It was strange, the difference in the weather, it seemed summer's heat was still warming them up not so long ago, and now they were freezing to the bones!
Well maybe it was not the weather but just the place, somehow it wasn't so hard to imagine. The building was uninviting, looking as much as feeling cold; dark irregular walls seemed to serve as a prison to the inhabitants of this peculiar castle.
The two men, now walking cautiously through the corridors, kept silent eyes wide of terror as they marched towards a huge ebony double door.
They knew what was behind, they never saw him in person but the many tales they heard from those who survived were horrifying.
Akattla, king of Darkan, was a monster, not in shape for he was human but in his soul darkness was flowing like lava going down the streams of Hades.
He was known for his incredible cruelty not only on the battle fields but also with his subjects.
And now they were about to meet him, they had a message that would surely put him in great anger. A powerful seer from Rodan, a kingdom of the land of dark, sent them three days ago to report a vision that would probably change their world for ever.
Magic had shifted, and it happened in the land of light, a powerful being had emerged bringing a new mighty ally to the forces of good. The matter was very serious, they couldn't let this be, their victory was at stake.
Knowing fully well that the only one capable of tipping the scales in favor of the dark was Akattla, the lords from Rodan decided upon sending two of their best warriors to inform the ruthless king of this terrible occurrence.
His palms were sweating profusely as he raised a trembling hand to the closed door but he didn't feel the harsh contact of the rough material, his fist slicing the air instead. The panels had opened of they own volition creating a gush of wind between the bewildered men.
"Who dares interrupt?" a loud throaty voice barked from the other end of the sinister room. A shadow detached from the imposing throne giving a complete view on a looming figure.
"We..we..we" he was shaking like a leaf, forgetting how to talk; fortunately his more unflappable companion intervened.
"We were mandated by Lord Astor from the Kingdom of Rodan" he made a short pause before adding "his wishes are to inform you of an upcoming new menace"
"Really?" he roared "and what could be so terrifying that your masters had to send you beg for my help?" he sneered at the pair.
"Well everything is related in this parchment" choosing not to comment on his offending remark the warrior approached gingerly the unmoving King. Extracting a yellowish roll from his satchel he bent on one knee before extending the precious text in his quivering hand.
Snatching the document in one swift movement the evil monarch sat back in is chair opening the message with patience.
The young man kept still in his previous position not ready to move before he was told to. Lifting his eyes very slowly he observed the reading man, anxious to notice the first signs of his furry. But it never came, something else was readable in his cruel black eyes though, ...could it be fear... wondered the waiting messenger.
Getting up faster than lightening Akattla dragged his sword out of its sheath and cut off the head of the kneeling man, never once changing his facial expression. "I don't know fear" he concluded before sitting back.
Then he addressed to the horrified man still standing in the doorway "go and tell your masters that I'll be taking care of this for them, but there will be a compensation, ...there's always a compensation" mumbling for himself the last words he pushed the man out of the room with a simple gesture, the door closing back with a loud bang.
Completely petrified the now lone horseman stared for a few minutes at the black panels before hightailing it out of here.
Everything happened in slow motion and time seemed to stop as she stood paralyzed by feelings she could not yet comprehend. When she saw the first boy step out of this dark corner she knew he was not the one she had sensed earlier but when the redhead appeared in the soft glow of a nearby candelabra, she barely contained a gasp. Green eyes immediately bored into hers and she felt shivers run down her spine as her heartbeat quickened and her breathing intensified. Of course the power emanating from 'him' was incredible and this alone could explain some of her astonishment but it was deeper than that, she felt connected. ...Oh my goddess... she mentally cried ...I already had such a sensation before, it was in my dream...he is the one!... she realized. Here she stood, awestruck, a combination of glee and disappointment invading her soul progressively. She was so glad to finally meet the mysterious stranger from her dream and she understood they shared a special bond but apparently her worst fear had come to life for they were a man.
She pushed aside her conflicting sentiments for the time being, deciding to focus on learning more about him ...friend is good... she deduced with a sigh.
The same level of confusion was occupying the redhead thoughts, at first she had been swept off her feet by the intensity of her meeting with this blonde angel, her mind going blank but for one image ...beautiful.... But obviously her babbling brain finally took back the control and she reached overdrive a few moments later. ...God what the heck am I thinking, she's a girl...I can't be feeling this way for a girl... uh by the way Rosenberg...what do you refer to when you say 'this way'!!!...I don't know...it's it's strong, it's pure, it's overwhelming,...it's magic ...ok I see, but tell me isn't it a little too much for platonic feelings?...arghh stop it would you! This is not love ok, this cannot be love...this cannot be...she trailed off miserably knowing fully well that she was fooling herself but still unable to face the blinding truth.
Meanwhile Jenny and Xander had kept quiet, assessing each other with care and at the same time wondering what was putting respectively their daughter and friend in such a state of trance. Finally breaking the silence as realization of who was in front of them occurred to him, the farmer bowed with flourish, contrite apologies tumbling down his mumbling mouth.
"Your Majesty! We are truly sorry, forgive our terrible mistake, we were surprised and we missed to acknowledge your presence! Not that it was your fault for surprising us, you could not be faulty of anything, not that you are perfect, uh I didn't mean that.." he was engaged in a never ending embarrassing babble so the Lady seer intervened cutting outright his erratic monologue
"I see" she said a little sternly, she didn't sense malice in him but she wanted to keep some distance for the moment. Deception wasn't to be ignored when it came to evil forces.
Seeing that his redhead companion was still lost in her musings Xander nudged her in the ribs eliciting a scowl as she came back to reality the hard way. With an intense stare he motioned for her to bow like him in the presence of those two ladies. Remembering suddenly Jesse's instructions she obliged hastily, gaze firmly fixed on the ground waiting anxiously for the first words her angel would pronounce ...my angel...when did she exactly become 'my angel'?... she was surely loosing her common sense.
The princess winced as the dark haired boy smacked her dear redhead unkindly ...my dear redhead?...wow Tara! Come back to earth missy...when did he become 'your dear redhead'...you don't even know him let along like boys... she shook her head at her silly mind.
"So do you care to explain why you two were hiding" the queen demanded with some authority "you can straighten up" she added as an after thought.
Regaining their previous posture they looked hesitantly at the older woman. Turning shortly to each other they exchanged a silent agreement, the farmer would do the talking.
"Well you see your majesty, my cousin Will and I" he didn't even planned for this lie, it was instinctive, he wanted to protect Willow, so hiding her real identity was his first impulse "we came here to see my best friend for help. We ...we were waiting for him, he has a friend would could maybe solve a ....problem" he knew he was being lame but what could he say. Of course the queen was not a threat but he didn't know how she would react to the redhead's peculiarity. They had to know what was up first. On the other hand the queen was a powerful seer and she had probably already sensed Willow wonky powers. He was at loss.
Reacting faster than her mother the young blonde inquired "What is your problem...uh.."
"Xander" he filled in with a gentle smile
"Thank you" she nodded softly "So what is your problem Xander?"
"Well..." he felt cornered.
Cutting him short the redhead supplied. "It is more my problem that his, m'lady" she didn't know who this young woman was but she surely was a lady, she was so beautiful ...stop with that Rosenberg!...
His voice, his voice was so soft and gentle, it was amazing ...he probably is still quite young, seeing as he has no stubble and such a light timbre... it was intriguing.
"Oh" she managed with emotion. Feeling a bit bolder after a very needed deep breath, she asked "is it related to your current troubles with your magical energy ?".
"How did you know?" the redhead was genuinely surprised.
"I c-c-can sense it" she blushed lightly as a curtain of hair fell in front of her eyes.
The queen was shocked by her daughter's sudden access of stutter and shyness, it hadn't been happening since her childhood. But she chose not to comment and study instead the interactions between Tara and this young man.
"I must say I'm impressed" complimented the redhead with a charming grin.
"It's n-n-nothing really, j-j-just the b-b-basics" she was frustrated by her inability to talk properly; why was she stuttering she should have been over this for years now. ...I must be nervous...yes that is the reason why... but what was she nervous about, it was a mystery, or maybe not totally. However she wasn't yet ready to accept her feelings and till then she would not dare imagine the reason for her actual behavior.
"Well to me it seems wonderful" she wanted to make her point, this amazing young woman felt special to her and she would do or say anything to prove her just that ...her stutter is so endearing, I feel like taking her hand and telling her that it's ok, that I'm here for her...
Interrupting any come back from the blonde, Jesse reached the little group trailing behind him a slightly out of breath chamberlain.
Surprise was readable over his face as he acknowledged the presence of the two royal women. ...I've been too long, sorry Xander I failed you ... he sighed defeated.
Bowing respectfully at the two ladies he addressed the queen "Your majesty" he didn't know what had already been said so he went for a safe speech "I would like to apologize for this" he was obviously implying the presence of his two companions "my best friend Xander and ..." seeing that Jesse was struggling for a way to introduce the redhead the farmer intervened.
"Will" he supplied "my cousin Will" he stressed the word 'cousin' to affirm the new status of the foreign girl.
"Yes, Will" he chuckled nervously "I have a little problem with names" he hoped his excuse wasn't looking too suspicious.
"Well, Xander and Will, came here on my behalf for I promised my help in a serious matter they are currently faced with".
Lord Wesley approached the queen bowing shortly "I can attest of his tale" tucking back his perfectly polished spectacles on the bridge of his nose he turned to gauge the young redhead. "It was reported to me that one of my cousin's" he gestured at Jesse "friends had a peculiar problem regarding their ability to shield and control their magic".
Addressing directly the redhead he stated "I presume you are the one concerned".
"Yes" was her short reply to this very snobbish guy.
"So I suggest that we contact Lord Quentin on a short notice"
"No" cried Tara with a mixture of panic and authority; all eyes turned towards the blushing blonde.
"But princess" argued the chamberlain "why do you oppose to this proposition, Lord Quentin is the expert in the cases of magic control" he couldn't understand her reaction.
Oh my god, she's the princess, she's princess Tara, the birthday girl...no wonder though...she's so full of grace and majesty... the redhead was bewitched.
"I have my reasons" she stated with resolve "one of those is that Lord Giles and myself are already implicated in this case" she didn't want to voice her other concern, her total disapproval of Lord Quentin's methods.
"May I ask in which way" the stiff looking man was miffed, he didn't like to be thwarted, especially by this 'girl'. He was sure that her natural kindness and apparent innocence would one day cause the doom of this kingdom.
"No, for that is none of your concern Lord Wesley"
"Lady Tara, I beg you to reconsider the situation" he felt like insisting "I mean no offense but Lord Giles and yourself might be unable to apprehend the complexity of the issue at hand"
The redhead was more and more upset by this intrusive and pretentious man ...you better not offense her you moron... she seethed ... wow where did that come from?
"No" the blonde's answer was short and supporting no discussion.
Lady Jenny looked at her daughter with admiration and love ...she's all grown up now... pride was visible in her shimmering eyes.
Tara turned to Willow "I am truly sorry about all this" she gave her a lopsided grin and the redhead heart skipped a beat. "I should assure you of my complete benevolence, I have no intension to impose you anything, I recognize that I have been taking no care of your opinion in this discussion, you can chose to follow Lord Wesley if you'd prefer." she amended for her authoritarian attitude.
"Thank you for your concern princess" she bowed her head shortly "I am certain of your good intensions, I trust you" she stressed looking straight into the blonde's blue orbs.
Tara smiled shyly at this sincere admission "that is settled then, tomorrow I'll present you to Lord Giles our Great wizard and army General".
The princess informed the redhead that she would meet 'him' up in the morning to join Lord Giles at the library. So after organizing commodities for Xander in the Guards' quarters and for Willow in the west wing of the castle the small group split up.
Led by a valet the redhead reached her provisory bedroom, the young servant installed an assortment of everyday clothes in her closet and bid her goodnight. She scanned the room with eagerness, it was elegant and comfortable, a king-size canopy bed stood in the middle of the room, two assorted armchairs disposed on each side of it. A big mahogany wardrobe covered at least half of the left wall and a delicately carved thuja desk stood by a big arched window on the opposite wall.
The colors were soft but joyful; red, gold and green were associated with harmony, it felt warm and inviting. Sitting heavily on the mattress the exhausted girl took off her boots before laying down on the bed. She closed her eyes for a few minutes intending to rest a little before preparing for the night but she was so tired that she fell fast asleep, a small smile plastered on her face.
Lady Tara was swimming through the crowd, she couldn't focus anymore on the bustling activity around her, she was obsessed by one thought ...I cannot be attracted to him, no I cannot... so she walked aimlessly smiling occasionally at her greeting guests. She was at loss, how could she be feeling all of this for a man ... he is so soft and charming, I feel safe near him, comforted even... please let stay logical Tara, even if you were inclined to like men, you only met him an hour ago...but I feel like we've known each other since the beginning of times... she kept on arguing with herself missing the calls of her uncle. The older man was worried so he approached her and put a hand on her shoulder; she jumped at the contact.
"Sorry Tara, I didn't want to frighten you but...you seemed quite...absent" he looked at her questioning with his eyes the reasons for her behavior.
"Yes I ...sorry, I was lost in my thoughts" she grinned apologetically.
"It's alright dear" he reassured "I guess what your actual preoccupation might be". She looked panicked for a few seconds before he added "your mother told me about this boy you met earlier, apparently he's the one you connected with through your dream...I am sure we will find out what it all means, don't worry".
"Thank you" she squeezed his hand grateful for his comforting presence.
She tip toed quietly down the hallway, the gentle glow of the rising sun was giving her enough light to direct herself. This part of the castle was very calm at this hour for most of the bedrooms were located in the east wing, but she should be careful, a valet could always spot her by inadvertence and this would not serve her purpose.
Finally reaching the door she gulped, maybe this was a bad idea after all, he was perhaps a dangerous killer...no they would never have let him stay if it was the case; plus she was here, so she should finish what she started. Raising her knuckles to knock she stopped mid air; reconsidering her next move she grabbed hold of the handle and opened the door quickly while stealthily slipping into the room.
A soft snoring was emanating from the bed ...good he's still here... but she didn't know what to do next, her curiosity had brought her here and somehow she was not sure anymore about this 'expedition'.
After a few minutes of hesitation she decided upon approaching the sleeping figure. Reaching the left side of the mattress she stared at the redhead boy haphazardly sprayed over the bedcover. He looked young, maybe just a little older than herself, his clothes were rumpled and seemed very uncomfortable for sleep ...he was surely exhausted to fall asleep in this attire... she guessed. A moan escaped his lips and he mumbled some incoherent words ...funny... she thought with an amused smile. Twisting a little he turned on his side facing the startled girl who by noticing that his eyes were still closed sighed of relief.
Judging that she had seen enough for today she started to back away when she heard a sleepy voice calling at her "already leaving ?" Her eyes went wide as impish green orbs gazed at her silently asking for an explanation.
"I-I-I...I didn't mean to...sorry" she looked at her feet a blush slowly creeping up her face.
"That's alright" assured the waking woman sitting up at the edge of the bed. "Whom have I the honor to talk to?" she asked kindly.
Perking up immediately at this turn of event the younger girl answered with a broad smile "I'm Dawn, Tara's sister, please to meet you" she curtsied swiftly.
Chuckling at the overenthusiastic teen the redhead stood up extending her hand before introducing herself "Hi Dawn, I'm Will..." but she was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in" she instructed turning towards the entrance. She was not prepared for such a sight though as the princess entered the room with grace, immediately connecting with her eyes. After what seemed like an eternity, the redhead finally broke the intense contact taking in the new comer's appearance. Her hair was arranged in a loose bun, a few strands falling behind her ears; she wore a more casual dress than last night but to Willow it looked even more beautiful, the cobalt blue natural-silk gown accentuating her curves and perfectly matching her eyes.
"You're drooling" whispered the young giggling girl to the gawking redhead. Closing her mouth shut with a small pop Willow flushed at the comment, wondering why the teenager's teasing had hit home so precisely.
Suddenly realizing that they were not alone in the room the bothered blonde questioned her sister "what are you doing here Dawnie?" she sounded upset and the younger girl knew she was in trouble.
"Nothing" she snapped back with an exasperated sigh.
"This attitude will lead you nowhere young lady" the princess chastised crossing her arms over her chest as she raised an expectant eyebrow.
"Alright, alright" she gave up her offended pretence "I came here to see who was our famous new guest" she grinned at the friendly redhead.
"Why didn't you ask for permission beforehand, not only to our mothers but to Will as well ?" this kid was a real troublemaker sometimes, even if her intensions were always good.
"Can I call you Will?" she added quickly, acknowledging all of sudden her uncharacteristic forwardness.
You can call me whatever you like... "yes" exhaled the enraptured woman.
"Thank you" she smiled dreamily "please call me Tara".
Dawn watched perplex ...those two are so making gooey eyes at each other... I get why Will is attracted to my sister, but how come Tara seems to be in the same silly puppy love trance...she doesn't even like men this way...well at least that's what I thought!!!
"Alright then, I'll leave you to...whatever you do...and" she wasn't getting any reaction so with a sly grin she went for the kill "by the way Tare...you didn't tell me Will was such a cutie". Eliciting a deep blush from the redhead and 'wide-like-a-deer-caught-in-the-headlights' eyes from her sister she chuckled mischievously exiting the room as fast as she could.
"I don't say he is evil, I just suggest that we take some precautions that's all" the dark haired woman was agitated. She didn't get why everyone was so na´ve suddenly, even her wife was being overly confident. Who knew where he was coming from, why he was here, was it asking too much to be a little more careful.
"Honey, please calm down" she soothed "you've been fuming for hours now. I know you're worried about Tara, but she is a big girl, she has to solve this on her own" receiving a surprised panicky look she explained "she is the one concerned by all this but of course we will stay by her side, we will never let her get hurt. It's just, we need to show her that we respect her decisions, that we will support her no matter what". Taking the emotional woman in her arms she cajoled "I don't sense dark energy around him, I can assure you that my powers are not failing me on this. You know otherwise he wouldn't even be here anymore". Sensing an attempt at a come back, the blonde queen interrupted "if he ever tries to hurt her in anyway, he will know our wrath and bitterly regret his choice" she nuzzled her wife's neck softly kissing the side of her jaw. "But for now..." she punctuated her speech with a trail of tender pecks "I want you..." from her brow "to relax..." to her chin "and I know..." going back to her mouth "a very good way..." where she lingered for a while with a searing kiss "to do that" she concluded with a sexy smile.
Grinning at her wife Jenny took her hand leading her towards the queen-size bed, "vixen" she said with a luscious smile.
After the hasty departure of the scheming teen, the two girls had stayed, shell-shocked, dipped into an embarrassing silence for a few minutes. Coming back to her senses first, the princess had suggested that they moved on to the library where Lord Giles was surely waiting for them. They had walked side by side, no words troubling their internal musings, for both of them were more confused than ever.
Reaching the imposing room the redhead let a soft cry of surprise escape her lips. She was a book worm and not ashamed of it, she would spend hours in the highschool library reading and studying while her comrades played softball or simply hanged around. When she started university her life style didn't change much, she still loved to roam through the UCSF library doing more reading that she was assigned for. So upon entering this astonishing book-sanctuary as she liked to define it, a wide smile engulfed her face when discovering the extend of the collection. Noticing a change in the previously pensive mood of her companion Tara hazarded a glance in her direction ...incredible! His smile, it lightens the whole place...
"Ah Tara!" the wizard exclaimed with satisfaction "I am glad to see you" he was impatient, since he had heard about her meeting with this mysterious boy his mind had been full of more questions he could handle at once.
"And you must be our guest" he addressed the redhead politely.
"I am sir" she grinned at the kind looking man ...I like him.
"Will, let me present you Lord Giles, my uncle" the princess completed the presentation, "Uncle Giles meet Will". Both of them shook hand immediately taking a liking in each other.
"So Will, I hope you spent a good night" engaging in a small talk the three of them directed towards a nearby table.
"Oh yes, a good one indeed, I was exhausted."
"I was told you came here with your cousin and a friend."
"Well to be honest sir, I ...Xander isn't really my cousin" she watched them intently surveying their reaction. They didn't look shocked, a little surprised maybe so she opened up a bit more. "In fact we only met yesterday" frowns appeared slowly so she knew that she would have to clarify. Deciding that the only way to get some help was to be totally honest she proceeded to recount the story of her arrival in this world in great detail.
"......so when I saw my boyfriend with that...that slut....sorry I didn't mean to be so crude" she blushed "and by the way he is now my ex-boyfriend" she underlined with resolve "so when I saw the two of them laying in his bed, in our bed...I fumed and I said to myself...'Willow you've got to react missy, stop moping on your miserable self...".
Interrupting her long winded babble at this point, the young blonde commented with trepidation "I thought your name was Will?" ...and that you were a man ... she was totally disconcerted.
"Yes this is the shortened version of my name" she smiled unknowing the turmoil unleashing inside the other girl "my complete name is Willow".
At this moment Tara's world exploded for a second time, for she realized in an instant both Willow's womanhood and straightness!