Sufferance Ch. 05byEtaski©
Author's Notes: This story is erotic fantasy written by Etaski. I reserve the right to be listed as the author of this story, wherever it is posted. If found posted anywhere except Literotica.com with this note attached, this story is posted without my permission. © Etaski 2012
This story is continued.
If I wanted to simply walk in and order them to take me to any one of their mistress's rooms, they would do it. I could stroll in and take their measure as I saw fit.
"It's overbearing and destroys any mystery, but it would work," D'Shea had commented once, her tone bland and unimpressed.
I agreed with her, and knew in the longer term that it wasn't as effective as letting myself in unseen and waking one from her reverie with a blade point pressed to her throat.
That was why the Red Sisters dedicated a lot of energy to gathering intelligence, finding weak points in every House and workarounds to various wards. The continual practice over the last few months, which had finally turned to the physical and practical, meant I knew a lot of ways to disable traps and magical alarms which were not shared outside the Sisterhood—not even the Priestesses. The Nobles had to feel reasonably secure in their methods defending against most adversaries, but they also had to accept that we could get in if we wanted to.
Then if we arrived, they would believe that they'd asked for it somehow.
This eve was my first time practicing my trade alone and outside the cloister, outside of Court; I felt ready, and I had been asked to prove it with a specific purpose.
I had recently exchanged my borrowed reds for a set of my own; my belt now matched as well, though on this mission, as with most, I went with the black cloak. The hood was pinned to my tightly braided hair, until such as time as I desired to reveal my face or my uniform. It affected my peripheral vision somewhat, but that was one reason why blind-fight training and situational awareness had been prioritized right up there with my House invasion skills.
A lizard mount carried me to the outskirts of the plantation in good time, though I left it behind with nothing more than a bridle to cross the land on foot. Stepping softly and evading detection behind cover was much easier that way. Nothing on the plantation was very tall, as nothing except Deep Dragons grew to enormous sizes in the Underdark, and even those apex creatures were smaller compared to their Surface cousins. But my cloak masked much of my life energy and from afar, a crouching Sister could blend in with simple boulder very easily.
I'd grown more sensitive to the presence of wards, runes, and circles from repeated exposure and the discomfort they often caused. If the Passing ring on my left hand beneath the glove didn't warm pleasantly, indicating it was protecting me from setting off the alarm, then I could break a pellet from my pouch that opened a small, brief portal for me through which I could step and not compromise the integrity of the magic.
Truth be told, I actually preferred the climbing and picking of more mundane locks to using too many magical tools, but I wasn't foolish, either. Magic was inherent in our bodies and our culture; our very society encouraged the development of new tricks, as well as the counter methods to overcome them.
It had been a long time since some attack had happened at this House, I could tell. The guards were bored, and loitered a bit while changing their watch. That was my opportunity to scale the three stories directly beneath the room I sought, according to the layout I'd studied prior to this mission. She could have changed rooms since the last time we'd made any notes, but that was okay. Part of this assignment was to bring back intelligence of known changes.
The decorative glass of the window was in a gold frame perfectly lubricated and silent. I loved it when the wealthy did the work for me. My ring warmed strongly beneath my glove as I paused a moment before opening the window and sliding into the deep shadows.
Like many of the Nobles, her room was dominated by a large, wide bed, spread with fine sheets and covered with a canopy. I recognized her form on the far side even from the window, lying next to a resting companion with whom she chose to share the night. A wine pitcher and two glasses—one empty and one still mostly full—had been placed at the bedside table, and my ears told me the companion was deeply asleep (I supposed more than a few paranoid Nobles sedated their mates if they reveried together).
But the one I sought was not. She was only in light reverie. At least she hadn't left her quarters to cause more trouble.
I drew a black obsidian blade and stepped silently toward her. Any of my Sisters would have been awake and aware by now but this one still had her eyes closed. It seemed too easy when I pressed the tip of the dagger into the hollow of her throat.
At last her eyes snapped open and I looked straight at her; given a moment for her vision to adjust, she recognized me. Her eyes filled with hate. I didn't feel the same.
"W-what are you doing back?" she hissed, glancing down at the hilt of the blade that held her to the bed for the moment.
"It was time for a visit."
"You shouldn't be anywhere near Mother, especially now."
"Nor should you be. I hear she hasn't been well. But then, the alchemist I spoke with admitted that compulsion potion cost you a pretty coin."
Kaltra pursed her lips briefly. "I don't know what y—"
"The same one Juarinia used all that time ago, isn't it?" I asked. "We both know she does good work."
Her lower lip trembled a little, but not in fear. "You killed our sister, you cunt. She would have made our House powerful again!"
I smiled slightly. "She died, but not by my blade, Second. We won't say the same for you."
My former relative's eyes widened and she slapped clumsily at my wrist as she made the motion to sit up. I accepted my aim to be knocked to the side and stepped back, allowing her to get to her feet. Her fists clenched and her face contorted and she drew breath to speak when I whispered the word to call a gently glowing sphere above us.
She cursed again, covering her eyes, but it didn't take long for her eyes to switch their sight. She froze when red leather was the first thing she saw beneath the light, and her expression changed from rage to confusion to horrified disbelief.
This would always be one of the best parts in these assignments, I could tell.
"Impossible," she said. "No..."
D'Shea had been right; my former Matron hadn't told Kaltra of my fate. It was a good call.
"I have other things to do so I'll spare you the more creative measures of extraction, Kaltra." I pulled out a blunt, disposable rod to hold in my other hand along with my dagger. "Just nod when I declare you've been slowly poisoning your Matron and her unborn child."
Her bottom lip started to tremble again. This time it was pure fear.
"It's not fair," she whispered.
"I'll take that as a yes."
Matron Thalluen was resting uncomfortably when I entered; I could see sweat at her temples and smell the sour undertone of illness in the room, but she still detected me much sooner than Kaltra had.
"Do they want me dead at last, then?" she asked quietly in the dark.
I draped Kaltra's bloody sleep gown across her barely-touched platter of food that should have been her dinner. Her loss of appetite had spared her a fresh dose of the toxin. The Matron blinked at the gown, recognizing the material.
"Not you." I withdrew a bottle that I'd been given by the alchemist on demand, and handed it out to her. "This should neutralize the poison over the next few cycles. Remember to eat. You can't die until you have birthed an Heir, Matron. Unless you want them to leap on your holdings after your passing and carve it up. There's no one left to defend it but you."
At that, there was a spark of fight left in her eyes, but the Matron still looked tired and confused as well. I knew the poison was causing most of it. At last she took the bottle gingerly from my stained hand, wiping of the dark fluid smeared on the outside with a clean edge of the torn sleep gown. "All at once?"
She drank it as I watched, gagged once and only kept it down with effort. I retrieved the bottle and replaced it in a pouch.
"But...my cook is loyal."
"He had no choice. He's also dead. Take on Raomino, he knows, and he's ready and willing."
She nodded, licking her lips and searching for something to drink. When she thought twice about the pitcher at her bedside, she used the message ball to summon Raomino to her.
By then, I had left again. I probably wouldn't be directed return again unless it was to kill my mother or whoever the baby grew up to be.
It might send the wrong message.
Despite the calm, focused image I had presented to those inside House Thalluen, I was keyed up and flush with success on my travel back to the center of the City through the alternate passageways with ubiquitous spy slits. Many of my efforts against other Red Sisters had ended in failure—as they had to until I mastered the technique they needed me to learn. It made many things against the more mundane inhabitants of the City almost ridiculously easy.
Had I really flinched at Kaltra's raised hand before? She'd seemed to move incredibly slow when she tried to fight back.
It had been a pleasure—and a gift—to be the one to take her life. Not because I'd asked for it but because the Red Sister Prime had decided both that Kaltra's uncovered plot against a Matron so heavy with child was a sin, and that the short-sighted one was not worth the air she breathed in any case.
One's target did not have to be Nobility to draw the wrath of Lolth's Red Hand however. I'd heard, before and after joining, that the Sisters had avenged the unborn and those who bore them from even the common and mercantile classes. It only required a few reminders every century or so to keep that particular choice of assassination to a minimum.
Kaltra's death would be a more memorable one once the details got out, and it would be known that it was now the Valsharess's own interest for Matron Thalluen to bear a healthy girl-child in a few months. No one would dare touch her now; she may be alone except for her servants, but would have some time to raise her daughter in peace.
And yes, a simple divination spell had confirmed the sex. Another reason they'd acted quickly once they found out. I'd come in only on the end of the investigation, and D'Shea had given me the mission of execution.
"You know the land well, and you're ready for just such a test," she'd smiled.
"Thank you, Elder."
I was looking forward to giving my report in all its glorious detail, but when I passed a rune-marked checkpoint which sent an update of my approach to the cloister, I heard a return message sent by magic in my ear.
*Every available Sister collect in the Prime Altar Room immediately.*
That particular altar room was where I'd gone through the ritual of Lolth's Threshold and been accepted for further training. It more or less belonged to the Red Sister Prime. She actually had many uses for a Lolth-blessed room, not the least of which was as a secure and secret gathering point when the Sisters' attention was needed in a grander scope.
I began a smooth run through the halls toward the altar room, focusing on my destination when I passed the next rune mark. I would make it in only a few hundred heartbeats as the pocket folded space for me.
I entered to the altar room, my uniform and cloak still marked with blood, to see the Red Sister Prime, Elders D'Shea and Rausery, and the Priestess Lelinahdara surrounding the altar itself. A map and an odd collection of materials objects, half of which looked like they'd be used in ritual, lay over the surface of the altar itself, and I counted twenty-five other Red Sisters present, including Jaunda and her five. They looked ready to tear down half of the Underdark.
Rausery glanced up at me approaching to join the group.
"Twenty-seven, more than half," I heard Rausery tell Prime, but she stared at D'Shea next.
My Elder only nodded once and their contact eye broke. My guess was that I'd be following Rausery's orders for the time being.
"I will need a conduit with experience," Lelinahdara said.
"Gaelan," D'Shea answered, and it seemed that was decided as well as the Priestess gestured my roommate forward to her.
The Red Sister Prime turned toward the rest of us, her hair streaked with blonde, her eyes and face hard, the lines at the corners of her mouth that bit deeper. "Three enterprising Ilithids have entered our domain. They brought with them a broad collection of their more powerful mind-slaves numbering over three hundred. The company dispatched a mark ago engaged in the last quarter mark but is struggling to push them back and starting to dwindle. We believe the Ilithids are here to capture new bodies, whomever they find, they are not known to be picky. But most certainly they want Drow or they wouldn't have come this far."
I felt my brows rise higher in spite of my attempt at a focused, still expression like the other Sisters. This was going to be my first pitched battle, and against mindflayers of all things. The only other race in the Underdark of which the Drow were genuinely leery.
"Twenty-seven of you will tip the balance in our favor. Elder Rausery will be leading in the field and Elder D'Shea will be our magical support passing the intelligence between you; you will hear her voice in your head. Act on any orders as if they came from me; share as much real-time information as you can in return, we will need it. Lelinahdara will be shielding you from as many mental attacks as she can but remember your own training if you feel pressure like water filling inside your head."
Dealing with that particular feeling, though I'd felt it before, for the first time with the Duergar in the wilderness, was probably the area in which I had the least amount of experience. But D'Shea knew that; I had to trust she and the Priestess would manage shields where they were needed most. And if not, I just had to deal with it.
"First priority is to let our army see you destroy as many of the Ilithid thralls as possible to rebuild morale. When the power shifts you'll know it, and then I want those tentacled psiomancers filled with poison from afar. Do not engage in melee or attempt a close kill under any circumstances. The last thing our Queen needs is for the Ilithids to gain the knowledge you all have. Not even one of you are to be captured alive."
We all knew what that meant already; we'd kill our Sister or poison ourselves before we would to let that happen. Suicide when defeated in battle was not a grandiose ideal of ours and we were rarely tested on it. Certainly even, it was not unknown for us to recover a captive Sister from the enemy rather than rely on death to solve the issue for us. There was a lot of investment in a single Red Sister that was not represented in a common fighter.
But in this case, it was purely practical and non-negotiable when mindflayers were involved. They were too powerful to take the risk, and few beings were ever known to withstand their psionics indefinitely. Drow were not one of them. Better simply not to get near them.
We mobilized quickly, restocking essential weapons and useful tools, ready in as much time as it took me to run here. I removed my cloak, rolled it up and set it in the supply room; no other Sisters were wearing one.
We were instructed each to quaff a painkilling potion with a slower, longer healing effect; we would not feel the pain of our first few injuries, and in most of those, we would not bleed out. At times we'd seemed unable to be killed; we encouraged the myth among Drow and enemy alike.
The Priestess and D'Shea prepared to open the portal that would fold space and drop us where we needed to be instantaneously. Like moving into the spy tunnels, it would cause my stomach to rise and lurch, and the greater the distance, the more the effect. But I was as prepared as I could be, and fortunately no one vomited when we were suddenly standing on a ledge above a large cavern outside the City.
The noise of battle was immediately present below us and both torches and flares of light abounded on the broad, uneven floor, even if sporadic in places.
*Fan out. Engage. Quick kills, we want quantity.*
The words in our heads repeated Rausery's sign language. The tightly-bound energy of every Red Sister unraveled and flooded us almost as one. We drew swords and daggers, crossbow pistols and barbed flogs. Our speed had to be our shields, for every Sister fought with two weapons and could change them quickly and frequently to whatever was needed.
The thralls of the Illithids were larger than us, well-muscled, and capable of both tearing through or seizing a body to hold it tight. I didn't recognize the race; I thought it might have been a warped version of existing ones; perhaps if a Hook Horror had been crossbred with a Grimlock.
It possessed the eyes and the beak, but possessed multiple talons instead of a single large hook and its body was grey-skinned and stream-lined for swimming. Natural armor and a tough hide made quick kills more difficult unless one aimed her thin blade just right, either in a sunken yellowed eye or in a soft spot beneath the jaw. Either way, we had to stab the brains or the thralls kept moving, unable to feel pain and controlled by their Masters.
Once one Red Sister figured that out, then we quickly all knew it as D'Shea passed on the intelligence. I knew it wasn't me that discovered it first, but I took full advantage of anything that worked.
I killed every one that I engaged who was not Drow. My energy seemed limitless, my skills unleashed without restraint or boundaries on the targets. It was the first time since I'd joined the Sisterhood. Something inside me sang with joy, and over the bond connecting us on the battlefield, it was answered many times over.
We'd come down from a higher vantage point and enough of our army saw us, and saw the enemy bodies finally begin to fall faster than the Drow around them, that I heard a roar of bloodlust rise as they redoubled their efforts to fight off the invaders.
The Sisters did not cluster together, but we never got completely out of sight of one another; I could always see at least one of my Sisters, blurred, spinning, even shrieking. We could sense the presence of one another; as long as the mind did not become a void, we knew all were still standing.
I absorbed the information of dozens at once, knew things that were happening in the chaos even if I did not witness them. We were doing well. Jaunda and her team literally cut a swath in the middle of the thickest pack of thralls, breaking it up and allowing parts of our army to flank them and finish them off.
The regular units who'd begun fighting again were of both sexes, a mass of defiant roars blending in a pleasing pitch with heat and rage.
One fighter in particular drew my eye for a few seconds in the mass of bodies. She was young but radiated pure will and fearlessness; she was quick and vicious, not only using precision to her advantage but making sure she tore as much flesh as she could in each withdrawal. From the looks of it, she hadn't stopped fighting for a long time, even when others were falling back.
She saw me as I got close, and smiled, spoke when we selected the same a pair of thralls. "Ten wisely led... versus a hundred... without a head.
"They're... so.... Fucked!"
No time to laugh, but my teeth definitely gleamed in the darkness.