Surfacing Ch. 05

byEtaski©

Elder D'Shea—for all intents and purposes, his owner and protector—entered the room next. She closed the door herself and murmured some arcane words, causing a momentary tightening of the air before a ward was set in place. Elder Rausery laughed softly.

"Stepping all over each other's territory, aren't we?"

D'Shea smiled. "It's good to see you well, Rausery." She looked over at Qivni.

"She stays," Rausery answered the unspoken question. "You're welcome to bring Jaunda."

"She's busy, but thank you."

"Yes, so I've heard."

"You haven't heard a lot or he wouldn't be on your floor." D'Shea indicated Auslan.

"I'm guessing the Prime wants us to work this out on our own."

"And you want to argue in front of a male?"

"Yep. He stays, too."

Elder D'Shea looked a touch surprised for a moment—as surprised as Auslan felt hearing that—but quickly shrugged it off. "Very well."

"Let's start with my major objection, Varessa."

"And that is?"

"Your placing compulsions on four Red Sisters from my units, not yours. A bit extreme and short-sighted, especially for you."

D'Shea frowned. "Necessary. Your Thena made it clear the whole reason they attacked Auslan was because they were bored and didn't respect me enough to await any order that might come from me. You hadn't even been gone for seven cycles. That's straight insubordination and the punishment fit the crime. They suffered pain, healed, and now can't discuss their poor choice with anyone but will have plenty of time to consider it."

"Which will divide loyalties even deeper. Others can still tell what you did."

"They are the middling ones surrounded by more middling, Rausery, even you know they can only go so far. Use it to your advantage, they will follow you blindly just to spite me."

A brief exhale. "Granted, but now the useful lives of those four are significantly shortened. I want to say now this had better not be any kind of new habit, D'Shea. It'll splinter the Sisterhood and, with the Priestesses collecting themselves, we need to be strong and more unified than this. You know better than almost anyone how compulsions effect the strong-willed."

D'Shea nodded once but didn't seem to acknowledge the last sentence. Auslan wondered about whom Rausery was hinting.

"Special circumstances, Rausery, I shouldn't have reason to tighten the vice on your units again for some time. Unless you plan to leave for the Surface again next year to check on our girls?"

Rausery ignored the last sentence as well, crossing her arms. "Special circumstances? I understand you didn't give any instruction concerning our resident in solitary, not even who would feed him. You could have given them the choice to disobey or not by ordering them all not to touch this prisoner. No temptations or compulsions necessary, disobedience like that would be basis for execution and they would know it. Why didn't you?"

The other Elder smiled. "Stark black and white choices like that is no test of discipline, Rausery; all of us test the boundaries now and then. I needed to see how good they were when you weren't around to enforce it your way. It was no surprise to me that those who took the bait, and that I found lacking, had also been embarrassed by my most promising novice. They served as an example to the rest what I expect of units under my direction. Whether they liked it or not, they were mine—potentially for a long time if you did not return, quickly or at all—and they had to learn and accept the difference between us."

Qivni tensed and the corners of her mouth tightened in response to that. Rausery took a few moments to consider her next words.

"Let's focus on the present," she said with admirable levelness and self-control. "I'm back. And continued actions like this will turn the Sisterhood toward the path of the Priesthood."

D'Shea narrowed her eyes briefly but also paused to consider her response. "You would be controlled by the Priesthood right now if not for me. You don't have the connections or the background."

"Granted," her peer acknowledged readily. "But we're sliding out of balance in the cloister."

"We lost balance when the Valsharess forced that second trial."

"So don't make it worse. Why expose our underside to them?"

D'Shea shook her head once. "Everyone is still feeling the power shift, Rausery, you will see how it's been. As for the Sisters you left behind, I cannot lead them your way and if I tried, they would reject it because I can't compare. I use my strengths, as always. If it scares them to see something new, so much the better. They can't be inflexible, Rausery."

"They can't all be like Jaunda and Sirana, either. You work with your strength, you also have to see theirs and work within that, even if it means lowering your expectations for them compared to yourself. The right tool for the right job, remember?"

"Some tools are completely disposable."

Rausery rolled her eyes briefly. "That's why there's only two Elders instead of as many Priestesses, and that's why we have to see more than that in our own. Favoritism in the Sisterhood has long been a driving force, if they want more recognition or power, they push themselves for it, you don't do it for them. If they don't push themselves, then they are content where they are just being above the commoner and the Noble. If they know their limits and live within them—of which all four that you 'tested' do— you have to accept this as well or you break the tool well before its worn. And I think you just did."

"Rausery—"

"You made the same mistake with Gaelan yet actually worked within it for the last seven years with her. I'd even grant you that she was making progress, especially when she was able to top Sirana in front of others. But those others, because they were mine...? What are you going to do now?"

There was a pause as the two Elders stared at each other. This was old ground, from what Auslan could tell, but had current consequences. It had gone from a theoretical debate of the "best way" in the past to an actual case in point. The Lead seemed surprised to hear much of this.

"What would your thoughts be to giving those four back to me for a longer time?" D'Shea asked. "I have a thought."

Qivni's mouth started to open but she snapped it shut without Rausery having to look at her. The other Elder smiled just a little bit. It was not lost on Auslan that D'Shea had just asked for her peer's further input. They were on their way to negotiating a bargain or a compromise, and he didn't matter in this any more than a possession fought over that had started the disagreement.

Rausery answered, "It'd be interesting. They'd view it as a betrayal from me at first. If you fucked it up further, that would be a lasting impression on others and those four would probably have to be culled if they respected neither of us."

"If they could not adapt, then that would be the natural fate anyway. But if you instead keep and protect them from me, if you make it as though they are not at fault and you side with them against me? Favoritism without the value to back it up makes us weak, Rausery."

"Agreed." The far more tactical Elder mulled it over some more. "Tell me what you'd do, if I gave them to you."

Auslan could recognize D'Shea's mind at work. She already had a strategy half worked out but was putting the final pieces into place. She looked pointedly at Qivni, then him, then back to Rausery.

"I would have to insist on privacy."

Rausery nodded readily; apparently she'd gotten what she wanted and would be patient. Auslan could see this being an example for Qivni as a Lead; she was being groomed. He didn't understand why he was still here...although he could not help but feel fortunate for having borne witness. Understanding had always been his best tool, and he understood now: thank Lolth that this Elder was back from the Surface.

"What about him?" Elder Rausery nodded her chin toward Auslan. "What are your plans for him?"

He felt a hot-cold wave of sensation sweep over him when the three all looked down at him, and he flexed his fingers; they had long since started to tingle.

D'Shea shook her head, her aura strengthening along with her posture. "He'll stay out of sight of the other Red Sisters and especially away from the public. He'll stay in my quarters untouched unless I say, and you won't enter uninvited again. I will overlook it this once because you don't have all the information. If you want to talk of it more now, first I return Auslan to my quarters and you send Qivni on her way."

With a low exhale, Rausery nodded. "Agreed. Will you come back here after securing him?"

"Will Qivni be gone by then?"

"She will."

"Then yes. Give me half a mark."

"Done."

D'Shea ordered him to get to his feet on his own; it took some doing without his hands. He had to roll to get to his knees, using his already-sore forehead as a counterpoint on the floor before straightening up and getting one foot at a time beneath him. He felt dizzy.

Only then did D'Shea take his arm and start leading him away, both of them ignoring the press of his erection against the wrap that had yet to soften. For him, it had long since gotten uncomfortable. He glimpsed Thena and Suna peeking into the hallway from another room, however, and his stomach tightened.

It had the fortunate side effect of partly deflating his erection at last.

"Ignore them," Elder D'Shea said, and surely they could hear her.

He didn't look around again; at least they hadn't needed to pass near the two Sisters and he could walk without his member leading the way. As the only male in the cloister, he was eager to get back into the comfortable prison that was D'Shea's quarters.

There was no other safer place anywhere outside of that room, not for him—and hearing Rausery say so callously that the other Consorts were dying on the outside, as he feared they would, frightened and pained him more deeply than most anything except for the thought of Shyntre's death.

Auslan could not know how long he would survive himself, but the longer he did, the better the chance for something to change, for some choice to present itself when right now there seemed none but to wait.

His Elder was wary re-entering the compromised room, keeping him behind her and instructing him to stand just inside by the closed door while she checked everything over, methodical and not to be rushed. He observed her as she hovered her hands over many different places—her desk and bookcase, scroll cabinets, the tub, the bed, her wardrobe, the walls— and Auslan felt the energy in the room changing in ways at which he could only guess. He could differentiate arcane from divine energy, but that was about it.

He waited patiently without making a sound, even as his hands felt cold and numb.

Eventually D'Shea seemed satisfied and returned to him. "Turn around."

He did, relieved when he heard her draw a dagger and take hold of the cord at his wrists. She sliced right in the middle and the instant that blood returned to his hands it caused enough prickling pain to make him grimace at the wall. He let his arms drop to his sides and flexed them repeatedly to work the blood through. He wanted desperately to rub his wrists but he kept his hands visible to her at all times.

"Turn around again, Auslan."

He did so, looking first at D'Shea's chin which was level with his eyes. She was smiling without showing her teeth.

"Wise of you not to use the knock-out powder on Rausery," she said. "I'm surprised she didn't take it from you."

"I surrendered, Elder," he said.

"Again, very wise. I give you new tools to work with, to defend yourself, and you still show restraint and judgment."

He shrugged. "Perhaps anyone powerful enough to enter your quarters uninvited is not someone I would attack regardless."

"Fair consideration." D'Shea was still smiling. "So what did you tell her?"

"Answered her questions, but only that."

"I need the details. To the best of your recollection."

Auslan closed his eyes and thought about it, recalled and told her what he could remember. Most of it seemed benign to Elder D'Shea, except for his kissing Qivni and what he said to her.

"Why did you do that?" she asked in a sharp tone.

He hesitated. Then he shook his head. "I do not know. It would have escalated her actions if Elder Rausery had allowed it. I know it was not a smart thing to do or say."

"Not for you, who can't fight back." D'Shea mulled over the rest and finally said, "Rausery asked you about Sirana immediately after you baited Qivni, correct?"

"Yes, Elder."

"And asked if she'd told you about other Red Sisters."

"Yes, Elder."

"Look at me, Auslan."

When he lifted his gaze from her chin, she narrowed eyes that nearly matched his own in its copper hue. They stared for quite some time; D'Shea's aura started to envelop him, and Auslan had to recite a meditation to maintain the stress of it. Finally, when his tremors became constant and he wasn't sure he could keep standing, she pulled back, stepping back out of his space. He felt he could breathe at last.

"That side effect of your healing, the way Sirana was acting whenever you were threatened," the Elder murmured quietly, almost to herself although Auslan did think she was talking to him, too. D'Shea refocused on him and asked bluntly, "Does she know your true name?"

He shivered and shook his head. To his dismay and shame, his eyes immediately filled with tears and a few escaped onto his cheeks when he blinked. "No."

"No, what?" D'Shea was watching so intently he got a lump in his throat that he had to swallow before he could speak.

"No, she does not know it, Elder," he said thickly. He kept watching D'Shea with moist eyes, letting her see his physical responses and hiding none of them since he knew exactly what she was after. If he did not convince her of the truth now, he feared what she would try on him next. He would offer more than she might want.

"I wish she did know, Elder. I wish that I could have given it to her then as I may be able to feel her now. I am not name-bonded to her... but I feel strong desire for her since the healing. She is the only connection I have left that feels like one with a Priestess. The one that helped me control Lolth's Gift. The distance is great, but I want her still."

Like Sirana, the Elder Red Sister seemed fascinated with a show of emotions which he normally kept hidden. Unlike Sirana, however, D'Shea also seemed disconcerted by it. She had not been expecting it, nor was she impressed or drawn to it in the least. She could even be a little disgusted. But it was so raw that he knew she believed him whether this was what she had wanted to hear or not. She would focus on the words to move past the weight of the feeling behind them.

"Hm," she grunted, frowning in thought and glancing at her door. "That is very strange. We must discuss this further, Auslan, and we will later. Unfortunately I am out of time now."

He nodded and let his gaze drop to the floor, crossing his arms to hold his elbows. His Elder left quickly and secured the door behind him, and he was alone again.

Safe. But alone.

******

Shyntre wished for more than anything he could be left alone. He hated these arrogant, self-entitled, power-grubbing Nobles. If he had once thought Sirana worthy of his derision as a young Noble prancing around Court, as an overly-ambitious third daughter of her House—well, he had never really understood anything yet.

Since the first worship ball without the Consorts was held a few weeks ago, he had been "assigned" three Matrons, though those Matrons sometimes assigned one or two of their daughters to come to him in her stead, depending on age, interest, politics...

The very first visit had been among the most stressful encounters he'd ever had outside of the Sisterhood, and it had easily been the most distasteful. He did not like her; she seemed so ignorant and pompous with no real skills to justify her entitlements. She'd berated him for his minimal response to her touching him, criticized that he did not find her irresistible. Of course it had to be *him* and had nothing to do with her boorish behavior.

"Where's that power you displayed before, hm?" she had sneered. "Or have you been locked up in the Tower so long you've forgotten what real pussy even smells like?"

She was insulting him, trying to bait him—not unlike Sirana tended to do. Except that she had done so even submitting to the indignities of her first trials and, more importantly, had continued on to dig for the reality of his situation, his life. Just from observation, wanting to know more, she made the effort to find him and learn some of what motivated him.

This Noble wasn't even trying and the insults were only the easiest and most base, the most predictable that could be had. All assumption stated as fact.

"Forget this, I'll choose another sire," she had miffed, getting up to shrug into her silk robe. Her pride was obviously stung, after hardly trying at all to figure out what interested him.

"You'd reject the Valsharess's gift," he'd said lowly, disbelieving her stupidity even if he was of a mind to let her go and damn herself. And him, too. He knew what was expected of him, the Valsharess had said he was not to embarrass the Palace, and yet he didn't want—

"I'll ask for another," she sniped. "You aren't good enough."

The wizard felt something clutch inside his chest, constricting his breath and burning like a lava stone. He ground his teeth and lifted his hand to make a gesture as the Noble female approached the door, whispering low.

She ran nose-first into an invisible shield long before reaching it. He stood up and could approach her as she made her usual noises, as she checked her pretty nose for damage, cursing him still with her back to him.

So stupid. So worthless.

He murmured a few more arcane words to close the shield back on itself, causing it to curl to where it encircled her entirely. She pounded on the shield, yelling at him until it constricted further, close enough that she no longer had room to strike comfortably and she finally began to look concerned how tight it was getting.

He smiled as she turned around in place to look at him.

"Release me, scroll sniffer."

"Not until you've taken my seed in your womb. The queen's order."

She made more noise. Goddess...such noise! Sirana would be talking to him by now, bargaining, persuading with reason and intrigue and challenge...

...or inviting him straight out to mount her, as she had during their "study breaks." That Red Sister could say when she wanted him, and he understood he was more than good enough to climax inside her body. He still remembered, angry as he'd been, how she'd been smiling, laughing, the first time they'd fought and coupled in the library. It had incensed him at the time...but later he couldn't remember anyone else ever sounding so delighted before.

Shyntre had blocked out the noise in his shield and the memory in his head to concentrate. It had taken him a long time to figure out how to warp the force field to where it forced the Noble into more useful position. He hadn't practiced it that much yet, and had only recently discovered it possible.

Of course, it hadn't even occurred to the privileged whelp that the wizard was straining with his own spell. Sirana would have noticed and thought of some advantage to distract him, to stop him. This silly slit only voiced empty threats and insults without cease. No wonder she couldn't think, she blurted everything that came into her head. Why had the queen chosen this to be the first? What made her deserving?

The slow pace as he learned right then and there to manipulate his energy and morph the shape of the spell suited the rising tension. The Noble's voice started getting higher pitched, more frightened as well as indignant, as Shyntre eventually turned the magical cylinder to bend the female Drow over with her backside up and her hair lying along the polished floor, her forehead a few finger-widths above it. Though he could see his own magic, to others it might look like she was floating, or being held folded in half over some unseen giant's forearm.

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