Surfacing Ch. 05

byEtaski©

It looked like a servant was tending it. Frequently. And he liked straight lines.

Rausery had her answer why this was when she spotted the Consort that they'd abducted from House Itlaun crouched behind the tub with a small pouch gripped in his right hand. She was about to laugh when she noticed how he was holding it—as a Red Sister might, ready for a controlled flick at an opponent's face and eyes while minimizing the back-blow onto himself.

Novices and any who had never done it before tended to either lose control of how much of the powder came out of the pouch—thus enveloping themselves as well as their target in whatever it was—or allowed a trail to follow them back with their retreat. The Consort was holding it correctly, and Rausery knew damned well they weren't taught that in the Sanctuary.

Someone had taught him the basics, even though his hand trembled as she watched.

*What were you thinking, D'Shea?*

Rausery had the feeling that she would be asking that a lot in the near future.

"I want to talk to you, Consort." She motioned for Qivni to close the door.

The poor thing looked terrified for a moment before he shook his head once. "I'm not a Consort anymore."

"Auslan!" Qivni barked, her voice holding pure command even with a tender head. "Elder Rausery wishes to speak with you, and you will address her as such."

The younger male flinched and lowered his eyes to the floor out of long conditioning. He wasn't wearing much; a dark blue wrap around his waist that looked newer than the worn sandals on his feet. His smooth chest was bare, as were his arms, head, and back; she could see quite a lot of him.

Rausery noticed the gold streak in his hair on the left side and frowned to herself. From the strain of cleansing Sirana was what she could surmise. She'd been told that after Kerse had destroyed himself, the Consort had needed to perform a Sanctuary ritual first to purge the Abyssal energy from the Sister so that the healing draughts could be allowed to work. Otherwise, they had no effect.

"Elder Rausery," he breathed, swallowed, and said, "Elder D'Shea will not be happy to have you here."

"I know. I don't care."

She walked straight for him. He stared with his well-bred eyes; he genuinely did not know what to do. What would he do? Use that powder against her? It would be an interesting choice.

Qivni reacted quickly, reaching for something when the handsome male straightened up halfway, but she paused as they watched him tighten the strings again with both hands in clear sight. He turned deliberately, trying to make it clear where he intended to throw, and tossed the small pouch back onto the bed. He didn't wait for Rausery to take it away from him.

She smirked a bit as she closed the distance and took firm hold of his wrist. It looked smooth, even if the gloves prevented skin contact, and the bones felt delicate. Elegant. She dragged him over to D'Shea's desk, pushing on his shoulders and sitting him down in it. He was blocked to his right by her Lead, had the desk at his back, and Rausery towered in front of him.

"Just want to know what happened to my unit," she said brusquely. "The ones that visited you in solitary."

Auslan swallowed and looked nauseous to her. However, he didn't try to prolong things. "They forced me... and D'Shea stopped them. Thena was insubordinate, and D'Shea punished all of them for that."

"How?"

"Magical force. Threw them around the cell. Choked them."

Rausery was mildly impressed that the Consort—or perhaps he was right, the "former" Consort—knew how to give a report so succinctly and didn't waste her time. Perhaps he'd been given practice by D'Shea. Or Sirana. Or the others who visited him before. She herself had never spoken to him before now, though she'd known of his existence as an informant.

"Then?"

"She called...Agalia. And others, to take the four away to await her leisure. She brought me here."

After a pause, Rausery said, "And?"

Auslan was keeping his gaze on her mottled, black boots that may have still had small bits of Surface soil on them even now. "I have not left, Elder. I sleep and eat here."

"More, please."

He shook his head. "Nothing more, Elder Sister. I have stayed here."

Qivni was about to hiss something at him but Rausery gestured to her as she considered another angle. She said to him, "The Valsharess probably knows you're here through the Prime. Someone made a deal for your life, even with the other Consorts dying right now. Why do you think that is?"

She noticed that he focused even harder on her boots and his eyes glistened for a moment before he blinked twice to make the tears ago away. "I do not know, Elder."

"Who values you most these days? For what? Can't be your skills. I know D'Shea has no taste for you pretty Sanctuary males."

Her Lead shifted then and his eyes flicked briefly to her. Oddly, he laid a forearm across his lap and crossed his legs. The motion drew the Elder's attention to Qivni, and she realized that the Red Sister was staring at him with some fascination, as if the longer she did, the more detail she saw and had a harder time looking away.

Long inured to it by now, Rausery had almost forgotten the Consorts had their own kind of magical aura, some with better control of it than others. It was a bit disturbing if Auslan had an aura that distracted even her strictest subordinate. No wonder the other four had pounced on him in solitary.

Still. It was clear he wasn't comfortable being stared at.

"You want him?" Rausery asked Qivni casually. "Can you be quick?"

She could read her Lead's hesitation in an instant; Qivni wasn't comfortable with her own distraction, either. She would refuse the offer. Rausey approved.

"No," Auslan said before he could stop himself.

Then the Elder smiled.

His reaction was perfect, and Qivni's response was more so. She forgot her temptation in her lunge forward, snatching him by his upper arms to yank him out of the seat and throw him atop D'Shea's desk in a loud scuffle. He cried out as her fingers dug into his biceps, and Qivni's face was right in front of his; he could probably smell her breath. Despite everything, though, Rausery could tell he had an erection under his wrap. Probably unwilled; it happened sometimes.

Qivni growled, "You...YOU can't say 'no,' Consort."

He shuddered but met her eyes a moment later. He smiled beautifully and—stunning them both—he planted a small kiss on her mouth as the Lead's eyes widened.

His voice was rich as cream when he almost crooned. "Of course. Forgive me, Sister. That was foolish of me."

It was clear even to Rausery that Qivni might have done something damaging to him if she was alone; she looked so aggravated and insulted. To her Lead's credit, however, she maintained her discipline in front of her Elder and just squeezed his arms harder, her hands trembling a moment. His smile faltered but he kept his eyes open, his mouth closed, and did not make any sound though she could tell he felt the pain very much.

Rausery didn't understand why, but she almost recognized the expressions on the Consort's face a moment ago, and the tone and the very words when he had spoken. Auslan had pulled something that Sirana had often, simply to get on Qivni's nerves and test her self-control.

It had happened at her trial and during Sirana's first weeks in the cloister especially, and Rausery had always known it was how those two squared off. She considered it good for Qivni to have another Sister around that could smile in response to the Lead's serious face, no matter what she did, and Rausery had never interfered. She wanted to let her figure out the challenge of the newest Red Sister on her own. Had Sirana had more than two years with the Sisterhood, Qivni would have figured out something eventually even with her busy schedule.

That interaction with Auslan just now had been very familiar...or maybe it was just that Sirana's was the last face Rausery had seen during a kiss under Moonlight. Really, the male should be beaten for taking such a tactic with them. And yet...

"Had any contact with him before now, my Lead?" Rausery asked.

"No, Elder," Qivni ground out.

"Hm. Let him go."

She did so, shoving Auslan back down when he tried to sit up; only when he remained where he was for several moments did she step to the side again. He rubbed at the bruises forming on his arms as he slowly sat up and slid off the desk, returning to his chair and covering his turgid crotch by crossing his arms. Now he looked quite shaken; that momentary, seductive slyness was gone even if he still hid an erection.

"Talk much with Sirana?" Rausery asked him.

His hands were gripping his elbows; hunched over, he was not looking up. "Yes, Elder."

"Discussing other Red Sisters?"

He shook his head instantly and answered with that intangible ring of truth she couldn't deny when she heard it. "No, Elder. She never spoke of her Sisters and I never asked."

"Then what did you talk about?"

He seemed lost for a moment. "The Noble Houses. Priestesses. Anything she asked of me, Elder."

"Let's focus on after you cleansed and healed her. Did you talk?"

"Yes, Elder."

"About?"

"Kerse. The Purge. The trials. What you already know, Elder, nothing new."

"And that's why you're still here," she said ironically.

Auslan didn't reply.

"What's your opinion of Sirana?"

The Elder liked seeing the subtle pulse in his throat; she liked that even in the light, she could sense the spike in heat before her. He was doing well, better than many under questioning, but she was learning his tells without having to touch him.

"A loss for the Sisterhood, Elder," he answered.

Indeed.

Ruasery half-smiled. "Well. Not yet. She was doing well when I left her not seven days ago."

"Days...?" he murmured, his eyes flicking upward briefly, and she knew she saw real interest at the mention of her present, stronger than his confusion at the word choice.

"Cycles," Rausery corrected. "The same as a wake cycle, but on the Surface."

He nodded, eyes back down, and she wondered if she was becoming unfocused—and getting soft, if Qivni's expression was any indication—but there was a lot more here that a simple beating wouldn't reveal; her gut told her so.

Time to force a confrontation.

"Secure him, Lead. Let's go."

Auslan blurted a few more denials and begged once as Qivni forcibly hauled him up and pinned him face down on the desk to bind his hands behind him with black cord. "Please, Elder, don't take me from here—"

Qivni punched the back of his head hard; his forehead connected with the desk and he was blessedly quiet for a few moments though still conscious. Barely.

Neither of them had any need to explain it to him, but trying to wrangle anything useful out of D'Shea in her own quarters was a fool's errand. Rausery would much rather be on her own turf, with her peer's little sheltered pet in her possession.

And so they would be.

******

*Son of a dwarf, she's back.*

When the Elder felt the distinctive rip inside her head as someone forced her way into her personal quarters, D'Shea knew that the Prime hadn't told Rausery anything.

Not that she was surprised. She knew it would be one way or another and had simply waited. If Qivni would be the first source of information to her Elder instead, then what she would choose to say first would be predictable. D'Shea didn't blame Rausery for doing as she must with what she knew at the time.

What she wanted to know now was how Auslan responded to the pressure, if he broke down somehow, and if so, in what way?

He seemed to be having such...*active* dreams lately, and despite his practical state of celibacy, he was not used to being without someone to touch him for months on end. It was against his very breeding and conditioning. She had been waiting to see if he would ask for another Drow to mate him. He hadn't yet, though it hadn't taken much observation for her to be able to tell when he craved a companion when his dream emissions weren't enough.

Now she'd see if Rausery's intrusion somehow brought his adapted coping mechanisms to a fever pitch, now or later. She had to make it back to the cloister now. She would not leave this one to a natural course as he could easily turn up dead instead of just fucked.

"Varessa?" Tarra looked up from her translations, reading her ally's face well enough not to have any protest to an abrupt departure but still wanting some reason.

"Auslan's in trouble again."

"How so?"

"Rausery's back. She just broke into my room."

The Priestess's eyes went wide. "She can do that?"

"With help, I suspect." D'Shea shrugged, collecting her gloves and cloak. "This could be useful in making him more pliable."

Tarra shook her head with a sigh. "We need to figure this out soon, Varessa."

"We will, I have no doubt."

"Having his real name would be a break-through for me in convincing the Valsharess I can achieve our new path."

D'Shea huffed in frustration, pausing in her departure. "I'm working on it."

Tarra took the pause as a willingness to reopen the debate. "By sequestering him away?"

"You know better. You said yourself you learned your Consort's name only when he was so relieved to have the release that he prayed for you."

Tarra's expression became pinched and D'Shea knew why. She—and all the other Priestesses with a Consort who had survived the Purge—had been forbidden from taking any action to protect them, and each had felt their males die nonetheless much more recently, at the hands of over-zealous Nobles. It was not nearly as devastating to her power as if a Draegloth son of her own body died, but it was undeniably unpleasant.

"You are sure you won't do it, Varessa?" the Priestess said, holding her ally a little longer. "I still think it is safer to keep this close."

"I can't have that kind of weakness, Tarra."

"Neither can I. Not again. If not you, then I still say Shyntre's the one most likely to hear it if they would—."

"If. Funny that you would encourage that. But even if, he'd never share that with either of us."

"He doesn't have to. In any case, I would need to watch and experiment with them first and when I'm ready, we can force it through a ritual, the same way Wilsira took Auslan's name from Juliran in the first place."

D'Shea mouth pursed hard. "No."

"But we would have Auslan to make him cooperate."

She shook her head once. "No. You also forget he'd tell the queen."

"She wouldn't care. She knows what we're trying to do and She would never take the risk of learning the Consort's name Herself. She'd be content with just Shyntre knowing it."

"You think? I also think it would fundamentally change my son to be bound that way and then forced into a ritual such as that. At this current time, the queen would take serious exception if Shyntre stopped what he was doing to the Nobles." She smiled with a lift of one nostril. "It's the new thing, after all."

The Priestess released a breath, her expression of derision alone a commentary on that "new thing." Probably because it had very little to do with the Priestesses right now. "So who else, if not one of us?"

"You know who. Someone who is already crazy for him and already pliable and broken. Why are you resisting?"

"I still don't like it, Varessa. Curgia's insane without additional contact with the Consort," Tarra repeated sternly. "She's in the dungeons awaiting birth—"

"That child is Auslan's and isn't tainted, you can prove it. She can be useful now being disowned by her mother. You plan to adopt the child already, just make sure they don't flush the mother before you do. We wait long enough, I have a chance to talk to her, heal her—"

"I'll grant she'd be very malleable after Wilsira and the Purge, but that will still take time to rebuild her and will have to take place elsewhere. Not in the cloister, not on sanctioned or royal ground. It's difficult."

"I know. No more arguing, Tarra, not now. Rausery's back. I have to go. We'll discuss this again soon."

******

He lay on the cold stone with his hands bound behind him, similar to how he'd first entered the cloister of the Sisterhood. His head ached so much and his hair was longer now than it was then, freshly shorn by a sorcerous Elder Sister's blade. He'd been curled up before trying to protect himself against boot strikes, and Sirana had spoken to stop it despite her Elder's hostile displeasure. Now he was curled up trying to hide his aching erection.

It hadn't gone down despite his fear. He was unnerved how, after scenting no other female but D'Shea for weeks...months?...apparently any other who walked through the door would trigger his body's desire.

Not his mind, though. He did not want them; he did not care what his body said. His body betrayed him. He kept his face as blank as he could manage and looked at no one.

Fortunately so far, the two Red Sisters did not seem to care, either. In spite of what he thought he knew of the Red Sisters and their appetites, Rausery and Qivni were well in control of their urges around him, unlike some he could name. The three of them now were waiting for D'Shea, he knew that. It wouldn't be long.

He imagined this crimson-eyed Elder Rausery leaving Sirana so recently on the Surface, well and healthy and presumably trained, ready to meet the challenge and complete her mission. He hoped it was so. He couldn't tell anymore whether his dreams were visions or just fears and hopes mixed together.

He still saw Sirana stabbed in the gut by that red-rune dagger every so often, except now he couldn't tell whether the shadow figure backlit by the Sun was female or...male. Sometimes it didn't even look elvish, but larger, less graceful. Stronger.

The images were changing more frequently now, but in response to what? He did not know. The terror always threw him awake, and D'Shea had been there to see him sit up shaking a time or two, though most of the time he was alone.

But now he knew Sirana had been alive very recently, and it wasn't just a wishful feeling. No training accidents; that was something.

Auslan had to bite back a groan when Rausery bid someone enter; it was not D'Shea, but Thena. The instigator of his attack looked able-bodied and recovered from the last time he'd seen her, however her mean smile as she recognized him made him sick to his stomach.

The Consort had always felt he understood his brother well, but now having met a few of these same Sisters, he felt he knew much more intimately what drove Shyntre at times. He had to admire his strength for what he'd endured. Auslan could only hope D'Shea made it here soon before they made more sport of him; he knew he wasn't as strong.

"Need something, Corpora?" Elder Rausery asked.

Though Thena seemed to try to say something, it looked as though it got clogged in her throat and she scowled and looked a little queasy herself. When she could take a full breath a moment later, she said, "Elder D'Shea is coming. Do you need someone to watch him during your meeting?"

*Oh, please, goddess,* he prayed fervently inside his head. *Goddess, no.*

"If I did, it wouldn't be any involved in the incident," Rausery said flatly.

The younger Red Sister frowned half a moment; it was clear she'd been expecting a different response, but quickly smoothed her face and bowed. She stayed at attention.

Rausery looked over at him then back at Thena. "Thank you, Corpora. That is all. See Elder D'Shea in."

Another bow, though Thena's anger and spike of heat was obvious to anyone; Rausery chose to ignore it for now. Auslan felt his heart start to slow and his breathing become easier as the Corpora left the room.

Elder Rausery must have her own reasons for what she was doing, but he admired her for a moment. Her response to Thena's suggestion had sounded...balanced. Something the cloister had seemed to be missing in her absence.

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