Sufferance Ch. 09byEtaski©
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
The story so far heavily references both "Sisterhood" and "Subterrane" and is very continued.
Not much to warn about this chapter except a philosophical question: You know "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Well...when everyone is chaotic evil and all are enemies, does that ultimately make them all friends? ;)
"Hello, Sirana. You are looking well since last I saw you."
I gave Lelinahdara a wry smile. "And you shine with Lolth's faith, as always."
She planted hands on her hips and shook her head once. "No Court-inspired lip service here, if you please, Red Sister."
I shrugged and gave a small bow. "I've almost forgotten the Court, Priestess. Why could I not simply be sincere this once, particularly to she who healed me with that faith?"
Now it was her turn for the wry expression, and she added an eye roll for good measure. "Because I know you. Now hush and follow me."
I did with a bounce to my gait, my stride long and my cloak flowing out behind me.
She was right, of course. This Priestess certainly knew the most about me excepting perhaps D'Shea—not only from the final ritual that had seen me through to the wilderness test, but also having witnessed certain side effects of holding on to a dying Duergar.
She seemed the only member of the Priesthood with whom my Elder was willing to deal in more sensitive Sisterhood matters, and I'd just learned that Lelinahdara was in truth the official liaison between the Priestesses and the Red Sisters. Her birth name was lovely and simple: Tarra of House Leluin.
The Priestess's qualifications in her assigned position fell into place naturally, as far as D'Shea was concerned, in that she'd been just begun to study the more arcane magic after having served her Matron well in matters of politics for many years before receiving her calling. The strongest mage within the Red Sisters was of the opinion that Lelinah was multi-talented and well-rounded the same way she viewed herself...and to a lesser extent, the same way she viewed me. "Even had I any doubt of your potential before, Sirana, your conversation with the female Duergar proved it to me."
"Proved what, Elder?"
"You have the ability, at least, to perceive how your rivals and your enemies come to be how they are. Understanding that is the first step to anticipating them. It is the only reason I am even bothering to teach you about Wilsira and the Sanctuary. Otherwise I would just take my chances."
It had been satisfying learning more about the Priestesses right from D'Shea's mouth, out of sheer necessity. She could not go on her own time table this time; she had to throw a lot of detail at me quickly to prepare me for my temporary service with Wilsirathon, all so I may have some chance to avoid the traps she would set for me. It had been refreshing, like the few times I could talk with Rausery, and it seemed D'Shea could be very practical when she needed to be.
That wasn't to say I would not rather be watching and hearing about Jael's initiation—and participating myself—over being here in a true viper's nest, but if the circumstances forced my Elder to loosen her tongue for a brief time, then was a fair trade. The more I learned, the more confident I could feel that this wouldn't be my last assignment.
The Sanctuary was enormous and quite central compared to the smaller, more private cloister of the Red Sisters. Anyone at Court could see it looming next to the Palace, attached both in architecture and policy even though one would never mistake one for the other. The Palace had used a different stone, its energy pattern overall contained more straight edges and stately vertices than the softer molding and swirls in the view of its bigger sister.
However, both were covered in ornate, carved decoration with many spider and web motifs of course, but also entwined with our most common objects of beauty: crowns and religious headpieces, long flowing hair, perfect bodies wrapped in silk or armed and armored with balance, decorations and jewels and of the more abstract designs, I saw more sets of piercing eyes than any other interpretive pattern.
I had entered through a backdoor to which I'd been directed, stepping into a less busy side of the Palace. I'd been told Lelinah would be expecting me, and certainly she was there the moment I placed my hand on the silent summons.
From the inside, I could not immediately gauge or sense the same vast space that one could see from the outside—at least from this entrance. The halls and stairs curved frequently, and like our cloister there were no straight-shots that lasted longer than a dozen running strides. The ceiling was not high or the walls wide; I might use a dagger or a short staff, but no full-length swords or pikes.
It occurred to me that the place had a similar look and feel to the smaller rooms and more secretive meeting places from which I'd watched Wilsirathon dominate Curgia. I'd been told we'd been in the Palace, not the Santuary, but I wondered a bit now. If I could get a decent mental map while I was here, it might make the narrow, magical spyways offer more sense than to seem only buried and disconnected from the building itself...
Although at the same time, that spyway was created as alternate pocket-space, not actual construction within the very walls and ceilings of the Palace. Places within those passages might not line up exactly with how these buildings had been constructed.
For the first time, I wondered what creative solutions the Priestesses had in place for keeping track of things going on inside their Sanctuary. Lelinah had certainly seemed to know the moment I had arrived, after all.
"Why the good mood, Sirana?" she asked now, her hips swaying slowly in her purple silk gown as I noted the same ornate black belt and ceremonial dagger I'd always seen her wearing.
"A rough ride upon waking," I said brightly.
She snorted delicately, her mouth widening in humor. "But your Sisters take anything nearby, and with high frequency. Is it still such a lift, then?"
"Absolutely. It's also another notch in my bedframe. It's become so thin it may crumble and send me to the floor one of these cycles."
Tarra laughed, as I hoped she would, giving up the topic with a shake of her head. "Well. Wilsirathon wished to meet you immediately upon your arrival. Do you need anything first?"
"No, Priestess. I came prepared. Even my bladder is empty."
Her eyebrows rose at the volunteered—and very unnecessary—information. "Very well." She chuckled again softly. "Keep the attitude, Sirana. You'll do fine."
Oh, yes, I would.
While the walls—and the rooms—of my cloister were for the most part bare and ascetic with only the essentials, those of the Sanctuary were colorful and decorative, lined with a tasteful amount of tapestries, banners, metal sculpture, and murals. Small tables existed for no other purpose than to display a figure or fine design, and there were quite a few more sources of water with regular, small fountains for drinking and washing (and probably blessing), and either smokeless torches or delicate candles.
It seemed I had come in at the back and at the foundation floor, as we went up three additional flights of stairs, and each floor from there had a different dominating color in the light; purple, gold, blue....I did notice that red was either missing or I hadn't found the floor yet.
I'd gotten used to dealing with less light on the whole, but the Sanctuary was well-lit by comparison—all the better to show off the beauty of their aesthetics. It brought back more memories of the Court and of my House and how accustomed I'd once been to candles and decorations just being there.
Now my mind catalogued them all as possible impromptu weapons or tools; as disadvantages or advantages depending on where I stood in any given room. How quickly things had changed.
I also anticipated the blue-themed floor, and heard the subdued voices of children and a few low wails of hungry infants as we passed through. D'Shea had told me there were young Drow raised within the Sanctuary itself, ones who did not leave until a Priestess bid it—and always for a particular purpose. These Drow were unknown to almost all of society, they belonged to no House and always found it hard to have any identity or status outside that which the Priesthood gave them.
D'Shea would not tell me much of the how and why, but I'd correctly and easily guessed at least one purpose: the breeding and raising of the Consorts.
"Yes. Not the only purpose, however," D'Shea had said almost grudgingly.
"To raise and train more Priestesses?" I guessed.
"Always a possibility."
"Just a possibility, Elder? In breeding Consorts, wouldn't they need to do something with the females as well?"
D'Shea had shaken her head. "Their magic is too powerful for there to be a need to leave the sex to chance. They can select males, or a female if they wish. I cannot do that with my arcane magic."
I had blinked several times. "And... Rausery told me the Priestesses keep any children caught by the Red Sisters as well. Would they be among those on the blue floor?"
My Elder had glared at me; clearly she wished Rausery hadn't divulged that bit. "Yes."
"Are there any pregnant Red Sisters on that floor now whom I might see, Elder?" I asked.
"No. It's been quite a while since we've lost one of us to them. And don't ask whether there are any children of ours there now. That doesn't matter once they've been safely birthed."
She quickly changed the subject to Kerse and his mother I refocused willingly.
Lelinahdara paused in her smooth stride now, looking at me as I focused down the hall toward noise which I hadn't heard much of in my lifetime. Clusters of Drow children together were rare; if they were Noble offspring, they did not come to Court until they were grown and they were tutored within their own grounds. The business class and more common Drow kept their own blood close so they wouldn't be stolen away, and they could also make use of their labor and teach them skills. Drow children wanted to explore and interact with each other to a degree, but only in small groups, and some rivalries between those groups formed very early.
I had to think that, if I indeed heard perhaps a score or more of Drow children and infants now farther down this hall, then it was the single largest group of them that I'd ever been aware of in one place for any length of time.
How would such an upbringing alter them from the more typical Drow when they became grown? No single Matron to look to, far too many siblings—whether of blood or not, they were of an age—and little knowledge of the City outside of the Sanctuary.
I could not think it would be good for seeing anything beyond the religious power—to know or discover that they were not the entirety of the world, as the Priestesses would like all to believe. It would certainly alienate these Drow, and it made more sense to me now that Auslan generally refrained from interacting much with House Itlaun except as he was expected. The rest of the time, he just watched and listened. And reported.
He was curious of some others of power beyond the Priesthood, though. He'd made that clear the last time we'd spoken. He was curious about me.
"Is there a problem, Sister?" Lelinahdara asked, and there was a layer of chill to her tone.
I shook my head. "I've never heard so many children in one place, Priestess," I replied honestly.
She nodded. "A necessity. We are very protective of them, Sirana, don't get too curious. We are only passing through."
And yet... had she needed to take me to this floor at all? I wondered.
"Not to worry, Priestess. My function doesn't involve children."
Ironic, that. Given how often it involved sex.
"Good of you to say. Come."
We went up another well-decorated, spiral stairwell, and as Lelinah gently touched a smooth, polished stone on the wall, I felt an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I'd just passed through into a spyway. More wary as I stepped out of an open, doorless exit, I was surprised to see this floor was dominated by whites, grays, and dark shades of near-black. I stood out in unfortunate contrast in my red uniform.
More of the tapestries contained scenes in which I was not sure at what I was looking. Lelinah allowed me to pause one so I could look more closely. I saw abstract, interpreted magic and energy flow, as if I was seeing with my dark vision, but also smears of red and orange. Somehow I understood that they were violent images, though the menace in them was often blurred with blackness. Not unlike Calling Darkness to force utter blindness in those all around.
Like a void.
Then I understood. The Abyss. We were on the Draegloth floor, but I hadn't understood that to be only one floor up from the young, full-blooded Drow. It would be stupid to keep them so close; D'Shea had said it was not unusual for a Draegloth to try to kill a vulnerable youth in the Sanctuary, if given the opportunity.
Why? The third-floor children were not of two bloods; that was all the reason needed for there to be jealousy and resentment toward the small, beautiful ones who looked so much more like their mother than the Draegloth did.
Except I knew the Abyssal floor was near the top of the Sanctuary.
"Twelfth level," Lelinah answered for me after a mere glance at my expression. "We skipped a few. They are private quarters, libraries, and the practical things even we must see tended to. You don't need to see them one by one."
I nodded, and understood that she could have led me to skip all floors except the stables and basement, where I'd entered, and this upper level. She'd let me see the main reception hall with a theme of gold, the offices in purple, and the childcare floor in blue before skipping to here. I made plenty of mental notes.
There were not quite as many decorations and objects of art on this floor; it was mostly banners and tapestries, plenty to look at but not as much to break or destroy. I could smell more scent up here, of larger bodies with greater heat putting off a greater volume of musk. It was not overwhelming, but it did not have the undertones of soap and perfume and general fastidious cleanliness than the other floors had had, excepting the stables.
The halls twisted for a while until I was sure we'd walked to the far side of the Sanctuary and I was led to a thick, double-wide iron door inscribed with runes and magical carvings.
"Was our last recruit tested here recently?" I asked quietly.
Lelinahdara was silent, her hand pausing before she rested it against her chosen panel. She glanced at me. "This exact place? No. The Fourth Daughter that the Sisterhood brought here faced them in an arena on another floor. She would have had an unfair advantage here; their magic is restricted inside this room."
Jael may have seen some of their magic, then? I'd have to remember that.
"Is this where they sleep?" I asked.
"They don't sleep. But this is where they are kept if their mother does not want one with her at a given time."
I frowned slightly. "I thought you were taking me to see Wilsirathon."
"I am. She likes this place."
The way Lelinah had placed a subtle stress on the word "likes" told me something...I decided first that Wilsirathon chose this place intentionally as a meeting place, and that she felt comfortable here. Powerful.
Perhaps if other mother-Priestesses neglected their horrid-looking sons, another one visiting more frequently might make additional bonds? Possible. I'd have to watch. Wilsirathon no doubt wanted me to get some sort of immediate message.
My guide rested her palm on the inscribed panel and murmured a chant I definitely did not understand. Something heavy clunked deep inside the doorway and it ground the floor far more than any of our typical sliding doors did. Slowly, only one side opened but wide enough for us to walk through single-file. Lelinah went in first with me following. It closed automatically after my boot heel just passed the threshold.
There was light in here, but it was odd. No candles, and the wall lanterns soldered and bolted to the stone glowed with a heatless, unsettlingly pale, white glow. Overall it was dim light, casting many shadows, and I would have preferred either more light or none at all. This half-way illumination felt more dangerous to walk through with sensitive, Underdark eyes.
I smelled plenty of them, heard shifting bodies and quiet hisses, at least one happy giggle, but saw none of them. I shut my eyes and stood listening to those menacing sounds, letting the subtle air move across my face, feeling the living energy. I could confidently place five of them in the room...and one was right over my head on the high ceiling.
I would not have been prepared without D'Shea's counsel, but she had pressed on me the importance of setting boundaries early on, and I had a bolt prepared for something like this.
Lelinah barely had time to raise her hand, a protest on her lips, as I withdrew my crossbow pistol and shot straight up over my head. I moved to the side, pushing the Priestess ahead of me, as the blunt head of the specialized bolt struck near the skulking Draegloth. The packet of sneeze powder burst on impact and the dust sprinkled down slowly to where I'd been standing. Even though my nose and lungs itched, Lelinah and I were out of the direct effect.
I had to say, however, that it was incredibly amusing to listen to a Draegloth go into a sneezing fit for a solid thirty seconds.
"Lolth bless you," I said toward the end of it with a broad grin on my face, confidence and strength loaded in my voice along with my good humor. "You might want to get off the ceiling now, Stripe. I have more, and I love the target practice."
Lelinahdara saw immediately that I had done nothing to injure the creature and relaxed. Her eyes watched some movement I couldn't see, though I could hear the scratching of claws along the stone. The Draegloth was moving toward one of the outer walls, away from me. Sure enough, soon he was climbing down and grumbling low in his chest.
I could see Lelinah's shoulders shaking as she covered her mouth with one hand, muffling what would have been full laughter if she wanted. It made me chuckle quite audibly, just watching her.
Whatever proud, revealing entrance Wilsirathon may have been planning, the mood had been spoiled. She simple walked out of the shadows at this point, elegant and poised, her face impassive.
"Tarra," she said. In her name was a quiet rebuke.
Lelinah shook her head slightly and took a breath, her smile still present; she did not look repentant. "Priestess Wilsirathon, I've brought your bodyguard for your tour, courtesy of the Red Sister Prime. She sends her regards and requests a confirmation message in return."
Wilsirathon nodded. "Give it to her. This one's service for five cycles is payment provided in full. You are dismissed."
Lelinah did not bow, but curtsied slightly and turned to leave. She met my eyes for a brief moment and I thought I saw an eye twitch—not quite a wink, but the intensity of her green eyes communicated the rest. She wanted me to hold up under Wilsira's tests and would do nothing to hinder me.
How nice to have a neutral sanctum within a Sanctuary of pitfalls. At least until we left on the "tour." Wherever that was.
The Draegloth in the room were quiet and tense as the Priestess opened the door once again and let herself out. When it thumped back into place, the sound echoing loudly in the stillness, some of the hisses of expelled breath were very eager.