Surfacing 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. (c) Etaski 2013
Further Note: As I noted recently in the comments on Sufferance Ch 15, the brain-slip of the definition of "cycle" continues to dog me and is a necessary use as we're back in the Underdark. It's short for "sleep-wake cycle," i.e. 1 day.
This chapter took a while to complete because it is very "dense." Nearly everything that happened before affected this chapter as the survivors take stock to determine their best options; as is the bread-and-butter for the Drow, it's complicated. It required a lot of rereading on my part, just so (hopefully) the reader wouldn't be required to do the same. I hope you enjoy.
There were rare times such as this where she didn't mind being alone.
It didn't happen much anymore and she wouldn't want to go back to where she'd come from, knowing what she knew now. But... to not have any novices to train, Leads to direct, or any of those middling, competent girls to check on, for just as long as it took to stride from point first to point next, as she did now returning to the City...? These moments contained an echo of her earliest self-reliance and independence, when she was beholden to no one no matter that she heard again and again that she must feel fear to survive.
That was a load of lizard shit. Becoming too accustomed to fear, believing it necessary to be wary and respectful only led to blindness, a seized mind and stiff muscles. How did one even see incoming danger that way, much less avoid or confront it as necessary?
Rausery had been one of the few Red Sisters first approached by the Prime herself, sponsored by her, though it did not make her climb up through the Red Sisters any easier. In fact, it had made it harder, especially when it came time to take her "Elder's" place—Shana, a Drow just about the same age as she was. The calm under stress, the fact that she did not think about anything but the moment was what made the difference in the end.
There was a middle ground between aiming to win and fearing to lose, a center where one felt neither. The still-point. Inviting that moment, that meditation, took practice. By the time the Prime had shown her sharp blade and then-younger face to an orphaned, unanchored, very common Drow in the dank alleys of the City, the still-point had already become a trusted companion to a young Rausery.
If Elder Rausery had to rely on any besides herself—and the centuries had proven that she had to in order to grow—then the foundation for that reliance, that "trust," had to be in the only way she knew: the other had to have self-trust, had to be able to experience their own still-points. They must have the ability to let the future crystallize in the moment and not fear it happening.
There were very few, but she had hand-selected them over time, and they all still lived.
Rausery did not think Sirana had truly found that point yet, and thanks to Kerse she may never reach it now. Nonetheless, she kept her balance and agility her own way, in a manner that Elder D'Shea never could; she had the same foresight and intuitive deduction, yet was not blinded by the study of strong magic.
If nothing else, the novice—returned and with the experience on the Surface to back her—could grow into quite the "political face" when the Red Sisters needed to show themselves. She would be the wit and focus of Jaunda but the inspirations of D'Shea, adding to that her own charm and levity in the face of intimidation, her own flexibility in her own games.
Rausery sincerely hoped that it would happen. D'Shea would need someone to take Jaunda's place, after all, and then someone to replace herself. Whether she wanted either or not.
The Elder also reflected that she had not really had any time to watch Jael. That novice was barely a drip into the pool, and most of her real potential only showed itself when Sirana was involved. Beyond that, she could have been one of those middling, competent Red Sisters as stubborn and firm-jawed as Thena or Panagan...before meeting Sirana.
There had been the hard piece for the Elder to chew on while she was training the girls up top. Several competent Sisters had slipped against one clever novice on whom they had taken their one moment to abuse very roughly....and then that novice refused to cower. Next, their new feisty novice, Jael, bloomed for several moments next to that same young Sister—despite having vastly different temperaments and opposite Elders.
Jael's actions against Kerse, while certainly far too driven and impulsive for her own good and sealing her young fate with the queen, had still impressed Rausery on some warrior's martial level. Jael was a rare case where instead of calm, it was the force of passion brought about that coveted still-point almost at will, where there was no fear and pure action; a berserk dancer that the Elder would have wanted to nurture farther, to see how far she could go.
So why had Sirana inspired that kind of response in Jael? Was it the nearness in age and new status, the temporary alliance made on the battlefield against the illithids, or the spying Sirana had done on Jael? The defense against Thena? Some really good sex, despite Jael fighting against everyone else?
Alas, Rausery would likely never learn; it did not matter now because Jael would not return. She was too young and too underdeveloped to survive her task; she was lost, whatever potential that the Elder had not yet seen evaporating beneath the Sunlight.
Sirana might try something, might figure out a way to work her compulsion and her assignments in favor of, at best, discovering what happened to her Sisters. The loss might actually be good for her to understand at last. After all that Sirana had done before to cheat the trials and help Jael survive, it had not done the younger Drow a true service in the end.
Rausery could have worked with Jael's survival of her trials, but her loss now was more likely and always had been. Sirana was naïve enough that she had not wanted to believe or accept that she could not choose who would pass their tests of will, those tests that depended solely on the candidate. Not her. Rausery had long ago learned to accept it.
Which was why, after she returned to the City, she would forget about the three on the Surface. And she would wait.
Rausery eventually stepped outside the transport circle, scanned her surroundings with all her senses, found herself to be alone. The circle was warded and hidden in in a comfortably small cave that had only three spokes of tunnels; one too small for anything larger than a crawling infant, another only enough for individuals going single-file, and the main one just large enough for lizard and rider.
The Elder Drow listened to the pulse deep inside her chest and head, much stronger now and pulling her home. The two larger tunnels eventually met to lead to the same portal outside one of the main trade routes to and from the City, but it was located very high up on a sheer wall, camouflaged with magic, and required a climbing lizard or some other gear to enter or exit it.
The infant-sized tunnel in the hollow of stone was usually ignored or unseen. Now, though, Rausery drew out a message pellet and broke it, whispering into the air as the words disappeared down the burrow hole, and she waited patiently, leaning against the stone.
In good time, she heard a response back. She frowned in consideration.
She drew a matte blade and used the hilt to tap a brief tattoo against the stone near the small hole and waited only for the distant sound of a single tap back before leaving the cave through the single-file tunnel.
She would keep a good pace all the way back and return by the end of the cycle, evading the sentries simply because she could.
It would seem she had been gone long enough.
Rausery maintained all patience, almost meditating as she reported to the Prime first, even though it was D'Shea she most wanted to see. None had sensed her slip into the cloister and the Prime had her own entrances and exits from her quarters anyway, ones she would share with her Elders but no one else. The Prime would be updated and advised well before any of the other Red Sisters knew that their Elder had returned from the Surface.
"Full training, I see," the Prime commented, stepping to pour two glasses of water from a pitcher at her desk and handing one to Rausery. She sipped first as was customary. "You did not skimp on the time."
"As the Valsharess bid us," the Elder responded, her back straight and gloved hand holding the metal cup before she gratefully drank the entire glass but did not expect a refill.
The Prime nodded and approached her subordinate, light copper eyes scanning the mottled, black-and-grey uniform and cloak, her delicate nostrils lifting a bit as she inhaled. Rausery knew that her Surface garb still smelled "exotic" even after traveling the Underdark for quite a long time before reaching this point. The Prime had mentioned it before after the first few missions up top, before she had quite so much gold as streaking her hair as she did now, but had since stopped bringing it up. Rausery knew that the Prime still did not like the smell, though.
"Did you favor any of them?"
"Not in knowledge, Red Sister Prime. They trained together."
"What about resources? What's your evaluation for survival?"
Rausery shook her head once. "Sirana, perhaps, Prime. She still has D'Shea's enchanted spiders and the wizard's anti-infectives. She also took best to the acclimation."
"Why do you say?"
"She was curious, more than anything."
The Prime sipped on her water; even for one with centuries of martial experience, she seemed more inclined to practice the Court mannerisms in her own quarters. "One would think too much curiosity would be a hindrance up there."
Rausery's lips drew into a closed smile. "Not too much, Prime. Just right. Rather like down here, you know when not to stick your nose to close to the teeth but still find more than the others."
The much-older Drow allowed a small smile of her own and huffed a single breath for a laugh. "I wager you would know, Rausery. I shall report to the Valsharess on your behalf. Thank you. Your Red Sisters are waiting for you."
The Elder bowed and turned with purpose to take her leave of the Prime's quarters and into the main body of pathways within the cloister. She could stop by her own room to change uniforms...she weighed the benefit of being seen in her reds in the dark, or smell as she did now.
One was definitely different enough to gain one's attention.
Rausery passed the hall leading to her own quarters and went instead toward the strategy room on a gut feeling. A moment later the reason surfaced: in her absence, either Qivni or D'Shea was probably there at this time of the cycle.
That logical leap was supported the moment she felt the ward that had been placed there. The Elder had no patience for it and keyed herself up, hyper-focusing and calling a very familiar force of will forward. The magic strained and seemed to shriek in her ears for a moment before Rausery unraveled it within a few seconds and nearly shoved the door open as it shuddered and hesitated to open fast enough. Candlelight spilled out into the dark hallway and she squinted hard to look inside.
Qivni was there and had already whipped her head around, wide-eyed and braced for attack...until the moment she recognized her Elder. Her tight bun was as severe as ever, sharp features and full uniform complete and familiar. She bowed immediately.
"Elder, you've returned!"
Rausery strolled in, allowing the door to close behind her and walked over the open space leading to the clustered area on the other side leading to the altar, magic circle, and tactics table. She could see a few maps open now and some hand-written notes. The fiberstalk quill was still in her Lead's red-gloved hand.
Qivni's eyes seemed to deepen with a surge of emotion looking at her, even though her face remained like stone. Rausery knew how loyal Qivni was, how good of an enforcer she was, but she wondered how she had faired needing to call some shots of her own? She had the practical skills that D'Shea tended to overlook in her far-seeing; the Lead had been told before Rausery had ever left that she would have to step up.
"I...am glad you're back, Elder," the Lead said in her familiar low timber.
Rausery smirked. "In a word: how has it been?"
Qivni promptly considered one word over any others. "Frustrating."
The Elder chuckled and nodded stepped closer to the maps and the notes Qivni had out beneath the two candles on the table. She noted the location. "Interesting. Haven't been to that area in a while."
"Jaunda traced some of the Illithid's trail there. It's gone cold, though."
"How is she doing?"
Qivni squinted her eyes briefly but answered, "Well. Non-stop. Researching. Exactly as I would do in her boots."
"But probably with more fuck breaks," Rausery winked at her Lead and Qivni pursed her lips.
"Speaking of which, Elder," she began.
"D'Shea caught Thena, Panagan, Moria, and Suna with the Consort, about seven cycles after you left."
Rausery attempted to appear austere, despite the temptation to grin. That would have been quite a while ago and Qivni looked so serious as to almost look cute.
"She threw them around solitary. Broke bones. She let them wait four cycles before healing them, and...she did something to them. They won't talk to me about it, Elder."
The urge to smile vanished. That was not what she had expected to hear. What in the Abyss was Varessa thinking? Had the sorceress gone insane after her compulsion was lifted?
"More likely they can't," Rausery heard herself growl, forcing herself to focus past the initial wave of anger. "Where is the Consort?"
"Her quarters. No one has seen him in months."
And the Prime hadn't seen fit to give her even a hint of this before dismissing her?
"Hm. To your knowledge, Qivni, did the Prime take notice of the situation?"
"I cannot see that she does not know, Elder," her Lead said. "But either she spoke with D'Shea in private about it or...said nothing."
Rausery realized that her Lead had yet to call D'Shea by her title, or refer to the Prime as such. Not good.
"What have you been doing?"
"Maintaining your records, adding to them, collecting reports," Qivni said. "You...have a lot to read, Elder."
She quirked one snowy eyebrow. "Anything in particular stand out?"
"Most of the Consorts not killed in the Purge are now dead from abuse by the Nobles, Elder. There are still two, but the Sisters in the field say it is only a matter of time."
"Also something the Valsharess and Prime do nothing about?"
"They've abandoned them. The Nobles were in unrest but have settled some since the worship ball four weeks ago."
"The what?" Rausery blinked at it being that soon. "With what bait?"
"Five wizards, actually. They put on quite a color show and the Nobles enjoyed being given royal quarters for an eve with a Red Sister standing guard. They were not allowed to take the wizards with them, there will be no in-home residencies with our magic-users, but the chosen and only the chosen are invited back to the Palace to enjoy the same luxuries every fifteen cycles until conception. I've been helping to organize the guard."
Alright. Rausery had known something had to fill the void, and so something did. It was rudimentary compared to what they had had before, but it would evolve from there.
"And one of those wizards is Elder D'Shea's son, right?"
Qivni nodded, her expression somehow turning more severe. "He distracted D'Shea during the ball. On purpose."
"Of course it's on purpose," Rausery sighed.
"You have to talk to him, Elder. He'll listen to you."
"He's probably acting under the Valsharess's order, Qivni, have you thought of that? Otherwise the Prime would have done something by now."
There was a long pause, then Qivni said carefully, "Are they targeting D'Shea, Elder?"
"Obviously. Though I'm not assuming it's to see her dead."
"What else, if not death?"
Rausery shook her head. "Hold that thought, Qivni. Can't say yet, I need to catch up more."
Her Lead pressed her lips together so tightly the blood left them for a moment, her flesh a lighter purple until she spoke again. "Elder...D'Shea doesn't have anyone to balance her anymore. She didn't have you, Jaunda's gone most of the time, Gaelan was sent to die, she doesn't even have Sirana anymore. I...tried, Elder, but I...we..."
"I know. Let's clean this up and see the girls first."
Qivni knew exactly which "girls" she meant and took to the order to clean up here and leave efficiently as always. It was one reason why Rausery liked having her at her side.
Thena and her main three were glad to see their Elder returned again as well. They looked hail, they moved normally, and claimed to be in top fighting form. Qivni could back that up as having seen them practice and also sending them out on several tasks since the incident in solitary confinement.
As expected, they could not tell her what had happened. They remembered, and they wanted to tell her, but they couldn't move their tongues in a useful way.
*Damn you, D'Shea, damn you.*
Rausery spent the required time reassuring them of her calm, her ability, and her basic support before she gestured for Qivni to follow her into D'Shea's half of the Sisterhood's cloister.
*Where was Elder D'Shea, last you knew?* Rausery signed to her Lead.
*Out,* was all Qivni could say, and all she needed to say.
*Prepare for a headache.* Rausery smirked.
Her Lead nodded, accepting.
D'Shea's ward was among the toughest to break, and it took both Rausery and Qivni to do it, taking turns tagging the resonant song and pulling out the threads they needed. Sweat had broken out on their foreheads and Rausery was pretty sure that she smelled copper in her nose by the time it finally released its hold on the other Elder's door.
*Limited time now,* Rausery signed and Qivni nodded, then winced as her head must have been throbbing as much as the Elder's.
D'Shea would have felt it, and depending on how far away she was, the two had to get whatever they could while they could get it. Still...her Lead didn't look good, and she even looked blurry for a second.
*Catch your breath,* Rausery added, needing a moment as much as her accomplice, though she did well to hide it.
Qivni breathed in slowly and out again, rubbing her temples and closing her eyes. The Consort would be sensitive enough to magic to know they were out here and would be preparing to meet them. Rausery had a few guesses how he might react, but most of them were harmless.
Soon enough Qivni opened her eyes and nodded once, slowly, with a determined look on her face. Rausery pushed open the door.
Her peer's quarters smelled good, and the colors of red, blue, and soft orange jumped out at her, giving her pause. A shaded, heatless glow that mimicked candlelight shone at the back, letting her see the relatively generous quarters clearly without the light whiting out her sight. It still made her head ache behind her eyes.
Rausery noticed quickly how clean and how very organized, balanced, symmetrical it all was. This was a bit of a turn from what Rausery knew of D'Shea's quarters before. Both Elders tended to kept their rooms at the basic level of order to maintain the respect of disciplined Red Sisters, but what she saw went more than a little beyond that.