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"Find your forgotten teacher . . ."
"Oh, go boil in bacchai bile, Minerva!"
Gabrielle spun furiously, creating swirling waves in the dense fog. She tried to target the spectral voice before its echo faded, but it was impossible to determine direction in the disorienting haze. The unseen speaker's grieving message trailed into silence.
The young warrior had no idea where she was. She didn't know how she'd gotten here. And there was an emptiness beside her, she couldn't feel --
"Xena!" Gabrielle waited, then yelled the name again, but her voice cracked with tension and that spooked her, so she didn't call a third time. It was pointless -- Xena wasn't here. She felt it.
"Wherever here is," she murmured. A chill worked up her back.
Still in fighting stance and braced for attack, Gabrielle turned in a slow circle, calling on the senses most likely to be useful when sight was compromised. The anger was leaving her now -- the knee-jerk rage that Xena's life, and her own, were once again being tossed about like knucklebones in the hands of capricious gods.
There was a light source, but it was a vague, diffuse one, illuminating the fog with a dim glow. There were virtually no odors, save a faint, disturbing musty smell. The backs of Gabrielle's muscular shoulders, left bare by the straps of her sheepskin leathers, prickled with apprehension.
Had that been the voice of the goddess?
They had been in Athena's temple, only moments ago. Gabrielle had just discovered the silk scarf bearing the crest of the Goddess of Wisdom's Roman counterpart, Minerva, draped over a marble altar. She remembered her amazement at how precisely the exquisite fabric matched the cerulean blue of Xena's eyes. The tall warrior had just wondered aloud how an offering to a Roman goddess found its way to the Parthenon -- when suddenly the Parthenon vanished.
"Find the forgotten teacher," Gabrielle repeated, her green eyes straining to pierce the impenetrable fog. She heard a light step behind her, and reached automatically for her sais again -- and again found herself unarmed.
"Find your forgotten teacher, Gabrielle," Najara corrected quietly.
She recognized the voice and whirled, even before the fog was scattered by a sudden violent, but nearly silent blast of wind. A heartbeat later only a carpet of mist remained, blanketing the ground in a milky haze. The slender Daughter of the Jinn stood not twenty feet from her, clothed in flowing white robes.
Najara smiled, her cheek dimpling. "You must know I mean you no harm, Gabrielle."
"Good," Gabrielle stammered. "You're harmless, I'm good with that."
She didn't relax her stance by a sinew. The last time she'd seen this woman, Najara's madness had embraced the nonviolent teachings of Eli -- but it had still been madness. And she well remembered Najara's ferocity as a warrior -- she'd seen her take Xena down, and real or not, until she learned what the bloody hell they were both --
"You've grown even more lovely in our seasons apart, Gabrielle." Najara's crystal blue eyes sparkled with sudden tears. "Not even your encroaching darkness can rob you of your soul's luminous beauty."
"Well, just . . . don't encroach on my beauty or my darkness, okay? Stay over there." Gabrielle risked searching the perimeter with quick, darting glances, keeping the slender woman centered in her line of sight. As far as she could tell, they were alone on a featureless plain. "Do you know where we are, Najara, or how we got here?"
"I answered the call of the Jinn, as did you." Najara folded her delicate hands in front of her. "The Guardians of the Light speak in many voices, Gabrielle. Today, they summoned you through the silk token of a pagan goddess."
"Look, no one called me here," Gabrielle snapped. "Here just happened. Or at least, it just happened to me. I just happen to be here."
Gabrielle heard Xena's voice in her mind, telling her to stop babbling. Her palms itched for the smooth grips of the sais, but she kept her hands loose and relaxed, and measured her breathing.
Najara shook her head, light reproach sweeping her beautiful features. "You came here, Gabrielle, to remember lessons you learned long ago, from your greatest teacher . . . before you discarded his wisdom. And mine."
"You're referring to Eli?" Gabrielle's throat still ached when she spoke the name.
"The Jinn have brought our paths together again, dear one, because your own journey has led you so far from our beautiful brother's teachings. Eli is dead, Gabrielle. But I can still lead you back to the way of the Light."
She tried not to sound incredulous. "You still believe that I
have something to learn from you, Najara?"
"You believe it." Slender but powerful shoulders shrugged, gracefully. "You chose to answer the Jinns' call, whether you realize it or not. And your heart still denies the truth about me, Gabrielle, about us -- it always has."
Gabrielle studied the older woman's face, and felt a faint echo of the compassion this brilliant, tragic, deadly warrior would always inspire in her. "It's true that it took me a long time to see you clearly, Najara. I wanted to believe in you, badly . . . but finally I had to accept that you were -- "
"You believe me evil?" Najara's lovely eyes shimmered with sadness.
"No. Not evil." Gabrielle was appalled to feel tears stinging the backs of her eyes. "Just too ill, and too damaged, to ever live among us again."
Najara's face went blank, and for an eerie moment she resembled a living waxwork. Then she smiled, sadly, and folded her powerful arms. "Yes. Your Xena has finally convinced you of my madness, then. She hopes to use this false charge to drive a wedge between us. Xena continues to pull you away from the light, Gabrielle, as surely as a stone around your neck would drag you down the cold depths of the Aegean."
"I'm not discussing Xena with you, Najara -- "
"It was her darkness that drove spikes of cold, rusted steel through your hands and feet."
"Listen, I don't -- "
"I tried to tell Xena that you and I share one destiny, but she refused to believe me." Now Najara's dimpled smile held triumph. "After today, even the Warrior Princess will see that I was right. She'll have to accept that only I can unlock the door to your dark prison."
"Stop there, lady." Gabrielle meant both Najara's assumptions and the slow steps she was taking toward her. "Your Jinn don't speak for Eli, and your Light holds no value for me, it never could. It's based on more sad delusion than I could ever -- "
"How many lives have you taken, Gabrielle, since we last met?"
A small muscle in Gabrielle's jaw tightened, and she clenched her teeth to bite back the unexpected pain.
"You've been following a false teacher since you were a girl, dear one." Najara's voice was kind. She began a slow circle, making her turn to continue facing her. "Xena has taken a pure, innocent village girl and lured her away from the Light -- and now she's forcing you down her own blood-soaked trail of carnage."
Gabrielle felt again the warm, sticky splash of blood over her wrist as she slit the throat of a Roman guard. She saw again the glazed, open eyes of a dozen dead men at her feet, slaughtered by her hand.
"Accept it, Gabrielle." Najara was inches from her now. "Xena has destroyed everything in you that was once precious and holy -- your love of peace. She's made you into an image of herself -- ruthless, violent -- you've become a daughter of the darkness."
She opened her mouth to tell Najara she was wrong -- that she killed only when forced to, and she still found the spilling of blood a soul-shriveling horror. But in the glassy mirror of Najara's blue eyes, Gabrielle saw Brutus's face, twisted in agony after she gutted him -- and the unmistakable relish in her own expression, as she watched him die.
"It is time, at last, to leave your crude warrior behind, Gabrielle." Najara's rancid breath touched her face. "We are destined to walk together, down the sacred path of peace. I am your true mentor, your greatest teacher. Your mind believes it. Your heart believes it. And your body . . . "
Gabrielle felt the air being sucked from her lungs, as Najara's eyes pulsed with a blinding blue flash.
"Your body is today's lesson."
She was falling, dropping from a vast height, and Gabrielle panicked and thrashed. Then there was a hugely painful wrenching as she was caught, and held, by her wrists and ankles.
"Open your eyes, Gabrielle."
She was naked, and chained to the spokes of a huge, upright wheel.
The young warrior fought her restraints instinctively, and found it
futile. Her wrists and ankles were wrapped in cold links of thick
chain. The shock of the sudden restraint robbed Gabrielle's breath
again -- for a sickening moment, she'd thought she'd been crucified.
Najara was dressed in the same feminine, flowing robes, her golden hair feathered around her face. Her smiling eyes glowed as she looked up at Gabrielle's stunned expression.
"You know this tryst has always awaited us, Gabrielle." The slender woman stood close to her, her breath tickling her flat belly. "Since our first meeting, when we shared the beauty of wild swans in flight, we have both longed for this."
"Najara, you . . . " Gabrielle began to feel the pleasant tugging of steel clips on her breasts, and her grogginess vanished. She blinked hard, and saw her nipples bulging in the jaws of two small dragon's-head clamps. Thin chains ran from each, and at the bottom of each chain dangled a small stone.
"These are not especially heavy." Najara's fingered the dangling stones, then tapped them with her fingers, and watched the young blonde's nipples move in the clamps as they swayed. "Not large enough to cause true pain. But perhaps their sweet weight can help us begin today's lesson."
Gabrielle tried to fight off her horror at the brutal exposure of her nakedness to an enemy's eyes. A hot, insidious itching was already filling the tips of her breasts, as her nipples reddened and swelled.
"You still give her your body." Some of the light fell out of Najara's eyes, and the note of reproach darkened her tone again. "Even now, after Xena's bloody path led to your agony on a Roman cross -- you still offer these lovely breasts to that -- vicious bitch." She began to stroke the full globes, her hands trembling slightly.
Gabrielle struggled to think. Xena would tell her to use any weapon at hand against an enemy, and Najara's warped logic was the only one she had.
"Fight f-fair, Najara. Give me a chance to defend myself, if you expect me to believe -- that yours is an honorable path."
"This isn't the kind of battle you can win with a sword, Gabrielle." Najara bent and kissed the birthmark below the young warrior's ribs, and the skin beneath her full lips quivered in revulsion. "Your victory over the darkness will lie in your surrender to the Light."
The wheel was an immense, creaking oak structure that squealed with rust as Najara set it in motion. It began a slow, ponderous revolution, and Gabrielle muffled a gasp as she turned with it, the chains holding her naked body tightly spread-eagled against the splintered wood.
"The thought of me has tormented you, like the gnawing tug of the dragon's teeth," Najara murmured, as she guided the wheel in its slow orbit. The nipple-clamps chewed the bound woman gently as the stones dangled, following gravity, pulling her breasts up as her head neared the bottom of the wheel's arc.
"You couldn't escape the call of the Jinn, just as you're at the mercy of this pleasant suffering now." Najara smiled as Gabrielle's pale face rose into view on her right, the small weights pulling her engorged nipples to the side, then down again. "Your breathing is changing, Gabrielle. I'm arousing you."
The younger woman clamped her lips in denial, but air still hissed out between her clenched teeth. A subterranean warmth was filling Gabrielle's groin. She could feel the cool mist on the soft hair of her exposed mound as she was turned upright again, and her furred lips twitched with a faint bubbling of heat.
"Najara." Gabrielle closed her eyes as the blood rushed from her face. The wheel began its second revolution, and the stones tugged again at her nipples. "I know I can't stop you. Just know that if you do this -- I'll d-despise you for the rest of my life."
Najara brushed her fingers across her dampening slit as it rose to her eye level, and Gabrielle fought the chains holding her again because she had to. "Surrender comes hard to a warrior spirit."
Najara's beautiful eyes sparked with greedy flames as she pulled the wheel to a halt. She stared at the trembling cunt between the girl's widespread thighs, and her tongue appeared briefly at the corner of her mouth. Helplessly inverted, Gabrielle felt the madwoman's gaze drilling through her parted labia. Then the wheel moved again.
"You've prepared this body well for serving the Light, Gabrielle. The killing fields have strengthened you, made you faster, more powerful . . ."
Her cold hands glided feverishly over Gabrielle's nakedness, cupping her shoulders, squeezing her muscled thighs. Najara crooned softly as she handled her captive, her fingers tickling into her open sex.
The wheel turned, the stones swung from their thin chains, and heat rose inside Gabrielle as inevitably as fire in dry kindling.
"This won't prove anything, Najara." A gasping sob escaped her as the wheel brought her upright. "Except that you're capable of rape, as well as murder, in the name of the Light."
Cold fingers snarled in her pubic hair and pulled hard, and another wrenching gasp forced its way between her lips.
"It will prove your body is as much mine as your spirit." Najara's words emerged in a hiss. "I'll own you, Gabrielle, as that pagan barbarian never could."
Fierce fingers probed her again, and Gabrielle groaned in spite of her determination to remain silent. She snapped her head to the side to clear damp hair from her eyes, and screamed silently for Xena.
The fingers were withdrawn roughly, making her grunt in shock, and then she was turning again, quickly, the thin gray mist swirling up to meet her. Her plump breasts shuddered as the stones dragged her nipples up again, and her lush body jerked against the spokes as her head lowered. Najara stopped the wheel again abruptly, its rusted nails squealing with strain.
She began struggling again, even before Najara came around on the wheel's other side and her intent became apparent. The dizziness of the turning only added to her sick sense of helplessness. She felt her vagina swell between her widespread legs, hideously vulnerable to Najara's greedy eyes.
Suddenly the madness emerged again in those crystal blue orbs, gleaming and unmistakable. Najara adjusted Gabrielle's upended body before her, checked her own stance carefully between the girl's parted thighs -- and then burrowed her head between her legs and began to feast.
The choked scream that burst from Gabrielle was hoarse and despairing, but still carried an element of defiance. She had but one resolve, now -- this bloody banshee would not have this conquest. Not in this way, not ever. Gabrielle summoned all the steely control she'd seen in Xena's eyes under torture, and she held on.
The maddening rape continued. Najara nipped her clitoris repeatedly, then sucked wetly on its distended tip. She blew explosive bursts of hot breath into her cunt, and then her tongue burrowed inside her, claiming her victim with ravenous glee. Her strong arms snaked through the spokes of the wheel and clasped Gabrielle's waist. She lifted her, pressing her mound hard against her face, so her tongue could dig more deeply into the her clinging tunnel.
Tears fell from the squirming warrior's closed eyes, dripping over her forehead and into her hair. Thrumming warmth coursed up from her groin to her quivering nipples, engorged in the steel clamps. Gabrielle fought the tide of liquid heat rising in her, and with titanic effort, managed to hold it to a pulsing series of waves. She forced herself to open her eyes, and craned her neck to look up the length of her naked body -- to Najara's face, feeding on her.
Najara's eyes were closed.
"Find your forgotten teacher . . . "
Gabrielle heard the words again, as the older woman continued raping her with her mouth, but it was not the same spectral voice. The tone had deepened to a rich contralto, a smoky, musical murmur that sent chromium bolts through Gabrielle's straining center -- this voice often carried that carnal impact.
Najara's eyes opened again, and shimmered.
Trembling with the tension in her neck and the threatened eruption between her legs, Gabrielle found herself impaled on the blue flame of Xena's fevered gaze, and she went rigid with shock. It was the tall warrior who held her by the waist -- and it was her lips that ground into her, Xena's white teeth grazing her engorged clitoris.
But it was the eyes that released Gabrielle, and claimed her again. She was swept up abruptly in the blue fire of Xena's gaze, and she came with a shuddering scream. Her lush body convulsed against her dark lover's mouth, and her breasts huddled in repeated quakes as climax sluiced through her.
She felt herself cradled in strong arms, as dear and welcome as a deep
breath after diving beneath dangerous waters.
Still shuddering, Gabrielle opened her eyes. Her hip ached, as did one elbow, but she was basically whole -- and fully clothed. She felt the cold stone of the Parthenon beneath her, and the warm power of Xena's body bracing her from behind.
"Do you know where you are?" The cerulean eyes above her were bleak with concern.
She managed to nod.
"You just pitched on me." Xena's voice was soothing, but there was a tremor in it. Gabrielle heard the timpani of the warrior's heartbeat calm a little, now that she was conscious. "I was beginning to think that scarf held some poisonous dye -- "
Gabrielle's hand snaked up and curled around the taller woman's neck. She pulled the dark head down smoothly and their lips blended, cutting off Xena's words with a muffled "mmph!" It was a hungry kiss, greedy and searching, but gradually it gentled, and became a softer exploration of lips and tongue.
It went on for quite some time.
Finally, Gabrielle was able to end it, and look again into her lifemate's smiling eyes. She did feel a vague desire to explain, but summoning the energy was difficult -- the aftermath of intense climax had filled her with a shimmering lassitude.
"Do you know," Gabrielle sighed, "how much I cherish you?"
"Yes, Gabrielle." The corner of Xena's mouth lifted. "After today, half of Athens knows."
Xena lifted her chin. Blinking, Gabrielle turned her head, and focused on the spellbound throng of pilgrims surrounding them. It was the Parthenon's busiest festival day, and dozens of travelers had flocked to the temple to marvel at its antiquities -- and to witness this enthralling conclusion to a young woman's fainting spell.
Gabrielle's fingers clenched in Xena's leathers. "All right, I am passing out," she hissed, a furious blush filling her cheeks. "Pick me up. Carry me out of here. Take me far, far away. Then we will talk." She slumped abruptly, and her eyes closed.
With a bemused grin, Gabrielle's greatest teacher lifted her obligingly into her arms.