tagSci-Fi & FantasySurfacing Ch. 11

Surfacing Ch. 11

byEtaski©

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 2014

Hmm. Beats the previous chapter by 3 pages, but there's no bloody attack in this one. May you be in the mood for some serious "coming clean" and character development, dear readers.


*****

I woke beneath the Stars and the light of the smaller Moon in the Western Sky, to the sound of Gavin's usual restless sleep, and to the feeling of being watched.

Despite what should have been plenty of tangible distraction, I still had that moment just as I left reverie to realize that I was between goals in the waking world, and one of them was an unknown that settled heavily on my chest. Was it done or not? Was I too late? How soon did I have to move on and leave here; and could I find out more before I left? How long would Jael and the Ma'ab wait to meet me at Manalar...?

I felt ill and weak lying down, so I sat up slow, and stiff, adjusting my cloak to keep it over my shoulders. I was still nude from my bath in the river, yet the cloak was somehow completely dry and warm. Odd; my clothes had been damp and likely wouldn't totally dry until the Sun rose again and the day became hotter or—

Or until someone hung them from a makeshift frame of branches lashed with fibrous ties, and placed closer to the fire. As they hung now.

I looked across the low fire and could make out the larger shape sitting cross-legged, elbows resting on his knees, and a set of yellow dragon's eyes in a solemn, black-purple face. He was dressed again in his dry cloak and pants but not his weapons harness; looking at his large hands, I noticed a pair of plain gold rings, one on each hand.

Ah, yes, the hybrid that had changed everything in a very few, short moments. He had been watching my travel on the Surface for a long time, since leaving Sarilis's Tower, apparently. Yet at exactly the moment Kurn and I had set to kill each other, he had killed or run off the rest of my group, except for Gavin who had done the only smart thing and removed himself from the fight until it was over. The mercenary had helped me see one of the Valsharess's "penance" tasks—the one set for Gaelan—fulfilled, for a hefty price.

And he had saved me from Ishuna's further punishment; they had saved my pregnancy—he and Gavin had, quite intentionally—though I could not see that this would be for free, either. The Grey Maiden had asked her price on Gavin's behalf; Mourn would ask his for his own.

"Hungry?" he asked in his unfamiliar dialect of Drow.

"Not yet," I answered.

One side of his mouth lifted at the qualifier. "Feeling well?"

"Closer."

He grunted and paused. I did nothing except sit up straighter and rub a sore spot on my back, and check to see that Gavin was still resting. He was, deeply, though his eyes were active beneath his lids. He was dreaming again...likely of that vast grey plane I had seen, with the beautiful woman of infinite gaze, shrouded in tatters...

Mourn said, "What do you remember, Baenar?"

That almost felt like an intrusion.

"Why do you call me that?" I asked, ignoring his question. "Surely you heard Gavin use my name. You know what it is."

This time both sides of his mouth drew up. "I do. But you have not introduced yourself. I've not been invited to use your name."

That was ridiculously formal considering the place we were in... Although it was the first hint I had that he might respect females in some way. Or did he hold this formality with everyone? He hadn't called Gavin by name, either; just "Deathwalker" and such.

I sighed. Better to get it done and out of the way. "My name, as you well know, is Sirana. You may call me such. And you are Mourn. Or Morexxy-something."

"Moryxxyleth," he said again.

I did my best to repeat his Draconic name. "There. We are introduced."

Mourn nodded once. "What do you remember, Sirana?"

"Of what? A lot has happened."

"When the grey mage revealed part of your geas."

I felt an echo of sickness at his words, although it settled down again with a deep breath, and I frowned as tension filled my chest, like it had after I'd found Gaelan's dagger amid the cultist's rubbish. I swallowed and breathed again, looking at the shadow behind Mourn rather than at him.

"I...felt pain, as I am accustomed when attempting to speak something forbidden...but more so. Panic. Failure. I knew I had failed. I was first to suffer and then return to confess the failure to my...queen."

Mourn nodded. "That was the second part of the compulsion. Your ally triggered it by speaking what he deduced."

I shivered, imagining myself on my way back to the Underdark right now, instead of sitting here by this fire. "Alright. Then... after that, it felt like you were trying to rip a snarl out of my hair, right off my scalp. Except you weren't, it was... inside."

The half-breed's eyes were unblinking although I began to notice once again how often he tasted the air, how the secondary membrane protected his eyes from the wood smoke. "Do you understand what happened?"

I nodded hesitantly. "You...'unraveled' the spell using Draconic. Gavin absorbed the magic when it was released."

"Drawing the shock away from your unborn," he added plainly.

"Yes, I will be sure to thank him when he wakes," I said, my tone bordering on irritation as I waited for some comment about how unusual or unwise or uncaring it was for me to be pregnant on the Surface in the first place.

Would he question who or what the sire was, as if it was his business? Would he judge, like Tamuril, that I was putting myself and the baby in such danger, when she could not possibly know what had happened to lead to all this, or that I had to risk much to choose something more than two years of slavery and the condemnation of my firstborn?

Or why I would take the dangers of the Surface over giving any child of mine to Lolth's crippled Priesthood after one Draegloth had all but destroyed their standing?

Mourn tilted his head slightly but ultimately did not comment exactly as I expected. Instead he said, "I have gleaned these past weeks that you were headed to Manalar, and you said you planned to weaken them prior to the Ma'ab arrival. No mention of how you might accomplish this."

I smiled a bit at the opening. "Well, the details need refiguring. You slew most of us, remember? The plan has changed."

"You still mean to go."

"Yes," I said with careful levelness. "Whether you make a contract with us, or not."

"Manalar's weakness is the objective of the contract?"

"One part of it."

Mourn's tail slid along the ground behind him, shifting to the opposite side and coiling up partway. He still watched me unblinking and his focus seemed almost penetrating.

"Would we be acting against the Guild, infiltrating the temple city?" I asked, confident of the answer in what Mathias and Brom had told me.

The half-blood grunted and shook his head. "No." He paused then, and did not go down the path of question I expected right then. "What is the other objective?"

*Not one to be led by the dangling root, I see...*

"Locate and possibly recover another Drow in the same area."

Mourn stared at me for several long moments as the air shifted, blowing a cool breeze in from off the river. He did not say anything immediately to that, and I took the moment to lean and retrieve my waterskin to take a drink.

"The same one who owned the dagger found in the trash?" he asked, indicating the general direction of Gaelan's blade among my own possessions.

I shook my head. "No. A...third Drow. There were three of us sent from the Underdark."

Mourn was highly focused on me. "All of you were sent to cross the Midway, seeking something. Separate things?"

I nodded.

"You sought me."

That was close enough. I nodded again.

"Why did you start at the Ley Tower?"

"I was told Sarilis had many stories of the Surface. He first told me about the Guild, though he called you the 'Eastern Taskers,' for some reason, and about the dark one among them. I knew to travel this way, and I thought to find my two Sisters at the same time."

"Sisters?" He was questioning the accent and emphasis of the familial word.

"Of a Sisterhood. Not from the same mother, but bonded nonetheless with a common purpose."

The half-breed spent a few moments absorbing that; if he was surprised at the possibility of such a thing existing among us, he didn't show it. "What are the other two things sought by your Sisters for Ishuna?"

I smiled wryly, liking a bit better how this conversation was going. "Well, you helped me with one of them. The Warpstone Cult needed to be destroyed."

Mourn's ears moved back slightly and I could tell he was displeased that the ultimate objective had been for the benefit of someone he seemed to have a grudge against.

I shrugged. "Come, at the time, I only needed your help to survive, that was what I asked of you. Gavin and I took care of the pool, we did not need your help to do that."

The half-Dragon growled low, "Interesting to consider that she pays such attention to Chaos boils on the Surface."

I shrugged but said nothing to that. I did have a connection, though; "Mother" knew Cris-ri-phon and Soul Drinker, both of whom had belonged to Innathi, who was killed by Ishuna. I did not know what the Valsharess wanted in aiming for the same thing that Cris did—destroying the chaos cult whenever it cropped up, even twenty years apart—but suddenly I had the thought that I did not even know how long this particular hunt between Mother and Cris had been going on.

"Mother" might have a very long memory. It came to my mind something the chaos minion had said, of that city to the south. V'Gedra, on the edge of a desert. If it still even existed.

"The other one," I said, moving on, "seeks a particular human, a champion of Musanlo."

"The Archbishop?"

I shook my head. "No, younger, and born outside of the church. Probably called a heretic by the temple, though I have no name for him other than 'Godblood.'" Watching Mourn's expression carefully, I perked up as his slit-like pupils grew wider. I straightened up. "You know who he is."

A low sound of disapproval vibrated in his chest. "Your queen seeks a very young Yun-gar, a follower of Musanlo? Why?"

Mourn let me read that this was one topic where he and the queen did not agree on the task, before I even said anything.

"The task given to my Sister was to assassinate him," I said, then quickly added when I saw the spines start to rise on his back, "but it is *not* mine. I only aim to find her alive before she is captured by Witch Hunters. If we find her in time, we can even persuade her to forego the task."

"If she is under a geas like you, it will not be that easy," he said.

I frowned at that thought. "As far as I know, she is under no such compulsion...the queen did not spend time alone with her as she did with me. That I know of."

I thought another moment—no, she had gone straight to the cloister after that second audience with the Valsharess and had trained there the whole time. I was sure. I shrugged. "But even if so, you could undo it. I should think that obvious."

He grunted and paused.

"What of weakening Manalar?" he asked as if testing my truthfulness, and now I hesitated.

This mixed-blood mercenary killed Witch Hunters; he was interested in how we meant to weaken Manalar before the Ma'ab; and yet...he did not want seem to want the Godblood killed. I pondered how to answer with the right balance—

Gavin shifted then, drawing in a sudden, deep breath and I could tell Mourn knew he was awake as well.

"What was the question?" the mage grumbled grumpily. "Manalar and the Sun god have been spoken several times. What are you telling him, Sirana?"

We had been speaking in Drow, but Mourn switched to Common easily enough to accommodate Gavin. "How do you plan to weaken Manalar before the Ma'ab?"

"I plan... to let their own forged blade sever their connection to their god," the necromancer answered with apparent bitterness as he sat up stiffly, his hood back and his skin remaining pale in the Moon and fire light. "Let them destroy their own foundation."

"How so?" the mercenary asked again. I could almost say he was intrigued.

Gavin shifted his gaze to me and he smiled slowly, seeming perfectly wicked for a moment. "Jacob."

Mourn narrowed his gaze at the incomplete answer, but I felt myself tense as a particular delight raced up my spine.

"You mean the soul shard?" I asked.

The apprentice nodded. "Use it instead of the black vial Sarilis gave us. I believe I can attune us as 'non-targets.' It should have a similar result, but not so volatile or dangerous to us."

I could not help but laugh at the full circle this created in my mind's eye—mage-priests to Witch Hunter back to mage-priests—and Gavin's grimace turned into a broader grin. I felt lighter still when I saw that Mourn did not know what we were talking about. So! The sneak had not been lurking around the out-building during the interrogation...

"One of the Witch Hunters at the Inn died by sacrificial ritual," I told him, knowing that Mourn had been there during that attack which had killed Gavin, but perhaps had not linger too long after. "Gavin? What would you call it?"

He said readily, "Nyxtimalization."

"Sounds like an alchemist phrase," Mourn commented and Gavin looked at him, clearly amused by some private thought.

"It involves the distillation of the soul or essence of a person, if you will," the robed Man considered. "So alchemy is not a bad comparison."

"Meaning," the half-Dragon finally seemed to run thin on patience with this line of questioning, "you need to get inside the temple with a 'soul shard'?"

"And throw it into their sacred pool," Gavin finished.

Mourn blinked slowly. Very slowly. The fire crackled and popped as it grew low, needing more fuel before long and I snuffed a bit of the smoke out of my nose. Gavin and I both waited for him to respond.

"Show me the shard?"

Gavin slowly reached inside a leather pouch that he'd not taken off his waist even to sleep and tugged out the black crystal I had not seen since I last stood inside the close, sour-smelling room beside Mathias, standing witness to various morbid talents within my former group.

The black crystal lay benignly across Gavin's wide, gaunt palm, cupped protectively and barely reflecting any light. It seemed almost ordinary, as if he may have plucked it up from the shale side of some obsidian mountain somewhere. Mourn peered at it and whispered a word, after which whatever he saw made his eyes widen significantly and he straightened as if to lean back.

"You keep its aura well hidden, mage."

"I try."

Mourn grunted, thinking more to himself. "What would happen if this landed in their sacred pool?"

"Metaphysically speaking?" Gavin considered. "Perhaps something like...a temporary diverting of a river. Instead of the magic flowing from one realm to a sacred site, it might come from another."

"Specifically?"

"The Greylands."

Another grunt. Another pause. "Getting inside the temple?"

"That plan was destroyed by a certain hired killer hated by all horses," I spoke up with a grin. "So that is...negotiable."

Mourn arched a brow at me. "You will not get inside that place without the Guild."

I kept grinning. "I was hoping you'd say that."

I met Mourn's eyes, certain now that he was convinced. We just had to work out the terms. Before we could, though, he informed us that he needed to sleep.

"You've had your rest, I shall have mine."

I pursed my lips slightly, because negotiating with a fully refreshed half-Dragon was going to be *so* much easier. Well, maybe I would have time to talk to Gavin, then, get some ideas.

"Of course."

"We will stay through the day to repair, clean, rest and eat before we travel in the evening."

"Night travel?" Gavin asked.

I liked the sound of that. The Sun was becoming hotter every day, it seemed.

"You see life auras," I said to him, "like plants? You could see at night, can't you? Your mare now follows your every command."

Gavin looked doubtful. "Plants do not shine with life in the same way as you or I. Perhaps a druid could see that way but not I. Navigating by squirrels and rabbits would leave me with quite a few bruises by morning. The light of a soul does illuminate its surroundings like a torch would."

"Hm," Mourn considered. "Then perhaps you may be able to learn a new Word, mage."

"You mean 'To'vah'? Ha. My mouth is not shaped like yours."

"It need not be. Just knowledge and practice, mage."

Gavin looked intrigued despite himself, and I thought to ask him, "Would it offend your mistress in some way? To learn a Draconic word or two to better serve her?"

The necromancer did give it some thought, but ultimately shook his head. "She knows my thirst for knowledge. It is what has been promised. And if it is useful, that is all for the better."

"Bekir toma."

Gavin looked at Mourn, who blinked back at him.

"Bekir toma. Meditate, practice, focus your will. You know how, mage."

"Bekir toma," Gavin repeated slowly, tasting the words in a way that I would have to say was typical for magical scholars. He was dissecting them in a way I could not consciously describe.

"More stress on 'kir.' Bekir toma."

Gavin repeated it, adding that bit of growl and roll of the tongue, and again, until Mourn seemed satisfied, but as far as I knew, nothing had happened or changed for the Human's eyes.

"What will it feel like when it works?" my ally asked quite reasonably.

"You vision will shift for a brief time. That time can be lengthened with use. I would hope you are seated when it happens. It can be disorienting the first time."

Gavin glanced at me; I wasn't sure if he was skeptical or wary.

"I will leave the fire and the Words to you," Mourn said, collecting a rolled bundle that seemed to have everything he carried with him except for the twin double-blades, which he picked up separately. "I will return when I'm rested."

Having no immediate reason to make him stay—and I had no doubt he had reason to return—we watched him leave without comment, moving farther from the river and into the forest. The privacy to each collect ourselves was welcome.

We sat in silence for a while, as Mourn's footsteps faded quicker than they should have if he had not been trying to conceal sound. Perhaps he would be spying on us the entire time...and yet after seeing how much food Mourn had consumed, I could not but think that he had to rest after such a battle and such a meal, then staying up to watch over us as Gavin and I had rested.

The small Moon was setting and it would be very dark for a little while before the Sun began to rise. Gavin tended the fire and began heating water in his little pot, and began checking over his kits and his books and his mare. He seemed well inside his own mind and I let him be as I finally decided to dress and rearm myself.

I still had a lot of cleaning and mending of my own to do.

We worked in a peace that had been unknown before in our traveling group, and it was a bit strange. No tension or challenging words, no paranoia; that extra energy that had been spent watching those around us wasn't being used now, and...well, I liked it.

I had thought it a necessary price, an inevitable effect of working with others on the Surface to achieve my goals. There would always be the friction and strife and challenge, first for my not being of their race but of being of a challenging gender. I had grown accustomed to it, and even learned to enjoy the snapping and barking.

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