His sorceress was missing. Outside of his majestic tent; his warriors knew nothing of this- they knew only of bellydancers in their skimpy oufits and good food being eaten and enough wine so that every man and his horse could enjoy and later on in the morning, regret. A fine time being had by all - a celebration - after all, had they not been victorious in all their battles, where they not the rulers of all but a small portion of the world they would soon make theirs anyway? Yes... ignorance was indeed bliss.
But Atticus was not ignorant; they were clearly vulnerable now, there was no longer the advantage of premonitions or magical aide. These men, who had taken his sorceress, were no doubt sent by Rupert, and he'd inevitably attack. Probably soon, not today, but soon.
"Take sixteen of our best men," he said from his intricately carved throne, to his most trusted warrior, kneeling before him, "track them down and kill them... I want the girl brought back unharmed..."
The young man nodded curtly, "Yes my lord."
"Bring the girl back to me," Atticus repeated slowly, his voice low and seeming to echo through the tent as if they were in a deep cavern, "or it will be your head."
The young man looked up slowly and swallowed, fear tingling up his spine and dread settling in his belly, "Yes my lord."
"You are dismissed then... enjoy the celebration."
The warrior again nodded, slowly, and got to his feet, very much doubting he'd 'enjoy the celebration.'
"Oh and Riley?"
The young man turned, "Yes my lord?"
"Make haste with this mission boy."
"Yes my lord" he said, his jaw clenching tightly in a resolution bourne from complete loyalty .
Miles away, deep within the vast and empty - save for scorpions, snakes and two quietly sleeping women - desert, the young sorceress was unaware of the conversation being had about her, she was, however, very aware of the soreness all throughout her back and shoulders. Stubbornly holding on to the last vestiges of an uncomfortable sleep, she held the thick blanket tighter to her own body and snuggled deeper into that warm, soft and solid place.
If she had been more clear-headed at the time she would have noted that her wrists and ankles had been set free sometime during the night; but she was too preoccupied, however, with keeping the sunlight away from her face.
Lying to the left of her Willow was in a similar state; though she had, had a better sleep, having spent more time during her life sleeping on the ground than in an actual bed and therefore accustomed to waking with a stiff back and shoulders. And it was not the sun, that eventually woke her but the sound of movement. She blinked her eyes rapidly to disperse the last remnants of sleep, and gently disentangled herself from a very clingy sorceress, turning to see two rapidly approaching shadows cloaked within a massive cloud of dust...
Buffy and Faith had returned it seemed.
Meanwhile Tara, had very suddenly woken; her senses returned to her seemingly all at once; the blinding sunlight and the thumping of horses' hooves against the desert sand hurling her back into consciousness, albeit a dizzy one. Slowly regaining her composure, she stretched leisurely and yawned before two bright blue eyes opened widely in surprise and looked down queerly at her wrists as if never before having seen them.
"You- you untied me?"
"No the desert fairies did - of course it was me."
"Where would you run to?" Willow asked her, "and how far do you think I'd let you go?"
Tara sighed, "n-not very far."
"Right then. Time to get up now. Are you hungry? Eat now if you are, we're not stopping anymore. You can feed yourself now, and you know where the food is; but be careful not to scare Bella, she'll kick you if you do and it hurts very much when she does - so be gentle."
Tara stared at Willow very much like she had done the night before, for a second, before deciding it was pointless to just stand there dumbfounded by the woman once again; and she walked to the camel, deciding to eat though she was not hungry.
Some minutes later, a very tired Buffy and an equally weary Faith made their entrance, their horses going from a hard gallop to a light trotting and finally stopping in front of the camp, they dismounted and flopped to ground; Faith cursing lightly under her breath.
"What's wrong then?" Willow asked, while casually folding the blanket.
"We ran into some desert pirates on the way, huge guys, real barbaric-like," Faith gasped out, with a smile on her face as if recalling some sweet long-ago memory of a first kiss.
"You mean you ran into them" Buffy shot at her.
"There were only a few," Faith defended herself indignantly.
"A few... hundred."
"A few... they just happened to have some friends I knew nothing about."
Willow sighed, "You two just make friends everywhere you go don't you?" She then attached the blanket to Bella's saddle and turned to them, "Well at least you're alive."
"Barely," Buffy muttered, her reply aimed at Faith.
Willow reached over and and grasped Tara's hand gently, splitting the untouched bread the sorceress held in two and bringing her portion to her own mouth.
Buffy and Faith both stared at the scene with unreadable expressions, "You untied her then?" Faith was the first to ask though the question was on both their minds.
"Yes," Willow answered simply, choosing not to elaborate and if she had seen the queer looks the two of them shot at her you couldn't tell. She chewed thoughtfully for a second before turning to them, "where did you leave the earring?"
"In the hand of one of the dead brutes," Buffy answered.
"We figured we'd blame them for it, a battle between Atticus' minions and the desert pirates," she turned to Buffy with a dimpled smile, "kinda makes ya wish we'd stayed around for it huh?"
"Two birds with one stone and all that," Buffy said tiredly.
Willow nodded her approval, "Good job... but battle weary or not we're off after we eat."
Faith's and Buffy's only response was a long, simultaneous groan that seemed it could've woken up the vultures.
Time seemed slothlike and sluggish under the flaming desert sun, Tara noted. They were going through a corridor of sorts between two towering mountains, and she could tell they were close to where ever it was they were headed by their slowing down. It seemed they had been travelling since the world began and all she had ever known were desert and rocks and the unflattering smell of camel.
Though they were now riding slowly she still held on tightly to the redhead seated in front of her, having already learned her lesson.
"Get on now, it's time to go," she had said, ever the leader. And Tara had, with a little help from her, afterwards she had hopped on taking her seat in front of Tara.
Then she turned to her, "Hold on tightly," she had said. And Tara had held on, loosely though, ever aware of what the woman was... though who she was continued to elude her.
And the redhead had said nothing as Tara had thought she would, merely pulled on the reigns and off they went; Tara almost falling had she not tightened her grip on the assasin's waist.
And she had turned to her flashing her impish little smirk before saying, "High morals aren't worth much after you've fallen off the camel."
And she had merely glared at her, having no snappy comeback of her own.
The mountains now seemed to expand and curve making a huge circle as they met in the middle. And in the center of this circle there was a large rock, she noticed, that seemed odd there, looking as if it didn't fit in with the rest of the picture.
That's when they, finally, had stopped and dismounted; the redhead helping her off the camel.
"Home, sweet home."