Surfacing Ch. 03byEtaski©
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
The journey continues. All I would want say here is this is a very "talky" chapter...and I couldn't reasonably fit in any sex. Damnit. ;)
It was true that I had the least distance to travel to reach my target than did my Sisters. It did not mean that I would reach it the same day, or anywhere close. We could not choose where our portal broke the Surface of the land, though the fact that it remained a remote location was good for all who had to take time to adapt to the Sun.
I hiked steadily, stopping rarely but doing my best to refrain from hurrying as it would cost me too much energy in the long run for how much food I could carry at once or find along the way.
It was, indeed, a long run.
I spent my first night alone inside a larger tree hollow, as there were no conveniently-placed caves on my stroll. It kept the wind and the dew off of me and that was good enough, if a bit cramped and cold. I did not worry about being seated on the ground or cornered because of my three spiders, who held their vigil on my bracers as I slowed my breathing and closed my eyes in that meditative state prior to reverie.
I heard only one warning in my head that brought me quickly awake later on. My small passengers were agitated, crawling and preparing to leap. Whatever had caused them to wake me was not in view yet, though I could hear the padded, plodding steps.
Soon a skinny, black bear walked in front of me, not much larger than I was and outside of my spider's jumping distance, fortunate for the bear. I stared at the hairy beast, studying the fascinating details as the bear swung its head my way, considering my presence with dull surprise. After a moment it kept moving, rustling and snapping its way through the forest. The spiders slowly came back to a resting, if watchful, stance.
I considered hunting the bear—it was a large opportunity and Rausery had said not to pass anything up. I would be stupid to let it go, wouldn't I?
Except that I did not need more food right now and was weighed down already as we had been properly prepared leaving the cave. Not to mention the extra day or two it might take to clean, butcher, smoke, and otherwise do much more with the corpse only a day into my journey. What would I do with the hide? Stretching it and treating it to prevent rot would take as long as drying the meat, and then I'd have to carry it...
I'd never get anywhere stopping several days for every day spent hiking. Plus, the thing had not yet fattened up after hibernating through the Winter.
Perhaps that was all justification and some impatience on my part, exactly what Rausery had warned about in passing up opportunities, but it was also highly practical. I just did not need the kill. Gaelan and Jael were waiting for me to catch up and I would not do so getting distracted by every piece of meat to waddle by. I nearly preferred the small creatures, just for their convenience of size.
I let the bear go unmolested and closed my eyes again before rising at daybreak. It may have been easier and more comfortable to time my travel with the Moons instead of the Sun...but I did not want to get complacent or lose what endurance I had built up to the harsher light. The weather would only become warmer for months yet, and it was better for the next season that I not do things the easiest way now.
I found myself using every bit of lore Rausery had taught me to find water, and I got used to being the only two-footed creature in the mountains. I heard the cry of wolves far away—amazing how their song traveled such distances—and could not count the number of seed-seeking and insect-eating birds fluttering overhead or tree rodents scampering from limb to trunk to limb.
As often as the noise they made startled me, though, they also led me to many hidden sources of new seeds—bits that Rausery had called it 'plant meat' for the good it did to brain and body—and non-poisonous insects, both for me and for my spiders. Honestly, it was quicker and much less work than hauling a slaughtered bear carcass around would have been.
I quickly grew delighted with the variety of mushrooms to collect early each dawn as well; this was an area of harvest in which I had practical knowledge even before Rausery. I could draw knowledge from the Underdark, there were many similarities, and even the toxic ones had their uses to me.
I could tell the difference whether or not I had ever seen the specific fruiting body before. If I held on up and inhaled gently, slowly through my mouth, then a particular tingle along the roof of my mouth would separate the poisonous from the nonpoisonous. The likenesses were comforting, and I looked forward to testing some of the poisonous aspects of the unknown ones on a few creatures. Maybe there was something new I could bring back to cultivate.
By the third day, heavy clouds rolled in over me and I had more trouble knowing my direction by which side the Sun struck me. Even using general landmarks and memorizing the shape of some of the farther slopes, I had to climb several trees to get a higher view to make sure I was staying on track.
Sometimes I would have no choice but to follow a deep, rock-strewn ravine up it or down rather than scale the dangerous, sheer vertices on either side. This worked against my keeping direction as well, slowing me down. I was irritated with myself that I could not sense the ley lines as well as another Drow might have; it would have helped overcome the challenge of the clouds. I still pressed on.
I did not remember my dreams that night, but I woke to find my cheeks wet and chilled. As I wiped them with a gloved hand, I considered numbly that the only reasonable source for the moisture would have been... tears.
Had my eyes been weeping? Why? Something irritating in the air, perhaps...or a mind-body response to a dream? If that latter was the case, I was glad that I did not remember any dreams. I did not need the distraction or burden on my mind while navigating the Surface wilderness.
On the fourth day, I followed the crest of a mountain beside yet another valley; this one held a visible length of silvery, weaving water. By midmorning I felt something maddening on the very edge of my senses, like the high whine of those tiny, blood-sucking insects that caused itchy welts, which my spiders worked hard to keep off me during a warm evening.
This noise went much deeper, however, seeming to trill at the base of my skull. Inside my skull.
I wondered if I had found a ley line? Magic was not my strong suit, but I was still of a magical race and capable of the Noble abilities. If Gaelan had been here, she would have probably been certain of its location yesterday. Presumably, I could follow it now straight to the Necromancer.
Easier thought than executed.
I had more luck keeping my direction using the physical signs than trying to follow that low, buzzing whine, even as the Sun was still blocked by clouds. I did my best to keep patience and balance the physical and the metaphysical as I noted changes in the landscape. There were fewer evergreens and pines and more newly-budding deciduous trees and bushes. It felt as if I was going down in elevation as well; the air did not seem quite as thin at times.
The underbrush presented more obstacles amongst the younger trees, though there were copses of taller tress also that covered the forest floor with deeper shadow, spreading their branches wide overhead and blocking the Sunlight to the smaller plants. New leaves were forming en mass. The shade was something of a relief to my eyes and I moved from group to group of taller trees, still zigzagging back and forth over the ley line by "feel."
It was my nose that warned me first; I stood downwind of it, and I smelled a combination and unusual richness of plants, flowers, and herbage that, so far, had not shown themselves to grow naturally together. It implied cultivation, which led directly to the presence of another sentient.
There was no obvious Tower jutting out of a mountainside within sight, so I could safely assume the "green-thumb" was not my death mage target.
Avoid entirely, or observe? What benefit might there be to approaching? The obvious answer was the safe drinking water. There was a garden; it followed there would be a well or a pond or access to a stream or river.
Would it be worth it? It would depend on who lived here, and how many.
I stalked forward slowly, taking my time and sometimes staying put in mottled shade where the birds even forgot I was there at times. More grasses seemed to be growing here in green, yellow...even orange and red. I saw far more colors amongst the flowers as I realized there was a discernible—if subtle—pattern to the placement of the bushes. I would not say it had any rigid design, but there was a visual appeal and a balance to it that simply didn't appear in the natural state that I had been studying for weeks.
The loose garden also had a well. I saw the raw, flat stones laid in a rough, circular form atop each other, defining its boundary so one would not fall in amongst the grass. I saw a bucket and rope as well.
It was the most dangerous source of water I'd found yet. Unfortunately by my estimate from atop the last crest, that silver, winding river was still half a day's journey away and in the wrong direction from what the ley line was telling me to go.
Right here, on the other hand, I believed that I was standing directly *on* the ley line. What were the chances that a non-magical sentient would build a well right on a ley line?
I stepped laterally over a strand of woody vine twining up a massive tree and felt it suddenly twist tight around my ankle like a snare trap.
The chances were very good then.
Even as some unseen force caused the vine to move like a snake and yank me off my feet, I still drew and held tight to one of my long fighting daggers. I aimed an angled strike just above my foot—which was now held above my head—and severed the vine, dropping a short distance but landing with a groan onto several knobby tree roots. I loosened my spiders' pouch before I did anything else and they scrambled out and took up position about my neck as I replaced my hood over my head; they were at perfect jumping level if needed.
Even as the vine shrank back against the tree, I did not doubt that I had set off some magical alarm elsewhere. Flee or fight?
Only one body came within my immediate view but I still dodged behind a tree because this one had a bow.
"Cian loesdra?" a female voice cried, projecting well for the distance. "Siene il-soan!"
I did not know the words, I knew that immediately, but...it almost sounded as though I should know the language. Some of the inflections were familiar. Certainly I understood the demands: "Who goes there? Show yourself!" It was the same tone the Duergar had taken when he sensed me.
So now what? A bow was trained on me should I try to bolt. If I could bargain for water, that would be ideal. I was not burning for a fight, though I might have to anyway. My physical appearance would not help me no matter who stood with arrow nocked.
"Do you speak Common?" I asked, not sure if she could hear as I was not used to shouting so loud in open space.
There was a pause and I was almost certain she had not understood me, if she knew I'd spoken at all.
Then she said, "Yes. Who are you?"
"I seek only water." I ignored the question in favor of my purpose. That was more important anyway. If the other was smart, she would realize that.
"Only?" she asked. Her voice was tense, fairly young, but not without experience.
"Yes. Only. Will you bargain?"
"Not with one who hides and will not tell her name! Show yourself! Are there more?"
Those were fairly pointless demands, I thought. She wouldn't know if I told the truth, I did not know if she was alone, and she was the one ready to strike first.
My own voice seemed to echo in my ears as I kept projecting as she did. "No more, but you aim a weapon, as others may. Why expose myself?"
A long stretch of quiet followed as I considered what to offer next. The longer that nothing changed, the more I wondered whether reinforcements could be flanking me...except I truly did not hear anything out of the usual.
They would have to be much better at stealth than she who was standing in plain view in the greyish daylight; they would have to be on the same level with me. I sensed no one else.
If no reinforcements were coming, she had to be getting more and more nervous as the impasse continued. I myself was content to wait until something came to mind. Here, I would not get impatient. I would be able to hear if she took a step, but I also had to peek carefully on the shadowed side of the tree to confirm her presence.
I saw blonde hair and a slender form, of a height to my own perhaps. The tracers in my vision were bad at this distance as she stood outside of any shadow; it blurred the detail for me, but I could tell that she wore daytime forest colors and I believed from her stance that she knew how to use that bow. I reminded myself that blonde hair did not mean old; it was silver and grey up here that indicated advanced age. She would be younger and much more able-bodied; two or three decades old in a Human.
From lifelong-habit, I checked the tree limbs above me and perhaps it was both good and bad that I did. A bird of prey—a falcon, I believed—was watching me with eerie intensity in its yellow gaze. Our eyes met for some heavy seconds then it emitted a piercing screech and launched itself back out of the trees and into the garden, flying straight for the blonde figure. It landed on a stump near her and cried again.
"Drow!" she cried in return, and I could hear the anger and fear in her voice.
Not demon. So I'd been made for what I am, and immediately. How would she know?
*Do not jump, little ones, the bird will eat you,* I thought as I quickly dropped my heavy pack and pulled out two web pellets in one hand, still gripping one long dagger in the other.
As my eyes closed, I felt the tiny brush of my beasties' legs as they settled back farther out of view, and I Called Darkness on myself, sprinting out low and to the same side the bird had been perched. The arrow struck a tree near my head—a very good blind shot, but not good enough—and I kept moving out in an erratic pattern, tumbling inside the Darkness to where it would take sheer luck for the bird or the arrow to hit their mark.
I had plenty of space to move and as the familiar flutter of wings came over my head again, I pitched the web pellet just ahead of where the falcon actually was. Its angry shriek was painful to my ears as it ran into the pellet, which then broke and splattered magical web around it. I heard when it crashed into the ground, squawking piteously about the same time another arrow sank into the dirt near my feet.
"Pilla!" my target cried, dropping her bow and drawing a flint blade far too late, unprepared for how fast I'd closed the distance.
"Worry for yourself," I cooed in Drow as the Darkness followed with me and enveloped the terrified, blonde archer.
She could not fight blind as I could and her aim was laughable as I simply disarmed and disabled her, sending the flint knife into the tall grass and sweeping her legs out from under her. She grunted as she landed.
"Nae!" she screamed from the ground as I pitched my second web pellet at her and immobilized her next.
Before I could do anything else, however, I heard a sound almost like a branch snapping. Something also flung soil and dirt into my face. Suddenly a thing here in the dark was trying doggedly to trip me up.
"Li'shentinae!" my target cried, and I finally recognized an elven magical command.
That was why she knew my race on sight. She was my cousin.
I felt something wrap tight around my thigh and realized it had a set of spikes that quickly punctured my leathers and then me, and I grunted in pain. Another three such torture-ropes wrapped around my upper arms and around my throat, pulling me to the ground the same moment the spikes started tearing into my skin. I had barely hooked two fingers into the rope around my throat, able to breathe for now. Whether the vines had missed my wrists or not, it was fortunate that they were free now or I would be choking now with a spike in my neck.
By the scent I realized they were more of the woody vines like the one I'd severed first from my ankle, but with thorns. They were constricting like snakes to cut off all circulation from my limbs and choke me at the same time.
What a creatively vicious way to kill someone. I was impressed because I saw only one way out: poison the spellcaster. *Bite her!*
My guardians eagerly jumped out and down the vine wrapped around my throat. In the dark I heard the blonde elf yelp in pure surprise as she was spider-bitten, unable to defend against the surprise attack.
"You have very short time," I grunted in Common as one of the thorns pressed into the hollow of my throat, scraping my skin and seeking to silence me as my hand trembled to keep my windpipe open. "Release me...I will give you antidote."
"You lie!" she screamed; her tongue and lips had started to swell from the sound it. "You have no time....you die, your bird dies, if you wait."
A single moment passed before the constriction stopped and the thorns came back out, the vines unwinding quickly, withdrawing back into the earth. I wasn't sure if she'd released me because she wanted to live or because she could no longer concentrate on her spell, but I heard her choking and moved forward quickly, sightlessly cutting enough webbing away from her body before dropping my dagger and reaching for small, fiberstalk cylinder at my belt.
A quick, sharp twist shed the casing from one, pre-scored end of the cylinder and exposed the finest glass needlepoint that our crafters could manage. It was clear and hollow, and contained what the elf needed to neutralize the venom and prevent the oncoming seizures. I still needed the largest muscle possible in which to inject it, though.
Knowing she'd have even more trouble breathing, I flipped her over and put a knee on her back to hold her down as I yanked down the loose trousers she wore, my gloved hand still able to confirm one naked buttock. I jammed the glass needle in near the top and her whole body jerked in pain; I snapped the tip inside and pressed the rubber plunger, letting the anti-venom loose into her system. It would be a much faster effect than trying to swallow something, of which I doubted she was capable anyway.
I pulled her pants back up and rolled her over again so her lungs wouldn't be working against the ground to draw air. Meanwhile, my spiders had returned to me and retreated back into their pouch.
I mentally prepared myself before I released the Darkness and stood beneath the clouded Sky once again. I had to blink for several moments before I could see anything at all, wincing at the pain, but I knew that the blonde archer was not moving and was not a threat anymore.
She managed, laboriously, to breathe on her own, but that was all. The rest of her body was taken in small, shivering tremors. I could get close enough to study her.
Her eyes were open and animal-like in their fear as they moved everywhere around, unable to focus on me. They were bloodshot from the venom, but her irises were the same green color as the leaves on the trees. I saw only three sets of fang-bites around her collar and none on her face. Everything else was covered up. My guardians could each bite twice before they ran dry of venom for most of the day; it was good to know they could still bite again, if needed.