The Sisters of V'Gedra

byEtaski©

Fuck, she thought, her shoulders lowering as she slouched a little. She honestly wasn't sure what would happen to her when they got back to the city.

Xala Ja'Prohn had been unwaveringly loyal and had served her Queen well for centuries...but this was an obvious failure in the royal bodyguard order. Especially given what Xala had been doing at the time it occurred. There was no covering it up. Her sole defense was that it had truly seemed as if nobody could stop fucking once it began. As if it had been gripping them all in a spell, mass compulsion, a ritual...

Oh, but any rituals which claimed to be true were all performed underground at V'Gedra.

"What is a Deathwalker?" the Captain asked from across the way, mostly to distract herself from what was undoubtedly a grim fate.

Akil had lifted his head and looked at her, then something had drawn his attention further downstream. He nodded that way, then looked back to her and raised his arm to point. "She comes now. You may ask her."

******

Ishuna could not stop shivering as she pressed her side to the Sun-warm boulder, has Captain Xala concerned herself more with her sister and talked with that Zauyr Man almost to the point of ignoring her. Bitter as that tasted in the back of her mouth, it was just as well. All the Captain would want was facts, details on what had happened that she saw with her eyes or heard with her ears, but that would not help the practical guard to truly understand.

The younger Queen's daughter was not sure she could explain it to herself, even, but she would understand it. One day. She would understand.

She held her middle with her hands, applied pressure as if she had been stabbed though there was no wound or even any tear in her clothing. She felt the echoing throb between her legs, just a taste of what it had been like for Innathi, and the lingering body heat from the Human sorcerer where he had held her tight, motionless and frightened as he raped her own sister beside her.

Ishuna prayed to Ciberew or Loricel or whoever would listen that Innathi's own mage gift had answered the living magic in the man... Not the death magic, as she herself had felt. It had felt like a dagger piercing her, drawing out part of her very essence, letting it float away.

He is Death for an Elf. He could become—

Ishuna blurted a short scream when someone kneeled down in front of her and it wasn't Xala. It was—the young Drowh thought but wasn't sure—a Human Woman wearing a hooded, grey robe and gloves, entirely covered from the Sun. Her face was not simply homely with rough, ashen-brown skin, but there were scars on her face and neck, leading down into her clothes. The marks were too...clean and straight, showing distinct, circular and angular patterns too deliberate to be unwelcome torture or accident, though Ishuna supposed it could have been accepted punishment. She also couldn't tell how old this Woman might be in Human years, but in any case she was not young.

The hooded Woman looked straight through her with those void-like, entirely black eyes.

"Easy, Ishuna, easy," Xala said, now kneeling down as well. She placed a comforting hand on her trembling shoulder. "This is Houda, the Third Sorcerer's Deathwalker, and she has a few questions."

"D-Deathwalker?" Ishuna squeaked, shrinking away from the chill coming off the woman.

"Every Zauyrian Sorcerer has one hanging around, I'm told," Xala explained, though not as though she understood it. "Akil says they are mystic teachers, Ishuna, and she is one of Cris-ri-phon's mage instructors as well. Will you answer her questions?"

Hesitantly, the young Drowh nodded, though she still could not look directly at either Houda or Xala for long. Xala spoke to her instead in Zauyrian and received a reply. The Deathwalker's voice was hoarse, almost whispering...a bit like the voices in some of Ishuna's worse reveries.

"Your clothes are wet," Xala translated. "Were you in the pool with them?"

Ishuna nodded. "I tried to push him off of her."

Xala translated, and Houda nodded, speaking again through an interpreter.

"How did he resist your attempt to stop him?"

"He pulled my leg out from under me and grabbed me, too. Still....still rutting my sister."

Houda frowned, and Xala translated. "When did he release you?"

Ishuna shuddered. "After. ...after he was finished."

The next thing the Deathwalker asked had Xala screwing her face up in confusion. Akil was nearby and Ishuna could at least read that he encouraged the Captain to ask the question anyway, even if she didn't understand it.

"May Houda see where you are hurt?" Xala said.

"N-no!" Ishuna cried, looking at the grey mage. "Don't touch me! I'm not hurt, just shaken!"

There was another exchange that had the poor Captain baffled.

"She says you are hurt, Ishuna. Your... hm, fuck, I don't know that word."

Houda made a motion then, tracing a finger just the perfect distance from her physical body from shoulder to shoulder before touching her forehead, lips, the hollow of her throat, and her chest. Ishuna watched every movement, oddly fascinated. The Woman's long, covered fingers had paused at the heart, then moved down to her middle. Ishuna's mouth tightened unconsciously.

She knows.

"Aura," Ishuna murmured.

Xala squinted. "You can be hurt in your aura? But that always heals, right? What does she mean? What does that do?"

"I-I don't know!" the young Drowh answered defensively. "Wh-what about Innathi? How is her aura?"

They just stared at her.

"Ask her!" Ishuna demanded of Xala, pointing at Houda. "How is Innathi?"

The Captain translated, and Houda answered readily with barely another glance at her sister, though it wasn't a short response.

"Her aura is strong," Xala said. "The Sorcerer's son did not hurt her. He hurt you, though he likely did not mean to. He is very strong but is only just beginning to understand his magic."

Houda said something else that had Xala shaking her head in protest. The words sounded like they were spinning out of control, even though it was just normal speech to a Zauyrian.

"What?" Ishuna asked, then louder: "What did she say?"

"She offers to come with us to help explain to your Queen-Mother, to make amends for any insult or injury done to the Drowh Queendom."

"She wasn't even here," Ishuna said, hating how pathetic her voice sounded to her own ears. "She didn't see anything, she can't even speak Drowh. And she can't help me, she's of the same silver that he is which hurt me in the first place!"

Instead of arguing further after hearing this, Houda stood up, slowly and nonthreatening, with the statement that Ishuna could change her mind. Then the Deathwalker excused herself to cross the stream, heading next to the Sorcerer's son, who was only now struggling into his clothing. He recovered far faster than Innathi but he was still shaking. While Xala checked again on her sister, Ishuna watched the interaction between the Deathwalker and the Phoenix Man.

He looked just like Ishuna had a moment ago: shaking his head, trembling, trying to explain the unexplainable to the hooded Woman. The difference was that he allowed Houda to touch him; she carefully laid a cool hand on his sweating forehead and it seemed to calm him down. His aura roiled a little less, even as it burned hot still with all the colors of flame. The dark silver base brought the fires under control.

The Deathwalker could help him. Ishuna didn't have anyone who could help her. She didn't even really know what her aura looked like right now.

"Oh..." Innathi breathed, clutching Xala's blanket as she slowly sat up with the Captain's help. Her hair was tousled, already half dry, and her eyes were...

Luminous. Just as her aura was, blue and gold and now mingled with red and orange like his. She even smiled, looking around, searching for Cris and finding him. Innathi didn't even notice how small her sister tried to make herself.

What has he done to you?

*******

"Qu'eesan," Xala began incredulously, "will you please say that again?"

Innathi nodded confidently. "There's no harm, Captain. I touched him first. He did exactly as I commanded him, every moment. He can hardly be punished for only wanting to please me, can he?"

And he couldn't help himself. The Queen's heir still remembered the look on his face, how desperately he held her, she remembered every hard thrust of his cock. She didn't even mind that she'd be sore riding a horse again; she was privately proud of it.

"Well," the Captain said slowly, "he did something to Ishuna. Her aura."

Innathi grimaced in sympathy a moment. "Well... she got in the way. Any mage knows you don't disrupt another mage's concentration. She can take the consequences and learn from them, I'm sure. It'll make her mage's senses stronger with time."

Xala was relieved, Innathi could tell. They would be allies in explaining this to the Queen-Mother. The heir to the throne wouldn't be rushing back to the capital, crying for war against one of the Zauyr Sorcerer's over an unexpected, public coupling. She had more pride and respect for herself than that. In fact, she could take this and make it work for her, for her entire Queendom. She would gain power from this, not display weakness.

Unlike Ishuna. Sulking over there by the rock. Why had she interfered, anyway? She had probably been jealous. Not a chance was Innathi going to allow her little sister to ruin what had to be the most intriguing connection their two desert peoples had ever had.

Mother had said to her before that She regretted losing power and influence over the Humans of the desert as the Deathwalkers had grown more prevalent. It wasn't something She spoke of often, certainly never in public, and her firstborn had always wanted to learn more. Ishuna had never heard their Queen-Mother's wish, that was obvious, or she wouldn't be looking so resentful right now.

Now Innathi had a chance to show the Queen-Mother she could look ahead; she could plan in advance as a matter of course and be a worthy successor. She would define this amazing, confusing incident, not let it define her.

Cris-ri-phon was Human; he wouldn't live nearly as long as her. She had to act on this now, while he was still young.

******

"Interesting," was all the Queen-Mother said at first, her aging, copper eyes gazing at each one of them with the precision of a scalpel, a languid finger pressed up against her temple as she rested in the most comfortable chair in her receiving room.

Innathi and Ishuna were both there with Captain Xala, all of them still quite dirty from their trek. It was early evening and they had only just arrived home. Innathi acted less intoxicated, nearly normal now although her eyes still held a certain intensity that showed she had not stopped thinking about the young sorcerer.

Ishuna was withdrawn, often staring into nothing and acting startled if she was touched. Sometimes she put her hand over her middle, as if checking for scab or blemish that she never found but could not well leave alone, though that was happening less and less since leaving the canyon. Maybe it was getting better?

The Captain was worried for them both but did not even know if she would still be around to see how they fared. She could quite soon be facing some serious consequences of her own—anything from reassignment to exile to execution—depending on how this meeting went. Innathi was doing a good job presenting those chaotic moments at Koorul in the most advantageous, best possible view.

"I would like to send an invitation to the Third Sorcerer, Mother," Innathi suggested as her finish. "To also include his two eldest sons and Houda, the Deathwalker."

The Valsharess tapped her finger against her temple. "We will consider this carefully, daughter."

As that was all the Drowh Queen said, her heir merely bowed in acceptance and waited. The elegant eyes shifted smoothly to Xala.

"Captain Ja'Prohn. Report."

She was prepared to do so and did not waste her Majesty's time with uncertainty. She gave each highlight to the entire journey, all four weeks they had been gone, and though it took a while to recount, the Queen did not ask for anything to be repeated and there were only a few additional questions she had for the incident inside Koorul.

Xala left the final interpretation of her own competence and trustworthiness to the Valsharess and did not try to excuse herself on any point. The Queen had to know exactly what the Zauyr had seen, what they would be talking about amongst themselves.

The Valsharess nodded at the finish, repositioned herself in her chair, and looked at last to her younger daughter. "Ishuna. What was your experience?"

The young Drowh's lower lip trembled and it was clear that she knew what she wanted to say but it probably wasn't what she should.

"Speak," the Queen-Mother ordered. "You have barely made eye contact with anyone since arriving. You look like prey caught in a trap. That is not acceptable behavior for a royal Daughter, you make Us look weak."

Ishuna flinched but made herself straighten up, forced her mouth to move. She could not look at her Mother for long, however. "I had a vision of the Sorcerer's son, Mother. He should be kept away from us, he will bring ruin to us."

"Ishuna!" Innathi hissed, vastly irritated especially since that was the exact opposite of what she had spent an entire evening cajoling her sister into agreeing to say.

"A vision," the Valsharess repeated with narrowed eyes. Her displeasure rolled over them like an earth tremor. "We do not rule by visions, Daughter. Many a time we've been told of 'ruin' by counselors in reverie and all have a solution in the waking world and the material. Tell us your experience, for experience is the only thing that can show us where we are at any point in time."

Ishuna trembled, something only the Queen's lower vassals tended to do. "Koorul is sacred, a sacred site. It enhanced Human magic. The Deathwalker was the one most aligned with the place, thus she was most powerful among us when she arrived, I could see it." She swallowed, licked her lips. "The young sorcerer has great potential, but he was not aligned like the grey mage, and when he touched Innathi..."

Her voice quivered to a halt when she noticed her sister's look, at her fist tightened.

"Speak," her Mother demanded, her voice low and penetrating.

Ishuna's throat hurt as she tried. "I saw a vision of—"

"No. Your experience, Ishuna. Now."

"M-my vision was my experie—"

"Then why do you hold your middle as though someone struck you with a dagger?"

"Because he did!" she cried. "He used something unseen—"

"Captain, you checked them both for injuries, correct?"

"I did, Your Majesty. There were no physical injuries, though Houda claimed something else I couldn't see even with my own mage's eyes."

"Did she suggest how to tend it?"

"No, Majesty, she did not. She asked to look but Ishuna refused to be touched by her. We left that evening."

The Valsharess's mouth pressed in obvious disappointment as she looked at her younger daughter with a quiet sigh. Xala paused; she wasn't sure what that was about but continued on the topic of the Deathwalker since it seemed of interest.

"Houda also offered to travel to the capital to stand before you in humility, my Queen. She seemed to take some responsibility for the sorcerer's actions and offered to make amends, though she did not specify how."

The Valsharess, still staring at her "injured" daughter, frowned in thought. "There is much we don't understand about necromancy. Perhaps we will take her up on this offer."

Innathi glanced at Ishuna and back, now looking a little more concerned that she had been. "Are you suggesting it was a death magic injury? But that would mean—"

"The Third Sorcerer's younger son is a potential necromancer, yes."

"But...he did not feel that way, Mother. Not to me. He was a match for my own strength, in a Human, no less!"

"This is unusual," the Valsharess granted. "And you are wise and clever, my daughter, this is an opportunity we should consider before it slips from our hands." The Queen-Mother looked to the side in patient contemplation. Before too long she spoke again. "You are dismissed, Innathi and Ishuna, until I summon you again. Captain Ja'Prohn, you will stay and hear your sentence."

"Yes, Valsharess," they said almost in unison.

******

As the days passed one after the other and the populace continued their daily trade and politics in blissful ignorance of the sandstorm coming, Ishuna grew to hate coming out of reverie. She hated being in it almost as much, but the process to come awake – and to convince herself that she was awake – was becoming an ordeal which seemed to have no end.

Sometimes the way out was a deliberate dive down to the bottom of quicksand, or it was the shadow of the doorway as opposed the door itself. Abstraction and symbols became routine even as voices nibbled at the edge of the wound in her belly.

"Ishuna, well met. How do you feel today?"

"I am well, Mother, thank you."

"You look like you need more rest."

The young mage could see the hole in her gut more clearly in reverie, whenever she had the courage to lift her dress or her shirt and expose it. Her aura was purple and gold ordinarily, but there was that dark silver stain branching through a small part of it, as though someone had thrown something hard and struck a silver mirror.

The webbed design wasn't growing any bigger, or smaller, but it prevented her from feeling wholly connected to her body. Whether awake or in reverie, she hesitated before casting a spell, any spell, feeling a twinge of pain or a spin to her head, fooling her into thinking she'd fallen down when she had not.

"Concentrate, Ishuna! A mage's concentration is the backbone of her ability."

"Of course, instructor."

The worst reverie came with a vision so revolting and horrific in every aspect that Ishuna knew, even as it happened, that it must be a dream and she must wake from it sooner or later, though the torment was slow and vivid and endless.

She awoke screaming but no one came to her door this time. As in her childhood, it had grown tiresome for her Mother to hear the reports from her guards of her disturbed sleep, and Innathi was now too far away in the Palace for it to interrupt her own reverie.

This would pass, like it had then. Even Ishuna waited for it to pass.

The only image Ishuna dared to recall and make note, absently scratching oversimplified lines on parchment, was a big-belly Drowh sitting on her Mother's throne giving birth to a child-sized scorpion, preparing to take her own life with a dagger.

No. I've got to save her.

Ishuna burned the image over a candle flame a few moments later.

******

It would take nearly a year to arrange for the visitors who would be the Valsharess's Guests, and it was a pretty large deal when it would finally come to be. More than twenty Humans would stay in the Palace for at least a month, including the Third Zauyrian Sorcerer and his two eldest sons.

Begir-al-phon had more children, they were told, but the Queen-Mother would not have invited the even eldest at all if it would not have been an insult as well as a lack of forethought. She had grown used to the two-hundred-year-old mage, negotiations had been easy and their borders quiet, but the father was clearly aging close to his time and that was probably why he had very young sons to begin with. Not just Cris at a mere twenty years but his older brother and the true heir, Leur-en-phon, was thirty-five.

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