Return to Hellebore Chapter Fifty-Two


Author: Chris Cook
Rating: NC-17
Copyright: Based on characters from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon and his talented minionators, and Diablo II by Blizzard Entertainment. All original material is copyright 2004 Chris Cook.

Tara dreamed of Willow.

She was at home, beneath Tran Athulua in what was colloquially called the Forest Basin. High above the branches of the huge trees spread out, reinforced with timber beams, joining together into a gigantic lattice that bore the weight of a whole city. Hundreds of people lived, worked, played and loved, but here, below, there was a serene hush. Light filtered unevenly through the branches and buildings above - not day, not night, not even twilight but a gentle glow, warm and inviting, shafts of brilliant sun lighting the shady glades and trails.

Tara wandered through the trees in the vague way of a dream, moving from one place to another like water flowing down a stream, her senses filled not with colours and forms but with memories, feelings, echoes of her past and the future she hoped for. She knew Willow was here - not by sight or hearing, but she knew her movements would bring them together. Part of her was already there, touching her skin, inhaling her scent.

With a gentle sigh of change the scene shifted to a glade Tara had liked as a child, near Jenavria's house, where flowers bloomed and birds chirped in their nests in the low branches. Willow was there, of course, lying naked on a carpet of moss around the spreading roots of a great oak, smiling up at her. She reached out to Tara with one hand, her other trailing a rose over her body, dipping between her legs, then back up, with her dew gracing the petals. She brought the rose to her lips as Tara lay with her, both of them kissing the petals, tasting, before a sly grin overtook Willow's features, and she tossed the flower aside and pulled Tara into her embrace.

Tara felt her body singing as she lay between Willow's legs, inhaling her scent, tasting her wetness. The glade became a lake, and the lake in turn became Willow, and an endless ocean which Tara floated in, shallow waves lapping at her body. She arched her back and submerged, diving deep into the water, which became Willow again, her core, her soul in liquid. Tara opened her mouth to the taste and breathed her, Willow's arousal sustaining her as she sank even deeper, beyond the need for light or air, or anything of the world. Her legs parted and she felt Willow's warmth caressing her, flowing into her, as all around her the deep waters of Willow's soul pressed in on her, caressing every inch of her body, kissing her, licking her-

Willow moaned in the back of her throat and tried to keep herself from moving too much as Tara's body writhed against hers, and her mouth bestowed all its affection on Willow's breasts, kissing and licking, sucking on a nipple whenever her gentle motions brought her lips near enough. Finally Willow couldn't resist admitting she was awake, and lifted an arm off her pillow to stroke Tara's hair.

"Mmm," Tara purred. Willow giggled involuntarily as she felt Tara's eyelashes stroke against her skin. Tara started slightly, then looked up at Willow and her mild surprise turned to contentment.

"Nice way to wake up," she commented lazily, ending with a gentle yawn.

"Uh-huh," Willow agreed, "were you really asleep that whole time?"

"I was dreaming," Tara said, resting her head on Willow's shoulder. A cheeky grin curved her lips. "Why, was I groping you in my sleep again?"

"I imagine you were," Willow chuckled, "but for at least the last ten minutes you've been kissing my breasts. Most exquisitely, I might add."

"Ten minutes?"

"At least," Willow repeated, "that's how long ago I woke up. After that I was kind of pretending to be asleep, and enjoying the attention," she grinned, "I thought you were already awake."

"I was dreaming," Tara said again, "it was beautiful... I was at home, you were there, then you were all around me, and I was... you were touching me, all over, and inside me, and I was breathing you, my heart was beating for you, it was like you were, were life itself."

"Sounds like a nice dream," Willow smiled. Tara opened her mouth to reply, then bit her lip and instead moved her legs, settling herself down atop Willow's left thigh so that she could feel the wealth of wetness there.

"Ooh," Willow grinned.

"A very nice dream," Tara said.

"For me too," Willow added, lifting her free leg over Tara's thigh and pulling it down against her own sex, hot and wet with arousal. "In fact," Willow went on, "if you hadn't done that thing with your eyelashes, I don't know how much longer I could have held myself in check anyway."

"What thing with my eyelashes?" Tara asked. She lay down and batted her lashes against Willow's check, just at the top of her cleavage.

"Oh!" Willow squealed in delight. "Yep, that thing... it's like a caress and a tickle all at once. Ahhh... even the tiniest little things you do are so, so... so darned erotic." She rolled over, ending up on top of Tara, who she leaned down and kissed, slowly and thoroughly. Tara opened her lips and settled back luxuriously as Willow's tongue played with hers.

"Lovely Willow-tongue," she murmured to herself, when Willow freed her lips and began kissing her way across her cheek, down to the side of her neck where she nuzzled against the curve of her neck and shoulder, licking her skin. She glanced at the shuttered window, and noticed the light filtering through it was lancing far across the room, rather than slanting downwards.

"What time is it?" she asked idly.

"Early," Willow replied happily, still applying her tongue to Tara's skin between words, "dawn was just a little while ago, I think. We got an early night last night... well, and more than a little snuggling and kissing and ecstatic moaning, but still, I think we managed a couple of hours sleep..."

"I like early nights," Tara mused, "lots of time for making love, and we get even more time to ourselves in the morning."

"Best of both worlds," Willow grinned. "So, with all this free time we've got, what do you think we should do before we start the day? Read a book? Go down to the markets and see what they've got fresh for breakfast? Dust the mantelpiece?"

"It's always good to start the day with some exercise," Tara said. Willow giggled.

"Well, isn't it lucky I just happen to have an Amazon warrior here who, I'm told, is an instructor as well. I'm sure she'll know exactly how to keep me fit and active."

"I'm sure she will," Tara said, "of course, you're quite fit already, so let's just concentrate on the 'active' part now."

"Heh," Willow chuckled, "my own personal Amazon workout." Tara smiled and rolled Willow over onto her back, cuddling up to her side.

"So does my instructor have any preferences?" Willow asked. "Or should I just improvise?"

"Improvising is good," Tara said, "but to get started, let's see how you do following a strict exercise routine."

"Strict?" Willow asked, a gleam in her eyes. Tara chuckled and lay her head down next to Willow's, whispering in her ear.


"Then I'll put myself in your hands," Willow purred. With a fleeting lick at her ear in parting, Tara sat up and took hold of the covers.

"First, let's see what we've got to work with," she smiled, pulling the bedclothes down to reveal Willow from head to toe. Crouching beside Willow, she very slowly ran her eyes up the length of her body. Willow shivered with anticipation at the naked excitement she saw in Tara's eyes, the shameless, luxurious way her gaze roamed all over her body, taking in her flushed skin, her slightly parted thighs, the gleam of moisture at their apex, the erect nipples still glittering with traces of her kisses.

"Very good," Tara murmured, "excellent, in fact."

"I'm glad I meet with my instructor's approval," Willow said with a grin.

"You've obviously taken excellent care of yourself," Tara said seriously, with only a twinkle in her eye giving away the amusement she was finding in their game, "I'd even go so far as to say, you're nothing less than what an instructor would dream of. Now, shall we get started?"

"Ready when you are," Willow said, wriggling her torso slightly.

"Now, when you start to work out," Tara went on, in her playful-serious voice, "it's very important not to just start cold. You have to warm up first. Normally that would mean doing some easy moves to begin with, but in your case," she leaned over Willow, teasing her with her breasts dangling enticingly near her lips, "there's a very special technique I can use to warm you up. Would you like to try it?"

"Instructor knows best," Willow said, trying for the same serious tone in her voice, though the immediate temptation of Tara's breasts so close made her words come out in more of a desperate gasp. Tara smiled widely, nodded, acknowledging Willow's assent, and moved down her body until she was kneeling beside her legs.

"Open wide," she said, brushing a hand over Willow's thigh. Willow obediently parted her legs, stretching out to either side as far as they would comfortably go. Tara raised an eyebrow in approval and crawled over to kneel between her legs, crouching down close to her centre.

"Ready?" she murmured.

"You bet," Willow replied, biting her lip in eager excitement. Tara gave her a grin, then leaned down and, without preamble, pressed her open mouth against Willow's sex, reaching her tongue as deep as she could, swirling and tasting Willow with abandon.

"Oh gods!" Willow shouted, involuntarily thrusting down towards Tara, as if trying to draw more of her in, her slick folds kissing wetly against Tara's lips, her inner muscles clenching desperately. Tara kept Willow writhing for a moment, but drew back before she could gain control of herself and began a rhythm with her hips. She licked her lips, as Willow whimpered beneath her.

"All warmed up?" she asked playfully as she returned to kneel beside Willow.

"Burning hot," Willow gasped. Tara chuckled, delicately licked her fingertip then touched it to Willow's cleavage, making a hissing sound between her teeth.

"Perfect," she smiled as Willow giggled, "now, we begin. First... start slowly. Put your hand flat on your thigh. That's right..." She lay down next to Willow, propping her head up on the pillows so she could whisper in her ear and observe the length of her body at the same time. Willow had obediently put her right hand on top of her thigh, pressing her fingertips lightly into her skin.

"This is very important," Tara whispered, "before any sort of strenuous exercise, an Amazon always takes a moment to concentrate, focus on herself... to experience her body. Even before a battle."

"Am I going into battle?" Willow asked cheekily.

"Oh yes," Tara replied, "a full-fledged assault on your senses... no prisoners taken, no quarter given. Now, just... feel your body. Open yourself to the experience of, of being you... feel the heat inside you... those firm muscles, ready to obey your every command... feel your core waiting, ready for-" she paused. "Well," she said with a chuckle, "we'll get to that, all in good time. Now, do you feel it? Your whole body?"

"Tingling," Willow murmured, closing her eyes.

"Like I said, we don't want to just leap into the most strenuous exercise," Tara said, resting her upper body against Willow's left shoulder, "you're warmed up, but even so, the best way is to build up slowly... So to start, move just one finger... just a little. Just touch your inner thigh, very slowly, very lightly. Stroke, back and forth... back and forth... enjoying that?" Willow nodded, and Tara felt the trembling excitement within her.

"Good... now move your hand up, slowly, until that finger is just about to touch your lips." She watched Willow's hand edge up to the top of her thigh, with her forefinger dipping down towards her sex, and felt her own arousal building with surprising strength. She did her best to put the demanding itch between her thighs out of her mind, and concentrate on Willow.

"Are you close now?" she asked. "So close you'll be touching yourself, if you move just the tiniest fraction? Good... I want you to concentrate very hard now, just on your core... Concentrate on your sex, Willow," she breathed, trying to ignore how much she was turning herself on in the process, "forget everything else, forget the rest of your body. Feel how wet you are... how ready you are... imagine what it will feel like to touch yourself... imagine that fingertip brushing over your folds... close to your clit... becoming moist... Feel how the muscles inside you are pleading, pleading for you to go inside... aching to be touched... nothing else exists... do you feel it?" Willow nodded, a faint sigh escaping her parted lips.

"Good," Tara purred, "excellent... my perfect Willow... Now, I want you to let that feeling spread through your whole body. From your core down, inside your thighs, down your legs to your feet... and up, through your body, through your chest, flowing from inside you into your breasts, along your arms, up into your mind, flooding you... Do you feel it baby? All of you, so ready?" Willow nodded.

"Say it," Tara whispered.

"I-I feel it," Willow gasped, "I f-feel... I-I'm... all over... I need..."

"Now touch," Tara breathed in Willow's ear, "just lightly, just like you imagined... Give your body exactly what it wants, but slowly... so slowly... so you always want more." She watched as Willow's finger moved a fraction, felt the shiver than ran through Willow as she touched herself, and she drew her finger up, the fingertip cresting her mound, touching her clit for a fraction of a second.

"Ah!" Willow gasped, losing contact as her body jolted.

"Now still," Tara said, and Willow lay her trembling hand back on her thigh. Her breathing was deep, her breasts rising and falling beneath Tara's gaze.

"Sensitive?" Tara asked. Willow nodded unsteadily. "Felt good, didn't it?" Again Willow nodded. "You want more, don't you?" Again, nod. "Alright... now slowly, baby... your body needs you. Show it how much you love it... touch yourself again... But don't move this time, just rest your finger against yourself." She heard Willow's breathing quicken, and imagined her fingertip nestling between her folds, poised to taste the warmth within.

"Now move," she whispered, "up and down, little motions... and feel every stroke go a little deeper... part your lips a little more..." She glanced at Willow's face, and smiled at her intense, desperately blissful expression.

"You're beautiful," she murmured, "so beautiful..."

"I love you," Willow whispered. Tara settled in beside her, finding her face far more erotic to watch than the motions of her hand.

"Deeper," she purred, her gaze fixed on Willow's lips as an anticipatory smile tugged at their corners, "deeper now... and feel every muscle... feel every heartbeat as it surges through you..." Willow's lips trembled, opened in a silent sigh of delight. Tara felt her arm move slightly, and knew as if Willow's body were her own what she was doing.

"That's good," she continued, "that's so good... faster now... feel your core grasping at your finger, welcoming it with every thrust... straining to hold it inside every time you draw back... weeping tears of joy for being filled, and caressed... loved..."

"I l-love you," Willow gasped.

"I love you," Tara replied, "now draw back, and hold yourself back... still... that's good." She felt Willow's arm trembling, and didn't have to imagine the temptation she felt to return to her inner warmth. It was only by a great force of will that Tara had been able to ignore the demands of her soaking, pulsing sex. She shivered, feeling tiny beads of moisture trickle out of her, down the insides of her thigh, over her mound.

"Two fingers now," Tara sighed, "this is the key to a good workout, you see." She smiled to herself. "When you've found that place where you feel like you can keep going forever, then you add just a little more... push yourself just a little further... that's how you reach your peak. Reach for me, baby," she whispered, licking Willow's earlobe, "reach into yourself, reach your core."

She felt the motion of Willow's arm as she returned her fingers to her sex, and marvelled at the beauty in her face as she let out an unrestrained moan of pleasure. Tara's own centre throbbed in sympathy as Willow's body rocked with her motions, in and out, gaining pace.

"Good, baby," she breathed, "so good, so beautiful... oh goddess Willow I love you... feel with your whole body baby, don't hold back... don't hold back... faster... rub your clit baby, every stroke, all the way up to your clit, then down and back inside, inside and out, oh goddess baby, do it... do it..." Willow's amorous whimpers were constant now, a stream of aroused sound welling up from her soul with every breath she released. Her body was writhing, in the grip of the rhythm of her hand, and Tara reached around her shoulders, holding on to her.

"Come for me," she whispered, "come for me, my beautiful Willow, make my world perfect, make me come..."

"Yes!" Willow cried out loud, her hips rising completely off the bed as her climax took over. Tara held on to her, aroused beyond belief, and between her own clenching thighs her core released its flood of pleasure. Willow gasped and moaned aloud, caressing her folds as her juices saturated her thighs and her hand, turning her head to search for Tara's lips, and claiming them the moment she found them. Tara held nothing back, letting Willow feel the full measure of how wholly, hopelessly aroused she had become.

"Mmm," Willow moaned into Tara's mouth, rolling over and embracing her, pressing their bodies together. Her hand, soaked from her own climax, gently explored Tara's moistened sex, bringing on a series of delightful tremors that shook her whole body. She then brought her fingers to their joined lips, adding the taste of both their orgasms to their mouths. Tara felt she would cry from pleasure, and even when Willow finally released her lips and lay her head on her chest, she remained in a state of ecstasy, sighing and whimpering, licking the mingled tastes from her lips.

"You know," Willow said, once Tara had rode out her post-orgasmic bliss, "if all those soldiers you're teaching at the barracks find out the kind of exercises you give me, they're going to be severely jealous." Tara chuckled, and in the warmth of their shared pleasure her chuckle overtook her and infected Willow until they were both clutching at each other laughing.

"So you liked your Amazon workout, then?" Tara asked when she had managed to calm down.

"Oh yeah," Willow grinned, wriggling her body against Tara's, "I can feel it doing me a world of good. I take it this is an ongoing programme?"

"Definitely," Tara replied, adopting her mock-serious instructor's voice again, "best results are achieved with a consistent regimen - daily, or if you like, even more frequent."

"Sounds good to me," Willow said, rolling on top of Tara and cuddling up to her, "I'll take one lifetime's worth."

"You've got a deal," Tara replied, her voice full of meaning and contentment.

"Aw," Willow sniffled, grinning all the while, "gonna cry now..."

"I love you," Tara whispered, gently turning Willow's face up to hers.

"I know," she replied, "a-and I love you so much..." She pressed a tender kiss to Tara's lips, tears spilling calmly from her eyes and trailing down her cheeks. With a radiant smile she hugged Tara tightly and buried her face in the blonde hair spread across the pillows.

"Guess we should be getting up soon," she murmured in a muffled voice.

"No hurry," Tara smiled, "hey, you feel like a long, relaxing bath to start the day?" Willow's head popped up, a gleeful smile on her lips.

"That sounds perfect!"

"I'll make sure you're thoroughly bathed," Tara offered.

"How thoroughly?" Willow grinned slyly.

"Very thoroughly," Tara replied. "And if you like..."


"Well, it's important we both keep up our exercises, and you know, it can be very soothing to work out in the water, so..." Willow's smile actually grew wider, "...want to put me through my paces?"

"It would be, and I mean this in every possible way, my pleasure," Willow said.

The guard at the barracks gate accepted Willow's reason for visiting and let her by, quickly telling her in a bored voice which buildings were off-limits, and pointing her in the direction of the archery ranges. She kept to his directions and found them quickly, though she was surprised to find the firing lines vacant. Spotting the lone figure nearby, she smiled and sat down on a bench, content to watch for a while.

Tara was practising with her spear, concentrating wholly on herself and her motions, such that she didn't seem to have noticed Willow's presence. The weapon whirled around her, and she moved almost as if she were dancing, spinning, darting from side to side, advancing and retreating amid dazzling combinations of strikes and defensive strokes. Willow leaned back against the wall behind the bench and tuned out everything but Tara, idly fixing on one part of her for a while then moving on to the next, studying her in detail. Where her armour left her bare - her face, her upper chest, arms and legs - Willow could see the sheen of sweat on her, a combination of the sun's heat and her exhaustive routine. But as the minutes wore on, she never faltered - precise, controlled, graceful.

'That's my girl,' Willow thought, shaking her head slightly in wonder. 'My girl, my lover, my partner... Tara.' She noticed a motion off to one side and glanced at it, spotting a pair of lancers on their way from the armoury to another building. She couldn't help but grin as she saw them both take more than a glance at Tara, and one of them murmur a comment to the other with an impressed expression on his face. 'What're you thinking?' she mused, before turning her gaze back on her lover, 'something like 'Wow, isn't she hot'? 'Boy I wish I could get to know her better'? Too bad,' she grinned, 'she's mine. All mine. I'm the one who gets to kiss her... all over... yummy. I get those strong hands holding me, touching me everywhere... I get those thighs wrapped around me, I get to run my tongue up and down them, and then between them... I get to see her glistening with sweat like that from a very different kind of exercise.' She chuckled to herself. 'Who's the luckiest sorceress in the whole world? What do you know, it's me! Yay me.'

She smiled and stood up as Tara's routine drew to a close, and waved when Tara glanced over and saw her. She spun her spear around a couple of times, casually, then sauntered over to Willow.

"Well now," she said flirtatiously, "what's a pretty young thing like you doing hanging around the barracks?"

"Oh, you know," Willow said, waving a hand vaguely, "just checking out the soldiers, you know how sexy leather armour can be, on the right body."

"Uh-huh," Tara grinned, "and did you happen to see the right body?"

"As a matter of fact, I did," Willow replied, taking Tara's hand and walking with her across the vacant parade ground next to the archery ranges. "I just sat down for a moment to get out of the sun, and happened to spot a sexy goddess of a woman getting herself all hot and sweaty doing a spear routine."

"Lucky you. Did you like what you saw of her?"

"Oh yeah," Willow replied airily, "and between her armour being yummily tight, and not concealing much, I saw plenty. I was thinking I might see if I can get her into my bed..."

"You've very confident," Tara observed, "how do you know she hasn't already got some hunky soldier to keep her company?"

"I have it on good authority that she's got a thing for red-headed sorceresses," Willow said with a wink.

"Well in that case I definitely like your chances of getting lucky with her," Tara chuckled. "Do you know who this sexy spearwoman might be?" Willow nodded and returned her grin.

"Coincidentally, she happens to be you."

"Well that is lucky," Tara said, "I'd have been jealous otherwise."

"You know I'd never even think about anyone else," Willow said, seriousness behind her smile.

"I know," Tara said easily, setting Willow's mind at ease, "and for the record, you can seduce me anytime you want. Sort of like having your cake and eating it too."

"You want to be my cake?" Willow quipped.

"If it means you'll have me and eat me?" Tara replied. "You bet."

"Where are we going?"

"Well, as you so accurately noted," Tara said, leading Willow between the armoury and a storehouse, "I got all 'hot and sweaty'. There's a shower block down by the river. Private stalls for officers - I get to use one of those. Technically I'm an officer, you know."

"My Tara," Willow smiled, "I'm proud of you, you know."

"Only a third lieutenant," Tara said bashfully, "kind of bottom of the food chain, for officers, but it means I'm entitled by military law to give orders to the troops I'm training. The contract only applies while I'm in the barracks compound on instructor duty, though. Not that I'm instructing at the moment."

"I don't care," Willow said, "I'm still proud of you. Though seeing as you mention it, where's your class of budding archers? You didn't send them all home to their girlfriends to get some exercise, did you?"

"No," Tara laughed, "there's an escort being put together, they got called away an hour early for briefing and preparation. They marched out not long before you got here, they're going to form up outside the city while the rest of the expedition gets together. They'll be away for two weeks, to the northern army and back, and until then I've just got afternoon classes with the household platoons."

"Oh, right," Willow nodded, "they must be the escort for Myrreon."

"He's joining the army?" Tara asked with a frown.

"Not really, just going up there to check things out. He told me this morning, apparently the Duke got a report last night saying that the mages they've got up there found evidence of enemy mages, but weren't sure what it was. They're battle mages, according to Myrreon, so not necessarily the best at identifying artefacts and reading ancient tomes."

"So Myrreon's going to take a look?"

"Yeah," Willow said, "just for the two weeks it'll take to get there and back. He's taking Zan with him, they're leaving tonight."

"What about your studies?" Tara asked.

"He's given me permission to use his workshop and most of his libraries, and Ocean's staying, the orrery's doing something delicate she needs to make daily adjustments to for the next few days. So I'll be able to pursue a couple of projects Myrreon started me on. Plus there's the other mages the Order made arrangements with, at the university, and the private ones. I'll visit most of them, see if any of them have openings in their schedules for the next couple of weeks. I'll drop by that mage Ember wrote to this afternoon. But basically, more free time than otherwise. So, you're free mornings, huh?"

"Just so long as you deliver me to the barracks after lunch, I'm yours," Tara grinned.

"Goody," Willow smiled. They reached the river, where a squat rectangular building turned out to be the shower block. There was no sound from within, and Willow peeked through the open door, seeing the interior to be largely empty, with a tiled floor and a row of metal showerheads. Tara led her around to the side of the building, where a number of enclosed stalls had been added.

"You could wait out here," she said, sounding like she didn't think much of the idea, "or if you want," a grin appeared on her lips, "the stall's big enough for two?"

"Luring me into a shower five minutes after we met?" Willow smiled. "Who's seducing who here?" Tara raised a suggestive brow, then reached out and caught the collar of Willow's robe, gently dragging her in and closing the door behind them.

The stall was roomy and clean, sloping gently to one end, where the shower was, and at the other mainly occupied by a bench and a high wooden shelf. The showerhead was connected to a small foot-operated pump, and from there evidently to the river. Willow felt a tiny spark of magic from the pump, and hazarded a guess at a simple filter spell. Tara slid the bolt across in the door, locking it, propped her spear in the corner, and laid her bow, quiver and pack on the shelf.

"Would you?" she asked sweetly, turning her back to Willow.

"Love to," Willow replied, starting to undo the laces on her armour. With practised ease she quickly divested Tara of her armour, neatly laying out the bodice, skirt, boots and gloves at the far end of the stall, clear of where the water might splash. Tara gave Willow a glance over her shoulder, an inviting grin, and repositioned her hips. Willow took the invitation and crouched down behind her, sliding the thin leather underwear down her legs. She couldn't resist leaning in to give Tara a quick kiss on her bottom, which drew a giggle.

"How about a deal?" Tara suggested. "You pump, I bathe... you get to watch. I'll make it worth the effort."

"I like this deal," Willow nodded. She sat down on the bench, finding she could reach the pump with one outstretched leg quite comfortably, and gave a few pumps. This pressurised the system, so that water sprinkled out of the shower as soon as Tara turned the single tap. Willow found she only needed give a pump every few seconds to keep the water flowing consistently, and quickly fell into a rhythm she didn't need to think about, leaving her mind free to concentrate on Tara.

'She's as good as her word,' Willow thought idly, propping her chin up on her hand and gazing longingly at her. Tara was indeed making the chance to watch her bathe worth far more than the meagre effort of keeping the shower going - she turned slowly, swaying her hips, tilting her head back as the water flowed through her hair, over her shoulders, down her body and legs. Her hands ran lazily up and down, now cupping her breasts, squeezing her nipples, now one hand caressing her neck and continuing upwards, gathering a handful of hair and lifting it above her head, as her other hand brushed lightly between her legs, fingers moving slowly through the patch of hair there. Willow's head started to tilt from side to side in time with the swaying of Tara's hips, as if she were hypnotised.

Tara tipped her head far back, closing her eyes as the water showered onto her face, running in rivulets down her body. From there she rolled her head around until she was looking straight down, her hair swept over on one side, water streaming from it. Looking up just enough to meet Willow's gaze she grinned, then leant down, lifted her right breast and delicately licked her nipple. Willow shivered involuntarily. Tara's grin widened, then she looked down at herself, craned her neck a little further and cupped her breast a little higher, and took her nipple into her mouth. Willow let out a sound somewhere between a whimper and a moan, and then found herself unable to keep her gaze from following Tara's other hand as it descended again to her mound. With her feet planted firm and wide, Tara used her index and ring fingers to part her lips, and her middle finger took Willow's eyes with it as it stroked up and down the soft pink flesh in between.

Tossing her head back, she lifted her fingers from her folds and stroked herself, once, lavishly, with her palm. She turned and spun the tap off, then sauntered over to where Willow was sitting.

"You can stop working the pump now, sweetie," she smiled.

"Huh?" Willow's brow furrowed in confusion, then she looked down at her foot, which was still pressing against the pedal every few seconds. With a sheepish smile she stood up and handed Tara a towel from her pack.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised," Tara said nonchalantly, "I knew you liked pumping me." Willow couldn't help a burst of shocked laughter.

"You naughty, naughty girl," she gasped, leaning in for a kiss.

Willow sauntered happily down one of the narrow streets that wound through the blocks to the south of the university, swinging her staff jauntily with each step. She had had lunch with Tara, at a little tavern restaurant near the barracks, which judging from the handful of uniforms among the patrons was where the officers liked to spend their lunch hours. A well-cooked hearty meal, and Tara's company, had left her grinning all the way down past the side of the university, through a small square ringed with small boutiques that seemed to carry all kinds of magical commodities - she made a note to visit them later - past a grassy sports field where young boys from a school were playing some game that involved a ball and a lot of good-natured running into each other, down into a pleasant little maze of tiny shops all squeezed together, offering all kinds of eccentric oddities for sale, each with a separate workshop, studio or room-for-rent occupying the first floor.

Willow came to what seemed to be a shop for small antique tables - at least, that comprised most of what was stacked to the ceiling just inside the door - and glanced at its tiny street number, then again at the folded letter from her satchel. With a shrug she went in, setting a tiny bell chiming as she pushed back the door.

"Hello?" said a middle-aged woman wearing an over-large pair of spectacles, who popped up suddenly from behind a cedar cabinet just beside Willow. "What can I do for you dear lady? A side table? An end table? A set of drawers, I have just the thing. You're looking for something more up-market than just a common piece of furniture- no? You've just arrived in town, and need to decorate your rooms? I've just taken delivery of a drinks table all the way from the Tamoe highlands, it's the most beautiful piece of work, would you like to see it?"

"Um... no, thank you," Willow said, slightly taken aback by the woman's enthusiastic and unremitting sales pitch, which she seemed to have delivered without the need to draw breath until she was done. "Um, I'm looking for," she checked the letter again, "Niston Gelt? My name's Willow, I sent a letter a couple of days ago?"

"Oh, you mean Mister Gelt upstairs," the lady said, nodding to herself. "The stairs are just around the corner to the left, dear - that's left looking in, it'd be your right, if you're facing that way, facing out, I mean... this side," she finished, pointing to the wall.

"Thank you," Willow said.

"You sure I can't tempt you with that drinks table? It's very fine work."

"No, thank you," Willow said politely, backing out the door. The lady gave her a smile and a shrug, then ducked back down beneath her cabinet. Willow shook her head and glanced to the left, where the shop was bordered by a small alley. As promised, when she peered around the corner, a thin flight of wooden stairs led up to the shop's upper storey. Willow climbed them - they were sturdy enough, despite looking somewhat precarious - and knocked on the door at the top.

She heard a bolt slide back, and the door opened to reveal a tall man in faded brown robes with a handful of pockets sewn around the waist. He looked about fifty, though his exact age was difficult to tell - his face was somewhat gaunt, though otherwise handsome enough, lined but in other ways inclined more towards youth than old age. His hair was white, pure white rather than aged grey, fine and well cared-for, hanging to his shoulders. The doorway was only a little more than Willow's height, so that he was stooped slightly looking through it. His eyes, a piercing grey, flickered to Willow's staff and then back to her face.

"Miss Willow of the Zann Esu?" he asked in a polite voice that was as smooth as liquid.

"Yes," Willow said, "hello, Mr Gelt?"

"Please come in," Gelt said with a nod. He stood aside to let her through, and pushed the door to behind her, without bothering with the bolt. She took a moment to glance around, taking a quick impression of the room. The furnishings were an eclectic mix of styles, the shelves and small tables evidently acquired from the shop downstairs. A door to one side led to the other room - the size of the storey as a whole suggested there were only the two - and two small windows, currently shuttered, looked out onto the street, one of which had a slim telescope on a tripod perched in front of it, aimed up at the sky. The books, lining the shelves and scattered about on other surfaces, were all small, old and here and there slightly battered - no newly printed works, all likely the property of more than one previous owner. A set of intricate brass instruments hung on pegs in one wall, an astrolabe, a small sickle, a pair of compasses with a ratcheted lever between their arms, and a circular device Willow recognised after a moment as a spectral sextant. Various rolled-up maps and charts were stacked in a corner, behind a plain wooden desk with an old, worn padded chair. Gelt hurriedly lifted a stack of books off a wooden chair and set it in front of the desk, motioning Willow towards it while he sat in what was obviously his familiar position.

"If I may ask, firstly," he said, "what has the lady Ember told you about me?"

"Actually sir," Willow said, "I don't remember her mentioning you to me at all, there was just the letter, the one I sent you. I'm on a, a sort of study tour, I guess you'd say, the Order gave me a whole bunch of introductory letters so I could meet some of the mages they have dealings with and arrange to work with them, only the one I sent you was from Ember herself, rather than the Order. I figured you knew her personally, rather than through the Order?"

"We journeyed together, some time ago," Gelt nodded, "so, she sent you to me... well, I must tell you before all else that I do not believe she meant for you to study with me."

"Sh-she didn't?" Willow asked.

"Perhaps, though," Gelt went on, "she thought you might learn something. Her instincts, I suspect, moved her to give you that letter which you sent to me, so I must conclude that she felt I would be of some use to you. I must also conclude, though I admit it goes against my nature, that she intended for me to trust you."

"Trust me?" Willow echoed with a confused frown.

"This is a fine city," Gelt said, leaning back in his seat, "welcoming to many peoples, but there are some here who, for various reasons, find it necessary to conceal their identities. Not everyone is welcome. I am one such person."

"Who are you?" Gelt grimaced, then sighed and spoke.

"I am a priest... of Rathma."

Willow opened her mouth to pose a question, then her mind caught up with her ears and she jolted to her feet, her chair toppling over behind her.

"You're a necromancer!"

Continue to Hellebore Chapter Fifty-Four

Return to Story Archive
Return to Main Page