Surfacing Ch. 23byEtaski©
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 2015.
Back on the Surface, back to Manalar, back to work! ;)
Talov would be sending supplies.
As much work as the Ma'ab had done ahead of us to burn and clear out both bodies and steal anything of worth prior to the Shaegoth assassinating their top leaders, the Knight Captain was now victorious steward of the empty and vulnerable city. I overheard him talking with Sir Eric that they would not have much time to rest and would instead have to get the word out to their fractured army to return and help them rebuild and protect.
"The Eyes of the Guild to the north say the Ma'ab army is disorganized and moving toward Taiding."
"Skirting Augran, Captain?"
"Yes. It is too early to say if they mean to attack Taiding, it may simply be on their way home."
The large Man with the red beard enjoyed a deeper, bitter-tinged laugh. "They burn and scavenge their enemy and then have to scuttle back home with their tails tucked after the place is empty."
"Mostly empty. And we will see. The Guild is watching, Lieutenant, and Mourn has agreed to keep me apprised of their movements. We have much to focus on here to be sure we don't have to leave with our own tails tucked."
The big Man expanded his chest to where he somehow looked even bigger. "Isn't going to happen, Captain."
Isboern smiled and clapped Sir Eric's shoulder. "I know, Lieutenant."
Next the psion's blue eyes slid in my direction, where I was hidden behind cover in some deep shade. He knew I was there but did not draw attention to me in front of his Men.
"We have prayed and everyone has been seen to and had something to eat?"
"Then let us do our part to secure the area and be prepared for anything while the Guildsmen have a chance to rest."
They and the others continued to say something but I was distracted when I heard my Sister whisper in Drow.
"Vanish away, old pet, they will hear your bones creak!"
I shifted back out of sight from the Templars at the same time I turned my head to see that somehow Graul had gotten in between us. It did not look like he would be fit enough to slip out of the way if either of us tried to strike or grab him, and yet he was here. I had not heard him coming. He looked up at me with hazy, red eyes and a smug expression.
*Let me guess,* I signed to him. *You are showing off how you got inside the library to help Mourn.*
Graul showed his yellowed, worn teeth in a grin and nodded his head.
*What do you call it?*
That was not the next thing he had expected to hear; his little, reptilian face showed surprise, but then delight.
"Shadow jumping," he whispered with a happy flick of his tail. His stiff wings were still laid as flat against his back as he could make them.
*Can all drakes do that?*
He tugged his head once to the side. "Shadow, only."
And Graul and Mourn were familiar and master.
I looked over at Jael then. "You knew Mourn could do that, too."
Jael lifted her eyebrows in innocence before she blatantly remembered something which made her grin. *You mean the Hellhound with his back broken.*
*I heard the snap all the way from where I watched.*
Jael shrugged and for a second looked as smug as Graul. *I told you he showed me some things.*
I straightened up. *In one night? It looked like you two had been fighting together for years, and the double sword he loaned you, when did you have time to practice with that?*
This was mostly an observation; now that I had time to stop and think about some of the things I had seen, a lot of it I didn't understand. However, I was tired and deeply unnerved by Deshi, and I had yet to even think about what Kreshel had shown me or what his escape might mean for me, so the tone of my hand sign was abrupt and curt. Jael took it as an accusation and shifted to the defensive.
*You don't have to be jealous,* she signed. *We did it to protect you, so you wouldn't have to get into the middle of things, like at the temple. We didn't want you fighting with us. It wasn't necessary this time.*
She was babbling a bit, and some of it sounded like what Mourn would say, but yet not. Maybe he had coached her, or maybe she was repeating something he'd said to her in her own words.
*And the weapon?*
She shook her head dismissively. *Like fighting with a staff, two-handed. I can use a staff.*
*With a very short grip before you hit pure edge.*
*Mourn can only hold it in one hand anyway,* she argued. *It's sized for Humans. And they aren't sliders—you could do it.*
I hadn't fought much with a staff before. Not since basic training. I rubbed my forehead; it was really starting to pound. *Okay. You said, 'We did it?' You did what?*
My Sister hesitated now; it was clear she wasn't sure how to describe it.
*Did he change you? Do something to you?* I asked.
Jael pouted in what looked like a very young expression, even for her, as if she was disappointed with my reaction being so different from what she imagined it would be. But soon enough her fierce anger returned as I reminded her again.
*Change me? Isboern already did that. And fucking Innathi. Mourn is just trying to help me cope and make it so I wouldn't drag you down when we came back to this fucking hole.*
Drag me down? Wasn't she saying the opposite when she had said that she and Mourn had not wanted me to fight with them?
*And you're one to talk about changing!* she added hotly before I could debate. *What did the necromancer do to you with that slant-eye? You were so cold...and the slant-eye looked like he wanted to eat you just now!*
That felt like a blow. And, fuck me, she was right.
*I don't know,* I signed. *I don't. Wait on that, okay? I'll tell you when I know something.*
I caught the look on her face; she was satisfied for making me back off. There was only one other thing I had to say.
"And if you would, call him Deshi," I whispered aloud, dropping my sign and putting a hand to my head again. "I'd rather the Guild not see you signing 'slant-eye' like that."
"Don't tell me what to sign!" she hissed irritably.
I glared. "Are you trying to hurt the alliance?"
"No, but it's a good description for them, right?" she countered. "Accurate."
"Yet your hand has that 'less than' quality we use talking about the Duergar or the Peches down below."
She looked surprised. "Does it?"
"Yes. It does. Do you mean it?"
I waved my hand toward the Sky. "If you mean what you say, Jael, forget my request. But I'll remember, and so will they."
My Sister thought about it; she gave it some deliberate thought. That had to satisfy me regardless of what she chose now. I waited and soon she looked back at me.
"He endured far more than I thought he could," she admitted. "Deshi did."
I nodded, covering the breath of relief I felt. "I agree."
Jael narrowed her eyes and eased down again. No doubt she was combing over events from the battle as well, now they had the chance to curve back around to the front.
As for Mourn helping her to cope and that was why she could work with such synergy... I hoped that was the case, and he wasn't just outright using her to fulfill his contract with me. I could actually see it being a bit of both. All the same, I knew now this was a concern which would have to wait until the Guild Leader had a spare moment to be questioned. Ordinarily I would go and corner him right now but I wasn't even sure where he'd gone; I only knew he was out of range of the pearl attached to my ear.
Watching Jael now, I admitted that I hated seeing her slump like that, even if she wasn't aware of it. I had forgotten that she was as much a confused sorceress as she had shown to be a confident fighter, and here I was doubting her fighting and speaking ability, imagining big, male Mourn as the puppet master.
Maybe that was even a little bit true, but it didn't have be the point right now.
Reaching over Graul's head as he sat on his hunches between us, I slid my fingers into the sweaty hair at Jael's nape and leaned forward most of the way to lightly kiss her mouth. I did have to draw her forward in order to reach but she acquiesced to the light pressure and brushed her lips across mine without tongue. When I drew back to look at her face, keeping my hand where was, she watched me expectantly.
"You fought very well, Jael," I whispered. "It was truly impressive. Makes me wonder what else you can learn with enough training."
Jael's doubt and disappointment eased within her eyes as she chanced, cautiously, to believe me, and I remembered but Jaunda had told me what seemed so long ago. Had I still, even now, not utterly destroyed the illusion that I would betray the youngest Sister? I thought I had already, given that she had been so angry with me back at the retreat.
But how much of that had been Soul Drinker's influence, and how much of it had been fear and a lack of understanding? After our time by the waterfall, after my nearly complete confession of my Surface connections, when I had reassured her of her inclusion... It seemed almost as if she had forgotten about her anger toward me then. Or maybe decided something else.
Those lovely, copper eyes maintained their depth as she looked down at my uniform. She lifted a finger to gingerly outline two of the bloody tears on my upper left arm, leftover from Divigna's spiked chain. Krithannia had healed the wounds but the holes in my uniform remained. It was going to take some serious mending.
"Almost didn't work," she murmured. "Don't get caught like that again. Stay out of the way."
I frowned a bit. Ah, to mention doubting one's fighting ability...
I swallowed my immediate response - which would have sounded as juvenile as her pout had been if I acted on my impulse. Still, my pride was pricked. I would have to maintain some level of fitness and speed, the matter how heavy I became. I couldn't just sit back all the time and get fatter while Jael and Mourn stood guard and fought for me. It would never work that way.
But we could argue that later so would Mourn understand as well. Right now my stomach was empty, my nerves had settled, and I needed to eat.
This time I did eat everything on me, which wasn't much and I was relying on the fact that there may be some supplies from the forward camps of the Ma'ab as well as the understanding that more Guild were coming soon. I could scavenge for more in the forest again if necessary, but it would probably take more energy than I could gain back.
My mood sank again. I wasn't even blatantly showing my belly yet, and I still needed to rely on others to feed myself enough to replenish what I was using. I had known it would become this way eventually but... not so soon. I did not like the trend, but hopefully my companions and I would be moving into fertile grounds again soon where I could hunt and gather myself on a daily basis.
Once again I had run nose-first into practical reasons why pregnant Red Sisters were so quickly taken out of our ranks for the duration.
Jael and Graul watched me eat and the old drake even looked a little hopeful to receive a morsel— *Yes, keep waiting, little beast.*— until Jael joined me and held out a piece of dried meat for Graul to snap into his jaws. He gnawed on a bit before he swallowed it down mostly whole. He and Jael were getting on much better than they were at the start.
With the Templars finally moving out in their loud armor and the two beside me managing some peace and quiet as I chewed, I had thought I heard the chains in the distance, and even possibly a little laugh. There had been no burst of magic any of us had sensed yet or any flashes of light, so I sort of assumed the chain devil was still there. What were Gavin and it talking about? Krithannia would be there, was she still worried about its presence? I still wasn't even sure about the gender, like it had adopted both for its own amusement.
"I need to check on Gavin," I said when I finished up, noticing my headache was almost gone after eating.
Graul snorted through his nose and shifted stiffly to stare at us as we stood up and donned our packs, and I frowned at the impression of distress I saw in his tail. He didn't want to be left behind.
"What, no shadow jump?" I asked.
"Tired, like you," he said in his raspy little voice. "Tired like everyone."
Jael and I looked at each other.
"But you hate being picked up by anyone but Mourn," I said.
His tiny shoulders shrugged and he acquiesced to the suggestion without having to ask outright. It was odd that some of his expressions looked kind of like Mourn's.
Or maybe, that wasn't so odd.
Jael shrugged as well. "I could carry him."
"He weighs like a walking Human child," I said. "More than our packs."
"So we could take turns."
"He can shadow jump later on and catch up," I said. "Why do the extra work when the supplies are not yet arrived?"
She frowned. "You've never been so lazy or weak."
"Since when were we assigned drake-tending duty?" I challenged with a little bit of a smirk as Graul kept swaying his head between us. "He was watching the Hellhounds for the last few days, feeding information to his master, and survived the barren city just fine on his own. I think he is the one pretending to be lazy and weak."
After a puff of air rattle through his throat and out of his nostrils, finally he spoke again. "Take me with you. Please."
"Why?" I asked, then it struck me like a magic bolt. "So that Mourn can continue listening to our discussion?"
He gruffed, looking a little cranky and switched his gaze expectantly to Jael. I waited to see what she would do. She felt some conflict, I could tell, and I wondered what really had changed in the four or five days since Mourn had first beaten her in a fight and then fucked her against a wall.
There had been that burst of magic, or something, which had sent me onto my back; I had hit my head on the stone and it made me see Stars. Mourn never had a great explanation for that; supposedly he wouldn't get her pregnant, supposedly these "surges" were a new thing for him...
And now Jael was fighting more in his style and was surprisingly tolerant of his ancient familiar when she had been afraid of becoming one herself.
Yeah, something had changed.
"Is Mourn avoiding me?" I asked Graul.
"He is very busy," the drake said. "Leader of many. He will return soon."
"Yes or no would have sufficed."
"No and, reasons," he hissed.
That tugged another wry smile to my lips. "So we were not assigned drake duty so much as you were assigned Drow duty."
Graul answered my smile just so; with the white, bristly tuft on his chin, it was surprisingly cute.
Then I scoffed. "You would have to shadow jump if I just left you here, you know."
"Yes. But... I ask, Red Sister."
He nodded, the tip of his narrow, slightly beaked snout dipping down and up. "Yes. Take me with you. Please."
I had to acknowledge the fact that Graul had not looked away once during this exchange. Jael had remained silent watching us and ultimately looked to me to make the decision. For now I had to be satisfied that I had made him ask me outright rather than playing the decrepit, hinting pet.
I squatted down and hooked one arm beneath his front legs and after the other around his haunches before hefting him up and bracing them on my hip with his shoulders leaning on my own. I couldn't carry him in my arms, curled and horizontal, the way Mourn could; Graul was just a little too big and long.
The shadow drake hissed happily and looked around him from his new vantage point while I said to Jael, "We are *definitely* taking turns carrying him."
By the time we had returned to the location of the most bloody conflict, Jael was holding Graul and we approached slowly.
My first thought was that Gavin appeared perfectly at home where he stood: facing the chain devil, surrounded by a giant mass of destruction, blood, and bodies. His Night-mare and his Hellhounds stood nearby, showing the damage they had sustained but acknowledging none of it.
The necromancer himself held the Ma'ab scepter casually enough, and I could not tell if he bled anywhere at all as his skin turned black again in the Sunlight, and any blood stains on his robe blended with visible skin. I knew most of his chest was exposed as Divigna's chain had ripped into him but I couldn't see his ribs like normal and didn't know how much he may have healed already. He still wore the wrought-iron crown of thorns upon his head.
The chain devil sat down upon three or four chains strung and held taut between two standing Hellhounds. Any wider and it would have been a hammock that would allow her to recline, but the creature sat upright then, relatively slender ankles crossed, bracing herself with her palms and gently swinging her lower legs back and forth. The movement did not cause her visible discomfort but each shift drew a gasp or a moan from one of the Hellhounds as the spikes dug deeper into his flesh.
I still could not see any expression below the burning, amber eyes, as the lower face remained covered by the veil of fine chains and hooks. However if it was not a smile then I had not understood a single thing I had seen from before during the fight.
In stark contrast, Krithannia stood straight in a position of cautious contact, just outside the most concentrated circle of death. The hot Sun was high but positioned behind her so that both Gavin and the chain devil would have to look straight on into it to face her. Given our own unthinking positioning of the light - which always hurt on some level but which Jael and I had learned to ignore through necessity - this put the necromancer and his summons in profile while the Guildmistress had her back to us as we approached.
Belatedly, I realized that ring of blood and bodies *was* a circle of the magical sort; a new one just made. This was, for certain, one area I did not want to spy upon or enter without invitation. Krithannia stood where she stood for a reason.
I spoke just as each of them shifted to focus in my direction, their eyes a line of molten-hot, ice-cold, and metal grey. My necromancer raised a pitch black arm and beckoned us forward, while the chain devil brought graceful, masculine, blue-grey hands together as if to imply eagerness. We had to navigate a few bodies but mostly I looked for any kind of symbol or stone that maybe we should not cross as I stepped just a little bit in front of the Pale Elf but short of the spray and speckles of blood and bits.
Looking around for others, I guessed there could be at least one Guild watching from afar in the nearest building. I could hear the Templars now and then, but they took the long way around to avoid this spot. Krithannia looked to us and nodded her chin but she hid all expression at the moment, neutral but observant.
"Do you need anything?" Gavin asked first, and I read in his gaunt face that this was because he needed something from me. He wanted to go second.
"Nothing that can't wait," I answered, figuring Deshi would have to come back from wherever he had run off to answer any questions about him.
Gavin nodded. "Can you tell me what happened to Mathias Briar after he abducted you?"
I felt my eyebrows lift but recalled that it had been Mourn and Isboern who had entered the Archbishop's quarters through the secret passage. Gavin had been down below in the courtyard... growing the pneuma flint spikes out of his skin and learning to float using the endless power of the rift. I replayed those very quick few seconds in my mind.