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 2013
And so this is the final chapter of Sufferance as many things are addressed, and we transition to the next story. Thank you for coming this far!
During the crash debriefing, D'Shea had stood apart from us and let Rausery do the talking, her arms folded and her mouth pursed tight. Everyone knew it was because Shyntre had to be present as well but only two truly knew why she would not compromise even on the distance.
The fact that D'Shea still couldn't stand being near the mage was proof to both of us that Wilsira was still alive.
The Prime had gone ahead to the Palace before Jael and I had arrived at the briefing room, and Qivni had not yet arrived. She had been leading the team that had been sent out after the Illithid, very soon after Gaelan, Jael, and Shyntre arrived back at the cloister to report. We were waiting for them to return.
In the most practical sense, we couldn't have left right then, anyway, whether or not Qivni had been there. We all had needed to be redressed and outfitted; Jael and I wore the black uniforms again, Gaelan and Jaunda wore familiar-looking "borrowed" reds. We were given useable belts, some tools, and weapons for those that had been destroyed by the blast, and neither Jaunda nor Jael's hair really needed to be braided again; it was too short on both of them. Jael's hair seemed to have fared better having some modest length, as if Jaunda might've been providing partial shielding for her when they were hit.
The Valsharess, we were told, would actually prefer to wait a little longer for proper, respectful presentation, and she was well aware of the chaos that had broken loose. While it would be in Wilsirathon's favor to have us rush to the summons without collecting all the evidence, the Prime had seen to it that we make it worth the queen's while and have our act together.
With luck the Priestess would be in even less control over herself for having to sit brooding, quite alone for once and with her mouth closed, for the Valsharess would not be interested in listening to broken, mourning screeching.
This was all hearsay for me, of course, but I would have the opportunity to see whether this held true in practice....unfortunately. I did not look forward to facing that cunt Priestess again so soon for one simple fact: there was plenty of political blood flowing and ready to gush. It would draw every single Drow aware of it and poised to grasp for power over others as it shifted, and I was bleeding as badly as any of them.
I could not get Kerse's suicide or Auslan's captivity out of my head, some part of me ached for both of them despite what they'd done to me, and I could not long forget how vulnerable the Consort had made me in order to keep my heart beating. Furthermore, Shyntre possessed a card that I did not know what he would choose to do with it.
He wanted my help, he said, but I could also see how much he hated D'Shea. He would know it was she who was keeping the secret because Rausery hadn't mentioned it once in the briefing nor looked at me at all like she knew. He would also understand better what I'd meant when I said I was not in position to be as much help as he thought.
Shyntre could easily use my new condition against D'Shea, although I doubted it would give him any measurable reward with Wilsirathon—he had helped to kill her son, after all. The consequences of giving me up, however, would no doubt doom Auslan, who sat almost patiently in his cage.
The question was, which did the wizard prize more: his "brother" or his own lifelong hurt and humiliation from a mother who wouldn't acknowledge him? He may never get another opportunity like this, or if it looked as though he was going to be executed anyway for his actions against Kerse...then that might be his final chance to hurt D'Shea. The figurative sword held at Auslan's throat might not be enough to stop him.
I expected that I would find out only when facing the queen.
I did not have many cards in my own hands. I had unwanted empathy for Wilsira's loss and I questioned my ability to remain stoic upon seeing her—not a good thing. I wished Auslan to be safe from the whips and Feldeus of my Sisters—also a deplorable weakness. And... I was simply frightened, because I was pregnant, and I didn't know whether I could have any choice of my own regarding what became of me, other than a similar path that Kerse had followed. The chances were very slim in favor of my having any choice at all.
Rausery's plan gave me confidence in her, doing what she did best, but I trusted my instincts and experience that there were still a few things she hadn't shared. Jael had utter confidence in her, it was obvious—I thought perhaps the youngest Sister didn't even think she'd done anything truly bad and her leaders would speak in favor of her and protect her.
By contrast, Gaelan betrayed a definite fear for the coming trial as she stood beside me. With D'Shea not participating in the discussion, as if she had already said all she would to Rausery and giving us none of her own thoughts, it did not inspire Galean to have confidence in her Elder. I wasn't sure that I did, either, even knowing her reasons—perhaps especially so.
What good was D'Shea if she couldn't talk clearly at this most important time? Hadn't she thought it a possibility that when she at last got her chance to act against Wilslira, she still couldn't speak about her real vendetta? Sure, I might speak it, but she couldn't confirm it and claiming a psionic bond to get the information not only required a lot of explaining, but was information I did not want too many high-ranking Drow to have.
Making it worse, Shyntre's presence prevented D'Shea from using even her usual strengths. My distraction by Auslan was nothing compared to how Shyntre affected D'Shea. Such distraction was deadly, we all knew that.
I heard what was being said but some of it didn't make any sense to me. Why would either Elder risk D'Shea's behavior? Why tolerate it?
"Is there any possibility we could leave the wizard behind?" I asked, and he shot a vicious look at me.
Rausery only quirked her brow. "No. It was his divination spell that started this whole mess. The Valsharess will want to see him."
Is that what he'd told her? *His* divination spell? Not a certain breeder with a vision...?
Then again, my wizard had needed to explain his actions somehow, and it seemed he wasn't going to reveal Auslan's gift so publically. How uncharacteristically sacrificial of him to take the entire responsibility himself!
Yet he'd also offered me "anything" to help protect the Consort. I supposed that I knew enough now to bet that, if Shyntre would be allowed to live, he would keep his mouth closed about my pregnancy because it would endanger his "brother" only more.
What I didn't know was what he would do if faced with execution, and I would not have much time to react.
A summons came at the door, and Qivni's team returned at last to provide more information and help refine the details of our testimony.
"What did you find, Qivni?" Rausery asked directly.
"The body of a gnome with its cranium split, Elder," she said, matching her. "Sucker marks, brain matter gone, all characteristic of an Illithid. It had eaten before we found it so we returned quickly. We could have tracked further but—"
Rausery shook her head. "No, you did right. Not enough defense if it revitalized itself. Anything else of note?"
Qivni nodded at her support, three of whom stepped forward and each poured the contents of their black sacks across the table. I recognized my equipment immediately and felt warmth overrun my face; I'd been helpless to stop Kerse from removing every item and placing it far from me. Having it spread before me in its sorry state only enhanced the feeling of shame.
Qivni explained, "Suna and Oreth stayed to search the rubble before any of the Priestess teams could arrive. The rest of us tracked the Illithid. They found these buried all in one spot, and lot of bloody rocks on the other side of the cavern, along with a blood-soaked loincloth. It looked to Oreth like a protective circle or shield had kept the stones from being scorched and that's why the color was still there."
Rausery glanced at Shyntre, who nodded to confirm, and that apparently was all that the Elder needed. She next rooted through the badly-damaged pile and lifted out a familiar sapphire pendant with a broken chain.
She smirked. "Odd finding this here. Drop it?"
Shyntre blinked but responded to her expectant look with a shrug. "No, Elder Rausery. The last I saw that was when I gave it to Sirana at House Itlaun."
"Who turned it in to D'Shea." She looked at her cohort standing farther away with a stony expression on her face. "Isn't that what you told me?"
My Elder took a subtle, steadying breath. "I studied it and returned it to Sirana. She can use it."
The other was a little annoyed at the lack of update. "Didn't realize she had much magic to use."
There was a bare shake of D'Shea's head. "It's better that she doesn't. It absorbs arcane and divine power, draws it in. It doesn't affect her but it would affect a mage or Priestess trying to use their power near it. It blunts it by siphoning off a fraction. Other than that, it is non-offensive."
Except... that it had seemed to stabilize my psionic link with D'Shea, hadn't it? It had seemed to convert her power to one that...perhaps I could use? Was that what had happened?
Shyntre gave me a look, clearly grasping now why his paralysis spell hadn't worked at the time we were tussling on the floor at House Itlaun. I found myself smiling back at him, just a little. The memory still gave me a feeling of contentment somehow.
Rausery grunted. "Interesting. Why her and not any other Sister who's also not a mage?"
D'Shea pursed her lips. "From her trials. Trust me, it's useless to any other Drow. Interesting also that the mindflayer didn't discover it."
Rausery was the only other one in the room who would have gotten the reference.
"Gotcha." She asked no more questions on that and made eye contact with me before tossing me the pendant. I caught it. "In that case, I'd love you to wear that at the Palace, Sirana, but keep it hidden."
"Wizard, you have a spare stretch of leather, don't you?"
Shyntre obeyed without words, finding a length of leather tie from his own pouch of materials and arcane tools, handing it out forward me. I took it, and just about everyone but the Elders looked confused and suspicious as they stared at me. I ignored them and replaced the broken chain with the leather thong, settling the stone once again around my neck and hiding it beneath my armor.
"Did your team find a gold ring as well, Elder?" I asked, and I caught an overly clueless expression on one of Qivni's team. My gaze shifted to her.
Qivni noticed it as well. She bared her teeth at her and slapped her subordinate upside the head. "I said no skimming, Suna!"
"I didn't realize it was part of her tack, Lead!" The younger Sister fumbled to take off her left glove and slip Callitro's ring off, dropping it into Qivni's palm.
Rausery snorted and looked sadistically gleeful. "Spider dung, Suna. You were digging through rocks for equipment recovery. I'll leave your punishment in Qivni's hands, as it was she whom you disobeyed and I don't have the time, but meanwhile—" She gestured for Qivni to return my ring to me.
Despite my red uniform being lost to me, the scorched and shredded pieces on the table, I almost felt complete having my two unique pieces back. I was also more curious about Shyntre's blue pendant than ever before. The thought of a few new strengths were a nice distraction from my weaknesses.
"Where's her cloak?" Rausery asked, taking a second look over the pieces.
"We didn't find it, Elder."
"Kerse gave it to the Illithid as a cover, Elder," I said quietly.
There was a twist to her mouth, part annoyance and part wry grin. "Can't say I blame him. The squidheads aren't the most attractive things to look at."
Most of Rausery's team chuckled.
"Nothing else of note, Elder," Qivni said.
"So that covers everything?" the Elder asked.
"No," D'Shea said, "but we're out of time. We'll have to fill in your Lead on the way."
"Let's go, then. Recovery team, you're coming but only speak when spoken to and keep it to what you've said here. Don't mention the sapphire. You deviate, and you'll regret it."
"Yes, Elder Rausery," the four other Sisters said.
We left soon after.
The first of several statements given to me in briefing turned out to be correct: the Valsharess wanted as few additional ears as possible to hear about the Illithid's very existence in our prison, much less its escape. That didn't mean, however, that there wouldn't be many, many more patrols farther out, and magical warnings set in place should an attack be coming sooner rather than later.
Most seemed to be of the opinion that it would be later. Illithids had often proven to be a very patient variety of enemy.
The queen was taking Her audience in a chamber smaller than the one in which I'd once stood to listen to the plans for the worship ball. It was on the very top floor of the Palace and we'd been required to use a teleportation ring in the basement to be at all subtle about the arrival of eleven Red Sisters and an unbound, male mage.
We arrived in twos and threes, stepping off the ring efficiently to make room for the next arrival: the Elders first, the two Leads, the Sisters according to rank, and the mage last. As it was, Jael, Shyntre and I went together.
The chamber itself was opulent. Purple drapery framed complex tapestries, all themed in some fashion after the Spider Queen, although I noticed a few symbols that either reminded me of those images I'd seen on the Draegloth floor or...of the maps of the Surface that Shyntre had shown me in the Tower? "Forest" as it might look in darkness? Although it could also be abstract art. Maybe it was just me.
Furniture had already been moved to three sides of the room, and everyone was to stand in the central part. Our recently-cleaned boots sank into a thickly-woven rug made of interlinking webs in purple, gold, red, and blue shades. Yellowish candles, so thick that I wouldn't have been able to wrap both hands around them, sat in their gold stands in the four corners of the room. The light was not overwhelming and provided more than adequate light for any Drow to see colors, and the candles would last for whole cycles without burning down and out.
There was a comfortable, purple and gold throne set upon a staging area to one side of the room, the decorations both sensual and threatening in their curves of breast and claw. The throne was empty at the moment.
What wasn't empty was the far side of the room, opposite of where the Red Sisters had arrived. Six Priestesses stood there, only two whom I knew by name, Wilsirathon and Lelinahdara. The former stood with two somewhat younger Priestesses at her flanks, almost as if they expected her to faint and were ready to catch her. Lelinahdara was as far from Wilsira as she could stand and still be with her group.
Kerse's mother had been watching for me as the arrivals stepped into the room. Being of the last to arrive, I had many hostile or curious eyes pinning me and watching every flicker of movement. I sized up my enemy in return.
We'd been struggling when last we'd seen each other, and she'd been ready to do something unspeakable to me in the forming room. The lapsed time hadn't dimmed the hatred in her eyes one shade but she looked much older, and much weaker. There was more gold in her hair and some loose skin around her jaw and neck and arms, as if it had lost significant elasticity in a short time. Her hands seemed bonier as well, showing a vein or two, her knuckles were knobbier. Wilsira at seven hundred, give or take, now had actual wrinkles like Phaelous...or the Valsharess.
We stared at each other for several heavy moments and she looked away first, seeking out D'Shea, then Shyntre. They were standing on near-opposite sides of the room as our twelve stood by rank. The Priestess scanned the rest quickly but did not seem impressed as she smirked, and looked back at me.
I felt something sharp stab at my mind and I gasped before quickly forming a mental wall similar to what had saved me from the unnatural Consort on the fourth floor of the Sanctuary. I knew my pendant was glowing beneath my black armor, I could feel the warmth though no light escaped, and Wilsira growled in frustration as her attack receded and the pain ceased.
I kept her gaze, smiling just a little mostly to unnerve her, but also to let go of some of my own fear. If that was the best sneak attack she had left, then losing Kerse really had destroyed her. My eyes swept the other Priestesses next.
They were overall very hard to read. Lelinahdara was calm and confident, and other than lowering a gaze or two in suspicion and mild dislike of the Red Sisters, the others present excepting Wilsirathon simply waited.
It was quite obvious what we were waiting for when it happened.
We heard a subtle shift of stone and a surge of magic, then the Red Sister Prime and the High Priestess, Roshenthanon, walked out from behind a tapestry—perhaps not the grandest of entries but they did not seem to care much as they held it aside for two more figures to come through.
It was the first time I'd ever seen Auranka, the Drider Keeper, though I'd long known of her existence and her Lolth-given task. No longer an actual Priestess, she held the strength of will and divine power to control and direct the empty-souled monstrosities on behalf of the Valsharess. She was also instrumental in transforming those Drow damned to become a Drider; she was the last Mistress any such Drow would ever know.
I figured there must also be something the Valsharess possessed to control Auranka herself but would likely never find out what it was—otherwise I could not understand how the werespider had not attempted a coup of her own by now. With a force of pure hunters like the Driders at her very fingertips, she might have stood a chance and toppling the queen.
I was told that Auranka actually could transform into a figure similar to a Drider—not quite as large or diseased looking, as I understood it, but then, I didn't have a comparison—or an actual giant spider. Now, however, she looked mostly like a regular Drow with bright copper eyes, white hair, and normal skin, with the exception of a few short, stiff black bristles, not unlike the sensitive hairs on a spider's legs, protruding through the skin and laying back her forearms and crowning her elbows.
Auranka smiled almost playfully at the waiting group and I realized with a start that she had fangs like a spider, as well as dark purple spots around her eyes that easily suggested the potential for multiple sets of eyes. She wore a surprisingly simple purple robe-gown like a Priestess except that it was sleeveless to show her whole arms, more muscular than any Priestess, and her white hair was brushed and loose down her back, possessing no decoration whatsoever. She wore no jewelry.
Looking at her, I could think that the Mistress of the Driders was a Drow who would be at home in the wilderness, and some of that thought made sense as I noted the lack of anything superfluous. If she transformed herself, all those accessories would only break or get in her way.