Return to The Artifact Chapter Twelve

The Artifact

Author: sabina
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and its characters are the property of Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. The Tomb Raider videogame is the property of Eidos Interactive and Core Design. This fic is not meant to infringe any copyrights.

They walked silently, heading in the direction of the river, trying to look everywhere at once. They hoped luck would be steadfastly on their side and they'd find the tree before the true search started. They didn't need words to know that they were both intending to use the same search method as before. They'd begin their investigation near one door and slowly make their way toward the other.

Unfortunately, they reached the river without finding the mask, and both raiders sighed in disappointment.

"Well, I thought we might luck out and find the stupid thing without needing to thoroughly search through all the trees in this room...but of course not. Seems nothing can ever be easy, now can it?"

"The best things usually aren't." Tara answered.

The women returned to silence again. Both engrossed in thought, they absently started walking to the door.

Great! When did I decide to start quoting magazine clichés? Nice move, Maclay. I'm just sure that's the way to her heart.

The best things. Mmm. But I never get the best things. Oh well. It's better not to go down that road; no point in making my headache worse. Willow flinched slightly when she thought about the pain in her head. She'd almost forgotten about the residual ache, but thinking about it now seemed to bring it on stronger.

They quickly reached the door. Once there, they both stopped to gaze at the woods, and each contemplated the fastest way to find their target.

Our search would be quicker if we split up, but there's no way I'm letting her out of my sight again... Nuh-uh! I wonder if she wants us to search alone.

The redhead turned her head and looked intently at Tara. Her knees, hands, and elbows were still bandaged, and bruises were visible on her exposed skin. It was a painful reminder to Willow of what happened the last time they separated.

I was too close to losing her the last time. This time I'll stick to her like glue. Willow was searching for the best way to voice her thoughts, when Tara's voice shook her from her reverie.

"Although it takes longer, I think we should stay together while we try to find the last mask." Tara had been divided between the fear of letting Willow wander alone again and the need to get moving. But then she looked at Willow and all thoughts of splitting up flew right out the window. The redhead was obviously tired, her face was pale, and her green eyes were rimmed with red.

Neither of us is in top shape right now, and Hell will freeze over before I let her walk alone in this dangerous place.

Tara was trying to come up with the best way to persuade Willow, in case the redhead decided to protest the potential loss of time that traveling together would bring. But Willow was already convinced.

"I think so, too." Willow managed to keep her composure and answer in a neutral tone, although she felt like doing a happy dance. As she heard Willow's answer, Tara sighed gratefully. She was afraid that her true feelings for her companion would show if she had to argue about staying together.

"Then it's settled. We'll remain together."

Willow couldn't suppress the little smile that formed on her lips... it matched the one tugging at the blonde's mouth. As long as they were together, they were happy... and confident they could overcome any obstacle.

"I think it's time to resume our monkey hunting... errh... I mean monkey-mask hunting... 'cause, I don't make a habit of chasing innocent animals. I'm strictly a 'chasing dead things' kind of girl. Uhm... well, not dead dead things, 'cause that would just be messy and stinky and well... yuck..."

Willow stopped talking and got a sheepish look on her face when she heard soft chuckling. Tara felt her heart soar with love as she heard the redhead talk, and for a moment she happily laughed out loud.

I so love this woman.

After an awkward few seconds, Willow's voice joined Tara's and the crypt was treated to the sweet sounds of their mingled giggling.

Her laughter is the sweetest thing I've ever heard. I don't even mind getting caught babbling, if in the end I get to hear her soft and oh-so-melodic laughter. If I could have this for the rest of my life, I truly believe I could be happy. Ok... reality check; there's no point in thinking about it, so drop it, Rosenberg!

The necessity to find the last mask eventually sobered the mood, and they both remained quiet until Tara hesitantly spoke her mind.

"Well, I've been thinking, Willow. We can't walk side-by-side in the woods, so maybe I could lead the way and look up at all the trees, keeping my eyes open for any sign of the mask, and you could walk behind me... you know, protecting our backs. That way I can focus completely on the mask, knowing that you're concentrating strictly on keeping us safe."

Willow smiled and simply nodded her approval, and they started walking to the woods, shoulder-to-shoulder. As they entered the realm of the trees Tara took the lead, leaving Willow to walk a couple of steps behind as agreed.

They traversed the forest carefully; Tara examining every tree, and Willow searching everywhere at once for traps and menacing plants. They'd been searching for about an hour when Tara spotted a large, old pine tree that stood proudly amongst the oak trees.

"Willow, look!" the blonde said excitedly. Willow tensed, not sure if the urgency in Tara's voice meant that she'd found what they were looking for, or that they were about to be attacked.

"That's a pine tree!" Tara continued animatedly.

Willow relaxed slightly.

A pine tree? All this commotion because of a pine tree?! Ok, so at least we're not under attack, but I'm starting to wonder if Tara inhaled something... maybe some kind of flower ecstasy. Oh, that's probably it! Those stupid flowers... I knew I should have shot 'em all! Hmm... or, could be that the woman I love just has a thing for pine.

The blonde could see that Willow was confused, so she decided to explain herself.

"Up until now, I'd not seen any pines trees. Doesn't it strike you as odd that in all the time we've been searching this area, this is the first and only pine tree we've seen?"

"Ohhh," the redhead said simply. She immediately understood what Tara was hinting at.

"So, you think the mask is up there?" Willow asked, as she looked up and tried to catch at least a glimmer of gold that would tell them they were on the right track.

The blonde nodded enthusiastically, her blue eyes shining with confidence.

Hmm... All I can see is green and brown, just leaves and branches. No sign of any monkey on this tree. And hey, monkeys aren't usually in pine trees, are they? Oh well... this is no savanna... and we found a lion in the middle of the bushes. So maybe it's a general thing - monkeys in a tree - even if the tree isn't the right kind. And Tara seems to be pretty sure about this...

Willow gazed into sapphire eyes for a moment before speaking.

"Ok, then. So the mask is up there. How are we going to climb to the top of this tree? It doesn't have branches!"

Tara could see that Willow wasn't convinced that they were going to find what they were looking for at the top of the tree, but it brought a smile to her face to see that the redhead trusted her judgment even if she didn't totally agree with it.

"You're right that the pine tree is almost impossible to climb. But I think I can easily climb that slightly bent oak tree. From there I can look to see if the mask is where I believe it is. If it isn't, I come down and we resume our search. And if the "monkey" is really waiting for me on top of that tree, all I have to do is jump from one tree to the other and we'll have the mask," the blonde finished happily.

"There's just one thing I don't agree with regarding your plan; why are you the one doing the climbing? You hurt yourself just yesterday. Your arms aren't fully healed yet. I should be the one climbing trees."

"Uhm, Willow, you were 'bitten' by a poisonous thorn just a few hours ago... I think your lack of balance is a bigger liability than my sore arms," the blonde said seriously. There was no way she was going to let her partner expose herself to a nasty fall.

As she saw the redhead frown and open her mouth to continue the discussion, Tara quickly added to her speech, playfully cutting Willow off before a sound could leave her mouth.

"Besides, when we made the work distribution in this quest, we agreed that you would complain about the protein balls we eat and be our diving and swimming expert..."

Then Tara sobered up her tone and continued in a serious voice "...and I would do the climbing parts. I think this fits into my designated tasks, so I'll be the one going after this last mask."

Once again Willow opened her mouth to protest, but then she closed it again forcefully and simply nodded her approval.

She's right. We're in this as equal partners. Even if the idea of her risking her life in front of my eyes makes my heart shiver, I have to trust her to be the strong, skillful tomb raider that she's known to be.

Tara was relieved to see she wouldn't have to argue her point. There was no way she was going to let Willow risk herself without being sure that the venom had completely left her body. But she was learning that Willow could be really stubborn at times.

The blonde rapidly reached the oak tree that she intended to climb. She jumped and held herself to the tree using her feet, knees, elbows and hands. At the first contact she flinched; she was pressing almost all of her sore spots to the rough bark of the tree, but then she focused on the task ahead and willed herself to forget the pain.

Willow watched her companion climbing gracefully and she lost herself in the beauty that was Tara.

There was a cat-like quality to the blonde raider. She seemed to lift herself effortlessly. Her muscles tensed and released again and again as she moved from branch to branch, and her hands and feet found invisible support in the wood.

It's like she's a creature of the woods. Bushes as her friends, trees as her home, and leaves as her confidants. Or maybe it's like she's dancing around a pole... Hmm... Oh boy... better not go there...

Despite Willow's protest, images of the blonde doing a striptease in front of her flooded the redhead's mind. So vivid. Tara - clad only in tight black lingerie - moving languorously to the sound of soft, pulsating music. Her velvety hair hanging loosely on her shoulders, and an almost predatory smile tugging at the corners of her mouth... while smoldering, darkened, blue eyes burn right into the redhead's core. Then without warning, the blonde drops to her knees and arches her back... bending her head back as she runs her hands slowly all over her body.

Starting on her long neck, then tracing her luscious breasts, her strong fingers knead the full mounds for a second before rubbing her palms on her already erect nipples as she passes over them. She then resumes her journey down her body and slowly caresses herself while moving to the inside of her thighs... both hands sensually heading to her center...

Willow shook her head trying to clear her mind. Her mouth had gone dry, and she could feel the blood running faster in her veins and her temperature rising wildly.

I thought we agreed it was better to not go that way, 'lil brain of mine. The love of my life is risking herself in order to get us out of here... so this is no time to have fantasies about her dancing for me... even if she is the sexiest thing I've ever seen. Hmm... So flexible, and so very... Ok, cool down!!

When Willow was able to focus on what was happening above her, she saw that Tara was nearly level with the top of the pine tree, and she sighed in relief. The trek up had been uneventful.

Tara was, of course, also relieved that she hadn't encountered any difficulties while climbing. Apart from the residual pain from her previous injuries, everything was running smoothly.

Ok... I made it! Better to celebrate after this is done. There's no need to jinx something that's going so well.

Having reached the top, she looked in the direction of the pine tree. If the raider hadn't been hanging from a tree about five meters above the ground, she'd have done a happy dance. Resting undisturbed, nestled on one of the pine tree's delicate branches, was a golden mask in the shape of a monkey.

"Willow! I found it. The mask is really up there!" Tara shouted excitedly.

"It is?" The redhead shouted back, just as wound up as the blonde.

Could I ask a dumber question? She wouldn't say she'd found it if she hadn't indeed found it? But hey, bright side... she found the mask! We now have the key to get out of here.

"Yes, it sure is. I'm going to move over to get it now."

Willow swallowed hard and held her breath. This was the tricky part.

The blonde concentrated hard on the jump. She was almost sure that the branch where the mask was would hold her weight, but she could be wrong. It was better to jump for the trunk of the tree and then carefully make her way to the mask. She waited a few more seconds and then made the jump... and in an instant she was safely grabbing on to the pine tree. On the ground, the redhead started breathing again.

Tara placed some of her body weight on the branch where the mask lay. She tensed, waiting for any sign that it wasn't going to hold. When she felt none, she rested fully on the branch, and still it held.

So now, I just have to take a small step and the mask is ours.

She took that step, halfway expecting the tree to give out beneath her - it had almost been too easy. But nothing happened, and she retrieved the mask and returned to the safety of the tree trunk.

"I've got the mask. Now I'm going down."

"Huh? Oh, okay. Be careful." Willow fidgeted nervously with her hands. Her anxiety opened a small breach in her self-control.

Tara slowly started to come down. In a matter of minutes she was again safe on the ground, standing in front of Willow.

Willow smiled at Tara, welcomed her back, and let her know she was thrilled to have her so close and safe. But her smile wavered and extinguished when she saw blood seeping from Tara's hands. The journey up and down the tree had opened her old cuts.

"You're bleeding again!" Willow gently took Tara's hands in her own.

"Oh, it's nothing really," Tara replied, trying to pull her hands away from the redhead and hide her cuts.

For once, Willow didn't mistake the blonde's actions of avoidance as rejection. Instead, she saw it for what it was. She smiled warmly before speaking.

"Hey, you don't have to be a tough warrior all the time. We're in this together. You don't have to shelter me... let me help you with these and then we can get back to work."

Tara's only answer was her now familiar lopsided grin.

How does she know me so well? She can always make me feel better. And her hand is so soft, warm, and soothing on my palm... mmm... Willowhand.

"Let's go to the river. You can wash the cuts and I'll whip up some new bandages. Then maybe we can eat and move on."

"That sounds like a good plan."

They quickly reached the river. Tara sat down next to the clear water and carefully washed her hands. Her knees and elbows weren't hurting, so she decided not to change those bandages.

Willow sat next to her with clean bandages at the ready, just waiting for Tara to finish cleansing her wounds. As soon as she was done, Willow tenderly picked up the blonde's right hand and started to wrap it.

Tara had to bite back an approving moan when she felt Willow caress the backside of her hand while draping the bandages skillfully around the cuts. When she was happy with her work, the redhead moved to the other hand and repeated the process.

"I think we're all done here. Maybe we can go put those masks on their rightful owner's heads... at least I think they're the rightful owners...oh long as it gets the door open, I don't really care."

Tara smiled; Willow was just too cute. But she agreed they couldn't stay there forever, so after a moment, she replied.

"Yeah, I think we should."

It didn't take them long to reach the wall and its animal heads. They took the masks out of their backpacks and then stopped.

"Well, this is it," the blonde said.

"Yeah. Let's get on with the show, then." Willow advanced and placed the fish mask on the fish sculpture, then the snake on the snake.

It was Tara's turn. She picked up the rabbit mask, laid it on its respective head, and then stopped for a second to look at the monkey mask before finally laying it on its perfectly-fitting resting place.

They heard a rubbing and scratching noise, and the door to the next room suddenly opened.

Willow drew her guns and moved through the door first, with Tara right behind her.

After they moved to the new room, the door closed heavily behind them.

It was a square room and unlike the others, it wasn't lit by natural light. A few torches hanged from the wall, and cast their wavering light on the room.

They took their time looking around this new place. Right in front of the door they'd just crossed, about 3 meters in front of them, there was a corridor with flame-throwers on each side. Fire burned ferociously, occupying the whole width and length of the corridor, creating barriers of fire that were impossible to cross. It was impossible to see what lay beyond the fire. Curiously, the fire produced no smoke.

On the wall, on the right side of the corridor's entrance, there was a handle that appeared to be pushed up.

On the left corner of the entrance, there was a large stone statue. It was of a standing man, eyes closed, head bent to the front, arms crossed. In each hand the statue held a shining sword.

The tomb raiders had finished their initial look at this new room and Willow put her guns back in their holsters. Now they were both gazing at the statue on the corner.

"A sleeping warrior," Willow whispered softly, as if she were afraid to wake the statue from its never-ending slumber.

After a brief period of silent observation, Tara spoke.

"There's something weird about that statue..."

"I think so, too. I mean, it looks so real. Like it's a sleeping guardian waiting for some kind of threat to wake it up." They once again looked at the stone warrior before turning to each other.

"I think we should look around for the way out of this room. I believe the statue has a purpose, but for now I can't figure out what it is. So, I say we worry about it later." Willow stated calmly.

"Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. You start with the right wall and I'll start with the left."

Willow nodded her approval. Tara's plan ensured that the last part of the room they would search would be the corridor with the flames that reached from side to side. The blonde wanted to make sure they weren't missing anything before they looked for answers in the most obvious place - the burning hallway.

Sometimes things aren't what they appear to be. Sometimes the way out doesn't wait for you in the end of a flaming corridor, but instead it's modestly hidden in the middle of a plain wall. Hmm, why - in my own head, no less - am I sounding like a self-help book all of the sudden? Hello!... I have a wall to search!

Willow shook her head and walked toward her torch-lined designated wall, finally immersing herself in her task.

At the same time, Tara walked toward the other wall, focusing on the stones and torches in front of her.

Both women searched the stones and torches thoroughly. They pulled and pushed, scratched and hit, but nothing happened. So after about a half an hour, they met in front of the corridor.

"So did you find anything?" Tara asked.

"Nothing. I thought I was on to something when I found a set of different colored stones; they were darker than the other ones. I was like 'woo hoo!' but then it turned out to be a big pile of nothing. What about you?"

"Nothing either."

"I guess that only leaves us the corridor from Hell..."

They both looked at the hallway. Flames lurched and crackled everywhere menacingly, creating walls through which they could never pass unharmed.

You're right again my love; Corridor from Hell, it is. Tara thought gloomily before speaking out loud.

"So, I guess we only have one choice left. We're going to have to push that handle and hope something works."

"Ok then."

Willow stopped right in front of the handle and inhaled deeply. "Here goes nothing."

As she pushed the handle, the fire extinguished itself in the flamethrowers on the left side, and for an instant, there were no flames between the raiders and the end of the corridor. However, only a second or two passed before the flamethrowers on the right wall started to work, and once again the hissing inferno was alive and well.

The tomb raiders gazed at one another silently, and bright smiles formed on their respective lips.

"Did I just see what I think I saw?" The blonde asked in a whisper.

"If you're asking me whether you saw a piece of a star lying on the ground by the end of the corridor when the flames stopped burning for a second... I'd have to say the answer is yes," came the giddy reply.

They felt like singing... dancing... jumping around screaming from the tops of their lungs. The first part of the star was just within their reach. They knew now that they were on the right track, and that they hadn't gotten lost or deviated from the goal.

The raiders were so distracted; they both missed the sudden red glow that shone through the stone statue's eyes. They missed the statue's return to life. They didn't see it lift its head and gaze ominously at them. It was only when it uncrossed its arms and the swords in its hands made a metallic sound that the girls turned around and saw the gigantic statue lurch at them.

Willow quickly drew her guns and stepped in front of Tara, shielding her from the sudden assault. The sharpshooter attacked the approaching stone warrior mercilessly. Her bullets connected with the statue's body but didn't even phase it; it continued toward them at the same speed. The redhead dropped her guns into their holsters and grabbed the shotgun. She fired it like a mad woman, and the statue seemed to slow down a bit...but the actual damage made by the shots was still insignificant.

"Tara! Run!"

They started to run side-by-side, turning in wide circles, while the statue gained on them. Willow turned back every few seconds to fire a couple more shots. The results were always the same; the pursuing warrior would fall back a little before picking up its pace again.

Years of quests and life or death situations came to their rescue and prevented them from panicking. Their brains worked at full speed, trying to figure out a way to escape.

Here I am, running in circles again... this is so not working... sure as heck doesn't look like an efficient way to kill this thing. And it takes the shotgun blasts as if they're nothing more than mosquito bites. Eventually we'll get tired or I'll run out of ammunition and we'll get caught. I can't let anything happen to Tara, so think, Rosenberg, think!

Jeez... why do these goddamn statues always have to come after us? And it doesn't seem to be slowing down at all. I have to think... Think. All puzzles have solution... I just have to figure out what this one is. I can't give up now... Willow's life is in danger.

The solution hit them at the same time... The star! ...and they both knew what had to be done. Willow spoke to voice her idea, but Tara already knew what she was about to say... and the blonde raider wasn't happy with the task that faced her.

"Tara! You have to go get the star. The star has to be the answer."

"I'm not about to leave you here alone with this thing!" the blonde said stubbornly.

"You have to... there has to be someone out here to push the handle, and since the shotgun is the only thing that slows it down a bit, I have to be the one to stay on the outside."

Even as they ran the redhead could see the wheels in Tara's head turning, her forehead wrinkled in concentration. Suddenly it didn't matter to Willow that there was a killer statue running after them; all that mattered was that Tara not be upset. So Willow smiled as if nothing was wrong and spoke playfully.

"Don't you go thinking that I'll be the only one having fun here. So ok, sure, I'll have the big bad stone guy playing tag with me, and yeah, that scores really high on my "cool things to do" list, but hey, you'll have lots of flame-throwers to toy with."

Yikes... Was that bad or worse?! How do I come up with these lame jokes?! If the guy with big swords doesn't kill me, I'll kill myself.

The redhead started chastising herself, but then she saw Tara smile that lopsided smile of hers and everything else was forgotten. She kept on running... driven by pure instinct, because for a second she couldn't remember who or where she was, let alone that there was an armed statue running after her.

Willow, only you could make me smile right now. And you're right; I have to trust you to hold it together out here while I go fetch the star... even if I hate that this plan makes it impossible for me to watch over you.

"I'll go get the star."

Willow nodded, turned around, shot the living statue, and spoke again.

"You can push the handle the first time, but then you'll be trapped by the flames. So here's the deal... I'll keep running around the room, and every time I approach the handle I'll give a warning shout before pushing it - so you can prepare yourself."

This time it was Tara's turn to give an approving nod.

They locked eyes for a few seconds as they continued to run, and then as they neared Tara's stop, the redhead spoke in a deep voice.

"You'll only have a second to move. Please be careful."

"I will. You be careful, too," Tara answered in the same tone before making a turn and running to the handle.

For a second the statue seemed to be unsure whether to keep chasing the redhead or go after the blonde, but then Willow turned around and without stopping her run, she shot the statue repeatedly in the head until she was sure it had decided to continue chasing her instead of Tara.

In the meantime, Tara reached the handle. She turned her head and looked back to make sure the stone warrior wasn't coming after her... and also that the younger raider was ok. She saw that Willow was keeping her distance and running steadily without any signs of fatigue.

Reassured, Tara turned to the handle and breathed deeply. She'd have to push the handle and then be quick to position herself in front of the second flame-shooter on the right before the first one on the left started working. After that, she'd be trapped between two walls of flames, and she'd have to rely on Willow to push the handle as many times as was necessary to get Tara through the corridor.

She looked lovingly at Willow one last time... and then pushed the lever. The second flame died and she quickly moved to stand in front of the now empty hole on the wall, as she was encased between two burning barriers.

One down, no idea how many more to go. It's hot in here. Whew! Thank the gods that the heat is the only thing I have to deal with. If there was also smoke I don't think I'd be able to hold myself up. Ok, so now all I have to do is wait for Willow's sign. I hope everything's all right with her...

Willow had relaxed slightly when she saw Tara place herself in a safe spot before the flames started to burn again. Nothing had changed in her own situation; she was still running in large circles around the room, maintaining a steady lead over the statue without tiring.

Thank all the gods and goddesses for my love of the gym. And while I'm at it, three cheers for my habit of never walking and always running. At least I'm far from being drained. I can run for hours and I'll still be ok... you hear me, you stupid statue? Of course you don't... I'm thinking here. Whatever, I'm still going to make you work that fat body until you're fit for featherweight wrestling! Ohhh-kayyy, now that I'm done teaching 'Fitness Basics for Sadistic Stone Statues,' I really need to focus on the handle. Plan... need a plan. Ok, I shoot this guy about three times and then I run like Hell to the handle and push it. That's a good plan... let's stick with that. Ok, time to call out to Tara.

"Tara! Get ready!" Seconds later, Willow shot the statue three times square in the chest to delay it, then ran to the lever, slowing down a bit to make sure she'd be able to push it properly. The statue had gained some ground on her, so she pushed the lever and shot the attacker in the chest before resuming her pace and continuing to run around the room.

As the blonde heard Willow's warning, she tensed and waited. Soon she saw the flames retreating, and she moved to the next safe spot just in time... as fire once again crackled all around her.

"Two down!!" She shouted.

Willow heard the blonde and she relaxed once again.

They fell into a steady rhythm. Willow would run, push the lever, and then run some more without letting the statue get her... and Tara would simply wait for the perfect moment and then move forward to avoid the fire.

About half an hour later Tara was just one step away from the star and Willow was still running.

"Willow, this is it! One more time and I reach the star!"

The redhead didn't answer; she was focused on running faster. Just when she was once again nearing the handle, she turned to shoot the statue to ensure she'd have the time to push the lever properly. It was then that her shotgun jammed.

She pulled the trigger once, twice, three times... nothing.

As the stone guardian closed in on her again, she broke into a sprint without pausing to shove the lever. It was the only way to regain her advantage in the chase.

Great. Just great. Could this get any more 'cheesy-soap-opera-drama'? The thing has to jam the last time that I need to use it?! Maybe this is part of the challenge... some last-second curse... or maybe the gods are trying to tell me something. Probably that I need to get a new shotgun. Damn it! Now there's no way I can keep that thing away from me long enough so I can push the handle. Oh well... could be worse.

Tara became completely unnerved. It was taking much more time than usual for Willow to tell her to prepare...and she could hear that the redhead had broken into a forced sprint.

What's happening?!? Ok, be rational... she's running... and that means she's ok. But, why is she sprinting? Is she losing her lead? Why not use the shotgun?! Oh god... something must be wrong with the shotgun!! She's defenseless out there! Against a guard with two swords...

Tara didn't have much time to delve into those thoughts as she suddenly heard the now-familiar scream of warning.

"Tara. Get ready!"

Willow had decided it was time to finish this business, with or without her shotgun. So she ran to the lever and pushed it.

At just that moment, the statue reached her and swung its left sword heavily toward her head. Willow jumped to the side and avoided the menacing blade, but before she could start running again the statue attacked her with the other sword. Once again, she jumped. Just as the warrior prepared to attack her again, he suddenly stopped and his eyes glowed bright red just before he dissolved into ashes right in front of her.

Willow was dumbfounded and still gazing at the remains of the statue when she saw Tara coming out of the corridor. Clutched in the blonde's hand there was a bright red object.

When Tara came closer, she opened her hand and Willow could see that it was a third of the star.

They both looked away from the star and stared deeply into each other's eyes.

Blue met green, and for once, they gave in to their feelings, closed their eyes, and dove into each other's arms. They pressed their bodies tightly against each other, reveling in their close proximity after being apart.

Willow buried her face in Tara's hair as Tara softly stroked auburn tresses.

In that moment, a soft white glow surrounded them... and in the blink of an eye, they vanished from the room.

Continue to The Artifact Chapter Fourteen

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