of damaged foliage behind. One of the community gardeners was just showing up to do some weeding and and yelled at the illithids about the damage. Without slowing down, Yaulthoon waved a hand at the halfling and a swirling pink cone appeared over the man's head. He turned back to the garden and started to fix the mess without another word.
Oh, he might have a part to play, Fred did not doubt Haxxorrax. But he knew he would do anything to prevent the release of the Daelkyr and the rule of madness. He would protect his home. His part was not what they expected it would be.