priestess

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. © Etaski 2012



The story so far heavily references both “Sisterhood” and “Subterrane” and is very continued.



Not much to warn about this chapter except a philosophical question: You know “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Well…when everyone is chaotic evil and all are enemies, does that ultimately make them all friends? ;)




*



“Hello, Sirana. You are looking well since last I saw you.”



I gave Lelinahdara a wry smile. “And you shine with Lolth’s faith, as always.”



She planted hands on her hips and shook her head once. “No Court-inspired lip service here, if you please, Red Sister.”



I shrugged and gave a small bow. “I’ve almost forgotten the Court, Priestess. Why could I not simply be sincere this once, particularly to she who healed me with that faith?”



Now it was her turn for the wry expression, and she added an eye roll for good measure. “Because I know you. Now hush and follow me.”



I did with a bounce to my gait, my stride long and my cloak flowing out behind me.



She was right, of course. This Priestess certainly knew the most about me excepting perhaps D’Shea—not only from the final ritual that had seen me through to the wilderness test, but also having witnessed certain side effects of holding on to a dying Duergar.



She seemed the only member of the Priesthood with whom my Elder was willing to deal in more sensitive Sisterhood matters, and I’d just learned that Lelinahdara was in truth the official liaison between the Priestesses and the Red Sisters. Her birth name was lovely and simple: Tarra of House Leluin.



The Priestess’s qualifications in her assigned position fell into place naturally, as far as D’Shea was concerned, in that she’d been just begun to study the more arcane magic after having served her Matron well in matters of politics for many years before receiving her calling. The strongest mage within the Red Sisters was of the opinion that Lelinah was multi-talented and well-rounded the same way she viewed herself…and to a lesser extent, the same way she viewed me. “Even had I any doubt of your potential before, Sirana, your conversation with the female Duergar proved it to me.”



“Proved what, Elder?”



“You have the ability, at least, to perceive how your rivals and your enemies come to be how they are. Understanding that is the first step to anticipating them. It is the only reason I am even bothering to teach you about Wilsira and the Sanctuary. Otherwise I would just take my chances.”



It had been satisfying learning more about the Priestesses right from D’Shea’s mouth, out of sheer necessity. She could not go on her own time table this time; she had to throw a lot of detail at me quickly to prepare me for my temporary service with Wilsirathon, all so I may have some chance to avoid the traps she would set for me. It had been refreshing, like the few times I could talk with Rausery, and it seemed D’Shea could be very practical when she needed to be.



That wasn’t to say I would not rather be watching and hearing about Jael’s initiation—and participating myself—over being here in a true viper’s nest, but if the circumstances forced my Elder to loosen her tongue for a brief time, then was a fair trade. The more I learned, the more confident I could feel that this wouldn’t be my last assignment.



The Sanctuary was enormous and quite central compared to the smaller, more private cloister of the Red Sisters. Anyone at Court could see it looming next to the Palace, attached both in architecture and policy even though one would never mistake one for the other. The Palace had used a different stone, its energy pattern overall contained more straight edges and stately vertices than the softer molding and swirls in the view of its bigger sister.



However, both were covered in ornate, carved decoration with many spider and web motifs of course, but also entwined with our most common objects of beauty: crowns and religious headpieces, long flowing hair, perfect bodies wrapped in silk or armed and armored with balance, decorations and jewels and of the more abstract designs, I saw more sets of piercing eyes than any other interpretive pattern.



I had entered through a backdoor to which I’d been directed, stepping into a less busy side of the Palace. I’d been told Lelinah would be expecting me, and certainly she was there the moment I placed my hand on the silent summons.



From the inside, I could not immediately gauge or sense the same vast space that one could see from the outside—at least from this entrance. The halls and stairs curved frequently, and like our cloister there were no straight-shots that lasted longer than a dozen running strides. The ceiling was not high or the walls wide; I might use a dagger or a short staff, but no full-length swords or pikes.



It occurred to me that the place had a similar look and feel to the smaller rooms and more secretive meeting places from which I’d watched Wilsirathon dominate Curgia. I’d been told we’d been in the Palace, not the Santuary, but I wondered a bit now. If I could get a decent mental map while I was here, it might make the narrow, magical spyways offer more sense than to seem only buried and disconnected from the building itself…



Although at the same time, that spyway was created as alternate pocket-space, not actual construction within the very walls and ceilings of the Palace. Places within those passages might not line up exactly with how these buildings had been constructed.



For the first time, I wondered what creative solutions the Priestesses had in place for keeping track of things going on inside their Sanctuary. Lelinah had certainly seemed to know the moment I had arrived, after all.



“Why the good mood, Sirana?” she asked now, her hips swaying slowly in her purple silk gown as I noted the same ornate black belt and ceremonial dagger I’d always seen her wearing.



“A rough ride upon waking,” I said brightly.



She snorted delicately, her mouth widening in humor. “But your Sisters take anything nearby, and with high frequency. Is it still such a lift, then?”



“Absolutely. It’s also another notch in my bedframe. It’s become so thin it may crumble and send me to the floor one of these cycles.”



Tarra laughed, as I hoped she would, giving up the topic with a shake of her head. “Well. Wilsirathon wished to meet you immediately upon your arrival. Do you need anything first?”



“No, Priestess. I came prepared. Even my bladder is empty.”



Her eyebrows rose at the volunteered—and very unnecessary—information. “Very well.” She chuckled again softly. “Keep the attitude, Sirana. You’ll do fine.”



Oh, yes, I would.



While the walls—and the rooms—of my cloister were for the most part bare and ascetic with only the essentials, those of the Sanctuary were colorful and decorative, lined with a tasteful amount of tapestries, banners, metal sculpture, and murals. Small tables existed for no other purpose than to display a figure or fine design, and there were quite a few more sources of water with regular, small fountains for drinking and washing (and probably blessing), and either smokeless torches or delicate candles.



It seemed I had come in at the back and at the foundation floor, as we went up three additional flights of stairs, and each floor from there had a different dominating color in the light; purple, gold, blue….I did notice that red was either missing or I hadn’t found the floor yet.



I’d gotten used to dealing with less light on the whole, but the Sanctuary was well-lit by comparison—all the better to show off the beauty of their aesthetics. It brought back more memories of the Court and of my House and how accustomed I’d once been to candles and decorations just being there.



Now my mind catalogued them all as possible impromptu weapons or tools; as disadvantages or advantages depending on where I stood in any given room. How quickly things had changed.



I also anticipated the blue-themed floor, and heard the subdued voices of children and a few low wails of hungry infants as we passed through. D’Shea had told me there were young Drow raised within the Sanctuary itself, ones who did not leave until a Priestess bid it—and always for a particular purpose. These Drow were unknown to almost all of society, they belonged to no House and always found it hard to have any identity or status outside that which the Priesthood gave them.



D’Shea would not tell me much of the how and why, but I’d correctly and easily guessed at least one purpose: the breeding and raising of the Consorts.



“Yes. Not the only purpose, however,” D’Shea had said almost grudgingly.



“To raise and train more Priestesses?” I guessed.



“Always a possibility.”



“Just a possibility, Elder? In breeding Consorts, wouldn’t they need to do something with the females as well?”



D’Shea had shaken her head. “Their magic is too powerful for there to be a need to leave the sex to chance. They can select males, or a female if they wish. I cannot do that with my arcane magic.”



I had blinked several times. “And… Rausery told me the Priestesses keep any children caught by the Red Sisters as well. Would they be among those on the blue floor?”



My Elder had glared at me; clearly she wished Rausery hadn’t divulged that bit. “Yes.”



“Are there any pregnant Red Sisters on that floor now whom I might see, Elder?” I asked.



“No. It’s been quite a while since we’ve lost one of us to them. And don’t ask whether there are any children of ours there now. That doesn’t matter once they’ve been safely birthed.”



She quickly changed the subject to Kerse and his mother I refocused willingly.



Lelinahdara paused in her smooth stride now, looking at me as I focused down the hall toward noise which I hadn’t heard much of in my lifetime. Clusters of Drow children together were rare; if they were Noble offspring, they did not come to Court until they were grown and they were tutored within their own grounds. The business class and more common Drow kept their own blood close so they wouldn’t be stolen away, and they could also make use of their labor and teach them skills. Drow children wanted to explore and interact with each other to a degree, but only in small groups, and some rivalries between those groups formed very early.



I had to think that, if I indeed heard perhaps a score or more of Drow children and infants now farther down this hall, then it was the single largest group of them that I’d ever been aware of in one place for any length of time.



How would such an upbringing alter them from the more typical Drow when they became grown? No single Matron to look to, far too many siblings—whether of blood or not, they were of an age—and little knowledge of the City outside of the Sanctuary.



I could not think it would be good for seeing anything beyond the religious power—to know or discover that they were not the entirety of the world, as the Priestesses would like all to believe. It would certainly alienate these Drow, and it made more sense to me now that Auslan generally refrained from interacting much with House Itlaun except as he was expected. The rest of the time, he just watched and listened. And reported.



He was curious of some others of power beyond the Priesthood, though. He’d made that clear the last time we’d spoken. He was curious about me.



“Is there a problem, Sister?” Lelinahdara asked, and there was a layer of chill to her tone.



I shook my head. “I’ve never heard so many children in one place, Priestess,” I replied honestly.



She nodded. “A necessity. We are very protective of them, Sirana, don’t get too curious. We are only passing through.”



And yet… had she needed to take me to this floor at all? I wondered.



“Not to worry, Priestess. My function doesn’t involve children.”



Ironic, that. Given how often it involved sex.



“Good of you to say. Come.”



We went up another well-decorated, spiral stairwell, and as Lelinah gently touched a smooth, polished stone on the wall, I felt an odd feeling in the pit of my stomach, as if I’d just passed through into a spyway. More wary as I stepped out of an open, doorless exit, I was surprised to see this floor was dominated by whites, grays, and dark shades of near-black. I stood out in unfortunate contrast in my red uniform.



More of the tapestries contained scenes in which I was not sure at what I was looking. Lelinah allowed me to pause one so I could look more closely. I saw abstract, interpreted magic and energy flow, as if I was seeing with my dark vision, but also smears of red and orange. Somehow I understood that they were violent images, though the menace in them was often blurred with blackness. Not unlike Calling Darkness to force utter blindness in those all around.



Like a void.



Then I understood. The Abyss. We were on the Draegloth floor, but I hadn’t understood that to be only one floor up from the young, full-blooded Drow. It would be stupid to keep them so close; D’Shea had said it was not unusual for a Draegloth to try to kill a vulnerable youth in the Sanctuary, if given the opportunity.



Why? The third-floor children were not of two bloods; that was all the reason needed for there to be jealousy and resentment toward the small, beautiful ones who looked so much more like their mother than the Draegloth did.



Except I knew the Abyssal floor was near the top of the Sanctuary.



“Twelfth level,” Lelinah answered for me after a mere glance at my expression. “We skipped a few. They are private quarters, libraries, and the practical things even we must see tended to. You don’t need to see them one by one.”



I nodded, and understood that she could have led me to skip all floors except the stables and basement, where I’d entered, and this upper level. She’d let me see the main reception hall with a theme of gold, the offices in purple, and the childcare floor in blue before skipping to here. I made plenty of mental notes.



There were not quite as many decorations and objects of art on this floor; it was mostly banners and tapestries, plenty to look at but not as much to break or destroy. I could smell more scent up here, of larger bodies with greater heat putting off a greater volume of musk. It was not overwhelming, but it did not have the undertones of soap and perfume and general fastidious cleanliness than the other floors had had, excepting the stables.



The halls twisted for a while until I was sure we’d walked to the far side of the Sanctuary and I was led to a thick, double-wide iron door inscribed with runes and magical carvings.



“Was our last recruit tested here recently?” I asked quietly.



Lelinahdara was silent, her hand pausing before she rested it against her chosen panel. She glanced at me. “This exact place? No. The Fourth Daughter that the Sisterhood brought here faced them in an arena on another floor. She would have had an unfair advantage here; their magic is restricted inside this room.”



Jael may have seen some of their magic, then? I’d have to remember that.



“Is this where they sleep?” I asked.



“They don’t sleep. But this is where they are kept if their mother does not want one with her at a given time.”



I frowned slightly. “I thought you were taking me to see Wilsirathon.”



“I am. She likes this place.”



The way Lelinah had placed a subtle stress on the word “likes” told me something…I decided first that Wilsirathon chose this place intentionally as a meeting place, and that she felt comfortable here. Powerful.



Perhaps if other mother-Priestesses neglected their horrid-looking sons, another one visiting more frequently might make additional bonds? Possible. I’d have to watch. Wilsirathon no doubt wanted me to get some sort of immediate message.



My guide rested her palm on the inscribed panel and murmured a chant I definitely did not understand. Something heavy clunked deep inside the doorway and it ground the floor far more than any of our typical sliding doors did. Slowly, only one side opened but wide enough for us to walk through single-file. Lelinah went in first with me following. It closed automatically after my boot heel just passed the threshold.



There was light in here, but it was odd. No candles, and the wall lanterns soldered and bolted to the stone glowed with a heatless, unsettlingly pale, white glow. Overall it was dim light, casting many shadows, and I would have preferred either more light or none at all. This half-way illumination felt more dangerous to walk through with sensitive, Underdark eyes.



I smelled plenty of them, heard shifting bodies and quiet hisses, at least one happy giggle, but saw none of them. I shut my eyes and stood listening to those menacing sounds, letting the subtle air move across my face, feeling the living energy. I could confidently place five of them in the room…and one was right over my head on the high ceiling.



I would not have been prepared without D’Shea’s counsel, but she had pressed on me the importance of setting boundaries early on, and I had a bolt prepared for something like this.



Lelinah barely had time to raise her hand, a protest on her lips, as I withdrew my crossbow pistol and shot straight up over my head. I moved to the side, pushing the Priestess ahead of me, as the blunt head of the specialized bolt struck near the skulking Draegloth. The packet of sneeze powder burst on impact and the dust sprinkled down slowly to where I’d been standing. Even though my nose and lungs itched, Lelinah and I were out of the direct effect.



I had to say, however, that it was incredibly amusing to listen to a Draegloth go into a sneezing fit for a solid thirty seconds.



“Lolth bless you,” I said toward the end of it with a broad grin on my face, confidence and strength loaded in my voice along with my good humor. “You might want to get off the ceiling now, Stripe. I have more, and I love the target practice.”



Lelinahdara saw immediately that I had done nothing to injure the creature and relaxed. Her eyes watched some movement I couldn’t see, though I could hear the scratching of claws along the stone. The Draegloth was moving toward one of the outer walls, away from me. Sure enough, soon he was climbing down and grumbling low in his chest.



I could see Lelinah’s shoulders shaking as she covered her mouth with one hand, muffling what would have been full laughter if she wanted. It made me chuckle quite audibly, just watching her.



Whatever proud, revealing entrance Wilsirathon may have been planning, the mood had been spoiled. She simple walked out of the shadows at this point, elegant and poised, her face impassive.



“Tarra,” she said. In her name was a quiet rebuke.



Lelinah shook her head slightly and took a breath, her smile still present; she did not look repentant. “Priestess Wilsirathon, I’ve brought your bodyguard for your tour, courtesy of the Red Sister Prime. She sends her regards and requests a confirmation message in return.”



Wilsirathon nodded. “Give it to her. This one’s service for five cycles is payment provided in full. You are dismissed.”



Lelinah did not bow, but curtsied slightly and turned to leave. She met my eyes for a brief moment and I thought I saw an eye twitch—not quite a wink, but the intensity of her green eyes communicated the rest. She wanted me to hold up under Wilsira’s tests and would do nothing to hinder me.



How nice to have a neutral sanctum within a Sanctuary of pitfalls. At least until we left on the “tour.” Wherever that was.



The Draegloth in the room were quiet and tense as the Priestess opened the door once again and let herself out. When it thumped back into place, the sound echoing loudly in the stillness, some of the hisses of expelled breath were very eager.

“Hhherrr, too…?” I heard one whisper. “Wwe gett herrr?”



Wilsirathon made a gesture and the excited whispers quieted. She was waiting on me, I realized.



I bowed without taking me eyes off her. “Greetings, Priestess. I am reporting for my assignment, protecting your body for the next five cycles.”



Her body, but I had no ability or obligation for protecting her mind. That would be coming from another source, D’Shea had said.



The Priestess nodded once, slowly. “Greetings, Red Sister. What is your name?”



“Sirana, Priestess. And yours?”



Her mouth twitched just slightly. “I am Wilisirathon. You shall call me Priestess while you serve. What is your House name, Sirana?”



I shook my head once. “I am of no House, Priestess.”



“No longer,” she corrected. “But once.”



“You used the present tense, Priestess. I answered that.”



“So I did, and so you did. I shall have to be careful how I word my questions to you, won’t I?” She smiled, pretending to relax.



She was lying, of course. She’d worded her question deliberately. It was a simple disciplinary slip, but one that she could report to the Red Sister Prime if she liked. On that one account, she could demand another bodyguard as a vote of no confidence, and I’d be sent back to face the Prime’s wrath for still embracing any connection to my past. It was one way for a spiteful Priestess to make trouble for me…but also the fastest way to get rid of me. Somehow I didn’t think that was her intent; she may have only held onto the slip until a better time and kept me anyway.



“You will have a lot of questions, then, Priestess?” I asked.



She chuckled. “Of course. Won’t you?”



“I have one, now you mention it.”



“Oh? Ask it.”



“What is your favorite entertainment? And is it more physical or spectating?”



She did not blink or betray any surprise or confusion at the question, but she also did not answer immediately.



“I believe you will find out.”



“As a participant or observer? The Red Sister Prime set certain parameters, I believe.”



A tiny crease showed in between her white eyebrows. “As I said, you will find out.”



“Ah, but you never answered my first question, Priestess.”



“I don’t have to, child.”



“Even when you granted me the asking? It does not guarantee an answer?”



“Correct.”



“Duly noted, Priestess.”



I let the silence settle a moment, having set my piece for a possible pay-off later, but I didn’t need to use it now.



Wilsirathon watched me thoughtfully, her spider headpiece latticed over her gold-streaked hair. As she shifted, my eyes were briefly drawn to her silver heirloom belt shimmering around her well-curved waist in the ghostly light of the chamber.



“You are being rather antagonistic,” she commented. “Would you rather be elsewhere? I heard you are not fond of those who are called to study clerical ambitions. Something about a… familial strain?”



The Draegloth around me hissed and chuckled in the dark.



“I serve as the Sisterhood bids, Priestess. All is well within our cloister, thank you for asking. And how is Kerse?” I asked. “I heard you—”



“Bite your tongue,” she snapped, her elegant face twisting to a much harsher expression for just a moment before she caught herself and exhaled.



I went silent but smiled without showing my teeth.



“I have never been impressed by the Red Sisters insisting they no longer have families but for each other,” she said. “It is a false shield they hide behind. One can’t erase a century or more of upbringing and one *certainly* can’t erase shared blood.”



“Thank you for your valued opinion, Priestess.”



She stared at me…or perhaps at my expression. “If you would laugh at me, Sirana, go ahead and do it.”



“You first.”



“I find nothing funny about you.”



“A pity, Priestess, truly dismays me to no end. But I meant, enjoy a laugh at yourself just this once. It might give you an edge. We are competing for that edge, aren’t we? Or we wouldn’t be standing in a shadowy room throbbing with male heartbeats beholden more to you but their noses twitching and tongues drooling more for me, engaged in a lengthy conversation constantly sidestepping the real reason you asked for my service and generally spending all our valuable time shifting our weight instead of traveling. Where are we going, by the way?”



Her anger was no longer visible and there was no rising emotion I could detect as I kept talking. Instead of an increase in tension between us, I could sense that she was mentally stepping back from our confrontation, but not in retreat. She was reevaluating.



And she did smile. Then she chuckled.



Very interesting. I was going to bet what she would stubbornly refuse. She was nothing like Qivni, then.



“I’m delighted to have entertained, Priestess.”



“I was thinking of something else, Sister. But I believe I will be.” She took a few steps closer to me, and the copper-red of her eyes became more visible on the odd light. “I was not present when my son tested you, but I now believe the story actually has some weight. What did you think of him, then, Sirana?”



I shrugged. “I do not know him, Priestess. It was only the one short engagement during my trials, many cycles ago.”



“But a memorable one.”



I nodded a yes, suppressing my excitement and guarding my thoughts, just in case. She may have answered a question for me: had she set up my run-in with Kerse at the worship ball? Not likely, unless she simply was that good at hiding her thoughts. Based on the heated response when I said Kerse’s name…I’d guess she was not.



“Well, then, Red Sister? If memorable, what was your impression?”



“He’s smart, Priestess. And well-endowed.”



Wilsirathon smiled more easily this time, but it was wry. “And it was as I’ve been told, truly consensual? You willingly accepted him and you both climaxed.”



“Yes, Priestess. Given the circumstances, it was better to play the game than simply endure.”



“Any animal can ‘play,’ Sirana. How did that imply he was ‘smart’ to you?”



I shrugged. “He hunted and fought well, he understood what I said to him…and he spoke to me. Given what little I knew about Draegloth before, I was impressed.”



The Priestess’s mouth tightened a bit. “Yes. He certainly knows your name.”



“I never told him, Priestess. I’d always assumed he got it from my superiors, overheard it from them. I imagine you first heard my name from your son, then?”



Wilsirathon nodded, narrowing her eyes slightly. “Shortly after he was returned to me.”



So the Sisterhood did not casually give the names of those being recruited or tested, even when asking for resources from the Priestesses. Very good to know.



“I trust you were not bewildered for long?”



Wilsirathon shook her head. “I found your name in the genealogy archives quickly enough.” She smiled slowly, eyes never leaving mine. “I paid a visit to House Thalluen. One’s birth mother can provide many insights into a child who sets herself apart.”



I maintained eye-contact but kept my reaction and my smile light. “Really? I set myself apart by enjoying an energetic fuck? Come, now, surely I’m not the only Drow to orgasm having sex with a Draegloth. You’d understand better than most, don’t you, Priestess?”



One of her bejeweled hands closed into a loose fist and she took the remaining steps necessary to close the distance between us. Now I could smell her clearly; not as many floral or soapy scents as I might’ve expected. She smelled of incense, powdered fungus and herbs, and sweat.



I didn’t move from my spot and let the heat of our bodies blend in the space between us. We were of a height; neither one of us needed to look up to the other.



“You flip between being direct and indirect,” she commented. Her breath smelled of a recent, potent tea. “Your method is not focused. I would rethink it.”



“The web calling the tapestry woven, Priestess.”



“Hm,” she smirked. “What possessed you to come in with this attitude?”



I looked confused. “Attitude? Even Lolth laughs, Priestess, and it’s always a pleasure to see the Priestesses still need us.”



I began to wonder whether Wilsirathon had ever visited my mother at all; or if she did, then my Matron had been very…obtuse…in answering any questions. The Priestess certainly hadn’t seemed to glean that many insights into my personality.



“Indeed.”



She walked past, her purple silk barely brushing me and the floor, distracting me, and when I looked up, one of the Draegloth had dissolved silently from the shadows and was leaping right for me.



Again, I had D’Shea to thank for the correct response to this. I could not stop myself from taking a defensive stance, but I forced my hands to stay away from the hilts of my daggers, my hands open. It took by far more energy to hold that position than it would have taken to roll to the side and bite deep with a weapon.



Claws dug hard into the stone floor as the half-breed stopped nearly on a coin in front of me, breathing in my face. I think I would have preferred the scent of tea I’d detected from Wilsira’s mouth.



“He’s got a rotting tooth, Priestess,” I commented while still holding my gaze with the Draegloth’s yellow eyes. “That, or he needs to chew on some sweetmoss or something.”



Wilsirathon was silent behind me. I hated not being able to see her, but could not turn my back to this beast. I’d already found out what happened when I did that. This one wasn’t Kerse, but D’Shea had described it being a general, expected response. They could hardly help but chase when something turned to go the other direction. And if a Priestess of some will didn’t direct them otherwise…?



The Draegloth champed teeth at me and growled, and his hand movement down below highly suggested he didn’t have a loincloth. I didn’t look down to confirm, though; I didn’t need to. His male scent wafted up briefly as he rearranged and caressed himself.



As I stood in that face-off, two more Draegloth appeared in my peripheral vision, flanking me on both sides as they crouched down, ratcheting up the tension as it became much more difficult for me to stand still.



Wilsirathon behind me, her pet beasts on the other three sides, and no escape.



In any other circumstance, I’d have done several things quite differently by now.



“Rather cruel to tease them, isn’t it?” I asked.



The Priestess chuckled softly. “How do you know I am? What would you do if they attacked, Sirana?”



“If you were going to find out, you’d have already set them on me.”



“Tempting. Wouldn’t a hypothetical discussion be better than a true test?”



“It’s not worth much. Such discussions never account for every factor.”



“Indulge me, Sirana.”



I smiled, still looking at the Draegloth in front of me, coughing delicately at his next smelly breath. “I’d send the costs of magical components needed to repair and clean my uniform to you personally.”



She didn’t really appreciate my answer; she forced a bit of a laugh. “Making the assumption, of course, of violence and victory.”



“No, a much more basic assumption of contact, Priestess. And what purpose is there to imagine defeat?”



“Would you kill them?”



“No.”



My true answer was, “Only if necessary,” but I already knew Wilsirathon as sensitive to that particular subject. Something about the death of a Draegloth negatively affected his blood-mother, D’Shea had said, even if she paid little attention to him. The smarter Priestesses took some precautions to protect them, because they were protecting themselves.



The Draegloth to my left reached out and caressed three claws very lightly down my thigh; I actually didn’t know if that was his initiative or the Priestess’s direction. I didn’t think she could instruct the demonbred motion-by-motion, like so many puppets, but…



When I didn’t move—he hadn’t even snagged my leather, after all—he shifted his path to curve long fingers around my hamstring toward my inner thigh. I was already as tense as I could be, legs spread in a stable stance that I could hold for a long time, but it was agony being so vulnerable—not so much due to his copping a feel as it was that a deep gouge at that large muscle would cripple me.



D’Shea had said she’d test my nerves; I believed that, but neither of us knew how far that would go. I may have to decide if I’d engage in a group fuck or a fight; I hadn’t thought Wilsirathon would push it that far immediately upon meeting, but—



His control was too thin and his desire too greedy to resist pressing his fingers into the crotch of my leathers soon after exploring my thigh. Adrenalin entered my bloodstream, as did a sudden influx if arousal that both surprised me and seemed to give me some relief from all this tension. The touch was firm but less clumsy than I would have expected, and he purred low in his chest.



The rustles in the room increased and the Draegloth to my right grew bold enough to copy his brother, reaching to stroke my other leg and more gingerly play with my backside. The Draegloth in front of me finally broke our lasting gaze first, looking down to watch the entertainment, his nostrils flaring. With his gaze went even more of the tension and I sighed quietly. I admitted to myself that I was getting aroused by the attention. It was markedly better than having to stand still and staring.



The left-side creature withdrew his hand to sniff it, and his brother immediately replaced him, stroking my sex through my pants before also withdrawing to inhale my scent as well. The one in front of me rumbled and nodded, licking his lips and reaching to touch himself again with one hand while his other took its own sliding swipe along my cunt. All three touches were different and fanned the rising heat between my legs, long and slow.



It occurred to me that Wilsirathon couldn’t see all the naughty detail; my cloak obstructed her view even though she certainly knew where they were touching. She may or may not know that the Draegloth facing me was openly masturbating; certainly she could hear it, though.



“Nice,” I breathed, breaking the overall quiet and causing all three Draegloth to pause briefly before they returned their focus to everything below my waist. “Are they often this docile, Priestess?”



“Not often,” she murmured. She sounded almost fascinated. “They would not remain so if I weren’t here. They may not, even now.”



“Mmm.”



I took the risk to reach up and gently stroke my fingers through the mane of the one on the left who’d reached to touch me first. He flinched, but after a moment glancing up at me, returned his focus to sharing my nether region with his flanking partner. My gloves shushed through the coarse hair along his spine.



The Draegloth in front churred at the sight and leaned down to nuzzle my crotch directly with his nose, snuffling as I felt his hot breath seep through the material. Meanwhile, the one on the right clicked in his throat as he started tugging at the leather ties on my right hip, clearly wishing the garment gone.



There was a distinct lack of fear on my part, as it ultimately had been with Kerse during my trials. I’d decided now that I would let them take down my pants. There was no way I wasn’t climaxing from whatever they wanted to do, although I didn’t think about what might happen after I pleasured myself with these three.



I supposed I’d just send the cleaning bill to the Priestess, as promised.



“Enough, stand back,” Wilsirathon said.



I blinked, realizing my focus had softened significantly and at first I wasn’t sure who she was talking to.



“STAND BACK!” she barked louder, clapping her hands and causing a deep report in the chamber.



The three Draegloth jerked to look at her, taking their hands away and shifting back from me, hissing in deep resentment at the interruption. I was briefly irritated as well; we were all going to be left frustrated.



I breathed out slowly, however, making eye contact with the one who’d been in front of me, and smiled; it was possible he tentatively smiled back before he recalled that he wouldn’t be given the length to finish.



I sympathized, but at least I had a balm: I’d just won the stand-off with both Priestess and beast.



The Abyssal creatures continued to back up as I heard Wilsirathon stepping toward me, melting back into the shadows and unhappy with their pleasure outlet being blocked. The Priestess came up on my right side and only when she was next to me did I take my eyes from the half-breeds and look at her.



Her face was mostly contemplative, though her mouth was still tense as it stretched into a smile. “You’d have allowed them to mount you, just now. Isn’t that right?”



I shrugged. “More than that, I’d have straddled them myself, Priestess. The foreplay was surprisingly good. Did you and your matronly sisters teach them that?”



She huffed softly and didn’t answer the question. “We leave now. I have other matters to tend to.”



By the shush of dismay that rolled through the deep shadows in between the glow, it was unanimous that the Priestess this time was a cruel and teasing slit.



****



Wilsirathon’s quarters were only a floor down, on the eleventh, and they were easily the most spacious I’d seen; three times that of D’Shea’s, which was three times that of the one I shared with Gaelan.



It contained an ornate bedframe with posts and white, breezy veils forming a canopy. Both a wash basin and a tub were visible at one end of the room, with a built-in wardrobe nearby for however many ritual garments she owned. A vanity overflowed with jewelry and beautifying compounds, and candles protected by drafts by open domes of clear glass were evenly spread throughout the room. She possessed a small bookshelf as well, although it did not have the musty scent of age that D’Shea’s did.



“Varessa coached you well,” Wilsira said, and I blinked.



Oh, yes. Varessa D’Shea. I’d nearly forgotten my Elder’s given name. I used my obvious confusion to my advantage; why not sow a bit of doubt?



“Of course.” I was quiet after that, and the Priestess looked appropriately suspicious.



“What else did she tell you to expect?”



“Expect? What have I expected thus far, Priestess?”



“Non-lethal responses to the Draegloth, for one.”



I shook my head. “I learned that through normal talk and gossip, Priestess. I have been in the Sisterhood for over a year now.”



“And holding perfectly still when one lunged at you? Not drawing any weapons? What about letting them touch you so intimately?”



Again I shook my head. “Instinct and deduction, Priestess. You were comfortable in that chamber, so it had to be because you had enough control. I trusted you to control them, and I’ve heard how powerful you are and that they are your specialty.” I grinned. “Were you instructing them somehow on how to pleasure me?”



“That was more instinct and conditioning on their part,” she said, her eyes gliding down me once. “You showed no fear. You acted more as they are used to seeing a Priestess act. Though yes, I did want to see what you did when they laid hands on you.”



Meaning, yes, the Priestesses had taught their half-breeds how to touch a female body. I couldn’t be happier with all the information I was getting and how well I was doing.



Wilsira waved the subject away with her hand and she spoke casually. She did not seem to be putting on as much of a show as she had been on the Abyssal floor. “In any regard, we shall be preparing for my journey. As you are my physical guardian, you must also meet my magical guardian. You will be working together. That one will be here soon.”



Working with one who was not a Red Sister. That would no doubt be annoying.



It was tedious to watch a Priestess carefully select her items and place them one-by-one in a many-pocketed trunk, so I was glad when there was a knock on the door.



“Ah.” Wilisira smiled. “Enter!”



I watched with renewed interest as male drow in dark blue robes entered and bowed.

“Priestess.”



He straightened up and saw me. We both went absolutely still.



*Fuck me to the Abyss and back…*



“You are right on time, Shyntre,” the Priestess said with a wide, beautiful smile, her copper eyes twinkling. “It is good to see you again.”



I was rather glad I had an excuse not to speak since she had not addressed me; I had some time to recover from the shock of seeing him. My wizard, on the other hand, had to wrench his attention from me back to her and take a breath. It shook a little.



“And you, Priestess. Always a pleasure to serve you.”



Except this time, perhaps. His eyes were furious though he kept his hands closed against any gestures.



My only true advantage to this was that my wizard was just as surprised as I was. It meant Wilsirathon didn’t trust him enough to bring him in on the plot ahead of time, and if I knew his mind well enough, he’d think Wilsira had chosen me to deliberately mess with him, not the other way around. He’d think that he was being punished or challenged, not me.



When he looked at me again, I winked and grinned. I would have loved to watch his body’s responses in the dark. Oh, Lolth, this was going to be interesting. If I was aroused before inside the Draegloth chamber, my blood was fairly singing in excitement now.



“You two have met already?” Wilsira asked, now sounding very amused. “Or shall I introduce you?”



Our respective sexes and our mouths were certainly familiar with each other, but—



“We’ve never been formally introduced, Priestess,” I said, looking at her with an equally amused smile. “If you would?”



“Of course. Sirana, this is Shyntre, son of the Wizard’s Tower and an accomplished scholar,” she nearly cooed. “He has been studying for well over a century, and his specialties include invisibility, as I believe you’re aware, but also short-time evocations, gem-imbuement, shielding and scrying.”



She observed me so carefully as she spoke that I wondered if Shyntre wouldn’t deduce himself that I was the target of her attention, not him. Perhaps the only reason he didn’t notice was that he was clearly angry that I was simply being *given* his strengths and skills, and I wouldn’t have to find them out the hard way. I might have doubted her on some points, except that Shyntre’s response was so genuine that I had to take it as she said.



What had happened to make this one so angry? No Priestess liked to be glared at by a petulant male; why was it being ignored, now?



I gave a little bow to the wizard. “A pleasure to be introduced at last.”



“Shyntre,” the Priestess continued, looking to him just as he forced some better control over his expression to make it much milder. “This is Sirana of the Red Sisters. She’s been a mere year with them thus far, but talented in the martial arts prior to that or she would not have been selected for their tests. I trust you’ll understand my not divulging her particular specialties—”



Perhaps because she didn’t know them.



“—although you’re aware of their reputation for having insatiable carnal appetites, I’m sure.”



Now that was a bit much, perhaps. I could be satiated. It was more that we had far greater endurance and a quicker physical response than the norm. We were expected to spy and attack in that manner as well.



Shyntre bowed stiffly. “Well met, Red Sister.”



“I should say this clearly now, Sirana,” Wilsira said looking directly at me, “that since you are both on duty at all times watching for my welfare, you’ll not take your pleasure with him on our tour. Surely you can control yourself that long?”



“No need to disrespect the Sisterhood’s competence or training, Priestess. I can, surely.”



“No disrespect intended, but you *are* the youngest, after all.”



No longer, I remembered, and made a mental sigh as I again thought of how I’d *still* rather be back at the cloister as Jael’s initiation went on—even with Shyntre here. Wilsira wouldn’t allow me to begin my vengeance on him now, so even that could wait a little longer.



“Have no fear, Priestess. Shyntre’s various qualities will not distract me.”



“Excellent, my guardian. I shall be most pleased with your service, then.”



Finally it seemed as though the wizard was catching up; he looked far less angry and much more thoughtful as he listened to us and looked at me. I still smiled at him. Regardless of the restrictions and my preference for Jael over him, I could still see potential in having him so near to hand for several cycles. I could still learn much.



I wondered how long it would take him to ask for his blue sapphire back?



As our preparations continued and we approached the time to leave the Sanctuary, I began to wonder whether D’Shea had been wrong and Wilsira had no intention of bringing Kerse along on this trip. I hadn’t seen him at all and she hadn’t mentioned him since we’d talked about him in the Abyssal chamber. What might it indicate if she didn’t? That she didn’t trust either his or her own responses to me? That she intended to spring him on me at some point, as she did the wizard?



And speaking of the wizard, I wondered now how often Shyntre might have served this particular Priestess. They knew each other from before, but I didn’t know whether it was possible Wilsirathon had chosen the male Drow for my trials. Why would she? No, that made no sense; her influence wouldn’t reach to the Tower or Army selections… unless I was missing something.



I knew precious little about the wizard’s past; where he had come from, of what House, if any. I was only guessing that he had been involuntarily moved to the Tower when his magical aptitude became known. It may not even be a far leap to think he might have originally come from the Sanctuary. It might explain his intense but impotent rage of a kind I’d never really seen in a male of “normal” society. It might also explain why he went dead silent when I’d had him in my arms before; when he realized I knew nothing about him.



A former, fallen Consort, perhaps? He wasn’t quite beautiful enough, I thought. Or a Priestess’s son? Or both, sort of a “failed attempt” to breed a Consort? I didn’t truly know just which wombs were used to breed the Consorts, after all; it was a well-kept secret, even though I had figured for a while now that the Priestesses had more than enough vanity to consider themselves the prime choice. It might also explain his particular hatred for the Red Sisters, being birthed and raised by Priestesses. “Your kind,” he’d called us, voice full of derision and distaste. Somehow the thought of his having grown up fully in open society didn’t fit him; either he had been taken away from his mother very young, or he’d never been out there. Even by Drow standards, he was warped.



When I ultimately got my chance to interrogate him—not likely on this trip, but it could help develop my plans if I was successful—I might get just as much pleasure extracting answers from him as I would using his body against his will.



“So what methods do you have for protecting the Priestess?” I asked Shyntre as we stood together, watching Wilsira move around her carriage inspecting it herself. We had already done so but if she wanted to look herself, but all means.



“You didn’t listen, Sister?” he said, just short of the tone where I’d have had the excuse to strike him. “I can perform shield and invisibility spells.”



“And short-time evocations. And imbuing gems. Tell me about both those.”



As I watched his angry face in better light then I’d ever seen it before, he was actually fairly beautiful, just nowhere near Auslan’s level. He’d look better if he smiled once in a while. For the first time I could determine his eye color; a dark, crimson red somewhat like Rausery’s, although his contained flecks of gold. He also looked a bit familiar in the shape of his eyes and mouth, but I wasn’t sure where—or even whether—I’d seen the traits before or if he just looked like someone I’d known. I had many male faces with which to compare his, after all.



Shyntre breathed out. “The first is a simpler form of evocation that can be cast in a fraction of the time. The effects are normally small but if played right, can be nearly as deadly or distracting.”



“Like whatever you threw at my head in the Tower?” I asked with a smile.



He grumbled. “Yes. It would have stunned you for several moments if it had struck you.”



“It wouldn’t have stopped me, dear wizard,” I said sweetly. “You’d have still been dragged along the floor. Although nice to have a better idea of the level of damage we can do to each other and expect not to be killed for it, hm?”



I saw him swallow. “It was all I could cast at the time.”



“Making excuses? Are you trying to say you didn’t *think,* wizard?” A quiet laugh escaped me and he shot me an annoyed glance.



“You don’t know enough of magic, I see,” he said haughtily.



“Then tell me about the gems. Can you imbue any stone or gem? Onyx, sapphire, quartz? What do you imbue them with?”



He looked at me and his eyes flared with heat as he stressed the first word. “Sapphires… are quite good for imbuing. Quartz it too brittle. And only certain spells use onyx.”



“What do you do with them?” I asked.



“It’s like having a spell, or the strength to cast one, suspended in time and available call on demand, but only those with at minimum the ability to call Light or Darkness could use them. They are hard to make and expensive,” he added quickly, “that’s why you don’t see imbued gems scattered across the City. Mostly I am called on to make light, healing or beautification gems, or one for simple stored energy. The Valsharess has forbidden highly destructive gems to be made and the materials are difficult to collect anyway.”



“Talented wizard,” I cooed, smiling slowly and suggestively at him.



He lifted one nostril. “So mere talk of my work arouses you?”



“The simple fact that you are breathing arouses me, Shyntre.” I reached to pinch his backside but he stubbornly refused to react by flinching or jumping.



“How mindless,” he commented. “But only what can be expected of your kind, isn’t it?”



“Thank whoever taught you to feast between female legs so well. I’d like to see what else you can do with that mouth.”



He didn’t have time for a reply as Wilsira called to us and I responded well before he did, striding away from one enemy toward another.



The carriage was loaded and stocked for a seven-day journey, just in case. The spidery black metal of the wheels were well-formed with suspension capable of absorbing shocks on the road. There was a decorated enclosure with padded cushions for the Priestess and up to three more to sit in comfort, the carriage’s rear and underside balanced with what she was carried with her.



The four beasts pulling this load weren’t lizards; they didn’t have the back muscles for this. We used a species of more rare omnivores in the Underdark, Uroans—rare because of the expense needed to keep them fed. Four-legged with wide, clawed feet, and capable of keeping a gallop for brief periods and maintaining a brisk walk for eternity, they possessed broad shoulders, short necks and faces, and a soft, moisture-sloughing brown coat we rarely needed to trim. The snouts barely long enough to root in the dirt for additional nibbles and the eyes small and mostly useless. They guided themselves by smell and possessed excellent balance—and our harnesses gave them direction.



The Priestess and the wizard both got inside the carriage and still I did not see Kerse. I had to decide that he wasn’t coming after all, which would help provide fewer distractions, but also possibly less information as well.



The Drow driver climbed atop the carriage to guide the beasts, and I was given a lizard to ride alongside them—Wilsirathon wanted me seen by the public, apparently, and I didn’t debate with her the wisdom of maintaining any element of surprise. I could believe that Wilsirathon only wanted the entertainment of being escorted by both me and the wizard on this tour and our respective functions were a mere precaution. She wasn’t expecting any sort of real trouble or danger.



Not that I wouldn’t be a fool and a failure as a Red Sister to think I could let down my guard. A bored and jealous Priestess with no outside danger to distract her? More than enough reason to put myself on high alert, regardless of my teasing and flippant attitude toward both of my traveling companions. Let them think everything rolled off my back easily as water; I would not have my own emotions used against me if I could help it.



I was definitely not used to being so visible as we moved down from the rulers’ rise and into the winding streets of the City itself; it seemed nearly every passersby noticed me riding alongside the coach. They knew well what a Priestess carriage looked like even if they might not know who was inside, but a Red Sister riding in plain view with it apparently wasn’t an everyday occurrence. Some stopped in their tracks, some slowly retreated while trying to be discrete about it, others only watched warily as they moved on their business. Only the very young pointed at me, often right before an adult slapped their hand.



“Do not raise your hand in such a manner,” I heard one mother hiss, shaking the youth’s arm. “They assume you are preparing to attack and they kill disobedient children like you!”



Well. A few other factors went into that deduction and ignorant child deaths were far more rare than those of the adults, who usually earned it, but who was I to interfere in some traditional passing on of legend when it maintained my order’s reputation?



I noticed now, much more than I had as a Noble, how many non-Drow slaves, servants, and independents which were present as well, and what kind. Gnomes and their distant relatives, the Peches, a few rare Duergar—hard-earned slaves from the look of it—but many more of their weaker, lesser relatives, the Derro.



Different from all of them were the fish-headed Kuo-toa, an aquatic race that worked hard to maintain mutually beneficial relations with us by trading deep water resources for those of agriculture and mining. Drow were still the majority of any single race on the streets, at perhaps five out of ten. Still, there were a lot of individuals that were integrated and useful in the City, likely the very reason Wilsirathon could lounge so pleasantly in an elegantly designed carriage pulled by four Uroans in the first place.



Drow worked and plotted, but we had also found many ways to take advantage of the greater productive capabilities of other races, if we could find out what it was they wanted most.



“S-SPEED FOR A CLIFF, M-MONSTRESS!”



I looked toward the stuttering shout, pegged its owner, and evaluated quickly: a female Drow in a thin, dirty gown, middle-aged, hair shorn very messily, no weapons but for a tired, old eating knife in her right hand; her energy was extremely unhealthy and her gestures unfocused.



No threat.



Wilsira leaned cautiously out her window as the driver slowed the carriage. I looked up and around, just in case this was a distraction for something bigger.



“L-LOLTH’S WHORE IN THAT C-CARRIAGE! M-MAY YOU ROT IN THE B-BELLIES OF D-DRIDERS!”



The Priestess frowned and said to me, “Silence her.”



I quirked an eyebrow but withdrew my crossbow pistol and aimed it without reply. Those on the street moved fast, darting to get out of my line of fire, and the crazy Drow was just within range. I fired at her feet, and my second packet of sneeze powder burst open quickly enveloping her. She not only sneezed but was caught in alternating choking and coughing as well. She must have inhaled as much as was even possible; that, or she was truly in bad condition. She dropped her dull knife to the ground.



After the cloud had dissipated enough, I pricked the lizard forward in its customary burst of speed, bearing down on the dissenter and plucking her up by the hair. She shrieked as I folded her over my saddle and kept moving into the inky shadow of an alley. Once out of sight, I directed the lizard up, selecting a fairly easy path for it to climb as I held on to her tightly. She smelled as though she hadn’t bathed in a long time.



I stuffed a cloth into the older Drow’s mouth, which at least muffled her ranting and squealing as we climbed. In perhaps twenty seconds, I had enough height to still be able to see the Priestess’s carriage while at the same time fewer on the street could see me—if they even knew where I’d gone with my victim—and none could interfere. Meanwhile, the driver continued moving forward without me; a good move, but I had maybe thirty seconds before I’d have to start jumping across smooth and curved rooftops to keep them in sight.



“Pshshesh dugh!” the squirming female said through her gag.



“What?” I chuckled, pulling the soggy cloth out and stuffing it between her dress and shoulder in case I needed it again. I certainly wasn’t putting it back on my belt.



“P-Priestess’s dog!” she spat again. “She s-sent you to find me?”



“Who’s she?” I asked.



“The c-cunt who f-fed my child to the Abyss! She didn’t d-do anything wrong! My d-daughter…!”



She sobbed, her jaw quivering as she struggled to breathe over the saddle. She tried to get up and I pressed my hand to her back. It took little effort on my part to control her; she was very weak. The constant stuttering, the way she trembled, and the fever coming off her body all implied she’d already been poisoned.



“And you are?”



“J-just kill m-me! N-need my ears a-as p-proof, h-huh?”



Something like that. I glanced at where the carriage moved down the street. No troublesome figures followed them, and only now were individuals cautiously coming back out from where they’d hidden when I’d charged forward to snatch my prisoner.



“Give me your name, and the name of your enemy,” I said. “Maybe you’ll live.”



Except she wouldn’t. We both knew that.



She wept as I’d never seen a Drow weep before, and just then I could see naturally-healed lash marks peeking out from her neckline. I hooked one finger to lift it up so I could see farther down her back. I saw actual scar tissue marring her flesh and obstructing the normal flow of life energy. It would have taken weeks to form those, and the entire time healing draughts had to have been kept out of her reach.



“Answer me. Your name.”



“Daleina…M-merchant.”



“And the cunt in the carriage you want to see die?”



My writhing prisoner growled. “T-Tushendathon.”



That was a title, and not a Drow I knew personally. Nor was she the Priestess I was protecting right now. Mistaken identity. I thought as much, although it wasn’t out of the question that Wilsirathon might still be involved somehow. “And, again, what did she do to your daughter?”



“Ab-abducted r-right off the street! Know it was h-her because…received a s-summons. W-wouldn’t p-pay so was whipped and k-kept.”



“And they just released you, Daleina?”



“N-no…I escaped.”



“When?”



“Y-you know! S-sent you…only m-marks ago… P-poisoned my l-last meal, assumed I’d die of it in p-prison…I d-didn’t! Now—”



“Now you’ve gone insane to be yelling at a Priestess carriage on a street corner.”



“I w-wanted them to know! I w-want them—” This was followed by an incoherent wail and she shook her head as if trying to dislodge a spider that had crawled in her ear.



“Know what, Daelina?” I said, taking her hair to force her face to look toward me. Her eyes and cheeks were sunken, her eyes dull and flicking unfocused at all points around her.



“T-they’re f-feeding them…our ch-children…to…d-demons…”



“How old was your daughter?” I was hesitant to take her description literally; she was out of her mind and probably hallucinating from the poison and abuse. An age might make a difference in possibilities.



“S-she just ch-chose a sire…wanted…ch-ildren…her own…”

Grown, then, not a youth.



I had to turn then and start navigating the lizard over the rooftops; I’d lost sight of Wilsirathon and that wasn’t good. The older, dying Drow continued mumbling but she got less and less coherent. Something about swapping unborn children, abominations, more eating and birthing and eating again. It painted a gruesome picture but I didn’t know what to make of it.



Daelina continued to weaken, the slow poison finally catching up to her as I caught up to the carriage. Her ranting had stopped and it was only a matter of time before her breathing did as well. I didn’t really have to do anything to her in order to “silence” her, and I didn’t care to bring Wilsirathon any body parts when I could just bring her the whole thing.



Wilsirathon leaned out of the carriage when she heard me come alongside her again. She had been smiling and seemed about to say something but blinked at the body still slung over my mount. Then she frowned. When I came closer still, she leaned back, wrinkling her nose.



“What are you doing?”



“She’s silenced, Priestess. I gathered you didn’t want me to just leave her body smelling up the City streets for enemies to find?”



“And just what are we going to do with it, Red Sister?”



I shrugged. “Identify it? Report it?”



“I already know who it was. An annoyance, nothing more.”



I smiled. “Aren’t there others searching as well? She looks like a prisoner escaped.”



The Priestess shook her head, bringing up a scented cloth to cover her nose and mouth. “I’ll send a message once we reach our first destination. We don’t have time now. If you would drop that diseased thing somewhere else and dispose of it, Red Sister? Maybe *your* immunity is heightened by magic, but your mount’s isn’t and neither is mine or Shyntre’s.”



A decent point. Daleina didn’t smell healthy. The Priestess was right about my own strong immunity, though: it was a gift given from the Red Sister Prime when we earned our reds. We rarely became ill, even exposed to some of the seedier places of the Underdark. Not impossible for us to contract something, of course, but it wasn’t the highest concern on our mind when we were hip deep in excrement—only sometimes figuratively. If we had to go there, we went there.



I chuckled and turned the lizard away from the coach, Daelina’s head lolling and her body unmoving.



The population crunch loosened as we got out of the center of the City, and I stayed farther away from the carriage while keeping it in sight. My mount had to deal with the scent of dead flesh a little longer. A few times, he tried to turn his head back and nibble on a leg, but I struck his nose with a crop each time.



I no doubt held on to the body much longer than the Priestess preferred I did, but that was part of why I’d done it—as long as I had it, I could stay away from her because that’s what she ordered.



I was also looking for a place that wouldn’t poison a soil or water source, or sicken kept beasts which might find and eat it. It was more difficult than one might think finding such a place. The meat was not good for scavenging, after all.



At least it gave me some time to think.



If the rants were even remotely true—and I may yet find out if Wilsira knew something about this prisoner—then why steal a merchant and her grown daughter by force? It was not beyond the Priestesses’ resources, but it seemed…clumsy. They could not have convinced the mother and daughter to come along willingly? They had to abduct one and blackmail the other into coming to see them? They had to do it in exactly the way to create the most rebellion and resistance possible?



It made little sense to me. Perhaps the old Drow had simply been insane for another reason, pushed to create her own personal cause, her own grief, and her own enemy on which to focus her rage—all in the delirium of her mistreatment and toxic blood. The symptoms of the poison, especially the stuttering, indicated a rough distilling of a particular mushroom that I rarely had cause to use in my line of work. It worked far too slowly and I had access to much better ones that incapacitated my targets in more precise and predictable ways. This one was cheaply made and sometimes the victim didn’t even die because it required multiple doses.



As I said: a clumsy assassination. I knew the Priestesses had much better resources than to have to resort to what had been done to this Drow. All the physical details matched a mere unfortunate prisoner, condemned to die slowly—and it could have been for any slight, any rivalry, any revenge. If Wilsirathon hadn’t acknowledged knowing of her, I’d have been willing to believe it had nothing to do with the Priestesses at all.



I stopped at an outcropping of bare rock as we crested a small hill and checked for a pulse one last time. I didn’t find one so dismounted before pulling the dead weight off to lay it on the ground. I took an extra moment to check her body for any unique marks or items, but saw only the scars and found no possessions.



She couldn’t be left for the scroungers, so I plucked out a small bottle of accelerant, dribbling a potent, clear liquid on the hair and clothing before switching out for simple flint and steel and climbing off my mount. I had received enough practice in the last year using this cheap method of gaining fire to get a spark ignited within a handful of seconds. It was a handy skill to have, though I’d never learned it as a Noble.



The lizard hissed as soon as it smelled the first wisps of smoke and I remounted quickly, moving away only far enough to watch and make sure the fire took. I had to look away when it flared suddenly to higher heat and began charring the flesh, and my eyes watered from the brightness I’d set in the enormous cavern. My nose and ears and skin all told me the fire was strong and would not go out until it had finished all its fuel, so I set to catch up again to the carriage.



******



We were headed to visit three different Houses. I learned this only after we’d only begun approaching the first one. We were to pay respects to the Matrons and Wilsira to discuss whatever business she had with them. We would be spending one reverie in each place, and two in pre-selected inns that knew how to cater to a traveling Priestess.



“It does make it more difficult to protect your body when I don’t know where it is going earlier than this, Priestess,” I’d commented at her window.



She chuckled. “You failed to ask earlier.”



“Ah, but I did ask, Priestess. You failed to answer.”



She gave me a sardonic grin. “I don’t fail, I choose.”



“I’ll bear that in mind, Priestess.”



She harrumphed. “You responded most creatively to that threat back at the City. I don’t think long planning would help much, as it changes often. That’s why I have faith in the Red Sisters’ training.”



Undoubtedly.



“She was no threat, Priestess,” I said blandly. “Just loud.”



“Well, we like quiet, don’t we?”



“So who was she?”



Wilsirathon sniffed. “Why would I know?”



“You said so, Priestess. An annoyance, as I recall.”



“That’s what all prisoners are.”



I tilted my head; she sounded like a Noble-nosed bubble head. “You’re smarter than that, Priestess.”



Finally she seemed to drop whatever attitude she’d been trying for and narrowed her eyes at me. “Not open for discussion, Red Sister. Now mind your tongue and your duties.”



Given that Shyntre was staring at us from deeper inside the coach, I got the message and dropped it. I had enough ammunition from Daleina’s own mouth to start it up again anytime I wished.



Our first stop that eve was House D’Verin, the Ninth House at present, and the closest one to the City. They had also been the Noble Family who had previously been gifted Auslan, back when I’d found him on that tiny farm the previous year. As I recalled, D’Verin had been awarded a different Consort at the most recent worship ball, the one with purple eyes.



This solidified for me part of the web of connections to which I was always adding. Wilsirathon connected to House Illuen, who was given Auslan, but previous gifted to D’Verin—which was now also being visited by the same Priestess who awarded him to Illuen. Obvious, yes, and hardly secret—I was not the only one taking notes at the worship ball—but I wasn’t sure how many Nobles or Matrons knew whether a particular Priestess watched over a particular Consort.



That was what I was trying to find out. I didn’t know who had awarded Auslan to D’Verin in the first place; that would have been a decade ago and, while I had been there at the time, I hadn’t noticed a damned thing. I’d been too busy stuffing my cunt with glee deep in the audience. That could be an indication that only a few younger Nobles really paid attention to the motives beyond status, reward, and breeding—or only that I was unusual enough to in my appetite to draw the attention of another order entirely.



It was probably the latter.



This gave me ample warning as well that we may be heading to House Illuen on this tour. Wouldn’t that be a balancing act? Curgia and Auslan, who both knew my face, with Wilsirathon and Shyntre. All of us in the same spot.



If I didn’t know better, I would think the Priestess knew about my spying on her and Curgia, and of my connection with the Consort, and she was doing this on purpose. But I had reason to think she didn’t know about my second run-in with Kerse at the ball, which meant she likely also didn’t know that I’d watched him breed Curgia.



There was also no way she could know about Auslan unless he’d betrayed his agreement with the Sisterhood. If he hadn’t, then it was just coincidence. Granted, not a coincidence that helped my situation, but I wasn’t about to get paranoid before I had more evidence from somewhere that I should worry.



Ideally, though, Curgia and Auslan shouldn’t see me with Wilsirathon. That would only make things more difficult…



“I can appreciate keeping me on display like a grand gesture, Priestess,” I said through the window as we rolled along the road. “But may I suggest I do what I do best and watch from shadows while you deal?”



“Nonsense,” she replied. “How would you guard my body being in another room spying from a peephole? You are a far greater deterrent when they can see the reds, my dear, and far more effective at your function if you can cover me in an instant.”



She had the stronger argument, I had to admit. Perhaps there was no real way to avoid being seen by those at House Illuen.



What I was concerned about, however, was Wilsirathon gleaning much more information about some of the Sisters’ recent doings at that House and unveiling Auslan as compromised. Oddly, I didn’t worry about Auslan himself giving it away; he was skilled at what he did and plenty smart enough to see the layers, given what he knew.



It was Curgia that concerned me. She wasn’t a quick study in the first place, and she did not have the benefit that the Consort had of knowing some of the background and having a lot more to lose. If her first sight of me made it clear that she’d seen me before, Wilsirathon probably wouldn’t let it go until she knew why.



That could get messy, rather quickly.



“As you wish, Priestess.”



“Not thrilled, I see,” she said playfully. “Am I that distasteful? Or too old for your taste, perhaps?”



I gave her an odd look, then smiled. “Not at all, Priestess. I’m sure even Shyntre would agree with me, you carry your wisdom well. Do you dance?”



She laughed, and for an instant I wondered whether it had been genuine. “Every cycle.”



If nothing else, I pulled up the cowl on my cloak to establish a pattern going to the first House, so by the third House it would not be thought twice.



“Ah, adding mystery,” she said smoothly from the coach. “I approve. I hadn’t realized you were so shy after your stunt in the City, Sirana.”



I chuckled, part of my periphery blocked by the cowl but with the trade that, as she’d said, there was more mystery around my face. “You tease, Priestess. I only consider my own Elders’ wisdom here.”



“Indeed.” She sounded intrigued and I was sure the wizard leaned forward. “What wisdom is that?”



“Always leave the Nobles wondering who is watching.”



******



I found that I rather enjoyed being exempt from all social expectations. While Wilsira and Shyntre did all the bowing and gestures and traditional words at House D’Verin, I could just stand and watch. I was not introduced, and no one asked my name; furthermore, few spent more than a moment looking at me before their eyes drifted somewhere else. Most of my weapons were covered by my cloak, my hands just out of view as I stood near to Wilsirathon—but not too near.



I was the dragon in the room, and everyone ignored it.



The disadvantage was that no one was behaving naturally, and all were watching their words carefully. The chances of me learning anything useful or truly secret were almost nil, and I had to work harder to occupy my mind and keep from becoming bored or complacent. It was amusing, seeing them shift and turn over every word that left their mouth for possible offense, but…it would grow old quickly.



The main interaction of interest for me was when the Priestess asked to see their Consort. They brought the beauty down promptly enough for me to know that he had been waiting for the summons, and he stood before the Priestess so she could see he was still in excellent health. He looked like he could have been Auslan’s cousin, although his eyes tilted differently, and of course they were that fetching lavender color that I’d only seen in silk before.



The Matron D’Verin had caught from him quickly, it seemed, the bump at her middle only somewhat smaller than Curgia’s as I’d seen last. Neither of her daughters were pregnant, however, and from the covetous looks on their faces, I was guessing the Matron was keeping the Consort to herself.



It did occur to me as well to keep an eye out for a young Drow here that may have been sired by Auslan the previous decade. Such a one would probably be kept to a nursery and not included in any adult conversations, so it wasn’t likely I’d see her, or him. But I was still curious.



Soon we retired to the library where only the Priestess and the Matron—and me and Shyntre—were present to discuss some plans and goals for House D’Verin where the Court was concerned. I did pay attention to that. The short of it was weighing the potential magic ability in Daughter Number Four versus the beauty and charm in Son Number Three in trying to gain access to some part of House Number Eight’s financial records.



Matron D’Verin had a very large family compared to mine. No wonder we had been slipping when I’d left; we didn’t have the resources of these higher Houses.



But then, that was assuming that they were all working together—which would have been a fantastic tale. It was a given there was competition within the family, and the larger the family, the more potential for failures due more to self-sabotage than being out-witted by the adversary.



The thought that the upper Houses maybe retained their power because they in fact took fewer actions overall—letting those hungrier below them eat and stumble over each other—was a theory that made me laugh.



I could see more of my Sisterhood’s strengths in how we were trained as well. It didn’t negate our nature or our upbringing, but at least we could put the mission first before we turned on each other for rank within our “family.” Even then, we wouldn’t kill each other. There was a cohesion there that was lacking in the Noble Houses, possibly because we had the right outlet, and the right tools given to could fuck out all our frustrations. The natural mentality of anyone chosen had to be compatible with the Sisters, of course; the drive for sex had to be high regardless, if not the highest of motivations, or it wouldn’t work.



I reflected, looking briefly between the Consort and equally untouchable Shyntre, that after missions like this one, no wonder Jaunda had returned only wanting to mount the youngest Red Sister she could find. I could think that my supplying the mounting, even with various levels of consent, had strengthened the bond between a veteran and one less experienced. Somehow it still kept us whole.



No demons but us, because with each other we could be free of the constraints elsewhere—such as here, in this situation. Protecting a Priestess I’d rather see attacked, with long cycles watching and unable to prowl much around a wizard for whom I’d been searching a year now, and forbidden from such distraction even with a more forgettable male—all after being felt up by three Draegloth and gaining no release from it.



I really needed a good rut to clear my head. If Wilsirathon knew this (she likely did), then she’d chosen her traveling companions well. This was only the first cycle, and I could look forward to very little sleep.



“Good. We agree, then,” Wilsirathon said, uncurling herself from her comfortable chair. “Now if you’ll excuse me, Matron, I believe I will take a brief respite before we dine. It was a tiring ride here.”



Matron D’Verin stood along with her and bowed her head. “Certainly, Priestess. We look forward to the grace of your company. Please allow our serving boy to show you to your quarters. They are even more comfortable than last time.” Our hostess paused. “Are you sure you would not prefer separate quarters for your wizard? I can provide them.”



“I am sure, he will stay with me. Goddess blessing, Matron.”



As we were led down the spacious and decorative hallways of the House, I proved almost more distraction than our poor serving boy could handle. Barely an adolescent Drow, he kept looking at me in brief, darting glances, perhaps trying to see farther into my cowl, even to the point of nearly leading us down the wrong path.



“This way, boy,” the Priestess said irritably. “I know where I rested last time.”



“Y-yes, Priestess. Forgive me.” When he finally found the correct door, he unlocked it, went inside to make sure no one else was there, and returned out, handing the key to the Priestess. “The call cord is by the bed…um…should you need anything else…uh…Priestess.”



He’d looked twice at me, and forgotten his speech twice. I supposed it didn’t reflect too well on the Matron and preparing her selections on who would serve whom. I wondered if the Priestess would complain just to cause trouble for the boy?



Wilsira looked directly at me with a level of amusement that only barely covered her initial irritation. “Perhaps you should simply take him, Red Sister, and satiate his curiosity.”



Fear flashed across his wide eyes as he swallowed and his face emitted a lot more heat all of a sudden. He began to stutter something when Wilsira cut him off.



“About your duties. Before you irritate me further.”



“Yes, Priestess!” He bowed and left quickly on both counts.



Only after I’d swept the room a second time and called the two of them in, only after she’d closed and locked the door, did she laugh out loud.



“Oh, my,” she chortled. “I am rather enjoying having you at my side, Sirana. And bravo for staying so silent. I’ve never seen so many off their game before. Even the Matron was easier to guide in our conversation than she’s ever been. Perhaps I will have to get a Red Sister for my future journeys as well!”



Like the Abyss she would.



“We’re rather busy most of the time, Priestess,” I said.



“Never too busy for repayment of favors, I’d wager.”



“Overuse us as escort, and it will cease to have that effect,” I shrugged.



“I’ll enjoy this to the utmost, then.” She sighed and moved over to where her trunks had already been place for her convenience. She murmured a command word and I heard something click before she lifted the top. She began to undress, placing her things gently inside the trunk as she removed a few others; soap, towels, a silver brush.

“I will bathe now,” she said. “I’d like some privacy. You two will remain here.”



I wasn’t entirely against this idea. “Just don’t lock the door. Watch for spiders in the tub.”



She gave me a look. “You sound like my mother.”



I grinned. “It’s sound advice.”



She harrumphed again and led herself to the bathroom, closing the door. I did not hear a click, but once I heard water running, I stepped over to test the old-fashioned handle anyway. It turned fully and was unlocked. I let it go without opening the door.



Shyntre hadn’t said a word for hours as he stood or sat by the Priestess once we’d arrived, and he was crossing his arms and watching me right now. His expression still conveyed stubborn dislike, but he looked about to say something.



*Yes, wizard?* I signed. *What is it?*



*Give it back,* he returned, taking the hint and remaining speechless.



*Give what back?*



*My pendant. I know you took it.*



I slowly raised an eyebrow; I’d already practiced looking bewildered. *What?*



I heard a small sound of frustration almost leave his chest. His fingers and hands flew furiously, I almost didn’t catch it all. *Don’t play this game! Just give it back! A sapphire set in platinum half-cupped by a silver moon.*



Now I was honestly confused. *Silver what?*



He sneered. *MOON! The sky-body in darkness! The opposite of the Sun! Are you that stupid?*



Okay. I was fully distracted.



My sudden charge sent him stumbling back as he tried to dodge, but he simply wasn’t fast enough. I grabbed hold of his robes, swung him around, and sent him bouncing onto the bed where I forced him to his stomach and sat on his lower back. He hissed a curse but it wasn’t too loud. I leaned down to whisper in his ear.



“How about you raise your robes and take what I give you, and you can push it back out and see if it’s your pendant or not?”



He started to move his hands and I flicked both his ears; he gasped in pain.



“Keep your hands where I can see them. Keep your fingers straight.”



We were both still for the most part, listening to each other’s breath, and when I didn’t speak first, he slowly drew in air, his body pushing against my crotch in a pleasant way.



“You have it,” he whispered. “I know it. It went missing just after you found me at the Tower. You were touching me, you had plenty of opportunity to pick my pocket.”



“Simple enough deduction,” I teased. “Why keep a pendant meant to be worn around the neck in a pocket, anyway?”



“None of your business.”



“What if I want to know what it is, then I’ll help you find it?”



“It doesn’t need to be found. Just returned.” He was gritting his teeth.



“Will you die without it?”



“No, but it is mine, Sirana. Not yours.”



“I think I like it when you use my name, Shyntre. The last time you did, you were pleasuring me with your cock and your tongue, one after the other.”



He huffed a breathy, bitter laugh beneath my weight. “I have no relation to you. You are the one making this out to be more than it is. I was instructed by the Red Sister Prime to rape you, and I did. That’s all. You’re the one who can’t let go of the fact that I enjoyed it.”



“Only to a point, it seemed. You protest too much. I find it curious that both you and Kerse were there, and you’ve served Wilsira before.”



“Coincidence.”



“And the soldier?”



“Random choice.”



“How could they be certain he’d do as told, then?”



“Very well, an *educated* random choice.”



“Where is he now?”



“Probably long since digested and passed back out by cavern creatures. That was my other assignment immediately after stretching out your back passage.”



I chuckled. “Careful, mage, you’re making me horny. How did you come to gain such ‘assignments’ from the Red Sisters, anyway?”



He stiffened and the half of his face that I could see glared hotly at me. “Maybe I earned it.”



“By getting their attention, yes. Was it Priestesses or Red Sisters who sought you first?”



He shook his head and started to wriggle enjoyably. “Get…off…me!”



He flicked his fingers just so, before I could react, and a burst of light exploded in front of my face. I really should have expected that.



It hurt as if daggers had literally gone into my eyes, but it didn’t force me to release him. I dropped and grappled him instead, focusing the pain and blindness into orienting myself differently, holding on tighter to his body not jumping away like some startled lightning bug. Giving distance to a mage was always a mistake; when in doubt, get closer.



Clumsily I got an arm hooked around his neck and I started to squeeze his arteries on either side between my bicep and forearm. He wheezed a protest just before I bore down harder on him. I was still blind and my head still throbbed, but eventually I could feel the tension drain from his body, then he finally went limp. I held on for a few more seconds before letting the blood flow back to his head. I listened intently for him to start breathing again, and he did.



The bathing room door opened, and after a moment as I held still sitting astride the unconscious wizard, a smooth chuckle came from Wilsira’s throat. It sounded like she rubbed her hands together.



“I leave you two alone for a quarter mark and this is how I find you?” She tisked. “My dears…how easily I could be attacked while you are fighting each other. I may have to bring in additional assurance of my well-being.”



I heard the quiet shuffle of clawed feet next, and, coupled with the deep breath of a chest much broader than a Drow’s, it sounded exactly like noises inside the Abyssal chamber at the Sanctuary. The next moment, I recognized the musk of scent.



Definitely Kerse.



I really wished I could see right then. The nuances of expression in both their faces might be vital to my anticipating anything that was coming, either now or later. It wasn’t an option, though; it was lost to me because of my tussle with Shyntre.



“My apologies, Priestess,” I said, staying on the wizard for as long as possible so I might better sense when he was about to wake up. “We had a disagreement on the purpose of this journey. Tell me, did he volunteer? Perhaps he only wanted to test a Red Sister’s temper.”



She chuckled. “Formidable when the right switch is flicked, I’ve heard. To answer your questions, he accepted when I asked him. He knew nothing about you. He’s been on this trek before.” She paused. “What is wrong with your eyes, my dear? That razor-sharp focus is gone.”



The oily glide of her words matched the Draegloth approaching the bed. As before, I didn’t move from where I was and drew no weapon, though I couldn’t hold a gaze this time.



I turned my head and smiled at him instead; simple enough to hear where his nose and mouth were. “A non-sleeping guardian. Good choice, Priestess. Does that mean Shyntre and I will receive breaks to rest? I’d hardly expect we’d be at our top form after five cycles without reverie.”



She was quiet a moment, but still sounded amused when she spoke. “Of course. You’ll have to forgive his tardiness, it was always in the plan to have my son with me.”



“Off playing, was he?”



I heard a soft snort from him, almost like a voiceless laugh, though his dam made a scoffing sound at the same moment that drowned it out for her.



“Completing a task for me.”



I heard her robe swish as if she’d just made a gesture with most of her arm. Immediately after, Kerse leaned closer to me; I heard him inhale my scent and sensed him reaching out toward me. I did not know the best path here. Roll off the wizard and dodge? Let him do whatever with his clawed hand?



I reached out my own hand deliberately and succeeded in taking his thick wrist. He stopped; even his breath stopped, for a second, and I could feel the heat of his body through my glove.



“Priestess. What are you doing?” She hummed briefly. “I am just curious, Sirana.”



Finally I could start to make out spots of candlelight and color in my vision; it would take some time, but my sight was recovering. I wanted to hold on to Kerse’s wrist until I could finally see his expression, but that would linger too long. I opted to release him and get off the wizard in the same motion, stepping casually to give myself some space from all of them without turning my back.



“Curious about what?”



“Whether he liked you. I think he does.”



When I looked her way, I could barely make out that she had crossed her arms low beneath her breasts, pushing them together. She did look clean and more relaxed, sexier, her headpiece gone, her hair down and combed out.



“Sometimes my son needs release on these journeys and I am too busy or too tired to see to it. At times, it has caused some awkward conversations when he would seduce a servant of the House instead.



“Tell me, Sirana, would you be willing to tend to him that way, to spell me, the way he can spell you and Shyntre when you need to rest? There will always be at least one of you three to guard me. You know I trust my boy, and in satisfying him for me, I would consider you to be protecting my body and my health, just as your Prime has instructed.”



I blinked as my vision came back fully, as I heard the wizard take a much deeper breath that indicated that he’d awoken. I looked at Kerse first; his dark face was strangely neutral and he wasn’t showing his teeth for once. Then I looked at his mother. She watched me every bit like the predator she was, a small smile on her lips as she waited for me to reply.



Then I looked at Shyntre. He was awake and blinking at me, reaching gingerly to touch his throat, then he turned his head carefully toward the Draegloth beside and above him, then at Wilsirathon as well. He remained perfectly still.



Shyntre was afraid but trying not to show it. From the look of it, Kerse knew anyway with his next inhale, demonic eyes flicking briefly down but soon returned to me.



What in the Abyss was the right answer here?



“Wilsira, this is a bad idea—”



“Come now,” she snapped, tucking a gold lock behind her ear almost as a nervous gesture. “How is it? You roll and knock-out my wizard the first moment I am out of sight. I cannot trust you to spell each other as you each rest., but rest you must! I have infertility draughts for you to take, Sirana, of course I wouldn’t catch from my own son. And I know you have the energy where I do not. Your very training sees to it.”



If I had been wondering whether I’d ever seen the genuine face of the Priestess before, I had my answer now: I had not, not even a glimmer. Not until Kerse stood in the same room with us.



The jealousy D’Shea had been so concerned about was absolutely there, but it wasn’t the kind of jealousy I was used to, the hostile kind where one only wanted the rival out of the picture. Nor was it a simple desire to create personal benefit from of the situation in spite of herself—even though her offer could be interpreted that she was doing just that.



No, it was a possessive, unsettling covetousness…she wanted to see what she’d missed during my trial, what her son had enjoyed so much about me, and somehow control it, make it her own. I could see more plotting, more desires there behind her eyes which I did not want to see, but my mind was unraveling it anyway.



“I expect it, Sirana,” she said. “You will assist me this way, it is how you may serve me best. I will send a glowing recommendation back to your Prime on your behalf if Kerse is well taken care of.”



The warnings in my head didn’t stop there. It might not end after a five cycle trip. Not if she could find a way to bargain for my services again…and again.



What had Qivni said to me oh-so-elegantly at the worship ball…? *You should offer your gaping netherhole to serve him and his mother permanently…*



That was the danger, yes, but I wouldn’t think D’Shea would leave me to it so easily. Not unless we were both backed into a corner. She had said she had plans for me that didn’t include Wilsirathon.



…and had also said that I hadn’t been experienced enough to take on this Priestess and not end up like Curgia, and the imagery had been clear even then: being bred repeatedly by her son, his weight covering my back and his cock rutting my hole whenever either of them wanted.



Not exactly how I wanted to spend the next few decades, and this journey might determine just that.



“How old is he?” I asked, neither accepting nor declining her order just yet.



“What does that matter?” the Priestess asked.



“I’m just curious. I can’t tell his age, but I can tell yours. Seven hundred or so?”



She drew herself up straighter as, out of the corner of my eye, I noted Shyntre moving slowly to the far side of the bed where he could get to his feet, much farther away from the Draegloth than I was.



“Seven and two score. Kerse has lived with me for five of those centuries. He is one of the oldest at the Sanctuary.” She smirked. “Does that make you feel as young as you are, Sirana? Have you even reached your first century yet?”



“Give me two years, I’ll be there.” I found it easier to smile than to feel intimidated, particularly when the mother was essentially saying she needed a younger snatch to help fuck her boy into docility.



Apparently Kerse could and did mount other slits without his mother’s knowing, but according to her had kept it to servants thus far and she found out about them later and handled it somehow. All because…?



I glanced at his crotch, covered by a green loincloth before, but he was straining it. All because he had a much stronger drive for sex than she did? Those valued twins of mine, perception and inspiration, made me think she might be struggling more than anyone had thought to keep him under control, her own jealousy twisting into the need to possess other females who shared her burden. Who shared her son.



Mostly, it was that soft snort he’d just made that led me to this line of thought, loud enough for me but not for her. That and the way he’d looked behind him when I’d been spying; he had sensed something, I still couldn’t discount that feeling. He had revealed that he’d known he was being watched, but only after his mother had left the room.



He was growing more independent, I was sure of it. D’Shea hadn’t wanted to consider it based on the impulsive nature of the younger Draegloth but she was wrong. Wilisirathon was trying to placate him while thinking she still knew what he wanted, how to keep him content. But he was changing.



…did he really only want more sex than he was getting? That was a good question.



The immediate situation was not so different now than it had been in the candle chamber the first time I’d laid eyes on Kerse. I could refuse and be forced anyway and learn nothing. Or I could try to direct it, to participate, and possibly earn knowledge even D’Shea didn’t have.



“You agree you will tell the Prime that you are pleased with my service?” I asked, as if that was my first concern, and Wilsira perked up a bit.



“Of course. If I can avoid having to clean up after him, I will be quite satisfied. It will save me so much time and effort. No doubt, for you, having the positive link with the Priesthood will set you up for better assignments with the Prime. You’ll earn your rank faster, my young Sister.”



I nodded, looking eager for such a thing to happen. “And how many couplings during this journey would be realistic to satisfy him?”



Kerse’s mouth stretched back in a smile at last. There were those long, sharp teeth on full display. Shyntre made a noise that, coupled with a glance, confirmed that he was thoroughly disgusted with me.



“I still prefer his company when I am about to retire, Sirana, you only need tend him upon waking and once during the waking hours. Your choice of time, as long as Shyntre is awake and with me.”



So the mid-cycle coupling could be just Kerse and me, alone. I had to assume Wilsira would stay to watch the waking one. “Two for one, huh?”



She chuckled, seeming to relax a bit. “You are trained for physical endurance. You are perfect for this.”



“How long has he been making these little messes for you to clean up?”



She waved her hand dismissively. “Only the last decade. It is temporary.”



“What makes you think that?”



“That is privileged,” she responded brusquely. “Suffice to say, you will be helping with a short-term goal. Do your part, you’ll be rewarded appropriately. I’ll be glad to do it.”



A reward…which was wide-open to interpretation. She was relying on my age and my assumptions not to know which questions to ask. Except that I did; I had several more in mind if I truly considered this a binding bargain, but since I didn’t, let her think I was easily guided, and even more easily fooled.



The truth was I still had more interest gleaning what was on Kerse’s mind, not as much hers, and I’d have one opportunity per cycle to be alone with him. Those interactions would be my self-chosen reward in exchange for the risk of being trapped in the future, because this whole journey would quickly go against me if I refused to serve at all.



Afterward was when I would greatly need the experience and the wisdom of my Elder, to learn how to best use whatever I found out. The “bargain” I was making now with the Priestess was, in itself, of little value. That was why simply a positive word to my Prime was good enough for me, since threat of a negative one was the alternative.



“Very well, Priestess. I agree.”



“Excellent.”



I noticed that her nipples were visible through her robes as she uncrossed her arms, and she was more tense as she moved out of the doorway to the bathing room. Kerse had shifted to look at her at last, and he emitted a soft churr ending in a distinctly carnivorous whine of pleasure when she laid her hand on his mane, stroked it down his back, all the way to his loincloth. Shyntre made a very uncomfortable noise when she removed it and I couldn’t help shooting the mage a smirk.



It seemed the balancing act began immediately. Could I expect anything else?



“Undress, Sirana,” the Priestess commanded softly, reaching to barely touch, barely stroke the Draegloth’s erection. “You’ll both be nude, no weapons or tools, just like during your trial. He will not kill you, you will not kill him. As for injuries…” She shrugged delicately. “Well, I can heal, and the wizard has a collection of potions.”



She reached up and cupped Kerse beneath his heavy jaw, stroking the soft flesh beneath and looking at him but speaking to us both. “Do what comes naturally. I want to watch. See what I missed.”



“And the birth control?” I asked.



“Yes. I’ve taken care of that. It’s too late for you, I won’t wait a whole candle mark for a draught to take effect, and neither will he. I’ve already cast a temporary effect on him that stops the seed from forming in his sac, but not the semen. You’ll have to trust in my considerable power as a Priestess and a healer, Sirana.”



Great.



Shyntre stared at me incredulously as I removed my cloak and draped it over an opulent chair farthest from him, then reached for my belt. I could only think that my Elder had been right; the Priestess could be very persuasive about getting one out of one’s reds.



Wilsira’s son shifted excitedly as I placed my gloves atop my belt and began unlacing my boots. The Priestess herself snapped her fingers in the mage’s direction.



“Shyntre, look at me,” she demanded.



He did so reluctantly, clearly wishing he were anywhere else but in this room.



“Disrobe as well and get on the bed.”



I smothered a laugh as I set my second boot down and began unhooking my leather armor, soon to shed my tunic, shirt, and pants. As Kerse remained where he was, vibrating with energy, I found an unexpected boon in watching my wizard so reluctantly strip and eventually joining her on the soft blankets after more coaxing on her part.

The age difference wasn’t stark if one ignored the golden streaks in Wilsira’s hair; her body was in similar shape as his: healthy and true to the long-life of Drow form. They were only both used to constant, comfortable shelter and more magic and study than physical work.



She opted for immediate exploration of his male parts and he visibly tensed.



“Don’t be nervous,” she cooed, gently working him to get him to respond. “I know we haven’t been watched before, but we won’t be the only ones. It will be quite a show.”



By the set of his mouth, I was guessing he’d like to say: he’d already seen the show with Kerse and me. It was just as well; soon enough that mouth would be set where it would do the most good anyway.



Wilsira may not know all of my soft spots, but I could guess she knew enough of them where the wizard was concerned. I tried to feel more satisfaction in now knowing he’d bedded her before—and thus, truly was familiar with the Sanctuary—than envy in not being able to touch him myself.



Meanwhile, Kerse watched me; I was now fully nude but with my hair still tied up securely. In his eyes was even more desire than the last time I’d seen him, and I had to remind myself to focus. The Draegloth was fully blessed by Mother to do as he liked to me and I’d agreed to “play” with him. More than once. I couldn’t be watching the Priestess entertain herself with my wizard on that bed; this first fight-and-fuck would set the tone for the next four cycles, and giving in to the temptation toward distraction wouldn’t help me.



The challenge started out differently than it had the first time, and even the second. I was ready, and I was better trained with some experience to my name. Kerse had the size and the reach, but he was used to tackling more civilian targets and only the occasional would-be recruit.



The Draegloth also still had quite the case of tunnel-vision when he only wanted to get in mine. It took seconds to wait him out until he charged me, and only another two to shatter one of the D’Verin vases over his head as I slipped easily to the side.



“Sirana!” Wilsira blurted angrily.



I ignored her as Kerse shook his head to clear it and quickly spun back around to charge me again. I dropped onto my back and attempted to use his own momentum to toss his body over me. I was mostly successful—his reach still scored my left arm with his claws, drawing blood. My consolation was that it was hilarious to listen to such a large creature trip and roll, hands slapping the stone and his large chest snorting and growling in confusion and frustration.



I heard Shyntre start to chuckle before cutting himself off.



After those two failed attacks, Kerse was a lot more cautious, yellow eyes narrowing and watching me thoughtfully as we both got up from the ground.



“Less interested in wasting energy now?” I asked.



He tilted his head and rumbled inquiringly, never once looking at his mother, I noticed.



“It’s simple,” I replied to the rumble as if we were having a real conversation. “You charge me like a blind Hook Horror, and I knock your head around until you break something. You negotiate, add a little give and take, and I’ll play so that it’s more fun for you. Things haven’t changed, good boy. I’m still not your sheath.”



The pair on the bed was utterly silent as Kerse turned this over and actually rubbing the sore spot on his head. He grunted, hissed, and nodded.



“Yes?” I asked.



“Givve,” he answered.



“Alright.”



The Draegloth approached me directly, standing erect and not hunched over like before with his knuckles dragging on the ground. I definitely had to tilt my head up to meet his eyes.



Then he kneeled and touched my thighs and my hips with very hot hands. “Hharrd,” he commented as he squeezed the muscle there, and I chuckled.



He licked me once, a long, rough tongue rasping briefly over my netherlips, and my breath stopped for a moment. Encouraged, he tugged on my hips.



“Dowwn,” he purred. “Openn.”



I could do down and open. I just didn’t want to be on my back where he could slide up and I would be held down by his weight; I still had the memory of the Duergar on how that felt.



I crouched down first and leaned back on my hands, lifting my hips up in the air, balanced and spread for him. His eyes widened a little at the unexpected pose but he seemed pleased all the same as he rumbled again and nuzzled my white fur. Then his tongue snaked out again, slurping from hole to clit and my eyes rolled upward.



I had to admit that felt really, really good.



Kerse cupped my backside in his hands and began licking greedily, over and over, and I tensed and groaned at the abundance of sensation. Every once in a while I could feel the bare threat of fang and it seemed to heighten the pleasure. His hot breath puffed out through his nose over my mound and his hands squeezed and massaged my buttocks.



It was difficult but I still kept my eyes on him; more often than not, his were half-closed as he focused intently on tasting every crease and fold of flesh, trying to force his tongue deeper into my channel or harder over my clit as I became wetter and got closer to climaxing.



My arms trembled as the strain of holding myself this way worked against the pleasure, and it brought me out far enough to think to glance at the bed. The Priestess had put Shyntre flat on his back and she was kneeling directly over his face, legs wide apart. She faced his feet so that she could reach his erection, which she stroked gently, and his tongue worked industriously at her own white-crowned sex as she trembled with her own mouth quite lax.



Wilsira stared at Kerse and me intensely without blinking and she seemed on the verge of orgasm, even though the mage was stiff but nowhere near the edge. She clearly had the greater visual stimulation…



Her apparent enjoyment watching her son feast on me—enjoyment of a sort, who knew what she was really imagining right now?—caused a flash of heat deeper in my gut as I knew I’d at least surprised her. I’d once again adjusted the Draegloth’s behavior from force of will. I started breathing quickly.



“Yes, like that,” I gasped, and Kerse kept his pace steady, rasping and rasping again.



The coil inside me tightened down to its smallest point before—with a growling exhale on my own lips—it quickly began to unravel, flooding my body with those beloved, all-encompassing waves I enjoyed so much. I could feel moisture seeping out of me as my entire body trembled and Kerse moved his hands to support my back more, his claws digging into me a little, until I at last started to come down.



“Ahhh,” I exhaled, but forced myself to roll and get on my hands and knees, spinning my ass around away from Kerse to look at him. I grinned. “Nice giving.”



He showed every tooth he had at the compliment.



“Now you should reciprocate, shouldn’t you, Sirana?” his mother spoke, more loudly than necessary, still grinding her hips atop Shyntre’s face. “Put your mouth on my son.”



Her tone was a something of a turn-off; demanding, intrusive, interrupting what was supposed to be a superior afterglow before things quite naturally moved on to the next thing. A very brief expression of a similar annoyance crossed Kerse’s face, but it was turned so that she couldn’t see it.



So there was a rift growing for certain. I didn’t want to be in the middle of it, but…I thought it may be too late for that. Too late ever since Kerse had first grudgingly told me his name.



Nonetheless, reciprocation was actually my first choice. I’d sucked plenty of erections, but never a demonic one.



Without acknowledging the Priestess one way or the other, I moved closer where Kerse knelt, still on my hands and knees. I planted hands on his muscular thighs and stretched up to nip at his neck, surprising him, and my cupping his testicles the next moment distracted him from the bite. The delicate sack tightened up under my touch and his breathing became both deeper and faster.



“Stay,” I whispered, smoothing the pads of my fingers over the nipple on his right pectoral before lowering my head.



I didn’t tease much before slipping the black, pointed tip in between my lips. The near-tingling sensation of his oozing moisture on my tongue surprised me. It was almost like an essence, or a liquor, if one could condense and capture the otherworldly scent of a Draegloth in a bottle. Let it sit long enough and it might burn.



Kerse yelped softly and shifted his hips to press more of himself into my mouth; I closed around him and started giving him the same concentration he’d given me. The texture was a bit rougher, and I felt plenty of tiny ridges that were hard to see but I knew had contributed to the pleasure I felt the first time we’d fucked. I felt his hands on my back, caressing me with his claw tips but not breaking skin. He hissed and gnarred in pleasure and soon stroked my skin with his palms as if in encouragement.



The Priestess said something, some directive or encouragement which made Kerse pause very briefly before resuming his movement in tandem with my mouth. I reached my hand to wrap around him as well, trying to control the depth he could go as well as push him to the next level of arousal.



As I increased the pace, something began to grow beneath my hand as I practiced my oral skills and I was so baffled that I had to lift my mouth off to look.



Kerse protested the sudden stop, of course, but I was staring at a bulb at the base of his erection, which contributed to the uneven shape of his penis. Draegloth, from what I’d seen, had never been straight and pole-like as a pure-blood Drow, but a bit knobby or crooked here and there, often with that pointed tip inherited from their demonic sires. I hadn’t seen such a flare at the base before, though.



Why hadn’t he had that before, when he’d fucked me in the candle chamber? I’d have known if he’d lodged something like that up inside me… Had Curgia taken it and I just couldn’t see it because it was already inside…? So strange, I could have sworn—



“Sirranna,” he hissed tensely.



I began mouthing him again to give myself time to recover from my surprise but Wilsira seemed to have picked up on it anyway. She chuckled, still gasping as she pleasured herself on Shyntre’s tongue, the bed shifting beneath her.



Now I realized I could smell incense, and the scent was thick in the room.



When had she lit that?



“Kerse, bring her here. Now. I want to sample her mouth while you mount her.”



*No, wait…*



The Draegloth growled low and he tensed; I felt him reach to take hold of my hair and I quickly lifted my mouth off and climbed onto his lap, my legs spread and his wet erection sliding over my sex. Even though I tried to get him inside me, murmuring encouragement for him to take me in a similar position we’d been in before, hopefully distracting him from his mother’s order, he actually resisted my attempts.



I found myself at a distinct disadvantage the next instant when he embraced me, held me so hard to his chest that it forced the air from my lungs and I couldn’t speak at all.



Well, that had been a stupid thing to do…



I wriggled but he moved very quickly, picking me up and bringing me to the foot of the bed. He tossed me away from him and only my top half landed on the mattress. I was still trying to draw in a breath when I was rolled and pressed chest-down, my knees on the floor and my backside presented to him. Kerse used every bit of his considerable strength to cover me and hold me down with his weight, gripping my wrists in his hands.



My body felt uncharacteristically sluggish as I writhed unsuccessfully to regain any freedom of movement. I didn’t like the scent of the incense.



“That’s it, take her, Kerse,” Wilsirathon demanded. “Empty yourself in her. Breed her like the ripe slit she is.”



The Priestess got off Shyntre and seemed to have forgotten him altogether as she crawled in front of me to sit with her legs spread. She scooted her rear closer to me as I felt Kerse nudging at my sex. She grabbed the tight braids looped atop my head and made as if to force my mouth onto her sex. She needn’t have bothered, I started to eat her sopping cunt willingly, it at least filtered the sweet smoke in the room a little through her fur.



I grunted as Kerse not only slid inside me but pushed at bit extra to force part of that bulb into my well-lubricated snatch. I said “part of” because he withdrew it before it was in completely and realigned himself, aiming for my netherhole.



At first I stiffened, preparing to resist again—I did not want to take that bulb in my backside—but Kerse’s sweltering body and Wilsira’s soft, slick legs nearly smothered me. My body was weakened and my reflexes slow, though my mind was still fully awake. I knew I was afraid but didn’t know what to do.



He lowered his head to let his mother comb his mane as she cooed to him what a good boy he was…



And his mouth was near my ear. He breathed, “…chhilld…” through his teeth as if it were only a sigh of pleasure as matronly fingers caressed his hair.



He left me to wonder what he meant.



A bare moment passed as my tongue slowed on Wilsira’s snatch, and I relaxed and arched my back to encourage his new angle, allowing Kerse to spread my netherhole open with his next thrust as my tongue worked faster. He enjoyed a few slow thrusts, working me well enough to let me get somewhat accustomed, before he increased his tempo and reamed me at a pace that was much more natural for a twat than it was a bunghole.



I could have just considered it clumsy and ignorant on his part, but…



“Yes, Kerse,” Wilsira chanted, “yes, breed her.”



*Fucking cunt.* I bit her lips, gently enough for it to only make her squeal happily at the added sensation before I went back to proper sucking, but I was sure now she’d been lying about the birth control.



I wasn’t at my most fertile point in my cycle, but I would be soon. If Kerse hadn’t actually had any “spell” put on him that dulled his fertility, and if I believed her about that now and perhaps would again later on then…then he was doing me a favor, and working against his mother by breeding my ass so roughly, as if he were in my birth canal instead.



It definitely wasn’t comfortable, but I had Jaunda and several others to thank that I could tolerate it so well. I didn’t want to be in the same position as Curgia…especially not if Wilsira could claim me and take me away, completely isolate me from the Red Sisters for two years until I gave birth. I had more to lose than the merchant Noble.



My chest went cold as that condemnation finally sank in deeply as the Draegloth’s prick had.



Kerse stopped abruptly, pressed into me and covered my back protectively with his body as he hissed with extreme hostility to his left. I realized the wizard was standing there, watching curiously but weaving as if the incense was effecting him as well. It caused me to stop what I was doing, too.



“Wizard, get back over here!” the Priestess snapped, frustrated herself at the break in rhythm. “Comb my hair if you don’t know what else to do with your hands!”



Shyntre likely had some very choice thoughts right then but carefully and obediently crawled back on the bed to get on his knees behind the Priestess and start playing with her long hair. He could look down and actually had a very good view of my face right where his had just been. He could see my expressions, but all else he could tell was that Kerse had mounted me. With the bulk of the half-breed in the way, he wouldn’t casually notice which hole was being used.



I was grateful he’d never been in on this plot because he was smart enough to insist on confirming the coupling, while Wilsira still trusted Kerse implicitly.



*So Draegloth aren’t capable of long-term plotting, are they, Elder? Too opportunistic, too much a slave to sensation?*



Maybe the young ones were…and most were young, it seemed. The ones who actually reached five hundred years and older might go through a few mental and physical changes, if Kerse was any indication…



One of those changes was now being pressed much harder against my sphincter as the Draegloth stopped his thrusting again, and my eyes widened as I realized what it was.



The Priestess laughed even as she gasped in delight, rubbing her pussy not only over my mouth but my nose and cheeks as well. “Oh, relax, Red Sister…it feels wonderful, you’ll see… he only just developed that addition to his endowment in the last year. I think it’s…wonderful.” She petted him encouragingly.



The huffing Draegloth only barely succeeded in forcing that bulb of his cock into my body. I heard the wizard laugh softly, as if dazed, because I couldn’t help but utter a shocked cry laced with pain. The pressure inside was incredible and Kerse and I were solidly locked together—it would damage us both to try uncouple now. I could feel Kerse’s shaft throbbing and he seemed incapable of much sound beyond long, pleasure-filled growls, while I was only severely uncomfortable. If we’d gone slower, perhaps…



The Priestess was caressing my ears. “He’s spurting inside you now. Ohh, I wish I’d thought to take your hair down, Sirana. You’d look so lovely.”



She seemed to have forgotten any desire to orgasm herself as she let me continue a pitiful effort eating her to avoid breathing too heavily of the fading incense. Instead she was transfixed with the sight of her son climaxing inside me and satisfied with that.



It took much longer than before for Kerse not only to finish ejaculating but for the swelling to go down enough to even attempt a withdrawal. I sighed in deep relief when he finally could; my legs felt weak and my guts rearranged by the size of the thing. My netherhole was numb and certainly open, some of Kerse’s fluid already oozing out.



I couldn’t let either the Priestess or the wizard see that…



Kerse left immediately for the bathing room and Wilsira took my chin to raise my face, forcing me to look at her. I shifted to fold my legs beneath me just in case the wizard wanted to get up to have a view again, but still didn’t trust my balance to stand right then. At least the scent of the incense masked any giveaway of which hole he’d used; the half-breed was smart not to linger nearby.



Whether he was on my side or only his own…he wasn’t obeying his mother anymore.



“Well? How was it?” she asked.



“Different,” I croaked, my jaw and tongue muscles feeling the work they’d done.



She chuckled. “He’s the only one to have developed a shape like that. It is much more difficult to fit it into the back orifice, let me tell you. Oh, that took a couple of tries. We had to go slow.”



Yeah, now I knew why. Ow.



She continued, “Perhaps you will have time to learn to satisfy him that way. Having felt it now, do you think you could take the same size between your buttocks?”



I chuckled and cleared my throat, smacking my lips. “Maybe. I need some water, Priestess.”



She patted my cheek. “Of course, Sirana. Go clean up and get a drink.”



Speaking to me more and more like…like a daughter.



I got up and moved as quickly as possible despite protesting muscles and a lingering sense of imbalance. I collected all my belongings because I sure as dung wasn’t going to leave them out here with these two, and I passed Kerse as he exited the bathing room himself. He did look at me, but I couldn’t read the expression.



I shut the door, taking a deep breath of cleaner air and starting to feel the shock. I was shaken and knew I needed at least a few moments to collect my thoughts. I had no choice but make sure I could portray the same Sister’s confidence again once I left the room.



Where would I have been if D’Shea hadn’t blocked this insane, incestuous cunt for an entire year to at least give me a chance? I hadn’t known I had been spying on my own fate when Jaunda had placed my in front of that spyslit—except that D’Shea had implied it, I just didn’t believe her. I didn’t see why Wilsira would even want that.

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