Return to The Artifact Chapter Twenty-Five

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.

Note: So here's the thing, I don't know if you know this but English is my second language and from the beginning of this story I have had the help of generous beta readers to review my chapters and help me out with my sometimes (I'm an optimist *cough*) weird phrasing and the use of not so adequate words or the terrible assassination of grammar. Currently I find myself, for the first time, without a beta reader. RL has a somewhat annoying tendency to get in the way and Gabbykat at this time and for the foreseeable future is unable to help me with this story. So and since I have a chapter written I'm going to post it the way I wrote it, no betaing whatsoever. I want to apologize if it's not up to the usual standards. Any mistakes you might find in the chapter are mine and mine alone (no doubt about it, lol). If anyone out there is interested in helping me out and betaing for me you can email me. It's mainly a revising job since I like to work out the plot myself.

Note 2: I want to thank my beta reader gabbykat for her help, support and outstanding job from chapter 23 to chapter 25. She made my story shine with all the care she put into it. She also has been this story's champion, always encouraging me to write and not letting me forget about the artifact. So thank you very much for everything gabs.
Note 3: I want to thank my beta reader for the first 22 chapters, TKOLove. Without her help and encouragement maybe the artifact wouldn't have been posted. Your work has made this fic a better one, so thank you TKOLove.

Willow felt an answering, lazy smile curve her lips, a promise of things to come. She sighed happily and snuggled up to Tara, burrowing her face on the blonde's neck, feeling a pleasant tiredness invading her. She closed her eyes and let her hand roam freely over the expanse of the other girl's naked back drawing random patterns on the soft skin with the tips of her fingers.

Tara sighed closing her eyes under the gentle caress and she lifted one of her hands to run her fingers in the other girl's hair, pulling gently at the silky tips softly massaging the redhead's scalp.

"Mmm." Willow moaned with her eyes still closed and arched her head back towards the other girl's hand asking wordless for a firmer touch. The blonde smiled charmed and obliged using her fingers to stroke the redhead's head and neck in a gently probing circular way.

"Tarahand." The redhead whispered happily.

"You like it then, huh?" Tara grinned, the slight blush slowly spreading over her face the only trace of shyness

"Uh huh." Willow mumbled pleasantly boneless. "Oh that feels so good baby." She groaned as her girlfriend probed deeper into her muscles. "Talented, talented Tarahand". The blonde's smile got impossibly wider at the sleepy, relaxed rambling quality to her girlfriend's voice. She bit her bottom lip a mischievous twinkle in her blue eyes as she thought for a second about her reply.

Tease her? Tease her not?

Tara brought her other hand up to the other girl's scalp. One hand mirroring the movements of the other, circles wider and wider, pressing deeper into the lightly freckled skin.

"Tarahands." Willow moaned squeezing her girlfriend tighter showing her appreciation for the double caress.

Tara felt a shiver run down her spine at the redhead's throaty voice and the unexpected pressing of their naked bodies closer together and she once again bit her bottom lip indecisively. The mischievous twinkle entering the blue orbs again.

After a moment she leaned her head down to be closer to her girlfriend's ear and she husked out. "Tarahands... Doing the very expensive and very, very, very exclusive Tara neck rub."

The teasing voice catching her attention, Willow lifted her head slightly, to regard her girlfriend, but carefully not to dislodge the hands that were still stroking her neck and scalp so exquisitely.

"And just how expensive are we talking here?" Willow asked with her green eyes widening comically.

The blonde chuckled sexily and ran her hands down the side of her girlfriend's back and then back up the centre next to the spine making the redhead sigh happily.

"Very." She purred close to Willow's ear which made the redhead shake, her nerve ends firing up with a different kind of pleasure. The redhead slowly, deliberately slid her right hand around to rest on her girlfriend's neck. She gently nudged the blonde's head down and kissed the smiling mouth in front of her.

Willow opened her mouth to the softness that was Tara and pulled the other girl more firmly against her. The blonde turned on her side and pushed her leg gently in between the redhead's. An excited little shiver ran through her at the feeling of her girlfriend's still damp curls tickling her upper thigh. At the same time she pushed her tongue inside the redhead's mouth, thigh and tongue mirroring each other in a soft twin probing motion. The blonde felt the jerk of the hips beneath her and the pulse under her fingertips jump and she couldn't help but to smile.

"Insatiable. And I thought I had worn you out for a while." Tara teased close to her girlfriend's lips.

Willow blushed and replied. "Oh you did. God, you so did!" The redhead closed her eyes as she remembered. She felt her belly clench with a faint twitch of arousal and her eyes opened to focus on the blonde on top of her, only to find that Tara was looking at her with a knowing look and a very smug smile on her face.

The redhead smiled wickedly and rolled them over so that she was now the one on top and gazing down at those amazing blue eyes. Tara let out a surprised squeak at the swift manoeuvre.

"Feeling entirely too proud of ourselves, aren't we?" Willow asked teasingly just as she gave her fingers free reign over her girlfriend's exposed ribs.

Tara started giggling under the relentless attack and tried to move away from the tormenting fingers. She tried to turn the redhead on her back but to no avail as Willow had all her weight balanced on her knees and wouldn't bulge.

Oh well if you can't beat them...

Willow let out a surprised squeak as she felt the tickling sensation of her girlfriend's fingers on the bare skin of the back of her knees. The redhead's hands flew to fend off the unexpected attack, her position astride the blonde giving her the leverage she needed. Her hands closed around Tara's wrists and pinned the blonde's arms to the floor.

"Gotcha." The redhead said breathless from laughing and wiggling.

"Indeed." Tara answered huskily. "So what are you going to do with me now?"

Willow recognized the tone in Tara's voice and felt a shiver run down her spine. She breathed in deeply and then she lifted her eyes to meet her girlfriend's blue and a smile formed on her lips.

"Who's the insatiable one again?"

Tara gave her girlfriend her trademark lopsided smile and lifted her head, her eyes never leaving the redhead's. She watched as Willow's pupils dilated as the blonde's face went nearer the redhead's. Willow's mouth opened unconsciously anticipating the kiss. She could almost taste it in the blonde's breath that fell upon her moist lips. But then at the least possible moment Tara turned her head to the side missing the redhead's mouth and instead sliding her cheek against her girlfriend's hot one until the blonde's lips were almost brushing the other girl's ear. And then she whispered huskily.

"How could I resist it when you are so..." A swipe of a tongue around Willow's earlobe and then teeth nibbling and pulling, lips closing and sucking for an instant on the sensitive flesh. "...delicious." Tara finished with a warm puff of air that hit the wet skin like a sensual caress. Willow goose bumped just as she felt her body flushing hotly, her heart hammering in her chest. Feeling the complete loss of concentration from the redhead Tara tensed her hips and thighs and with one smooth movement shifted their positions rolling on top of the stunned redhead.

"Ah ah. Gotcha" She chuckled wickedly just before she let her hands lose and started to tickle the redhead for all she was worth. Caught completely unaware Willow could do no more than try to protect her sides as she giggled feverishly under the blonde's merciless onslaught. Tara laughed alongside with her girlfriend delighted by the child like behaviour the sometimes too serious redhead was showing.

"Truce. Truce." The redhead cried in between chuckles, her belly muscles hurting from the exercise. Tara stopped her tickling motions and turned them into a soothing tummy rub feeling the last ripples of tension beneath her hands as Willow relaxed.

"You know that was cheating baby." The redhead said pouting as she recovered her breath.

The blonde chuckled and answered. "Awww my poor honey. So tell me how can I make it up to you?" She asked batting her eyelashes comically at the redhead.

The funny effect was completely lost on Willow who blushed hotly at the barely hidden hunger in her girlfriend's eyes.

Oh god... I can think of a few things. More than a few... make that a lot, heaps, tons, loads... Where can a girl find a thesaurus when she needs one? Though I think I'm doing fine on my own coming up with synonyms and especially ideas, naughty, sassy ideas, thank you very much. We need resting, relaxing, replenishing strength... once again that thesaurus missing. So what do I do, what do I do? Oh oh... I know.

Tara watched amused as her beloved redhead's face heated up to match her hair and she could make an educated guess on what type of thoughts were running through Willow's mind. She licked her lips waiting. But when the redhead's request finally came she was caught completely by surprise.

"Tell me a story about yourself?" The redhead asked softly lifting her head and looking into her girlfriend's eyes.

Tara moved back to rest on her side, that way putting some room between them.

"Me? You want to know about me?" She asked cautiously, her eyes becoming guarded.

Willow saw that she had startled the other girl, the mood going from playful and teasing to serious in the time it took for the request to sink in and she felt like kicking herself. She quickly added.

"Well, it doesn't have to be earth shaking information or anything. I mean we kind of missed the whole first steps thing, the silly questions and small talk. With us it has been rollercoaster ride with no seatbelts on, hang on tight to each other kind of thing... which is very ok because I love roller coasters and I'm not much of a first date-y person. I get nervous sweaty palms and worry and I babble the whole time which actually I'm doing right now so see it's getting first date-y already, all awkward and embarrassing so if you could just shoot me now." The redhead sighed and dropped her head forward in self deprecation.

Tara felt her lips curve into a smile and moved back into her former position holding Willow in her arms with the redhead's face against Tara's neck.

"Sweetie, I love you."

Willow snuggled closer in relief, their bodies melting together effortlessly and she sighed happily.

"I love you too" she whispered back.

The blonde brought her hands up and lazily resumed her caress of the redhead's neck and scalp.

"You know..." Tara began hesitantly breaking the silence. "You are right we don't know much about each other." She felt Willow move and looked down to meet the redhead's upraised gaze and she continued firmly. "But, I do know that you are brave and kind and generous, smart and funny, though stubborn. And I also know that I am in love with you." The blonde slid down in Willow's arms so that she could whisper the last phrase directly into the redhead's lips while she stared into bottomless pools of green.

Willow leaned forward to capture the luscious lips in front of her, her heart filled with emotion almost to the point of bursting. They kissed, light and gentle, just the brushing of lips with no sense of urgency, love flowing from one to the other and then back again in between one breath and the next. After a long moment Tara pulled away to regard her girlfriend seriously.

"But just because I know the important stuff that doesn't mean that I don't want to know more about you."

"You want to know more about me?" It was Willow's turn to be startled. "I'm not that interesting, really." She added shaking her head for emphasis.

"But you are." Tara's reply was swift and firm.

The redhead searched her girlfriend's eyes and there she found the confirmation she sought. She blushed and smiled shyly at the other girl.

Tara smiled back. "So I thought maybe we could play twenty questions. I mean you ask me a question then I ask you a question until we want to, it's getting pretty late so it doesn't have to be twenty, twenty. We can just do a few... Unless you think that's silly and then forget I ever mentioned it." It was Tara's turn to blush as she waited for Willow's answer.

The redhead pondered the idea for a moment before replying.

"Nope, not silly, in fact I think that's a great idea. Hey, and we can test your memory that way too." Willow added excitedly. Tara lifted one eyebrow at the redhead.

"Like if I ask you if you ever had any pets and you find that you have a fuzzy spot there and you can't really remember if you had pets or not, then we'll know there's something wrong with your memory." Willow promptly explained.

"And what if there is something wrong with my memory and I can't remember my pets so I tell you I didn't have any." The blonde challenged.

"Ah well, and then there is that." Willow said becoming a bit flustered. "Oh God, baby, are you having trouble with your memory?"

"No, no honey, my memory is just fine. You're so cute all flustered that I couldn't resist." Tara's lips curved into an amused lopsided smile.

"You know, that was just mean." The redhead pouted hoping that it would earn her a taste of her girlfriend's ruby lips. She got her wish a second later as Tara leaned forward to kiss her gently but thoroughly.

"Oh, and I had two cats, tin man and the white witch, brother and sister. Tin man was grey with darker grey little tiger like stripes and the white witch was all white except for one little black spot between her eyes. We got them when I was eight. Tin man ran away by the time I was twelve but the white witch lived to be an old cat. She was still alive by the time I left home. No, I haven't had any other pets since I live alone." Tara made a pause and then added. "My memory is just fine, baby. You can stop worrying, ok?" She leaned forward to give her girlfriend another kiss, just a quick little peck. "And by the way that makes one and now it's my turn."

Willow opened her eyes slowly and considered what the other girl had said.

"Mmm... Ok. But you know I think you are cheating again. I don't remember making a question. But all right I'll let it go for this once, just because you are your gorgeous self." Willow teased and tickled the blonde, her fingers running lightly over Tara's side. Tara chuckled and tried to wiggle away which in turn had Willow chasing after her. Tickling and getting tickled they stopped after a minute, the redhead on top of the blonde, both of them breathing hard.

"You know honey, déjà vu." Tara commented teasingly as she looked down at them, one on top of the other again after a tickling fight.

"Yeah, I know." Willow blushed and bit her bottom lip averting her girlfriend's eyes for a moment.

"Honey, why don't we get ready for bed and settle in for the night before we keep going with the questions? That way we could just talk until we drifted off." Tara suggested. Her calm tone betrayed only for her slight shortness of breath.

"That is a good idea." Willow said half relieved half disappointed. She let herself become focused on the heat coming from where their bodies were touching, the humming of arousal cursing through her. "Less ermmm... distracting too." Her voice caught a little and she blushed.

"Yeah." The blonde felt a matching blush heat up her cheeks and for a long moment they were both silent just gazing deep into each other's eyes. Tara shook her head and coughed a little. "So..."


"Better get up."


They let go of each other, turned away and got up with their backs still turned. They picked their discarded clothes from the floor and put them away before picking clean underwear and clothes from their backpacks. Quickly and in silence they got dressed. Then Willow picked up from the floor the discarded diary respectfully and put it away safely in her backpack while Tara took out a sleeping bag from her bag. They both took a couple of flares out of their bags and laid them on the floor on each side of the sleeping bag. Willow put down her guns on her side of the makeshift bed within easy reach and made sure that the shotgun that was still hanging from the backpack was also easily accessible. Preparations finished they returned to the blanket to lay on their sides facing one another.

"So..." Tara started. "It's my turn to ask a question." Willow bended her right arm to rest her head on the palm of her head.

"Shoot." the redhead said a bit nervously.

"Did you ever have pets?"

"Well, I really, really wanted a dog when I was a kid, but my parents thought it would make too much of a mess. So I used to sneak out to play with the neighbour's dog all the time, his name was Scooby. But I guess that doesn't count. Well, I had a turtle when I was nine. You know one of those little ones in the little aquariums full of rocks and little tree branches for the turtle to play on. I called her arquimedes." Willow dipped her head embarrassed. "My geek infested roots."

"I love your geek infested roots baby."

Willow smiled warmly at her girlfriend before continuing. "You know, what no one tells you, is that if you feed the turtles too much, they can get real big. And I mean like huge. So after a while the aquarium just wasn't comfortable for her so my parents called this reservation park and we set her free. She probably is still off swimming somewhere, being happy, laying turtle-y eggs and doing her turtle-y thing."

Willow made a wishful pause for a few seconds, staring at the ground. As she lifted her head and concentrated back on her girlfriend she was met with a wide smile and sparkling blue eyes and she smiled back.

"Ok, so it's my turn now. Mmmm... what to ask, what to ask... Oh, I know. Do you sing?"

"What? Where did that come from?" Tara asked surprised.

Willow blushed. "Well, tin man and white witch, you know wizard of Oz and whenever I think wizard of Oz 'somewhere over the rainbow' kind of starts playing in the back of my mind, Judy Garland's voice and all."

"I used to sing. My mother sang all the time when she was at home and I think that's where I caught the singing bug. I sang in the choir before we moved. But I haven't really done it ever since."

"I bet you have a beautiful singing voice. Sing for me sometime?"

Tara blushed and dipped her head a little, her lose hair falling into a protective curtain around her. "Maybe."

"Just don't ask for duets. I'm kind of terrible at it. I mean singing, well I guess technically duets too since it involves singing." Willow added quickly, shaking her head ridiculously. She was rewarded by the return of her girlfriend's smile.

"Do you have any siblings?" The blonde asked promptly, not having to think much about her question.

"No, I'm an only child. An accident as it was. Mom and Dad never planned to have kids." Willow fell silent for a moment. "Do you have siblings?"

"Yeah, I have one brother, Donnie, older than me by a couple of years."

"What's your favourite dish?"

The redhead puckered her lips as she thought about her answer.

"I'll have to go with pizza, as long as it doesn't have anchovies in it. Blech, hate the things. Though after the description you made of lasagne, it is a very, very close second. God, you almost killed me. I wanted you so much."

"If it makes it any better I was killing myself too." Tara replied.

They shared an amused chuckle as they both remembered.

"Soooo, what's your favourite dish?"

"Honey, now you're just being lazy." The blonde teased.

"Hey, it's an important question. Don't they say the way to a woman's heart is through her stomach? I need to keep up." Willow batted her eyelashes at her girlfriend. Tara turned on her belly and crawled over to her girlfriend closing the space between them. She lifted her hand and cupped the side of Willow's cheek, her thumb reverently rubbing the redhead's sweet lips.

The redhead felt her breath catch at Tara's proximity, and she licked her lips, her tongue catching the blonde's thumb in a gentle swipe.

"I'd say you are keeping up just fine, sweetie." The blonde husked out as she leaned down to replace her thumb with her mouth upon her redhead's mouth. Willow turned to lie on her back, wrapped her arms around Tara's neck and completely relaxed. They kissed gently, unhurriedly, mapping out the fine texture of each other's lips for long minutes, until Tara broke away with a couple of pecks on the redhead's mouth.

"It's getting late. At least it feels like it's getting late." Willow said softly, opening her eyes to regard her girlfriend regretfully.

"Yeah, I know, we should sleep." Tara replied without moving an inch.

"Rain-check on the twenty questions then?"

"Yep." The blonde leaned down to give her girlfriend one last peck and then she pulled the second sleeping bag over them and snuggled against Willow's side wiggling a little to get comfortable. Her arm across the other girl's belly, her head resting on the redhead's shoulder, she sighed happily. The redhead felt the warm weight of her girlfriend settling down and her content sigh echoed the blonde's.

"Night, baby."

"Night, honey."

It wasn't long until they were both asleep.

Tara was the first one to wake up. Uncomfortable with the lack of light she felt around the blanket for her flares. She found one without much difficulty and she lit it up. She was relieved to find everything just as they had left it before they fell asleep. She felt movement next to her and looked to the side to see Willow's alert eyes looking at her.

"Good morning baby." The redhead rasped out.

"Good morning sleepyhead." The blonde teased leaning down to drop a quick kiss on the other girl.

"I resent that. By the look of that flare you've only been up for five minutes you vixen." Willow shot back as the blonde sat up.

"Time enough to get a head start on breakfast." Tara retorted as she rummaged through her backpack. She found the protein balls and playfully threw one at her girlfriend, and took one for herself.

Willow sat up and caught the airborne protein. "Breakfast in bed." She said distastefully.

"Willow Rosenberg, are you complaining?"

"No, no, the bed part I like, it's the breakfast part that needs some working at."

Tara chuckled at the other girl's wishful tone of voice as they both concentrated on eating.

"So I'm guessing we are getting back to that central room today." The blonde was the first to break the silence.

"Yeah." Willow unenthusiastically replied. "I think that's the way to go to move forward. There's no other way to go. I went through all the other rooms and they are all like this one. And they are all part of one giant switch to open the doors to the central room."

"How do you get into the central room? Being as I took the easy way in and got a lift." Tara said cheerfully. Maybe too cheerfully.

Willow's lips twitched with the effort to smile. In the end she managed only a pained one.

"Well, we were right to think there was something fishy with the torches. They kind of are the key. There are eight rooms like this one veering off the corridor that circles the main room, though really it doesn't have a circular shape but a square shape so maybe we should say the corridor that squares the main room instead of circles. Anyway in each one of the little rooms we have to light the ridge on the floor with the torch until it is lit in all rooms so that it completes some kind of circuit that opens the doors to the main room."

"So that's it? Just light the ridge on the floor in all the rooms and the door opens?" Tara asked as she finished her protein ball, stood up and started folding her blanket, getting ready to go.

Willow followed her girlfriend's example and put away in her backpack her protein ball, her unused flares and started folding the other blanket as she answered the question.

"Yes, the only catch is that there is a time limit to light the things after which the torches die down and the spiders come out. But I was fast enough to do it on my own so it should be a walk in the park for both of us." The redhead grinned at her girlfriend before adding. "Oh, and the fire starts to change colour as it is about to go puff."

"I think I remember that." The blonde said thoughtfully as she picked her backpack and fastened it to her shoulders. She verified that she had her knife strapped to her thigh just as she liked it, in easy reach and a couple of flares on the back pocket of her bag. Willow strapped her belt with the holsters and her guns to ride low on her hips, picked up her backpack and fastened it to her shoulders. She tied her hair in a tight ponytail and turned to her girlfriend.

"So and what happens after we get the doors opened?" Tara asked seriously.

"Well, inside there is a passageway like a tunnel dug in the earth and there are two torches on one wall and a lever that opens the door from the inside on the other. As we go forward spiders will start coming at us in waves, but there are these dug clefts on the floor, walls and ceiling that we can light that make a sort of ring of fire which the spiders won't cross. There are a few of these rings so we can trap the little buggers, but in between the rings we have to run all out." Willow took a deep breath and shrugged sheepishly. "I think I just confused myself. Did what I just said make any sense to you?"

"Yeah honey, I think I got it. Lots of spiders, check. Rings of fire to trap the spiders in between, check." Tara paused for a second. "Besides I'm sure it will all become clearer when we get there." She smiled encouragingly at her girlfriend before adding. "So, ready?"

"Yeah. Let's get this show on the road." Willow smiled back.

They both gave a quick look around the room to make sure they weren't leaving anything behind and then they walked out of the room. Tara leading them with her flare held up low and Willow following close behind, guns drawn and trying to look everywhere at once. They walked in silence with their ears straining to pick on any out of place noise. After a little distance Tara made a turn right off the main corridor leading them back to the room where she had been attacked. The room where the skeletons of two forgotten lovers and their belongings rested.

The blonde turned to her girlfriend. "I think it's time we know more about this Shamia Goddess. I thought we could pick up some books."

Willow nodded. "Yeah, I had thought the same. This temple is way off the weirdo meter chart. And maybe we can find some answers in the books. God knows those guys' diary saved us." She said pointing at the skeletons.

Tara lifted one eyebrow in questioning.

"When you disappeared I was freaking out, I had this upset feeling in my tummy that time was running out and I had no idea where to look for you. Then I remembered the diary and ran back to grab it and the answer was there about how to get into the central room." The redhead explained, her mouth going dry.

"Ah, so I guess some thanks are in order." Tara knelt by the old bag and lifted up the covering flap reverently giving one long look to the skeletons resting sweetly entwined to the side. She rummaged through the bag and picked up books, piling them on the floor next to the bag.

The redhead lit up a flare and threw it to land next to the entrance to the room, bathing it in bright red light. She held her guns tightly in her hands ready to shoot at the slight hint of movement near the door.

"Sweetie, there are more than a dozen books about Shamia here. I say we choose a couple to take each and that's it." Tara said regarding the books on the floor.

"That sounds good baby. Could you choose mine too, please?" Willow replied without taking her eyes off the entrance of the room.

Tara looked up and opened her mouth to reply but ended up closing it without releasing a sound as she took in the redhead's tense posture. She rummaged through the books and chose four. The rest of the books she put back inside the bag and pulled the flap closed gently giving one last respectful look at the skeletons before getting up.

"Ok, so I've got the 'Legend of Shamia' and 'Shamia the untold story'" The blonde put the books away in her backpack and then walked to her girlfriend and opened her backpack to put the books inside. "And you've got 'Shamia the forgotten Goddess' and 'Temple of Shamia'. Catchy titles, don't you think?"

When all she received in answer was a terse nod Tara dropped her hand to the other girl's lower back and rubbed the tense muscles gently in wide circles making Willow sigh.

"It's going to be all right baby." The blonde whispered softly into her girlfriend's ear. The redhead breathed in deeply and then out slowly. She relaxed her shoulders and arms and turned back to her girlfriend with a little smile.

"I know baby. It's just this room... not good memories you know?"

"Yeah, I know." The blonde leaned forward and gave the other girl a sweet soft kiss. "So let's get out of here."

Tara began walking out of the room and back into the main corridor.

"Yeah." Willow shook her head a little, took another deep breath and then followed after her girlfriend, picking up the flare by the door, one gun drawn and ready again.

When they reached the corridor she added. "We should go back to the first room we found when we came down here and then one of us can work on the rooms on this side and the other can work on the rooms on the other side. The main corridor makes like a square frame around the central room and there are eight rooms just like this one. If you are standing on the corridor that we came through from the brick room above us, there are three rooms on the right side, three rooms on the left side and two rooms on the opposite side we are standing. If we are standing on that first corridor, that is."

Just as the redhead had finished talking they had reached the entrance to that first room. Tara looked thoughtful for a moment before replying. "Ok, I think I've got it. So I'll start on this side going away from the corridor with the ladder we used to come back down, and we should meet on the opposite side. Probably on the fourth or fifth room we work on."

Willow nodded in acquiescence. "Just give me half a minute to run to the other side so that we start lighting the ridges on the rooms at the same time, ok?"

"Ok, baby."

The redhead pulled the other girl in close for a quick kiss and then whispered. "Good luck honey. See you in five."

"Race you." Tara winked.

Willow chuckled and then she turned around and ran off disappearing from the blonde's sight by making a left turn.

The blonde looked around for a second and then she threw away the flare she was carrying and lit a new one. Then she walked into the room. She was met by the familiar sight of the black candle burning on the furthest corner of the room, the cleft dug on the floor that crossed the room from side to side and disappeared under the walls with the bronze plate resting on the ridge right halfway between the walls.

And last but not least... Voilá there it is.

Tara turned to see the unassuming torch resting on its support on the wall. She walked over to it, picked it up and then made her way to the black candle. "And now we wait... 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1." She steeled herself and leaned the torch down to make it ignite. She then ran to the bronze plate on top of the cleft and lit it. She watched fascinated as the flames dripped down invading the cleft on the ground and then ran over its entire expanse. Tara shook her head and then left the torch discarded on the ground as she ran back into the main corridor and into the next room.

In the meantime Willow had just reached the first room on her side and lost no time in igniting the cleft on the ground.

It's going to be all right. Yep, all right. Just run.

They met on the fifth room on Tara's side, Willow running in just as the other girl was picking up the torch from the wall. The redhead's relieved sigh was hidden by the noise of running steps.

"What took you so long?" Tara teased just as she lit up the torch and ran back to lit the bronze plate.

Willow stuck her tongue out at her girlfriend who smiled back.

They watched as the fire spread and then without speaking they walked outside to find the heavy doors to the central room open. They got inside the doors and into the cylinder shaped tunnel Willow was already familiar with. As they were expecting there were two burning torches on the right wall and the lever to open the door behind them on the left wall.

They both moved quickly to pick up the torches using the same hand that held the flares and then they faced the dark stretch of the tunnel in front of them.

"Ok honey, see those larger parts of the tunnel?" Willow asked pointing to a carved ridge up ahead.

"Yeah, I see it."

"That's one of those rings I was talking about, if you touch the torch to it, it burns and the spiders can't get pass it. After one of us lights it we jump over it and run like some hellish monster is chasing us until the next one."

"Ok, sweetie. I think I've got it." Tara replied touching the other girl's arm reassuringly with her hand.

"I'm over-explaining things, aren't I?" The redhead asked sheepishly.

"I love you." The blonde smiled but then quickly became serious again as the door behind them closed. "Time to get moving, baby." She added as she drew her knife out of its case and held it firmly in her right hand.

"Yeah." Willow replied grimly.

They walked resolutely side by side with the torches angled low, pointing at the ground. As they reached the first carved ring, they started to hear a low rustling sound that was getting louder. Willow clenched her teeth.

"Here they come."

Tara squinted and she was able to make out a spreading of red, like a bloody wave coming at them. As it got closer she saw that it was comprised of tiny red spiders marching together on the ground and walls, and it was coming in their direction.

Muscles tensed and ready they waited until the spiders were almost, almost close enough to touch and then Willow touched her torch to the carved cleft. Instantly it ignited creating a circle of fire. Not wasting any time the redhead jumped through the middle of the ring of flames and sprinted through the tunnel with Tara close on her wheels. They outran the red spiders to quickly reach the next circle. Willow ran through it without igniting it as she fired her gun against some of the fast approaching yellow spiders while Tara touched her torch to the ceiling making the second ring burn. And they kept sprinting down the hallway.

They repeated the process when they reached the third ring, Willow firing her gun to scare the blue spiders into keeping their distance and Tara close behind lighting the ring. And then once again as they sped through the last of the passageway and got into the central room. Tara lit the last ring, trapping the green spiders behind them.

"Take that." She threw at the squirming spiders and then she turned around to face the new room just as her girlfriend was doing.

"Baby, anything you can remember about this room? We have to hurry because the circles only burn for so long." Willow said urgently as she warily watched the dark shadows moving towards them from the corners of the room. Tara looked around thoughtfully, regarding the dark forms of the skeletons hanging from the ceiling. She felt a cold shiver running down her spine and she took a deep breath, closing her eyes for a second.

Green... Green glow.

"Willow!" She called out. "I think the second piece of the star is in the centre of the room." And she started to run towards the middle of the room with the redhead close by. They reached the centre of the room to be met with the sight of a green piece of the star hanging from a platform on the ceiling too high for them to reach.

"Ok, now would be a good time for a magical ladder to appear." The redhead said just as she saw a couple of giant spiders coming out from the shadows and moving in their direction. She fired a few shots and heard a wounded screech coming from the now retreating spiders.

"Baby, the fire is changing colour." Tara pointed at their torches that were beginning to burn orange.

"Oh shoot. I was hoping being two of us would give us more time. Ok, ok we need to think fast because this party is just about to get crashed by a huge amount of angry spidies." The blonde looked back to see the flame on the entrance they had used had turned orange too. She clenched her knife tight in her hand and looked back resolutely at the hanging star.

"Ok, so we need to either get up there or somehow get it to come down here."

"Yeah. The cocoons are too far away from it for us to use them to swing to the star." Willow shot another few spiders that were getting too adventurous and definitively too close.

The fire turned purple.

"Hey, sweetie." The blonde called out looking at the ceiling.

"Yeah?" Willow called back as she looked all around them.

"I think I see a few carved lines on the ceiling coming out of that platform the star is hanging from."

The redhead looked up and focused away from the green glow to the sides of the star and she saw them too.

"You are right. They seem to be carved on the ceiling and coming down all the way to the walls. One, two... Eight clefts. Well, that makes sense, a room with eight walls, one cleft for each wall."

Tara nodded her head in time with her girlfriend assessment and then added. "We should try to light them."

The fire turned blue.

"There's only one problem with that. We are about to get out of fire and swarmed in spiders." Willow pointed at the blue flame on their torches. "So we should probably get a move on and get out of here."

"Mmm." Tara dipped her head for a second and then quickly rummaged through her backpack to come up with two small boxes. "Well... I have matches."

Willow looked back at her girlfriend. "You want to try this with matches?"

"We could see if we could light the torches back up and besides we will be swarmed in spiders anyway, doesn't matter if its running back or trying to get to the star. And I kind of want to get out of this place. So what do you say?" The redhead struggled for a moment and just as she was about to open her mouth to answer the fire died down and they were left bathed in the red glow of the flares.

"Okeyy. Matches it is." She said extending her hand to receive one matchbox.

They both quickly opened the boxes and lit a couple of matches each.

"Here goes nothing." Tara said as they both touched the matches to the torch. They held their breaths as the smaller flames struggled to ignite the much larger torches and then they sighed together in relief as both their torches lit up.

"Yay, for that going right." The redhead said. A now familiar rustling sound now could be heard coming closer.

"Ok, let's start on that wall, you go right, I'll go left. Meet you on the other side." The blonde said decisively. Willow nodded her approval and shot a few rounds in the general direction of the smaller spiders running their way.

"You sure you don't want to take the shotgun baby?" The redhead inquired as they were running towards their allotted walls.

"Nope, baby. I've got my knife. Besides I might end up shooting myself on the foot with that thing."

Willow closed her mouth tightly and then just focused on the wall that she had just reached. She looked over at Tara that was facing the wall near her and together they extended their torches to touch the ridge on the wall. As they did it immediately started to burn, the fire following the cleft up into the ceiling and then across it to reach the platform where the star was.

Without a word they ran on opposite sides to go to the next wall. Both of them were moving their feet wildly trying to fend off the spiders, the redhead's shots ringing loudly in the silence.

"Hey, baby, you doing ok?" Willow called out just as she kicked off a couple of spiders and lit another cleft.

"Yes. You?" Tara called back just as she threw her knife to stab a giant spider and delivered a powerful kick to another one. She pulled her knife out of the dead spider and kept running.

"Oh, yeah, I had meals that were more challenging than this." Willow replied loudly before she grumbled to herself. "When I was like one and didn't know what a fork and knife were."

Tara chuckled and lit another ridge and then jumped over to grab one of the skeletons to avoid the charge of the spiders on the ground. She jumped from one skeleton to the next using them as if they were ropes on a demented forest to get to the next cleft. She was comforted by the regular sound of the redhead shots ringing not too far away. She lit another cleft and looked at the ceiling to see a line of flaming expanding from the other side and she knew that the other girl had just lit another one too.

Willow ran forward kicking and shooting spiders, and she reached the last ridge on her side, meeting Tara just as the blonde too reached her final wall.

"Hello, stranger." She pushed her torch to the wall.

"Fancy meeting you here." Tara replied as she too touched her torch to the last unlit cleft.

Willow shot in a circle around them while Tara moved the torch around in circles and they both watched as the last line of flame burned towards the star. As it reached it, they heard a humming sound and the platform started to grow downwards like an inverted pillar being pushed through the ceiling, bringing the star closer and closer to the ground.

"Cool." The redhead breathed out.


They ran forward towards the now easily reachable star and were surprised to see that all the spiders were staying away at a reasonable distance. As they got to the star they paused for only a moment looking at its green glow and then Tara extended her hand to the other girl. Willow reached out and firmly held her girlfriend's hand in her own.

Then as one they reached for the piece of the star with their free hand and took it out of its platform reverently.

The moment they held the green relic on their hands they vanished from the room without a trace leaving behind angry spiders and grinning skeletons.

Continue to The Artifact Chapter Twenty-Seven

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