tagSci-Fi & FantasySufferance Ch. 13

Sufferance Ch. 13


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

There is only one graphic, short sex scene in this chapter, and it is one of the few I do not intend to be generally erotic (no judgment on those who still may find it so, though). It is included as a different perspective for the main character, part of her growth.

And so it begins, the long rise to the cliff's edge. I hope you guys still enjoy the dialogue, there's a fair bit of it before (as a friend of mine said) we get to "blow up the Death Star."

Enjoy. :)


Elder D'Shea summoned me at an odd time and in an odd way, not long after the start of my education at the Tower. I had been grooming the gaurro—the short, sure-footed beast of burden that I had taken from the Duergar—mostly because it had been a long time since I'd seen it or thought about it and what I associated with it.

I had been lost in my thoughts, some of which I was sure weren't mine originally but seemed to make sense in retrospect, and working on either combing or snipping out matted hairballs on the gaurro. I was the only one with which it seemed calm— without having to use some kind of will spell like Jaunda had used once to keep it still while she bend me over—and few others cared to work with the beast, either to use it, exercise it, or groom it.

Its tension around the lizards probably meant it would die of stress before too many months or years passed, unless it could adapt. If I could have argued more value for it, perhaps I could have gotten it different quarters—although space was at a premium in the cloister and I thought they would just slaughter it instead if I made such arguments.

D'Shea had come to find me at the stables then. That was what was odd. I sensed another presence, turned my head, and there she was standing at the wide doorway, dressed in her reds, with a hand resting on her hip. Usually I either heard a message in my ear, or found Gaelan, Jaunda, or any other Sister tapping my shoulder to send me to D'Shea's quarters—where sometimes, if she wasn't there, I would stand and wait whole marks on a candle for her to arrive.

This was different enough to cause a sort of tension in my stomach not unlike the gaurro's, surrounded by creatures under which it might normally be prey.

"Elder D'Shea," I acknowledged first, setting down my shears and bowing, standing at attention.

My Elder didn't respond but chin-nodded toward the guarro. "You can still ride that?"

I glanced at it. "My legs are a little long, but yes, Elder."

"Do. I'll mount up as well." She reached for a bridle. "We'll ride out a while. I'd like to talk to you."

My first thought, truthfully, was that she was taking me out there to kill me, which sent to me wondering what I'd done? Or rather, which *particular* thing I'd done that had finally broken her tolerance. It was not a common practice for us to go on pleasure rides.

"Yes, Elder." I moved to get the unique tack that belonged only to the Duergar's beast and started putting it on.

I wondered if I would fight her should the time come for her to attack? How would she choose to do it? I knew what mostly likely happened if I lost. What would I do if I somehow won? I couldn't fathom...

"We are just talking, Sirana, put those thoughts out of your mind, if you please. I'll not have any misunderstandings leading to stupid choices. You'll return alive if you don't act on one."

"Um. Yes, Elder."

I didn't ask how she knew; I could have telegraphed it physically, she could have used her arcane talents to read it at the fore of my mind, or she could just know how my mind worked. Any were plausible and it did not matter how. In some way, I'd wanted her to read that worry. There were prices to pay for keeping secrets, and she was not exempt.

I didn't like riding the gaurro so near D'Shea's lizard; the two were even more aware of each other than she and I. It wasn't the most comfortable ride, either; I had to curl my legs up and lie more long-ways along its back to distribute my weight and have better balance. It exposed my back and hampered my response time. Perhaps that was why D'Shea had insisted on the dwarf's mount.

I'd say it looked silly, but I also knew that I was a comparatively light burden for it compared to the compact dwarf that had been its master before. I guided the beast to demonstrate for D'Shea a bit of what it could do. True, it could not climb walls or reach high tunnels like the lizard, but it was much quicker and more nimble than the reptile over rocky, rough terrain. D'Shea's mount could only slither up, over or around the boulders.

The gaurro could spring and jump, probably even higher if it weren't carrying me. Plenty of times I moved ahead and stopped to wait for D'Shea. Truthfully, if we could breed or create a taller version of the gaurro, I'd rather have that as a mount than the lizard.

Eventually we reached an area outside the sentry point on the edge of the wilderness, where darkness was near complete and bubble of silence but for the throb of the earth almost seemed louder than the bustle of the City. We kept going until we reached a source of running water, which at least provided more sound and a way to muffle voices and steps. We let our mounts drink—the gaurro much more than the lizard—and I hobbled mine farther away before returning to D'Shea's side.

My eyes had adjusted to the ever-present waves of energy and I could still make out D'Shea's form separate from the water-carved stone around us. I watched her pat her mount's scaled shoulder and lean against it in thought; it accepted her weight and didn't move much. Her energy at the middle of her chest was brighter, as if she was tense; mine was likely the same to her eyes.

*Jaunda reported some time ago that you had found a ward on your Hunt with her,* D'Shea signed.

She waited this long to ask me about it? That had been weeks ago; it had never been mentioned. I had assumed Jaunda had faced the consequences for that one after I suffered quite a long walk back to the cloister as one big bruise, before I could obtain any healing draughts.

*True, Elder,* I signed back slowly.

*Could you judge its power without your bracers?*

I paused slightly. *Yes, I could feel its power very clearly.*

*She reported that you touched it without your bracers.*

I grimaced. *For two moments, Elder. I sprinted away when it grew too much to bear.*

D'Shea nodded. *Why touch it at all?*

I shrugged. *I wanted to test myself, Elder.*

She smiled just slightly. *The Drider. Did you sense that?*

*No, Elder. I heard it.*

*Fortunate for you. It prefers an ambush attack first, did you know that?*

*I deduced that when it screamed as soon as I detected it, Elder.*

*Its second response, to make you stand still a bit longer.*

*I understand, Elder.*

*And did you?*

I shook my head. *I ran and Called Light. Fortunately it did not loose webs at me.*

She shook her head. *A common gossip that I will dispel now. Its webs are not a ranged weapon. It has the same use as a true spider, to set a trap and to bind its prey only after it has caught it.*

I frowned. *Then why did it not block the cave openings with a web trap, Elder?*

D'Shea shook her head. *The only possibility is Auranka forbid it when she placed it there. Otherwise you would have encountered a web either entering or exiting.*

*It would seem that would encourage more creatures to stumble into the Drider's lair, Elder, as I did.*

*The Drider must eat. Or would you describe the entrances as shrinking too small for it to leave the area?"

*No, Elder. Not for a while.*

She actually continued her thought. *Another reason could be that the place is visited often enough that a web trap would be inconvenient.*

I watched her face. *'Could be'? Do you not know what is being guarded, Elder?*

She smirked and did not answer that. *Come with me.*

We left our mounts and she led me up a short climb, through a tunnel that split in two directions. She chose the right, and we eventually squeezed through a very thin crease—my weapons almost got hung up in it—to enter a tiny, dead-end cave with trace amounts of luminous lichen that would help to read facial expressions in the dark.

Upon entering, I also sensed more than one ward, and after another moment, separated out four distinct threads of magical guardianship: two to the right, one to the left, and one on the ceiling.

D'Shea tapped my shoulder to get me to look at her. *Remove your bracers and give them to me.*

I hoped that I knew what my Elder intended, and removed the magical tools efficiently, handing them over. She stepped over to a pockmark in the wall, placed the bracers in the small recess, and covered it with a stone large enough to put my tool out of view and easy reach.

*You've guessed it, I believe, so we will simply start,* D'Shea signed. *I want to see where you are. Show me the weakest ward.*

That was not too difficult, although their proximity to each other did make it harder than if they had been spaced farther apart. I walked the perimeter of the cave—a feat that took about as long as it took me to chew and swallow three bites of rations—and settled on one of the two on the right side. It had been placed on a stone near my foot, like the quartz-streaked one back at the Drider lair, which was blocking a hole only wide enough for my fist. The other, slightly stronger ward was an actual small shelf and the ward had been placed on a well-polished pebble sitting placidly in full view. I indicated the stone at my feet.

*Correct. Now break the weakest one. Claim what is inside.*

I kneeled down and used the same techniques I had already been using for well over a year: the controlled breathing, the stillness of mind and focus of perception, the symbolic dip into one's own will. The difference here, however, was that the runes weren't present and glowing to tap with a gesture, to focus my will that way. The bracers also detected for me which runes were needed.

Without the bracers, I had to decide on my own runes, and I had to visualize them strongly enough to shield my mind from the tricks of the magic. Then I would be able to break the ward and pass through it.

The weakest was a two-rune puzzle; I had felt it before, plenty of times, to seal boxes, chests, and desks in various places. It was only powerful enough to deter those who had no knowledge of how our wards worked—non-Drow races, children, those particularly ungifted or inexperienced in magic—but any Drow who had ever placed a ward before would probably figure this one out, given enough time.

I broke it in a handful of moments with only slight discomfort, barely more than I experienced with the bracers. I moved the stone carefully, lifting it away from my face, and looked in only when nothing leaped out. I saw a shallow burrow that ended half-an-arm's length down, two insects, some soil—which was odd here—and a polished pebble similar to the second warded one that I had seen on the shelf.

I didn't reach for the pebble because the soil shouldn't have been there. As I watched the crawling insects move over the polished stone, their energy became clearer to me. Poisonous pinchers on these multi-legged worms.

I wondered if that had been intentional on D'Shea's part? Had she known all along?

I withdrew a dagger and used the pointed length to carefully flick the pebble out from around the insects and set the rock back down on top of them. I picked up the pebble and brought it over to D'Shea.

She smiled and accepted. *I am most glad you did not fall for the most rudimentary of traps, Sirana. Why did you not kill the insects?*

I smiled back. *Were that set in an actual place, I would disturb the place little as possible to disguise the theft, Elder. Or alternatively, it might give me the opportunity to use it later.*

She nodded acceptance of my reasoning, giving me no other indication of her thoughts. *Now retrieve the second pebble.*

This was a three-rune ward and harder to manage. I studied the area first to look for anything beyond the ward itself. There was no trap I could detect, which made me wonder if I was missing something. Eventually, however, I had to focus on the ward itself.

Only after the initial discomfort did I realize what was different with this ward—it had a dual-effect. If the pain didn't deter the intruder, then the sudden pleasure certainly worked to distract.

Such calm and bliss...I wanted to step back and sit down...lie down. I wanted to enjoy it for as long as possible...

I had been trained with this ward, too. If ever a thief would be caught in the act, it would be when they didn't have the will to leave.

Without my bracers, I had to withdraw with a physical push backward away from the wall and without the pebble, to get my bearings. Gasping, I reconsidered the tactic I needed; more speed after the initial pain, less caution. But I would have less time to react to any secondary trap there might yet be.

I visualized the first trio of runes again, breaking the pain threshold and then quickly rearranging the runes in my head to deal with the second wave of the ward. I quickly plucked up the pebble and moved back quickly, trying to watch the shelf and the pebble at once, to see what might happen.

I felt a blade pressing into my back and I stopped. The blade was digging into my armor but hadn't pierced it.

Of course, I hadn't kept yet a third eye on what was behind me.

"You set off the alarm by withdrawing and trying again," D'Shea murmured quietly near my ear. "You did defeat the ward without your bracers as I commanded, but don't consider this theft a success. You already have a blade jammed into your back. You're dead."

"Yes, Elder."

She withdrew her dagger and said, "Drop the pebble."

I did, and this one remained on the ground.

"Now the third, Sirana. Penetrate it, break it, however you can manage it."

The third was on the left, and had been placed on a bowl shape, water-worn within the rock. Resting at the bottom of the natural vessel was a dark red gem in its raw state, unpolished with bits of other solid sediment still fused to it. It had been withdrawn whole from the stone with a pickaxe, yet with neither a chip nor a scratch on it. Impressive. I could even visualize how it was done though I'd never done it myself.

As I expected, this ward required four runes to reach that gem. I took much more time contemplating it, to try and discover the runes needed, and their combination to coax the ward to open for me. This was something no Drow believed was even possible for any not trained in the arcane or the divine magics—no Drow except for the Red Sisters.

I had been given the basic techniques, had practiced them over and over—first with the help of the bracers to prove it could be done, but now without that crutch. I was to find the hints of the runes that every ward called out like a song. It was the key to both its protective power and its dispelling, but it was hidden amidst the noise of the glamour and whatever the magic was supposed to make one believe was real.

Through experience I learned how those basic techniques became complex with each more powerful ward, and the basics had become automatic. This was neither a spell nor a magical ability I had, but simply learning how to listen to what my body and mind was telling me under duress. The stress was the key.

Every Red Sister was trained intensely to know and grow to understand her own physical and mental responses—under torture and pleasure, through strain and calm, within weakness and amidst the flush of adrenalin-fueled victory. Intimate self-knowledge of one's body was an indirect way to overcome magic that affected the mind, like launching an attack that ricocheted off the wall and came from another angle. It was one of many things at which the Red Sisters excelled.

I was working out the code hidden within the ward's magical song—feeling strongly the magical persuasion that I should fear it, that if I took the gem I should immediately face intolerable pain, that I might possibly die—when a drop of blood landed on my glove. I was vaguely aware that my nose had begun to bleed and my jaw was clenched so tightly that my teeth hurt. A short time later, the combination fell into place and I touched the bottom of the bowl and the gem.

I lifted it up and stepped back, still trembling from the effects of the powerful ward. I nearly tripped as I brought it to D'Shea, caught myself before dropping the raw gem into her gloved palm.

My Elder stared at me for several moments, expressionless, then brought out a cloth from her belt to hand to me. I accepted, wiping and dabbing at my nose without inhaling. Though she'd whispered to me with the blade at my back, she went back to signing in silence now.

*You are progressing faster than most, Sirana,* she said. *I did not expect you to be able to break that one. Not yet.*

I held the cloth to my nose, pinching it to slow the blood. I did not know what to say, so simply acknowledged her with a nod and a single-hand gesture, *Elder.*

She did not seem to see me as she was in deep thought for a few moments. Her hands moved slowly. *Do you wish to try the fourth ward?*

I considered it, but I also knew I was near the limit of my endurance after that last one. Each ward had taken its own amount of my strength from me to overcome it, physically and mentally. It would take time to recover.

*I would, but need rest,* I signed with one hand. *Nosebleed is a warning I am taxed.*

*Would you leave it if you were on a mission?* she asked.

The flow slowed enough that I could sign with both hands. *If the alternative was to pass out in hostile territory, yes. I would rather come back later.*

*And if there would be no chance to come back later?* she pressed.

*That is fear-thinking, Elder,* I answered stoutly. *One makes more mistakes using that justification. If there was no chance then, better to remain alive to try something else later. Much later, if need be. What good am I to the Red Sisters being captured unconscious because I did not understand my body's limits? What if the risk was capture by Drow enemies like the Illithids or Duergar?*

D'Shea listened, but smiled. *A different argument than you used to justify saving Jael. That was fear of failing your mission.*

*I was not in danger of losing consciousness or of immediate capture at the time, Elder,* I responded. *The choice here is hypothetical. You always expect me to adapt to the situation and use my strengths.*

*I have not been disappointed, but I will have an answer other than retreat, Sirana.*

I sighed and gave it half a thought. *Provided I had it, I would take the most powerful healing draught in my possession and try again to break the ward.*

*Except there is no physical healing to be made,* she countered. *The pain is not doing actual damage.*

*It would still help the mind recover more quickly and increase contrast between the ward song and the strain placed on a newly strengthened body, perhaps enough to try again.*

She thought a moment and nodded. *Good enough for where you are.*

*Do you wish me to act on it now, Elder?*

She shook her head. *The rule is to use it only in dire need. We are not in dire need, we are training. We will wait a while.*

My sorcerous Elder took to leaning casually against the cave wall while I opted to actually take a seat at the only place where enough rock jutted out to provide it. We rested in near-darkness without conversation, only a couple of paces from each other.

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