tagSci-Fi & FantasySurfacing Ch. 27

Surfacing Ch. 27

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 2015.

Now we start a new day among the Wilder...set the lens angle to "wide as fucking possible." ;)


*****

Surfacing Chapter 27

The Sun peeked between the trunks of the forest, pink and blushing; its light rippled the surface of the small lake as surely as the shifting breeze. Stars retreated before the role of purples and blues, making them fade, and the scent upon the air itself actively shifted past surface mist and heavy dew toward the true fragrance of the day. Both crickets and night frogs competed with the earliest songbirds for the right to sound through the change to dawn.

It might've been a peaceful way to wake up, even imagining Jael seeking a few pebbles to pitch at the squawking birds, but Mourn heaved beneath us with an abrupt, startling strength, and I woke with adrenaline flooding my body.

"What? What?" I stuttered stupidly in Drow, blinking my eyes.

"Apologies," he growled, sounding tight in his throat. "It has become too much."

"What's too mu—?"

The hybrid was shifting so much that Jael and I both rolled out of his way and gained our feet to better see what was going on. Mourn scratched his back against the rock on which he had been leaning, cuddling Jael and me and keeping us warm through the night. Now he scratched first one side of his spine, then the other, then back again.

He was grimacing, showing his teeth, and I vividly recalled the very first morning I had ever seen him, following the destruction of the Chaos cult and my own Queen's compulsion, following the meal of wild pig by the river and a good night's sleep. He had been rubbing up against a tree, scratching his back then, but I had not seen him do this very often since.

Now, the itching seemed more... severe. Urgent.

"Stop, you'll grind your skin off!" Jael whispered in our native tongue, still unable to help being quiet in a quiet place.

He whispered back through his teeth. "I have scales, Jael."

"Not everywhere. Get on your side, let us see."

"If you tell me what you see."

"No!" my Sister gasped in snark. "I thought I'd cast a globe of Darkness over your queue and let you wonder!"

"Smartass," he growled, flicking at her ankle with his tail, but he made that effort to roll and show us exactly what he itched him so badly.

Jael opened her mouth to snap something else at him—but I caught that with a sharp gesture. *Enough.*

The next moment Jael and I got closer and kneeled on either side of his broad shoulders and my eyes widened while she immediately reached out to touch the new bumps, each about Jael's fist size, though for the moment still underneath the purple-black scales on his back. At once they looked similar to the bone protrusions burgeoning through muscle—very much like Gavin had exhibited shortly after escaping Manalar the first time. However their placement and symmetry caused me to think immediately of Kerse and his transformation after the Illithid had freed him from his mother's curse of stunted growth.

"Are you growing wings?" I whispered to him.

"What?" Jael gasped, eyes suddenly big—probably in excitement though the smile hadn't reached the corners of her lips yet.

"Maybe," he said noncommittally. "It has been itching there for years."

"But these are new." Jael thumped the spots. "Trust us, we know. They look like they're preparing to burst through."

He grumped—clearly it wasn't comfortable—and turned his head toward Gavin, Graul, and Shunraeki. The latter two were still asleep, though Graul turned restlessly in his fur nest, his shoulders and the roots of his own wings twitching. The Deathwalker watched us, quite still and silent. He couldn't understand what we were saying though I was sure he could interpret the actions. He chose to stand up and approach us, to get within whispering distance. There was just enough unconscious movement when he did so from among some of the Wilder that I knew the morning solitude would not last long.

"Out of curiosity," Gavin asked Mourn, keeping his voice low, "have you always had those spines along your back?"

Mourn's ears turned back slightly. "No."

"You tail?"

"Yes, though it has grown longer."

"And the horns, they are more recent, and will grow longer," Gavin said, rhetorical at this point.

The hybrid sighed and nodded, and more of the Wilder stirred awake as he stood up, much taller than any of us.

"Do you know the mechanism behind these growth spurts? Is it triggered or simply a slow process?" Gavin asked, and it sounded like his final question.

Mourn gave it some thought, his face in a frown.

"Around a lot of strong magic, maybe?" Jael guessed. "Like at Manalar, or just now in the memory weaving?"

I shook my head. "Why not when he was fighting Brom then, or while we were so close to Deshi and Nyx?"

I stopped speaking the moment Mourn twisted his neck and looked back in the general direction where I knew Gaelan to be. He turned back around and looked between the three of us, though Furuc and Iethys and Nioah were already coming close enough to hear what he said.

"More often than not, the changes hasten within weeks as a Tilabil awakens."

*****

We didn't get further chance to discuss this right then because so many things were happening at once. The children were waking and becoming strangely loud, chattering as if they had not all just seen the same bonfire and listen to the same stories. I had never known Drow children to make such noise.

At the same time, Shunraeki had awoken and was willing to receive what looked to be a few offers of a comforting embrace from two or three of the young adults. As they spoke - and I cannot make out one word - so did all the others to each other, in low tones and small groups, hands reaching out to touch the other in a way that seemed to communicate as much as my race's own hand signs did.

Meanwhile Iethys and Nioah had gone back to the smoldering fire pit with a square of leather to fish out some of the stones from beneath the ash and collect them upon the leather. They were most definitely warm, almost too warm to handle barehanded, but they managed and each held to corners as they ferried the pile closer to us and set it down right beside Mourn.

"Sho'tha," Iethys said kindly, and Mourn's tail moved in a slow, full S-curve before he nodded and lay back down upon the ground on his stomach, folding his arms meet his chin.

"What're you doing?" Jael asked, right before Nioah took her wrist and placed one of the fire-warm stones, wrapped in a small, ripped piece of leather, into her hand. "Hey! What—?"

"Soothe," Nioah said firmly, gesturing to Mourn's back.

"Come," Iethys encouraged, showing what they meant by placing a few of the smaller stones upon the muscle surrounding the taut bumps.

Mourn gasped softly at first, shocked, but almost instantly relaxed again as he sighed, breathing out in a rumble. Jael looked at me, looking nearly panicked even *before* she realized she had to switch the stone between her hands or risk burning them.

I chuckled. "What are you looking at me for? I don't have a sore back."

Nioah took Jael's shoulders and encouraged her to kneel and help Iethys with the stones, setting them in specific spots and replacing them as they cooled.

"To'vah-krav likes heat," the Guiding Sister told her as she ran a finger lightly along the white quills currently lying flat long his spinal column. "Soothes pain when these grow."

Jael frowned in consternation but nodded her understanding of the words. She continued following Iethys's lead with the stones and the hybrid rumbled in calming encouragement, slowly closing his eyes. It truly did seem to help him. I watched my Sister carefully and noted how many times she hesitated, reconsidering whether or not to protest again.

Something bothered her about what they were pushing her to do. I had a vague idea what it was, but Furuc stepped up to me and Gavin then, close enough I had to tilt my chin up to look at his face.

"What?" I asked bluntly, irritated with the timing.

The Guiding Brother had a brow that seemed perpetually drawn down, but he still smiled at me with a direct gaze as if I could no longer fool him. "You and the shaman have questions. Where do you wish to start?"

"I'd ask to hear more about Innathi's Deathwalker," Gavin replied first.

"What?" I challenged.

"Though I suppose I could also look at Gaelan, as agreed," he continued, either anticipating me or as if I'd interrupted him. He looked at me sidelong. "It just seems a waste to leave for another task when the other can be completed so simply here and now."

And delay even longer what I really wanted? If he'd been Shyntre I probably would have grabbed his hair and jerked him down to my level to tell him so. I didn't test that, though.

"So what? I've been waiting much longer for Gaelan!"

"There's no need to raise your voice."

Furuc nodded, seeming to agree with Gavin and me simultaneously. "We will fulfill your promise first, holy man. Grandmother will grant audience later in her own bed. You need not come back here."

Gavin looked at me, testing whether I would reconsider. I folded my arms, showing every line of stubbornness I could muster. He sighed in scholarly suffering, throwing up his hands in surrender.

"Fine. I know that look well enough, Sirana. I'd rather not find out the silent promise in it," he muttered a bit sourly. "At least we are not likely to leave on the morrow."

"No," I agreed, now in better control of my volume at his show of cooperation. "You'll have time, Gavin. If a Tilabil will wake in the next few weeks, we should stay. Surely you don't want to miss that, either."

"The nest is yours for your time here, Deathwalker," Furuc assured. "All will be forbidden to approach the nest without first Sirana's and then your permission."

Gavin grunted, appeased for the moment. "I assume the Dragonchild will come."

"Yes," Mourn said from the ground, abrupt with a bit of a growl, startling a few nearby Wilder who were lingering to gawk.

"Whenever he is finished with his massage, then."

The necromancer excused himself to walk toward the edge of the water—less because he was interested in a swim and more because that was the opposite direction from Shunraeki and the crowds both. Fortunately, none of the children tried to follow him, but all of them were staring with large eyes and even larger ears.

My bodyguard grumbled and growled something indistinct but didn't hurry whatever Iethys and Jael were doing beyond letting the heat soak into his back. It seemed I had a bit more time to fill and shifted my gaze when Nioah came to stand beside Furuc. Again I looked at the mismatched eyes, the overall impressive height and the lean dancer's figure; the storyweaver smiled a little as I stared too long.

"Hijr," Nioah said.

"What?"

"You wish to ask, 'which are you?,' yes?"

I felt the impulse to pretend I didn't know what the storyweaver meant, but Furuc took a step back to better watch the both of us at once, and I caved when he gave me that same "you can't fool me," look. It was also very clear the brother would defend the storyweaver to the death at any insult.

"Well, yes," I admitted. "It crossed my mind. Is it forbidden to ask?"

"No. And I just told you. I am neither. Hijr."

I frowned. "I don't know that word."

"Neither Baenar nor Noldor own it in their language. Hijr."

It sounded a bit like "hee-jyur."

"Hijr," I repeated, and Furuc deigned to smile a bit in approval. "Okay. How do I use it?"

"He. She. Hijr," Nioah said patiently.

I rubbed my forehead, trying to think it over. It wasn't coming across very clear in Surface Common, either. "Neutral? You don't feel the mating attraction, like Gavin?"

Nioah chuckled and shook hir head. "Absolutely not like Deathwalker. I am both, and neither."

What did that mean? A bit like the Kyton, maybe? Not that it was the most pleasant memory, but that...um...thing from the shadow realm had flip-flopped back and forth between being more masculine like Mourn or Divigna and more feminine like any of our Priestesses of Lolth. I had wondered later if it was just trying to intentionally confuse everyone to throw them off balance—when in truth it felt nothing, it was only wearing a mask, mimicking or face-shifting. It had certainly worked in its favor during the battle.

But now...maybe the Kyton was both? Or neither? Nioah even had a bit in common with some of the body shape, but...hijr... was still an Elf. Full-blooded and born of this tribe, if Gavin's own statement was to be trusted. Still, the tunic covered what might've answered my next question. Did Nioah wear it all the time or only when there were outsiders present?

I squinted in thought, looking at hir. "You *do* feel the mating urge?"

"I feel attraction and desire, and yearn for connection in touch, if that's what you mean."

Was it what I meant?

"Can you breed?"

The storyweaver gave me a respectful bow as hijr answered, something I got the feeling I should have done before asking that question so bluntly. "No, I cannot. Does this make me without worth to you?"

I blinked; the look in hir eyes made my stomach do a flip and at first I didn't know why. I covered my stomach to protect myself. "Uhh...no. You have magic, clearly. You serve the Wilder... I-I could not breed, either, before..."

"Yes, we know. Such terrible violence forced upon a child. Such blessing returned back to a champion who knows what it is to be 'that other,' hated and helpless, then made without worth until reassigned new purpose. I see why you were chosen to serve."

These were not the Common words I would have chosen to describe myself. It made it sound like I hadn't made any of that happen on my own, and I certainly wasn't a champion like Isboern. There may have been others making choices for me—trying to push me, claim me, or block me—but I had still *earned* my own worth. At least in my eyes.

It bothered me that I didn't know exactly what they knew about me now, or how they interpreted it if they had words for things I didn't. Or if I had concepts they didn't. I had no control over that, the wording used or how it was understood. Maybe I'd never had that, just the same potential to manipulate slightly as any born Drow, no more or less.

And how easily Nioah had turned the focus light back around on me.

"You said the Noldor don't 'own' a word either?" I asked. "What would their view on you be, if they met you?"

"What would the Baenar view be?" the storyweaver returned.

"I asked first. I know, but I'll go second."

"Then already you know my answer."

I stopped talking for a moment, defining better in my head how the Drow would respond to a child that could not fit as either male or female. So much depended on it: one's status, the opportunities which were open to be seized or competed for, how we were supposed to treat the other... One Drow that could not be determined at either... or more, one that refused to stay with their assigned purpose, well...

It was easy. They would be sacrificed on the altar, sooner rather than later. For the first time I wondered whether any, or how many, had been killed already. Had we wiped them all out, or did they just keep being born? They might not even be able to breed, so it didn't sound like it was a matter of odd, non-breeding pairs competing with the breeding ones.

Did they just...happen? Why? To serve the common well-being, like Nioah?

Drow wouldn't even give them that chance.

"A Noldor Druid told me I had no concept of 'compassion,' and 'friendship.'" I enunciated each word like I was chewing on an overcooked piece of meat. I was trying not to think of what the blond Priest had carved into Tamuril's chest; that would give it away to the Wilder that hijr was right, and I knew it already.

"If the Noldor would cull one such as you, then neither do they."

Nioah smiled slowly, wryly, but said nothing to that. It was infuriating.

"How do you even know?" I challenged, looking at both the storyweaver and the brother guide. "You never leave this valley! Your stories of them could be old or misremembered."

Furuc shook his head briefly but Nioah looked toward Mourn.

"Tell her," the hybrid said, his eyes still closed.

"We know Krithannia's story," the weaver answered me. "She gave it to us willingly. She said we should know."

I gawked. Wow, did that make Krithannia much more of a traitor to her own people than I'd even guessed... Not that I could throw stones.

Furuc nodded in agreement. "If the Druid you speak of is Tamuril, know that she holds herself to a high standard of truth and friendship from most of her own. She believed the stories as spoken to her for many years. And in your own story we see that they betrayed this innocence as harshly as any Baenar."

He actually sounded angry on her behalf. It was nice to see Furuc and I agree on something so strongly.

"Tamuril was wrong, to her wellness," Iethys said softly from beside Mourn; it looked like she and Jael were finishing up, now removing more stones than they replaced. "Baenar can own these values, or she not be healing now. A pleasure to hear in story."

Graul hummed as if agreeing to the general sentiment as he waddled over to plop down beside Mourn. His master reached out to gently scratch around his wings.

"It was a pleasure to see," the hybrid agreed, breathing in deep and shifting as he was being allowed to stand up at last, letting Jael use his forearm to brace herself before bending to pick up Graul. "Now it is time to see what might be done for Gaelan."

********

We made our way back to the giant circle of trees with a slightly larger group than last time, though I could not have said if it was the exact same path. It seemed the same and yet something always shifted in my periphery. Furuc had to catch up with us after he took Shunraeki back to her cave, but he was able to do so with impressive speed. Meanwhile Iethys and Nioah with hir story staff were our guides.

I wondered whether to bring up to Gavin that at one point we had all needed to strip naked to enter or whether to wait and see how the guiding siblings explained it. Perhaps the Deathwalker would be exempt somehow, since neither Furuc nor Iethys seemed concerned. Neither of them was very bashful about nudity, either, but surely Nioah still in hir tunic understood Gavin's preferences? Or maybe not.

I really did want Gavin's honest opinion on my other Sister I'd left Sarilis's Tower to find. Perhaps he would be reticent in return if I withheld certain information...

"We had to get nude to enter the elemental circle protecting Gaelan," I said to the necromancer. "No crafts, no weapons allowed. Crafts include clothing."

By that time, Furuc had caught up. The three Wilder and Mourn all looked at me but did not dissent immediately, and Gavin raised a brow questioningly.

"And?"

"And...you won't refuse?" Jael asked carefully, testing him outright. I was glad she was more interested in getting something done and having her own tastes challenged.

"Trading something uncomfortable for rare knowledge is inevitable in my work," he said, "and I know I'm not as pleasing to look at in that state as all of you. So be it."

That was all he said. I couldn't believe the feeling of relief that swept through me. No one was complaining of the necessity, and Gavin wouldn't get obstinate over an ingrained habit; not at the expense of what he might learn. It was...admirable, right? Or at least one need never doubt his true desires to seek knowledge.

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