Return to The Artifact Chapter Twenty-Six

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 1: 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 2: 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.
Note 3: I love Tomb Raider and this fic was something that had been in the back of my mind for long. Now I finally decided to write it. I hope you all enjoy reading it.
Note 4: Thoughts are in italics

They held each other's hand tighter as the dark earth walls, spiders and skeletons disappeared before their eyes to be replaced with the familiar sight of colourful paintings covering the round brick wall. Even though this time they were ready to be transported back to the entrance room to the temple the sudden change of location still left them momentarily disoriented and dizzy.

"Back to where it all started." Willow breathed out after a second. She looked around taking in the room where they had already been twice, the paintings on the walls, the two doors they had already gone through and the last one that was waiting for them.

"Actually I think it all started in the outer room." Tara replied absently as she too observed the room.

"Well, technically yes, but back to the room after the one where it all started doesn't have the same ring to it." The redhead said pouting a little.

Tara chuckled and squeezed her hand. "But it's true. It all began before we had even really stepped inside." She pulled the redhead gently closer by their linked hands. "You had me the moment you took off your glasses." She whispered seriously gazing into her girlfriend's eyes.

Willow felt herself melt. "And you had me the moment I walked into that room and saw you examining the door." She turned Tara's hand palm up and gently caressed the lines with her thumb.


"Totally. Or didn't you notice my catatonic statue impersonating state?"

"Oh that. I thought that was just you checking out my breasts." Tara said teasingly. Willow felt the heat starting to spread upwards from her neck, a red wave of visible embarrassment making her cheeks burn.

Where's that big ole hole when we need them?


Ha ah! So you were checking me out.

The blonde chuckled at her girlfriend's flustered state and leaned forward to kiss her gently. Willow moved closer and sank into the kiss. She opened her mouth to tease the other girl's lips with her tongue and deepen the kiss. The blonde relished the feeling of her girlfriend's invasion and lifted her tongue to caress the redhead's. A minute later the blonde pulled away after one last nibble on the redhead's bottom lip.

"Nice distracting technique, Miss Rosenberg."

"You started it, Miss Maclay."

"Hey, I wasn't the one doing the ogling."

At least I wasn't the one getting caught doing it... I hope.

The redhead blushed again which made the other girl smile.

"Sweetie, I'm just teasing. Besides it's not like I'm complaining or anything." The blonde's words were accompanied by a reassuring squeeze of the redhead's hand. The redhead lifted her head and smiled at her girlfriend, her face still showing traces of her flustered state.

"Phew." The redhead wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. "Good to know. Boy, you'd have a lot to complain about."

Tara chuckled and captured her girlfriend's lips in a quick peck, one gentle reaffirmation of their connection. Then she lost her playful countenance.

"Well, shall we?" She asked motioning them to the last unopened door.

Willow looked around carefully for a second before answering. "Do you think the paintings on the wall have a purpose?" As no answer was forthcoming from her girlfriend the redhead continued hastily trying to explain. "I mean since we most likely won't be coming back to this room, unless we get transported back here again of course, but in the chance we won't get back here I wouldn't want to miss anything important."

Tara took a moment to answer and she looked more closely at the paintings. They were representations of happy scenes, couples having picnics, snuggling under the shade of lone trees, kissing, locked in passionate embraces under the moonlight in the desert.

"Maybe these paintings are here to remind us of all that's waiting for us outside if we get out of here alive."

"But why are they all about couples? Why not dinner with the family or drinks with friends? I'm pretty sure the Egyptians had families and friends. And drinks, they had drinks too."

"What's your point, sweetie?"

Willow sighed. "I'm not sure I know the answer to that myself. But it's just this temple... death traps popping up everywhere and so I'm thinking some blood filled horror movie poster like paintings should be here." She got more animated as she went. "You know to warn off people and keep them away from the riches. But instead what do you find?"

"Peaceful, happy drawings of people in love." Tara finished, rapidly catching up to her girlfriend's meaning.

"Yeah. Talk about lying advertising."

The blonde smiled at her girlfriend for a moment and then became serious again.

"Definitively there is something more going on here than we know. Just the fact that there has to be two of us to get most doors to open is strange enough." She took a breath and then resumed. "But I don't think we'll find any answers here, and I'm not sure we should be losing much more time. How about tonight when we stop we search the books for answers?"

Willow nodded. "Yeah, let's go, and later, you, me and the books. That's a date."

Tara lips curved into a lopsided smile as she reached her hand to the handle next to the door they had yet to go through. She turned to her girlfriend just in time to see her draw her guns and point them at the door.



The blonde pulled the handle and the door slid open in front of them. They tensed and focused their attention on what lay behind that door. What they saw was a hallway, about twenty meters long and two meters wide with regular brick walls. It looked quite harmless at first sight. They walked inside together carefully taking small, measured steps. Neither of them was surprised as they heard the door behind them slid shut and saw the door at the end of the hallway open. But then on the walls on both sides lone bricks at different heights and places started sliding to the side creating small windows of missing bricks in the walls.

"I have a bad feeling about this." Tara whispered.

"Me too. Movement on previously unmoving walls is never a good sign." Willow replied.

Just as the redhead had finished talking they heard a prolonged scratching sound as midway through the hallway an entire column of bricks on each wall slid to the side leaving two parallel vertical empty lines.

"And now the feeling just got worse." The redhead said.

"I guess the fun and games are about to begin." Tara retorted.

A whooshing sound could be heard as from the closest opening on the wall a metal dart was launched horizontally towards the opposite wall. They watched as it cut through the air menacingly only to disappear to a mirror opening on the wall on the other side. And then the noise increased as one by one the newly created windows in the walls all started launching darts at set intervals of time leaving a few seconds of clear path and then shooting again. Willow and Tara watched attentively for long moments, concentrating on memorizing the position of the openings on the walls and the rhythm of the flying projectiles until they had them all mapped out in their heads.

Then they turned to one another at the same time and smiled.

"Jump, crouch, jump..." Tara started.

"Roll on the floor, jump, run..." Willow continued.

"Roll again, dive between two darts, roll..." The blonde cut in.

"Crouch, wait and then run to the door." The redhead concluded.

"Ok. That settles it then."

Willow nodded, took a deep breath and then ran forward. She easily jumped over the first dart and bended her knees low upon landing to rest in a crouching position a little ahead. She could feel the air tousle her hair gently as a deadly dart flew over her head every few seconds.

"Hey." Tara called out as she saw that her girlfriend was in a stable position.

"Yeah?" Willow answered eyeing the next set of dart throwers and the vertical lines of missing bricks up ahead.

"When did we agree that you were to go first?" The blonde asked annoyed.

"Ah... well... you went first last time." The redhead replied sheepishly, turning to her girlfriend.

The blonde arched her eyebrow dubiously.

"Ok, miss smartypants but next time I'm going first, you hear?"

"Loud and clear, baby."

Willow turned once again to the open door, took another deep breath moved a little forward to get in a better position and then jumped over the line of shooting of the next dart thrower. Immediately after her feet touched the ground she bended her legs, tucked her head between her knees and rolled forward to avoid getting hit by a low dart. At the same time she heard her girlfriend feet impact the floor behind her as the blonde followed her close.

Tara stopped in the same spot the redhead had before, crouching low. She watched as her girlfriend performed a perfect roll forward passing an especially tricky area where there were three dart throwers, one on top of the other shooting at the same time and creating a barrier of darts that you had to time just right to pass through unscathed.

They both heard the announcing noise at the same time, a painful screech of metal being released that made a cold shiver run down their spines, but it was Tara who spotted it first.

"Willow, look out."

The redhead deftly stood up, ending her rolling motion, and stood still just to see two thick metal panels, as high as the hallway slid sideways from the vertical empty spaces one from each side of the wall, and impact each other violently in the middle of the corridor. Like malfunctioning sliding doors, deadly malfunctioning sliding doors.

"Now there's a thinning mechanism for you. Get paper thin in half a second, no diet... ahhh." Willow felt a cutting, burning sensation on her right leg, halfway between her knee and her foot and she looked down to see a line of red appearing and starting to drip downwards slowly.

"Baby?" Tara called out, worried, her focus being jarred off the doors by her girlfriend's groan.

"I'm ok, I'm ok." Willow answered. "Just got distracted with the big flashy doors and forgot to focus..." She jumped to avoid the next dart wincing as she landed. "...on the little pesky darts."

"Oh God, you got hit? How bad is it?" Tara clenched her hands tight as all of her tensed up.

"I'm ok, baby, really. It's just a minor scratch." The redhead paused as she once again jumped, before adding. "I'm going to move forward now, ok?"

Tara bit her bottom lip. "Ok. But be careful, ok? No more bullseye imitations."

Willow chuckled. "Gotcha."

The redhead jumped one last time and then as the metallic panels in front of her slid open she ran forward a couple of steps. Then she threw herself into a roll moving under a mid height dart. She ended up on her feet only to throw herself in a dive forward between a high and a low flying darts and then rolled again to finish in a crouch under a dart thrower.

As she saw her girlfriend stopping Tara threw herself forward. From her crouching position she executed a perfect jump forward then rolled under a dart to reach the sliding doors. She jumped in place to avoid getting hit and she watched as Willow waited just for the right moment when no darts were being thrown and then ran to the door, steering clear of danger. The blonde let out the breath she was holding and jumped up again.

Willow carefully scanned the walls around her to make sure there were no other missing bricks and then rested her back against the wall. She lifted her injured leg a little and turned to see Tara jumping behind the metal panels.

"You know..." The blonde started.

"Yeah?" Willow asked while she bended a little to examine her leg.

"This reminds me of rope jumping in school."

The redhead laughed quietly and took her backpack off her shoulders to look for something to clean her cut with and bandages to wrap it up while she watched her girlfriend out of the corner of her eye. "Good memories or bad memories?"

"Good memories." Tara answered just as she ran forward taking advantage of the metal boards sliding open. From there she rolled on the floor, dove forward and then rolled again ending on a crouch a few steps away from the other girl. The only thing between them was a wall of darts thrown in time together. She waited for the right moment and then ran forward neatly avoiding the projectiles.

"So what took you so long? Is old age catching up to you?" Willow asked nonchalantly.

"Why you little... I ought to... tickle you!" Tara said advancing on the redhead menacingly and making her girlfriend drop down her backpack to protect her sides with her hands. "And I so would if you weren't injured." The blonde finished in a softer tone as she bended her knees and dropped one knee to the floor to closer examine the redhead's injury.

"It's just a scratch baby, really." The redhead replied, her tone going from playful to embarrass.

Tara took the anti-septic and the clean bandages from the redhead's hands and gently cleaned the cut. Willow winced as it stung a bit.

"You're right it's just a scratch." The blonde said as she neatly and easily wrapped the cut in bandage.

Don't say she needs to be more careful. She knows. Don't say it.

Tara finished the wrapping and got up, her blue eyes looking everywhere but at the perceptive green ones of her girlfriend. "There, all done."

Willow took the blonde's hand in her own and squeezed it lovingly. "Thank you." She said gently making her girlfriend look at her.

The blonde squeezed back and smiled at the other girl, reading a world of feelings swirling in the emerald depths in front of her.

"So shall we?" Tara asked after a bit, breaking the moment.

"Oh right. Yeah, let's go. Just give me a second..." Willow shook herself into action and rapidly put away the anti-septic and the remaining bandages in her backpack. Then she strapped her backpack securely around her shoulders again, drew her guns and nodded her head at the other girl.

The blonde tensed her muscles and resolutely walked through the door with her girlfriend close behind. The moment they entered the new room the door closed behind them, hushing the rhythmic whooshing of the dart throwers and plunging them into silence once again. Once inside they scanned the room from side to side, looking for possible immediate threats. When after a long moment they couldn't spot any they relaxed slightly and let themselves really look at the new room.

At first sight it was a rectangular room with two doors, the one they had just come through and another one on the opposite wall. Also it had the highest ceiling they had encountered until now in the temple at around five meters high and it was completely empty.

The thing that first caught their attention was that the floor wasn't the same all over the room. On the area where they were standing and for a couple of meters forward, the floor was the kind they had encountered all through the temple, but then as they let their eyes move towards the opposite wall, suddenly it changed. There were roughly square rose coloured marble tiles, about one meter long by one meter wide, that were put together in a grid pattern making a bigger square, the side of which was the width of the room, more or less eight meters. And then the floor once again went back to its familiar brick structure for another couple of meters until it ended at the wall. The second thing they noticed was that the wall behind them didn't connect either with the wall to their left or the ceiling. It left a narrow empty space in the corner that looked like the entranceway to somewhere and a slight breathing space to the ceiling.

Their initial assessment of the room finished they turned to each other.

"Well, not much to see here." Tara started.

"Right, not much to work with." Willow agreed with a nod and then suggested. "I think there is something fishy about all that rosy-ness on the floor. We could check the marble to see if it's just here for prettiness sake."

"Yes." Tara agreed. "But we could also go check out that passage there and then come back to check the floor." She added pointing with her thumb to the corner on their left.

"Ok. Corner entrance gets my vote too."

"Glad to see we agree." Tara replied with a smile.

"How could we not? Shadowy, mysterious, half hidden corner passages beat rosy and bubbly marble all the time." Willow said with a shrug, already walking towards the passage. Then she stopped. "And that sounded incredibly wrong."

Tara chuckled and walked past her. The redhead caught herself and sped up her pace to walk alongside her girlfriend while she lifted her guns to point steadily forward.

They reached the corner of the room to find that the entrance led into corridor that went straight for a couple of meters following the left wall of the main room and then curved to the left and out of sight from the entrance. Not seeing anything of the ordinary in the hallway they walked inside. While Tara carefully scanned the way forward, Willow walked sideways keeping an eye on the main room and on the walls around them. As Tara made the left turn she saw that the corridor lead to a dead end just another couple of meters up ahead but that there were a couple of lines of hieroglyphs painted on the end wall.

"Dead end." Willow stated as she too made the turn and lowered her weapons, relaxing her tense posture a bit.

"Yeah. But there's an inscription there." Tara replied absently as she stayed back and focused on deciphering the ancient language.

"That's all yours, honey. It's gibberish for me, baby drawings gibberish." Willow paused before adding. "I'm so signing in for Egyptian reading and drawing 101 class next semester."

As they neared the wall the redhead noticed that about a meter or so below the hieroglyphs, roughly at about shoulder high, there were two slightly sunken hand imprints on the wall. From afar they were almost impossible to spot as the bricks with the marks had the exact same colour as the surrounding ones.

"Ok, I take it back. This is probably not a dead end." The redhead whispered as she put her guns back in their holsters and stepped up to the wall to better study the imprints. She first noticed that they were both imprints of right hands. Then she saw that they were the mirror image of a palm, fingers and thumb, right down to the smallest detail, as if someone had pushed their hand onto fresh cement leaving their mark there and then let it dry like that. As Willow finished her observation of the marks she turned back to her girlfriend only to see that the blonde had her eyebrows drawn together.

"Why are you frowning, baby?"

"I don't get it." Tara said frustrated while she shook her head.

"You can't read it?" Willow asked surprised.

"No. I mean yes I can read it ok. It just doesn't make any sense. Or at least it doesn't help us any."

"What does it say? You know what they say about two heads."

"Well, if I'm reading it right which I'm pretty sure I am then it says 'in trust you shall find your path'."

Willow looked deep in thought for a long moment and then finally shook her head lifting twinkling eyes to the other girl.

"Ok... Forget what they say about two heads. I have no idea what we are supposed to do with that."

Tara lips curved into an amused smile. "It's pretty vague. In trust..."

"Yeah. Trust what? And find your path where? To the door? It's not like it's hidden in a lost trail in the mountains or anything. Or maybe they mean it in a more general way." The redhead mused, trailing off.

For a long moment they were both silent until the blonde spoke again.

"I think we should put it out of our minds for now and search for more clues instead. Maybe it will make more sense later."

"Yeah." Willow nodded and then added after a few seconds. "Hey, did you notice the hand marks on the wall?"

"Hand marks?" Tara asked curiously as she walked up to the wall. "Interesting." She added as she looked at the engraved marks.

The redhead nodded before answering. "You know, we could try putting our hands there and see if something happens. I'm guessing they are there for some reason. But both are right hand marks so it has to be both of us."

"Oh well, you know what they say about two hands." Tara said jokingly while still looking at the imprints.

"They type faster than one?" Willow answered puzzled.

The blonde chuckled at the redhead's adorably baffled face and then bit her lip and started to blush as a thought rose unbidden to her conscious mind.

"What?" Willow asked curiously as the blush on her girlfriend's face deepened. "What?"

"Theygivemoreorgasmsthanone." Tara let out in one long word.

"Wha... Oh." Willow too started to blush as the meaning of what her girlfriend had just said sunk in and her mind jumped tracks at the speed of light.

I wonder what they would have to say about two hands and a tongue, two hands and two breasts, two hands a mouth and a thigh. Two hands, two... And who are they anyway?

Tara stared at her girlfriend, taking in the flushed, pink tint to her face, the deepening green of her eyes, the slightly parted ruby lips, the moist tongue that slid out to lick her top lip and she shook her head.

Focus. Could I just focus for five minutes? One thing at a time... Now getting that door to open. Later orgasms.

The blonde cleared her throat to speak.

"You said 'you know what they say about two heads' and then when you mentioned 'two hands' the repeating of the two thing stroke me as funny and so I said 'you know what they say about two hands' but I was just kidding, no one says anything about two hands..." Tara paused only to continue hastily as her eyes were drawn to her girlfriend's creamy neck. "I mean at least I don't think they do. Maybe someone does. But if they do I don't know what they say." She swallowed and watched as Willow did the same. "But anyway, that was a really bad joke."

"No, no baby that was actually a good joke. What they say about two hands." The redhead giggled nervously for a second before catching herself and sobering up. "Funny."

Tara smiled shakily. She took a deep breath. "I think that's an idea that might work."

Willow scrunched up her brows together. "Oh, the two hands idea, right." She nodded her head for a moment and then resumed speaking. "But maybe we should try searching the room first? Make sure we aren't missing anything before changing things. Well, hopefully changing things, that is."

"Yeah, that sounds good too." The blonde easily agreed.

The redhead drew her guns once again and with them held high she began the short trek back to the main room with her girlfriend following close behind. In no time they were back where they started. Willow put her guns back in the holster and Tara stepped forward to stand side to side with her girlfriend as they looked around, searching for anything different and seeing nothing. Then the redhead walked forward until she was right at the verge of stepping on the marble stones and looked back at the other girl. Tara nodded and the redhead could see the squinting of her girlfriend's eyes.

"Here goes nothing." Willow muttered quietly as she left the familiar brick ground and stepped on marble. She held her breath for a moment tensing up, ready to jump back at any moment. But nothing happened. She turned half around and shrugged her shoulders. "Seems like run of the mill ordinary marble."

"Maybe if we both step on it... that has set things into motion before." Tara mused.

"Hop on then."

Tara carefully set her foot on the stone and then waited a beat as both of them tried to see everything, ear anything. Then she shifted her whole weight on to the marble to stand next to the other girl. When again nothing happened they breathed out a long sigh together that neither of them could tell if it was relieved or disappointed.

"Welcome aboard." Willow said then turning to Tara.

The blonde answered by steeling a little kiss from the smiling mouth in front of her. "Thanks, baby."

"You're welcome."

They shared a smile for a moment before they became serious again.

"Maybe we should test all of these stones just to make sure." Willow suggested.

"Mmmm... Ok, I'm not completely against taking a walk around with you." Tara replied teasingly.

The redhead poked her tongue out at the other girl. Tara chuckled and extended her right hand in invitation at her girlfriend who after jokingly hesitating for long seconds took it warmly and firmly into her own.

They began testing each and every marble square by repeating the initial process. First one of them would step on the stone while the other stayed back, ready to pull the first one back to safety if something should happen, and then the second one would also step on to the stone. They tried all of the sixty-four marble tiles in that way and found nothing out of the ordinary there. So they continued their investigation of the room by heading towards the door they were trying to open, moving away from the marble and stepping on once again ordinary bricks.

"Hey baby, look. There's another hand mark there." Tara said, letting go of the other girl's hand to point to the wall on the left side of the door.

Willow shifted her eyes from the door to the place the other girl was pointing at and saw that indeed there was another right hand imprint on the wall on this side. "Wonder what they would have to say about three hands..." She muttered to herself.

"What?" Tara asked distractedly while she focused on the mark.

Oh God... not this discussion again. I don't think my heart can take it. Ok, it's not my heart I'm worried about.

"Ermm... I said that's weird I see fangs." Willow could feel her face starting to burn up.

As the blonde looked back at her strangely the redhead hastened her steps to be closer to the wall and next to the other girl and pointed at the space between the fingers' imprint.

"Right here, if you look at it the right way this looks just like teeth, big, scary teeth." Seeing that her girlfriend was still not convinced she added sheepishly. "It's more obvious from where I was standing."

Tara lifted her eyebrow and opened her mouth only to close it a second later while shaking her head gently from side to side. Then she regarded the hand imprint again and opened her mouth again.

"So, I think we are running out of things to check." The blonde started and then continued as she saw Willow nod eagerly. "I vote for us to give the hands a try."

"The hands-on approach gets my vote too."

As Tara smiled her lopsided smile, Willow just couldn't resist it and leaned forward to give her girlfriend a gentle kiss.

"Start with this one?" The blonde half asked half stated.

The redhead nodded her approval. "Sounds good to me. Besides being closer to us also this spot just has one mark while the other has two... Maybe that means we should do this one first and the other second."

Tara pondered her girlfriend's words for a moment.

"Let's find out." She said resolutely and unwavering lifting her hand.

Willow drew her guns out and took one deep breath as her girlfriend's hand carefully fit itself in the hand imprint.

A faint blue glow seemed to envelop Tara's hand for a split second as she made contact with the wall only to then disappear without leaving a trace. Meanwhile in the room nothing changed, nothing moved and the silence was complete.

Tara's let out the air she didn't even know she was holding and took her hand off the wall.

"Ok, so I guess that answers that question."

"Try the other ones?"


They walked across the room in a faster pace than before, less cautious now, and so it only took them half a minute to reach the corner entrance, go through the corridor and reach the wall at the end of it. By unspoken agreement they both lifted their right hands but stopped at the last second and let them hover over the imprints on the wall. Their gazes met and held. They placed their hands upon the marks.

As soon as their hands were in place a greenish blue glow traced the outline of their hands in a thin line. It shone bright for a moment and then the glow around their hands dimmed as like a liquid being poured from a bowl it ran downwards on the wall and was diluted. They watched carefully as, on the wall at about waist high the line drew squares after squares until it became one big square made from smaller squares put together.

"Hey, sixty-four squares. It's a chess board." Willow said suddenly. "Well, that would make sense, because I definitively feel like a pawn, marching one little square at a time. Always in danger of getting eat... Ermm, ok let's not go there. But you definitively are a queen. Though I wonder if pawns and queens are allowed to mingle... Cause there's a whole row separating them and all that chess-y rank thing, not to mention the mobility difference issues..."

Willow's voice faded into the background as Tara stood silently regarding the glowing square. Her girlfriend's first words had sounded oddly familiar, like an unconscious thought running in the back of her mind that she'd be able to reach if she could just focus.

"That's it!" The blonde said excitedly.

"What? You think we should say no to the row separating pawns from queens?" Willow asked.

"The squares! The marble squares outside. They're sixty-four too!" The blonde replied ignoring the other girl's last sentence.

"Oh, oh... So the little squares here could be a representation of the bigger ones outside."

Tara nodded her head emphatically. "That's what I'm thinking."

Their grinned at each other and just as they were leaning together to share a happy kiss they heard a low humming, grinding sound start. Their eyes met once again fully alert. Willow drew her left hand gun and then they turned to look back at the corridor. But the hallway was just as it had been, not a brick different. Something caught Willow's attention out of the corner of her eye and she turned her head back to see that one of the squares of the lower row was glowing a lot brighter than the others.

"Hey baby, look." She called out.

Tara turned at her girlfriend's voice noticing the highlighted square.

"Was that square any different from the others?" She asked trying to remember.

Willow shook her head. "Nah, they were the same."

Meantime the noise was getting louder and louder, and then suddenly they heard the violent crack of a thunder bolt. Their eyes met and they nodded at each other in silent agreement. Tara dropped her hand from the wall. Just as she had taken a couple of steps away she heard the other girl call out.

"Honey?" Willow's voice sounded resigned.

The blonde turned to see her girlfriend still in the same position.

"Baby?" Tara question was accompanied by a tilt of her head.

"My hand seems to be stuck to the wall." Another loud snap of thunder.


The blonde stepped back rapidly, grabbed her girlfriend's arm gently and then pulled on it not so gently while the other girl too pushed herself back. But it was to no avail as Willow's hand remained firmly glued to the wall. After few tries they gave up as the redhead's wrist was beginning to ache.

The redhead looked at her girlfriend and gave her a tight smile.

"Well, I could shoot it off but I'm kind of attached to my hand."

"I'm kind of attached to your hand too." Tara said softly rubbing the redhead's abused wrist with her hand.

"So I'm guessing I'm to stay here and you'll have to go on your own." She let out a long sigh.

Tara slid her right hand over her girlfriend's skin all the way from her wrist to her neck and rested it there, her thumb lovingly rubbing the redhead's jaw. The blonde moved forward to press her body to Willow's tense one and kissed her deeply. When Tara felt the other girl relax into her she gradually pulled back until she pulled away completely with one last drag of her bottom lip over the other girl's lips.

"I'm just going to take a look and I'll be right back, ok?"

"Ok. I'll be here."

The blonde turned around and ran out of the hallway only to stop dead on her tracks as soon as the walked into the room. Her eyes widened and her mouth fell open for a moment as she took in the dramatic changes operated in the room since she had last seen it. Then she caught herself narrowed her eyes and nodded her head decisively to herself. She looked everywhere, analyzing, memorizing, and not letting herself get distracted by the thunder that echoed periodically through the room making her ears ring. When she was satisfied she had what she needed she turned around and ran back to her girlfriend's side.

"So? What's happening?" Willow asked eagerly as soon as the other girl appeared in her line of sight.

"Well... You were right about there being something fishy about the marble." Tara started. "The squares have risen from the floor so that they are now actually marble pillars."

The redhead drew her eyebrows together and Tara was quick to explain.

"The top of the pillars are the polished marble squares we've seen but the four sides of it are made of a rougher stone, still rose coloured but unpolished. It's like all of these square stone columns have burst through the floor and pushed the marble tiles up to act as their caps."

"Ok." Willow nodded slowly. "I think I see it. That explains the noise. So is it like the floor was lifted and now you have a marble platform high above the ground?"

Tara shook her head from side to side.

"No, not all the columns are the same height. It's like this, one of the pillars can be four meters high but the one next to it can be only two and the one in front only ten centimetres high. Like a kid's crazy Lego construction. Also some of the squares disappeared completely and there are now holes where they were before. Oh, and the top of the pillars gets hit by lightning bolts coming out of nowhere seemingly at random, or at least not following any pattern I could see." She paused for a moment and then concluded. "Bright side is the door is open."

"The door is open?" Willow repeated excitedly. "So all we have to do is cross over to the other side." She looked at her hand and then at Tara sheepishly. "Which might be easier said than done."

"I think I just need to get to the other hand mark. A hand for a hand." The blonde smiled at her girlfriend. "Now I just have to find a way to cross without falling into any holes or getting hit by lightning."

They both fell silent for a long moment until Willow spoke.

"Baby, maybe this glow-y grid thing on the wall is a map? I mean maybe the bright square is the one where you have to step. Of course it can also be the one where lightning is going to struck next."

"Well... I could watch for a bit to see if lightning hit it." Tara said slowly.

"And I can shout instructions about the next squares. It will be the blind leading the..." Willow paused to see her girlfriend arching her eyebrow at her. "... the very smart and capable and beautiful."

Tara grinned and leaned forward to kiss the other girl.

"Sweet talker." She whispered before kissing her again for long seconds. "It sounds like a plan, sweetie."

"Ok then." Willow replied seriously. "Let's treat this like a chess board the rows are letters, from left to right starting at A and finishing at H. And the columns are numbers, starts closest to us at one and then the last one is eight."

"Got it."

They shared one last kiss and then Tara walked away firmly.

"Hey honey?" Willow called out.

"Yes?" Tara turned back.

"B1." The redhead said with a calm she wasn't feeling.

The blonde nodded, winked and disappeared behind the turn.

Willow sighed softly and whispered to herself. "Go eight, it's your birthday."

Tara stood on the brick platform and examined the B1 pillar. It was probably about two meters high and stood tall amongst its neighbours.

"Well, it could be worse, it could be E1 and then I'd need a ladder, a really big ladder." She mused to herself regarding the tall E1 column.

Suddenly thunder cracked loudly and a lightning bolt hit D1.

"So?" Willow yelled nervously.

"B1 has just been cleared baby. It's time to start climbing."

"Yuck climbing. Now I'm happy I got stuck."

Tara chuckled and approached the pillar. She jumped high and grabbed on to the ledge with her fingers. Then she tensed her biceps and forearms and pulled herself up the pillar easily.

"Ok, I'm here." She yelled at Willow while from her vantage point she regarded the stone platforms around her trying to guess where she'd have to go next.

The redhead watched as the square that had been shining brightest dimmed to match the intensity of the grid around it. Then all of the grid glowed bright for a second and then faded leaving only another lone square highlighted.


"What?" Tara asked, the thunder that had struck at the same time her girlfriend had talked had muffled her words.

"Chess 2" The redhead yelled.

"Why honey. I had guessed you were a breast girl but no need to shout it out to the world." Tara teased making the redhead blush and chuckle nervously.

It was an easy jump as the C2 pillar was right next to it and only a few centimetres lower than the place where Tara was standing.

"Ok, all done."

Just as the blonde landed on top of the pillar it started to shake and sink.

"Baby... Captain 2 is sinking. Hurry, please."

"Ok, ok, almost there." Willow waited impatiently for the grid once again to light up, seconds feeling like minutes.

"Einstein 3."

This one was just a little bit higher than Tara's current resting place. She wasted no time. She took a step back and then used the all the available space to gain some speed and executed a perfect jump to land squarely on E3.


"Gymnastics 4"

The blonde looked at the G4 and sighed loudly. "You sure you can't see this, sweetie? Cause I swear you couldn't have been more right if you could." Tara yelled.

"Me?" Willow sounded puzzled. "Oh, don't tell you have to do cart wheels for points. Those make me dizzy."

The blonde's lopsided trademark smile was firmly in place as she called out to the other girl. "No cartwheels, baby. It's just G4 is really high, two meters above me high and two meters away." She fell silent and then muttered quietly to herself as she prepared to jump. "And there is one big hole on the floor between me and it."

"Oh." Willow paced in place while she periodically pulled on her hand. She sighed in disgust as it remained firmly glued to the wall. "So, it's far. So what? She can jump far. So it's high, so what? She's a great climber. Now if it was me we'd be in deep puppy dog poop trouble, runny puppy dog poop. Her, she'll be fine. She'll be ok. Piece of sweet lemon flavoured cake."

Meanwhile Tara took one deep breath ran two steps and used the ledge of the pillar to propel herself forward into the air. She opened her arms and legs and as her body hit the side of the pillar she hugged it tight. She felt the roughness of the stone bite into her hands, arms, legs and knees as she held herself up by her hands and her feet clutching at the marble. She took one deep breath and tensing her legs even more to take her weight she rose up straightening her body and placed her hands higher on the sides of the pillar. Then she repeated the motion but now instead of her legs she tensed her arms so she could bend her legs and slide her feet upwards to find purchase higher.

"Baby?" Willow called out, her voice cracking half way through the word.

"I'm ok... just doing a... little... flat wall... climbing." Tara answered getting out of breath as the repeated let go and grab motion was taxing her muscles bad.

The redhead bit her lip and fell silent while quickening the rhythm of her pacing and trying to empty her brain of all thoughts.

Tara reached the top of the pillar with one grateful sigh, the feel of the coldness of the polished marble on her knees and hands a very welcome sensation. She gave an out of breath yell to her girlfriend. "On top."

Willow sighed in relief and then yelled back playfully. "Not always, no."

The blonde laughed weakly and then sat down trying to regain her breath while loud cracks of thunder sounded around her.

"Fffff... family 5."

"Having trouble saying the f-word baby?" Tara yelled playfully just as she was getting up. She was careful to stay slightly hunched so as not to hit the ceiling.

"Oh shut up."

The blonde chuckled to herself as she imagined her girlfriend blushing. Then she regarded the F5 that was about one meter below her. She sat back down on her pillar's corner and just as she was ready to let herself fall down a menacing set of spikes erupted all over the surface of F5 only to disappear a second later.



"Are you sure?"

Willow didn't have to check again as her eyes had never left the drawn square on the wall as she tried to imagine what it was going just on the other side of that wall.

"Yeah, I'm sure honey. Why?"

"Oh, no reason." The blonde sighed. "It's just I'm back to rope jumping."

She waited for the spikes to appear and then be retracted all the time mentally counting the seconds in her head and then she let herself fall on top of the pillar. Her muscles complained about the recent abuse as she jumped high a split second before the spikes appeared again and landed after they had been gone. And then she did it again. And again.


"Hang on." The redhead sounded frustrated. "It's taking longer than usual. Ok. Got it. Duck 6."

"Let's hope I don't have to." Tara whispered. Then as her feet next touched the ground she stepped up to the ledge and jumped to D6 that was at about the same height she was now.

Just as she landed neatly on top of this new pillar Willow's voice rang out. "Beaver 7."

Tara looked forward and saw that at B7 there was no pillar and instead there was a deep hole which bottom was lost in darkness.

"Baby, did you say B? As in... Baby 7?"

"Yeah, B7."

The blonde felt the pillar beneath her feet start to shake and when she turned her eyes down she saw that it was starting to crumble. The ledges were breaking into pieces and a sideways crack was appearing at the centre of the surface.


"What?" Willow paused and then added. "I know I'm saying that a lot but... What?"

"This pillar is breaking into pieces." Tara answered unwilling to worry her girlfriend more than she already was.

"Then get out of there. B7 baby." The redhead called out urgently.

Tara bit her bottom lip as she eyed C7. It was such a perfectly formed square pillar, solid and real. Thunder snapped loudly just at her side. The pillar where she was standing was crumbling from a square to a cone and soon there would be nothing to stand on.

In trust you shall find your path.

Her decision made Tara took one deep breath and then yelled out.

"I love you Willow." And then she jumped.

"Baby?" The redhead called out frantically. "Honey?"

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