Willow Rosenberg was sleeping peacefully in a chair on the deck of her boat. She had gone swimming for a while, eaten freshly-caught fish for lunch (fish was the only thing she ate in these boat retreats of hers), and now was taking a nap.
She woke up with the noise of a helicopter approaching, and quickly she passed from slumber to a fully-awakened state. She was always like that; she could never sleep soundly, courtesy of years spent wandering around inside crypts full of booby traps and things that went 'bump' in the night.
So, in less time that it would take you to rub your eyes she rolled off her chair, picked up her guns, and was on her feet, pointing her weapons at the helicopter with a steely aim.
God, this girl really is a piece of work, Steve thought, after seeing the whole maneuver through his binoculars. He was impressed.
When the helicopter was near enough to hear her, Willow shouted, "Stop right there, and tell me what you want, or you're all going to play with the fishes."
"Miss Rosenberg you are under no threat. I'm simply here to visit with you. May I come aboard?" Steve hastily shouted back. He knew that she was an ace with those guns, and he had no desire to crash into the ocean. Besides, pissing her off would be a categorically stupid move.
Willow thought about it for a few seconds. So, this has to be about work. And it has to be a pretty important job for someone to take the trouble to come and find me here. Hmm... What shall I do? I just got here last week, and I was thinking I'd stay for at least a month. The fishing is amazing, there are no crazy mummies, no poisonous spiders and no flamethrowers. Oh well, I can always come back!
"Ok, you can come aboard."
Steve jumped to the water and swam the few meters to the boat. There he found a ladder and climbed aboard. He got his first look at Willow, and he couldn't help but be surprised. She was beautiful, slender, and graceful. She looked like she had just stepped away from a fashionable party.
And this is the woman who's known around the world for searching and fighting all kind of dangerous things that would send anyone else running for the hills. Gosh, talk about looks being deceiving.
She moved to sit on the only chair on deck. "I'm sorry, I don't have many visitors, so you can either sit on the floor or you can stand." Her voice betrayed just a hint of amusement.
"That's just fine, I'll stand."
"So, what brings you to this part of the Atlantic, Mr...?"
"Mr. Drake. You're not an easy woman to find, Miss Rosenberg. I've been looking for you in order to extend an offer." He stopped and Willow nodded for him to continue.
"I have an interest in history and lost artifacts, and I learned that a new temple was recently found in Egypt. I believe that inside that temple is a relic that my family has been pursuing for generations - the lost Star of Shamia. I would like you to retrieve it for me. I'm willing to pay you whatever price you believe to be fair. But I should warn you that this temple is known as the 'temple of doom,' for no one who has ever entered it has come out." He was trying to distract her from the lack of information about the Star.
He knew she was far from being put off by the danger. The redhead was well known for her love of life-threatening situations. The more risky it was the faster she would agree to it.
She seemed to be measuring the situation. She was a professional, and as such was not going to jump headfirst without first knowing exactly where she stood. So I played my ace, hoping that it would be enough to persuade her.
"Oh, and the reason why I had such urgency in finding you, bothering you in the middle of your vacation and all, is that word on the street has it that Miss Maclay has been hired to find the Shamia Star."
At the mention of Tara's name Willow lifted her head. She had never met her, but she knew that she was the other "best in the world" tomb raider.
So Miss Maclay is part of this game. I don't like jumping into things without knowing everything, and this can be a diversionary tactic. It's probably quite obvious that I find the chance to put any doubt to rest regarding who is 'the best' once and for all very appealing. He must think this way I'll accept this job without asking too much questions. But if she really is going to be there, then it makes this a much more fun game to play. I'll do it but I don't really trust you, Mr. Drake, so I'll be watching my back.
With her mind made up, Willow switched to business mode. "Count me in. Now, I'll need to see that book you were talking about. Is there any specific time for me to enter the temple?" Man, I hate when the stupid doors are temporized. It's really annoying. But in this case it might not be that bad; it would ensure that I would meet miss Maclay. She didn't know why, but the thought of meeting Tara left her giddy. She told herself that it was the heat and rush of competition, but she wasn't feeling all aggressive like she usually felt in this type of situation.
It had happened lots of times. Two adventurers, sometimes more, competing to get the final goal. And she had always won before. Only this time my focus doesn't seem to be on the winning but on Tara. She tried to dismiss that thought. I'm just curious to see her, to have a face and a body to go with the name. Probably after that I'll return to my cold and focused self. She returned her concentration to what Steve was saying.
"Of course. I'll send the book to your house. Is that ok?" It'll of course be the edited version – one of the two tremendously expensive falsifications that doesn't talk about soul mates and says Shamia's Star lost it's power upon her death and is therefore merely a harmless (albeit priceless) charm of peace and love. I hope that that'll be good enough to satisfy her curiosity.
"Yes, of course. That would be great."
"Then, Miss Rosenberg, I'll leave now and we'll meet again say in about two weeks? Does that work for you?"
"Yes, it does."
They shook hands to seal the deal and the helicopter sent a rope ladder for Steve to climb back in. In a flash the chopper was gone.
Willow Rosenberg. You're incorrigible! Will there ever be a vacation where you actually stay to the end? She was chastising herself, but she was smiling.
One down, one to go. I wonder if Miss Maclay will be harder to convince. Probably not, after all this is what they do for a living. Two tomb raiders, who would have thought? I think this has fate written all over it. Shamia's Star will be mine!
"Sir?" the pilot was trying to get his attention.
"Yes, what is it?" he answered, annoyed that his pleasant thoughts were interrupted.
"While you were on the boat, your secretary sent us a message. She said that you need to return to your office ASAP." Oh, man. What now? "Ok then, let's go."
"Patricia, come into my office, please." The secretary quickly got up and followed her boss into his office.
"So now that we're alone...tell me, what's going on?"
"Well, Sir, apparently Miss Maclay decided to return from her vacation. We received information that indicates she's coming back."
"When does her plane arrive?"
"Tomorrow at noon, Mr. Jenkins. But do you think it's a good idea go talk to her at the airport? Won't that look like an ambush and work against us?" Patricia was one of the few people who'd been in on this project since the beginning, so she could afford to ask some questions.
"Actually it won't matter. I'll simply tell her this was urgent - that I heard rumors about Miss Rosenberg's interest in going after the Star too, and that I decided it was best not to lose any time."
Patricia nodded, but she didn't seem too sure.
"It worked with Willow and I think it will work with Tara, too. They're both anxious to meet one another so she'll probably overlook a few of the details. It's an opportunity that's just too good for either of them to miss out on."
Tara was feeling a mix of exhaustion and restlessness by the time she arrived at the airport. Something big was going to happen, she could feel it in her bones. That was why she'd decided to return sooner from her climbing holiday.
She soon saw a man walking toward her. He was not a man who could easily blend in with the crowd. He was tall with blonde hair, and when he got near her she could see that his eyes were black. Strange combination. I think I'm about to find out the cause of my unease.
"Miss Maclay?" Steve Jenkins asked.
"I hope you'll forgive me for jumping at you like this when you've just arrived... it was very important for me to talk to you as soon as possible. I have a proposition for you. Maybe we could go someplace and sit down to talk?" He tried to be as polite as possible, knowing this was the crucial point. After she agreed to hear him out, he didn't think there was even the slightest chance of her refusing his offer.
I'm tired and I'm sure this is about work. And what's with this weird sensation on the pit of my stomach? It's not exactly bad, but it's keeping me unfocused. This is my chance to walk away.
"Ok, there's a coffee shop just around the corner... we can head over there."
They walked in silence to the coffee shop. They sat down and asked the waitress for coffee. Tara was the first one to talk.
"I'm sorry but I don't think you've told me your name."
"Oh! How rude of me. I'm David Stewart," the man lied.
They were silent again for a little while as Tara waited for him to make the next move. The ball was on his court now. The waitress brought them the coffee and it was only after she left that the man started to talk.
"Miss Maclay, I'm a history lover and a relic collector, as were my father and grandfather before me. You could say that I followed the family tradition." He stopped to sip his coffee and to think about how to weave the rest of the story.
Tara was silent. She was trying to read the man in front of her, but she couldn't see or sense anything. His black eyes betrayed nothing.
"Some time ago I found one of my grandfather's diaries and with it another book. It's old and its title is too faded to read. In it there are many legends, stories of mystical objects lost in time. I read it with the curiosity of a scholar, and one of those legends caught my eye. It was the tale of a goddess whose name and cult have been long forgotten, erased from all inscriptions by the Egyptians gods. It was the tale of Shamia." He paused again, as if he was recollecting his thoughts. He didn't want to start rambling.
"So to make the long story short, Shamia made an amulet - a Star - and the legend says that a temple was made to keep the Star safe from unworthy hands. I believe that the recently discovered temple in Egypt is Shamia's temple, and that the star still lies somewhere inside that temple. I want you to work for me and go find the amulet." He stopped to take a little sip of his coffee, and quickly resumed talking. This was not a good time to give her time to think about what he'd said. He knew his story had flaws; the trick was to distract her from that.
"The reason why it was so urgent for me to find you is because I heard that Miss Rosenberg is seeking this relic too, and that she is already preparing for the journey. This was something that my father and his father searched for before me, and I'd love to be the one to finally get it. With Rosenberg already getting ready I needed to find a tomb raider of my own who would be able to get the star" Looks like my efforts to introduce Willow's name casually weren't wasted; Tara hasn't heard a word I've said since, "Rosenberg," Jenkins mused to himself.
Willow Rosenberg is going after this thing? The person with whom I share the top position in the adventurer's ranking, and that I've never met? I'd really like to meet her face-to-face. I feel a weird vibe from this guy, though. This is probably going to be dangerous as Hell, but that's never stopped me before. And I get to meet Willow! Tara felt her spirits lift just a little bit.
"I'll do it. But I'll need to see this book that you're talking about and I'll need a couple of weeks to prepare myself."
"Of course." He felt like jumping up and down, filled with the joy of child on Christmas day. These girls are so easy. They're already fascinated by one another. I could have got them to do this if I'd just walked up and muttered the magic words, "Willow" and "Tara."
"I suppose you know where I live," Tara said with her voice tinted by annoyance.
"Yes, I do. I'm sorry, but it was urgent that I find you quickly, so I looked everywhere."
"Then get the book to my house by tomorrow afternoon. If you don't mind I'll go home now. I'm tired it was a long trip." She wasn't really feeling tired anymore but she wanted to be alone and analyze all that had happened.
"Ok then. I'll send someone by your house to drop off the book. And don't worry about the coffee, it's on me." They both got up.
"Bye Miss Maclay," he said as he extended his hand to her.
"Goodbye Mr. Stewart." She shook his hand and walked away.
For the next couple of weeks both Willow and Tara searched everywhere for things related to Shamia or the Star. They each came up basically empty. They discovered only vague references about a Goddess of love and nature that had been beaten by Egyptian gods.
Each woman had tests performed on the book given to her, and the results confirmed that the books were about eight hundred years old. That backed up the story they'd been told, and it fit with what was written in the book.
It had been copied from an ancient Greek document that was supposed to be the reproduction of the tales written in a temple of Shamia in Egypt. That temple was demolished when Shamia lost her battle against the other Gods --the information saved almost by miracle.
So it said in the book, which was convenient of course, because the women they couldn't verify the source of the information.
Willow decided to stop worrying and start preparing herself. It wasn't the first time she'd accepted a job with this little information, and at least on this one she'd meet Tara. That had been on her mind constantly, and this was a job she wasn't about to refuse.
Tara was a little worried - sensing she was missing something but not being able to tell what it was. But the mission was too tempting for her to give up. She'd just need to prepare herself a little better. By the time they both decided to stop chasing the rest of the story, they had exactly two weeks until the designated time to enter the temple.
They both took a week buying supplies, and then separately they traveled to Egypt to meet with their fate. Tara went to the site to study it, but she gave up quickly when she realized that the door was firmly closed and there was no way to get inside before the designated time. There wasn't much to see anyway; the temple had been built by digging into a mountain and was completely concealed and protected by the steep topography.
The blonde spent the remaining time resting and going over what little she did know about what she was soon to face. Willow didn't even go to see the temple. Instead she stayed in her hotel room relaxing and sleeping. She had a feeling she'd need to be at her best to survive what lay ahead.
Then D day came.
It was early morning when Tara arrived at the temple. She'd always been a morning person and she loved to get everywhere early. She found the temple door open as was expected and she entered. She rapidly understood that this was an antechamber and that the real door to the temple was the next one. The room was square, its walls were rough and plain, and right in front of the door through which Tara had entered was another door.
Tara never got to finish her inventory of the room. When she was starting to analyze the new door to see how it would open, she heard a noise and felt a presence starting to fill her, warm and comforting.
And then Willow Rosenberg entered.
At her first look at the newcomer Tara's breath caught in her throat. She saw a slim girl with the most amazing red hair Tara had ever seen, even tied in a simple ponytail as it was. And the woman had the face of an angel. Red sunglasses covered her eyes and added to the surreal aura emanating from this woman-angel. She was dressed in a green t-shirt and black shorts, and wore fingerless black gloves and scuffed black boots. She had a backpack tied tightly around her shoulders. Wrapped around each thigh she had a holster bearing an impressive firearm, and a shotgun could be seen resting on her back, attached to her backpack - just ready to be drawn if the need should arise.
She's so beautiful! Wait. Where did that come from? She is my rival... we're both here to get the same thing, and only one of us is going to win. I can't think she's beautiful. And she has a great butt, too. Tara stop it!
Willow had already seen the truck outside, so she knew that she was going to have company. But she wasn't prepared for the sight that greeted her.
A blonde woman with a single ponytail was leaning slightly on the door checking it. She was half-turned, the curve of her breasts highlighted by her position. And it was exactly to them that Willow's eyes were pulled. She has the most amazing breasts, full and luscious. Beautiful! Huh?! What I'm I thinking? Focus, she is your enemy. Ok, so maybe not really my enemy but I'll go with any label as long as it helps me to get my concentration back. And I've been staring at her breasts...how lame is that? Ok, so she has perfect breasts, but that's no excuse. Oh man and now I'm babbling in my head? What is happening to me?
With the tiny part of her brain that wasn't focused on the blonde's assets Willow saw that the woman was dressed in the same manner that she herself was with only slight differences. The blonde wore a dark blue t-shirt that clung to her chest, a pair of black shorts, and boots. She also had a bag draped tightly around her shoulders and she wore sports boots. Willow wondered briefly about the apparent lack of weapons. There was not even a pistol in sight - the blonde had a small knife tied around her thigh, nothing else. Why doesn't she have any guns? Oh my God, she's turning around to face me. Why can't I stop staring at her chest? I'm acting like a maniac ogling her like this. The redhead was starting to panic.
But then Willow suddenly remembered that she had her glasses on, so the blonde couldn't have seen where Willow was looking, and the redhead relaxed a little. She decided she wanted to get a closer look... so maybe it was time to put her rusty social skills to the test.
She started walking towards Tara and when there were only two steps separating them she took her glasses off. Blue met green for the first time, and both girls were speechless. The air seemed to suddenly be charged, and tiny sparks were flying around the room, but neither of them noticed. They were simultaneously lost and found... swimming in oceans of green and blue.
Willow was the first one to shake herself out of her reverie.
"Hi. I'm Willow Rosenberg. Nice to meet you." Willow extended her hand to the blonde. Oh man... I've spent years building a reputation for myself - the "ice woman" who always gets the job done - no matter how dangerous or difficult the quest is! And now, just because I'm gazing into the most amazing blue eyes I've ever seen, what am I doing? Introducing myself as if I'm at a party or something. This is serious; this is competition... I have to be cold and professional. I can't act like a dork!
Willow was about to pull her hand back and put on her resolve face when Tara's hand moved to meet her.
"H-hello. I'm Tara Mma-Maclay" And now I stutter? I haven't stuttered in ages, and not ever on a quest. I've faced the kinds of things that for most people only exist in the darkest of nightmares... and not once have I trembled, or has my strength faltered. I'm a strong, cold, intelligent woman! So why am I acting like a flustered teenager just because I have two stunning green eyes staring at me?!
Both their thoughts were forgotten as their hands met. They felt a jolt of electricity pass through them. The feeling was amazing; both felt tingly all over.
A lightning bolt struck the temple and its sound resonated in the air for a long moment. The true door to the temple was open.
From a safe distance Steve Jenkins was watching the temple. He felt the electric charge in the air and then saw clouds gathering fast in the sky. When thunder finally struck the temple, a smile made its way to his lips.
"And so the game begins!"