Return to Hellebore Chapter Fourteen


Author: Chris Cook
Rating: NC-17
Copyright: Based on characters from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon and his talented minionators, and Diablo II by Blizzard Entertainment. All original material is copyright 2003 Chris Cook.

Tara was already smiling as she pushed open the bedroom door with her elbow, both hands being full of plates, but her smile widened when she saw Willow sitting on the ledge beneath the window, wrapped in her exquisite green battlegear. Willow looked up and smiled in return, uncrossing her legs and standing in one fluid motion.

"Lunch?" she asked. Tara put the plates on the table.

"The dining hall's full of ambassadors," she said, "I thought you might prefer a quiet lunch up here. They're a bit..." she made a face.

"Oh?" Willow said with a pained look, taking a plate and uncovering it.

"They're not so bad, I suppose," Tara allowed, "just... oh, I don't know, I guess they're used to being treated like they're at the top of the society pile. They kind of... look down on everything. They hide it well - I mean, they're diplomats - but you just get the idea that this place is sort of... rustic? Something like that." She and Willow sat facing each other on the bed, plates balanced on their knees.

"And we're stuck with them for two weeks?" Willow asked.

"Sixteen days," Tara replied, "I asked Tryptin."

"How's he holding up? Did they believe he was a real Amazon, or not?"

"Don't tell anyone," Tara said with a grin, "but I think they think he's my servant or something. No, he's fine - I think he's going to have a great time dealing with them."


"He told me - quietly -" Tara added, "that the best thing that can happen in a negotiation is for the other person to be sure he's smarter than you." Willow chuckled.

"So by the time we get to Duncraig, will he have gotten them to hand the Dukedom over to him?"

"Maybe," Tara said with a straight face, "that wouldn't be so bad. We've always been against establishing any real settlements on the mainland, but gaining the largest city in Westmarch... they'd probably consider this a successful mission back home. For his first time, of course." Willow laughed out loud, which Tara found delightful. "Of course, it's a ground city, so we'd have to do something about that," she went on. "Plant trees under all the houses, perhaps. Or get some of those cranes from the river dock and lift the city up, then transplant a forest in underneath it and drop it on top..." Willow moved her plate to the bed so she wouldn't tip it over as she laughed.

"Ah," she sighed, catching her breath. "I wonder what they'll think of me... some strange sorceress girl from the wild jungles of Kehjistan, I bet."

"If you're wearing that," Tara observed with an appreciative grin, "you'll probably get a few proposals out of them."

"Well, too bad," Willow said defiantly, "I'm not wearing it for them. I'm wearing it for you."

"You look angelic," Tara said softly.

"It's for the contest this afternoon," Willow said, smiling her thanks, "I promised I'd be your 'beautiful lady', remember?"

"Oh you are," Tara murmured.

"And speaking of beautiful," Willow continued, "I, um, I loved your... self-portrait." Tara blushed, and smiled shyly at her.

"I hoped you would," she said softly. Willow patted a deep, thin pouch on her belt by her hip.

"I'm keeping it safe," she promised, "it's staying with me, always."

"I'm glad," Tara said. She glanced at Willow's belt. "Is that the same belt you had in the library? I don't remember it having that pouch."

"It's standard equipment for a sorceress," Willow explained, "when you undo it, the pouches can slide on and off, depending on what you need to carry. So, potions," she touched a row of tiny padded cylinders to the left of the silver buckle, "spell components," various small pouches of varying sizes to the right, "pen and paper," a cylinder on her left hip, "scrolls," behind the paper, "charms and runestones," around the back of her waist, "and our journal," she finished, tapping the new pouch on her right hip. "You remembered what my belt looked like?" she added, arching an eyebrow.

"It was close to eye level when you were up on the ladder," Tara replied casually, "I saw in on my w-way to other things. So, what do all those do?"

"Well, the spell components are to help out with complicated or powerful spells," Willow said, "in my case, they're things that help channel cold energy. I've got ice crystals from Mount Arreat, they never melt unless you actually put them in a fire, which releases their energy. A bone shard from a phantom, the Order collects them whenever they have to dispel one - the plane they come from doesn't have heat, so their remains are useful for cold spells. Dried dewflowers, they only grow in freezing temperatures, instead of sunlight they draw in cold and turn it into energy. A couple of powders and liquids, they're pretty generic, all sorceresses can use them, for whatever kind of spell they need. The charms and just to help control and amplify magical power, they're all fashioned specifically for cold. The runestones are similar to the ones we saw before, you arrange them in patterns to create what we call spell frameworks, I guess they're kind of like the way you create a focus, with Amazon magic. They sort of make a 'shape', like a mould, for magical power, it makes it easier to do complicated spells. Um, the scrolls are simple things like detecting magic, creating light - they're not elemental magic, but all the power comes from the scroll itself, not from the person using them, so they're not dangerous to use. There's a limit to how powerful a written spell can be, though, so it only works with simple spells. The potions are the same, they're magical, but you don't need to use magic to use them - they're for healing, and replenishing magical power if I need to cast a lot of spells in a hurry. And... I'm just going on and on, aren't I?"

"It's fascinating," said Tara. "We use some things like those charms. They're not as common, most of them are passed down in families... It sounds like they might be similar. And our weapons can be crafted to help in creating a focus. Um, y-you can have a look, if you like," she offered.

"Thanks," Willow said. "I noticed that first day, your spear has electrum in it."

"It's not really mine," Tara said, "it's Solari's, it's been in her family for generations. Th-there aren't many like it, it's supposed to be attuned to Zerae. Its ritual name is 'storm-caller'. A lot of old weapons have more than one name," she explained, "depending on how they're used. The ritual name is for weapons that can be used in ceremonies to honour the goddesses they're made for. Outside ceremonies, it's 'Silverstrike'."

"Storm-caller," repeated Willow, "I can guess why. Zerae gives you lightning energy, right?" Tara nodded. "Electrum is used to make equipment for lightning sorceresses, too. It's very powerful, and difficult to enchant without contaminating it. Your spear has pure electrum all through it - it's like a magic staff, sort of. And the patterns it's shaped into are probably along the same lines as runes, like a permanent spell built-in."

"Oh," said Tara, surprised - she knew Silverstrike was a noted artefact among her people, but she had to admit she thought it was more of a cultural respect. "Does your staff have things like that crafted into it?" she asked.

"Most sorceresses have staves made for them," Willow said, "hardened ash-wood mixed with sandstone powder for fire, obsidian and night-oil resin for lightning, Arreat ice for cold. Ember gave me my staff, though." She shrugged. "We don't rely on staves anyway, a lot of our training is done without them. She asked me to take this staff, rather than an ice one, so I did. She didn't say why, just that it was a good choice."

"What does it have in it?" Tara asked.

"Volcanic rock and black iron," Willow said with another shrug. "It's covered by the wood, but there are spells you can do to find out what something's made of. It's a pretty good staff, it helps control energy. A normal ice staff would be more likely to amplify power, and sometimes it'd get a bit out of hand and you'd have to just flare off the power - in the case of cold magic, it's easy, you just spread the cold out through the air around you, really thin so all it does is drop the temperature a little. Lightning can be flared into passive effects - they say if you're good you can channel the flare back into something like an energy shield, that's kind of like chill armour, but for lightning. Fire takes a lot of practice, it's a bit dangerous really. Ember once said the best thing you can do if you need to flare off fire energy is to point your staff into the air and wait for the jet of flame to die down."

"Yikes," Tara observed.

"Yeah, I know," Willow agreed, "fire sorceresses spend a lot of time practicing control, so they don't accidentally call up more power than they need for a particular spell. Us cold girls have it easy," she admitted with a grin, "we just wear something warm if we're practising a new spell. I've never had to flare, using this staff, though. It's like all the power it doesn't have in amplifying cold, it has in controlling energy - even fire and lightning. We practice with powers other than our chosen elements," she explained, "just enough to do simple effects if we really need to, and to interfere with anyone casting against us using those powers. If you know fire magic, it's possible to undo a fire spell even if someone else is casting it. Same with lightning - they used to get us to pair off, and have one of us cast a spell, just into the air, and the other one try to undo the spell. Whoever made this staff must have had that in mind, it's brilliant at shutting down magic. Some of the other girl called it 'spell breaker'."

"Th-that's a good power," Tara said earnestly.

"Yeah, it is," Willow agreed. "Just my luck the only thing that's ever attacked me wasn't using spells." She gave Tara a smile, just to reassure her that she wasn't dwelling on those events.

"So," she said, putting her empty plate aside, "you like this outfit, huh?"

"It'd be beautiful on anyone," Tara said, "on you, i-it's divine." She put her own plate aside and moved over to sit next to Willow, who she was pleased to see was blushing at the compliment.

"See," she went on, touching the fabric wrapped around Willow's arm, "it matches your eyes... and even where y-you're covered up, I can still see the shape of you. Arms," she trailed her finger to Willow's wrist, then skipped to her hip nearby, "and legs... perfectly curved." She slid her finger in one of the folds in Willow's skirt and followed it up, meeting her belt just as she got close to the centre of her waist.

"I'll have to wear it more often," Willow whispered with a grin. "I always felt kind of shy wearing it... you know, the lack of anything in the middle..."

"No, no," Tara murmured, gently taking hold of Willow's shoulders and laying her down, "that's the best part. All this lovely Willow," she slowly ran her fingers up and down Willow's stomach, from her waist to the edge of her top, just between the bottom of her breasts, and back down again.

"Mmm," Willow replied, "you like?"

"Oh yes," Tara said in a hushed voice, "I like. You have a truly beautiful belly." She chuckled. "That sounds strange. But it's true." She leaned down and lay her head gently on Willow's stomach, feeling the warm body beneath her, and the soft motion as Willow breathed in and out. "Mmm," she moaned, "I could stay here forever..."

"I could get you a pillow if you liked," Willow teased, her hand stroking Tara's hand.

"But I can't do this with a pillow," Tara said, turning her head and kissing Willow's navel. She felt Willow shiver beneath her, and she adjusted her position without taking her lips from Willow's skin. With her arms around Willow's waist, holding her tightly, she poked her tongue into Willow's navel and pushed gently, wriggling her tongue around.

"Oh!" Willow exclaimed. Tara continued her kiss, feeling Willow's breathing speed up, then lifted her head up with a final lick at Willow's abdomen and grinned up at her.

"Have I mentioned," Willow said, in a slightly awe-struck voice, "that you turn me on like nothing in the world?" Tara wriggled up to lie beside Willow, feeling shy and proud at the same time.

"I-I might have got that impression," she admitted. Willow rolled over half on top of her and kissed her, starting on her lips, making her way up to Tara's ear which she gently nibbled and sucked, then down beneath her jaw and back up to her lips. By the time Willow's tongue made contact with hers, Tara had closed her eyes and was moaning quietly. Willow drew out the kiss for a long time, alternately driving deep into Tara's mouth, and surrendering completely, letting Tara take full possession of hers, before finally she lay back beside her.

"The very next time I see your lovely naked stomach," Willow promised, "I am going to show you exactly how wonderful that feels."

"Promise?" Tara teased.

"Promise," Willow said.

"So, are you enjoying riding more now?"

"Absolutely," Willow said, holding Tara tightly around the waist as they rode down towards Maresburg. Stefan was a few lengths ahead of them, leading the way along a road that ran down from the castle's hill to the farmlands below, away to the west of the forests Tara had already seen. Two of the Baron's guards followed at a respectable distance - their presence was more a courtesy than a precaution, the Baron having assured Tryptin that Maresburg, of all the towns in the surrounding lands, was among the most law-abiding.

"Maybe we should work up to a gallop?" suggested Tara innocently.

"Hey now," Willow protested, "let's not get ambitious! This is just fine the way it is." Tara smiled to herself and kept Kestrel at a quick walk, following the pace Stefan was setting. The old archer was quite at home, exchanging waves and greetings with the people they passed on the road, driving wagons and carts up towards the castle, or out on foot on their way somewhere.

"Yes, it certainly is," Tara said to herself, keeping the reins in one hand while her other discreetly stroked Willow's arms around her waist. She felt very relaxed, more than she would have expected of herself, given the slight flutter of nerves she had experienced when they were standing in the courtyard, and a stablehand had walked Kestrel over to her. Last time she had set out like this, she had ended up catching a crossbow bolt a couple of inches from her head. But she had calmed herself, taking reassurance from the knowledge that her attacker, and the man who had instructed him, were both locked away behind several feet of solid stone and steel bars.

It seemed no time at all until they were riding through the outskirts of Maresburg, which consisted mainly of a crossroads, widened into a town square, with wooden buildings clustered around it, growing outwards west, north and south, and backed up against the beginning of the castle's hill to the east. The closer they got to the centre of town, the more impressive the buildings were - on one corner of the square was a large two-storey building, which Tara took for a town hall from the elaborate carved wood coat of arms above its doors. Stefan led them over to stables opposite the hall, and they left their horses there to continue on foot. The town's population was already out in force, gathered around a the of outdoor taverns near the town well, obviously awaiting the beginning of the contest. Some of them gave a cheer or lifted their mugs at the sight of Stefan, and a number began drifting across the square and along one of the roads. Tara and Willow followed Stefan, with their guards a few paces to either side. Tara noticed the Baron's master at arms in the crowd, in the middle of a conversation with someone, and she wondered if he was there for fun or to keep an eye on things. Either way, she felt safe - the man always seemed perpetually aware of everything around him every time she had seen him.

Beyond a few storehouses and shops the ground to the west of the road opened up in a grassy expanse, with wooden stands on two sides, and a number of benches and tables already in place, occupied by the early arrivals who were enjoying the end of lunch, cheering or making loud suggestions to the archers who were already at practice, firing at targets set up on the far side of the field. One of the stands was larger and taller than the others, with a brightly-coloured shade cloth stretched between the tops of poles at its corners, and a number of well-dressed townsfolk seated inside. Stefan exchanged greetings with a few of the spectators and archers who wandered over to meet him, then motioned for Willow and Tara to follow him over to the covered stand.

"My wife," he said proudly, introducing them to a tall woman about his age who smiled at the sight of him and got down from her seat. She was dressed in a simple but well-made dress that showed off an admirable figure, and her white hair was tied back in a single braid that trailed to her waist.

"Tara, an Amazon warrior," Stefan said to her, "and Willow, a sorceress. Ladies, Bethany, my wife."

"How do you do?" Bethany asked warmly, curtseying to both of them.

"Very well, thank you," Tara said, bowing. Willow tried a curtsey, and found it wasn't that difficult.

"We've all been looking forward to seeing your skill with the bow," Bethany went on to Tara, after raising an eyebrow at Willow's battlegear. "Our daughter is around here somewhere," she added, glancing around the crowd. A horn sounded from the field, and the archers ceased fire and went to retrieve their arrows.

"I'll introduce you all afterwards," Stefan promised, "it's time for our contest. Miss Willow, would you care for a seat? Normally I'd just be a spectator myself, I see they've saved me a seat as usual."

"Thank you," Willow said, stepping up onto the platform beside Bethany, who was still a full head taller than her. Stefan bowed elaborately to his wife, and she smiled and drew a lace handkerchief from her sleeve, which he took and tucked into his belt.

"Thank you, my lady," he said with obvious affection. While Bethany was smiling at him, Willow turned to Tara.

"My warrior?" she said with a grin. As soon as Tara's eyes were on her, she quickly reached up beneath the hem of her top and drew out a silk cloth, thankful she had thought of it earlier, and been able to stuff it into her cleavage in one of the brief moments Tara hadn't been watching her.

"My lady," Tara said, accepting the silk, and touching it to her lips before tucking a corner of it in her belt. Willow smiled and sat down next to Bethany, as Tara and Stefan headed towards the firing line.

"You're a sorceress, Miss Willow?" Bethany asked politely.

"That's right, ma'am," she replied.

"My word," Bethany said, "we don't see many mages around here. Well, apart from that dreadful man up at the castle. I never liked him. Related to an old family, you know, supposedly a noble line, but if you want my opinion, there's not much to recommend them nowadays. And Miss Tara, the Amazon, you're travelling together?"

"Yes," Willow said, "we met in Kingsport, and we're on the caravan heading to Duncraig."

"Well, that's quite a journey," Bethany said, "and you know, we hear such things about Duncraig, it should be quite the experience for you. But I imagine you'll be enjoying the journey as it is. You and she... I'm not sure how to put this, you're close?"

"Oh," said Willow, realising what she was getting at, "um, yes. We, um... yes."

"She looks at you very fondly," Bethany said. She and Willow shared a smile, then Bethany was distracted at the arrival of the rest of her family, and spent a moment introducing them to Willow: their daughter Erin, a tall, raven-haired woman very much in the mould of her mother, her husband Rudi, an amiable man with a charming smile. In her arms Erin held a baby, her and Rudi's son Werner. Rudi was full of enthusiasm at seeing an Amazon archer - her skill, not the archer herself, Willow gathered - and Erin listened to his ramblings with affectionate indulgence while she loosened the laces of her bodice enough to feed their baby. Willow was slightly surprised at that, but no-one seemed to pay her the least attention, except for Rudi himself whose eyes occasionally dipped downwards. Bethany passed the time asking Willow about her battlegear, wondering if it would be possible to buy something of the sort in Kingsport. After a few minutes another horn sounded, and the crowd settled back to watch the contest.

One of the townsfolk, chosen for his loud voice, Willow guessed, informed the crowd that they were to witness a contest of archery between Stefan, noted citizen of Kingsport and master of archers at the Baron's court, and Tara, a warrioress of the fabled Amazons. While he spoke, going into some detail about Stefan's accomplishments for the benefit of those who didn't know him, and reciting a few exciting tales about Amazons - Willow could just make out Tara's amused, resigned expression, but the speaker confined himself to various tales of dubious accuracy about the Amazons' prowess in battle - a team of men busied themselves dragging an elaborate wooden contraption out into the middle of the line of targets. It consisted of a pedestal framework, inside which were various wooden gears connected by heavy, knotted ropes to a pulley system that vanished behind a sturdy wooden shield several metres long. Once this was in place the men retreated behind the shield, safe from stray arrows. From where she was sitting, Willow could just make out one of them, holding the end of the rope. Another man carried a target up to the pedestal, fixing it in place before retreating.

The horn player sounded the beginning of the contest once the participants had been introduced, and at a yell from behind the shield wall the men began to pull on the rope, turning it in a loop that ran through the pedestal. The target began to pivot, as Stefan nocked his arrow and stared levelly down the field at it. Willow found herself quite caught up in the moment, her stare fixed on Stefan's arrowhead as he slowly raised his bow and drew it back. He waited a moment, taking his time as he stared down the length of his arrow at the target, turning away from him and back again. There was a collective intake of breath as he let fly, and then the men pulling the rope stopped, a horn sounded to ensure neither archer fired, and someone scurried out from behind the shield to check the arrow embedded in the target.

"A half!" Willow heard him call, repeated by the loud-voiced announcer to general applause. "Half and straight!" The crowd cheered, Willow joining in the polite but enthusiastic applause from the stands.

"Very close to the bullseye," Bethany explained for Willow, "and it went in while the target was facing dead ahead. It's a pity your Amazon friend hasn't had a chance to practice on the machine, Stefan says it's a difficult thing to master."

The men at the target pulled out Stefan's arrow and took cover as the others began to pull their rope again, spinning the target slowly. Willow stared at Tara, noting every detail of her posture, the intensity of her concentration, as she nocked her arrow and drew back her bow. She aimed slowly, letting the arrowhead drift up and around to point at the target, and for a moment she was absolutely still. Willow had to admit, she was actually a little aroused, as well as simply impressed, by the image of Tara standing straight, her feet apart a little way, her shapely legs braced, her arms motionless as she held back the string of her powerful bow, by necessity a little further from her body than Stefan had. She had leaned her head sideways, her cheek touching her wrist as she sighted along her arrow. There was just the tiniest movement, her fingers releasing the string, and as Willow kept her eyes on Tara, she saw that she barely moved a muscle for a moment after she fired.

"Centre and one degree!" came the call from the other end of the field. A surprised cheer went up from the crowd, and Willow was sure she saw Tara catch a glimpse of her as she shot out of her seat, clapping her hands above her head.

"Bullseye," Bethany said with some admiration, "and very close to straight. I'd say they're even so far. Your friend is very good." There was some activity around the pedestal involving pieces of wood being set in place, and when everyone retreated the target was in the centre of a six-foot-wide cylinder of wooden slats, with gaps in it at the same height as the centre of the target. When the horn sounded and the men began pulling the rope again, both the target and its guard began to turn, in opposite directions so that the target and the gaps in the cylinder lined up perfectly only every few turns.

Tara went first this time, standing exactly as she had before. Again Willow watched her, ignoring the rest of the crowd, and not really paying very much attention to the target either. She smiled to herself at the strength and the poise in Tara's body, the perfection of her stance and her concentration. She indulged a little fantasy about standing right behind Tara as she drew back her bow, pressing her body against her and feeling the coiled, controlled strength in her. Willow was snapped out of it as Tara fired, and the crowd cheered at once, seeing that her arrow had not hit the guard, but had gone through to the target.

"Centre!" the man called, to renewed cheering. Stefan nodded to Tara as he passed her on his way to the line, as one professional admiring another, then the horn sounded and the cheering died down to murmurs. Stefan took his time firing, waiting almost a full minute before letting his arrow fly, but it was evidently worth it, as the call "Centre!" came back.

"He's in fine form," Bethany observed, "he always has a good day when he makes that one." The announcer called the last round, and when the horn sounded an upright post had been added to the field, thirty feet in front of the target. It was a little taller than the bullseye itself, and its top was a torch that had been lit.

"Those wraps around the arrows are soaked in oil," Bethany explained, as they watched both Stefan and Tara hand one of their arrows to a man who carefully bound rags around them, just behind the arrowheads. "They have to pass through the torch, catch fire, and hit the target. I've seen arrows go through without lighting, but Stefan says the trick is in drawing the bow. Having the post there means the arrow has to be at exactly that height when it passes, so the archer has to fire at just the right speed to flatten the curve out over the post and into the target. Spend thirty-five years married to an archer," she added with a grin, "and you pick up a few things."

Stefan was first, but he didn't wait as long as he did for his previous shot. He drew, aimed and fired with barely a pause - "Cocky rascal," Bethany observed affectionately - the torch flared as the arrow passed it, and then, with its tip alight, it was shuddering in the centre of the target. The call confirmed that the shot had been a bullseye, and even the higher-class spectators in the stands were on their feet applauding. Tara looked quite impressed, but Willow smiled at her when she glanced towards the main stand.

Tara took her place, and was just drawing back her bow when the horn sounded, signalling not to fire. Willow glanced along the length of the field, and saw that the torch had gone out, Stefan's arrow having scattered the cinders at its top somewhat, and the wind, gusting irregularly across the field, had done the rest. A man was scurrying out from behind the shield wall with a lit torch.

"Stand clear!" Willow heard Tara call out. The horn player looked confused for a moment, then blew the signal. The man with the torch frowned, looked down the field for clarification, then shrugged and retreated. Once he was safely out of the line of fire Tara chose another arrow, with no cloth around it, and took aim again.

Willow had a vague idea what she had in mind, but the rest of the crowd were taken completely by surprise as Tara's arrow burst into a streak of flame the moment it left her bow. There was a flare as it passed the top of the post, setting fire to it, and then it was through the guard and embedded in the target, still burning. The scorer quickly doused the flame and checked the arrow's position.


The crowd went wild, even Bethany standing to applaud. Stefan escorted Tara back to the stands, smiling as they were stopped every couple of steps as various spectators bowed and congratulated Tara. Someone even produced a handful of roses, very prettily bound in a white cloth, which Tara accepted graciously, looking slightly shy as she did so. Bethany, Willow, Erin and Rudi got down from the stand to meet the pair as they cleared the crowd.

"Quite incredible," Bethany exclaimed to Tara, making her blush.

"My lady," Stefan said, "I'm sorry I couldn't win for you today." He said it with a smile, but also honest regret. Bethany curtseyed to Tara before fixing her gaze on her husband.

"Come here, you," she said, smiling. They shared a kiss, provoking another cheer from some of the spectators nearby. Tara finished thanking Erin and Rudi, who congratulated her as well, and turned to Willow.

"My lady," she said, holding out the roses to Willow.

"My warrior," Willow said, taking them. She and Tara stood there for a moment, staring into each other's eyes, until Bethany leaned over to Willow.

"Oh go on, girl," she said, "no-one minds." Willow smiled, Tara blushed, and they kissed for a moment, slowly and tenderly, though with their lips closed, in deference to being in public.

"What did you think of Amazon magic?" Tara asked, as she and Willow ate dinner in the common room. Some of the other Amazons were also at the long table, engrossed in conversations of their own, though Tryptin and his personal staff were dining with the Duncraig ambassadors.

"I'm impressed," Willow said earnestly, "you know, I didn't feel a thing?" Tara looked confused. "I don't mean I didn't feel anything to watch you," Willow corrected herself hastily, "I mean... normally a fire spell like that would give off, um, 'echoes' that any mage within a hundred feet would be able to feel. The better the mage, the more controlled the spell, so the less wasted energy there is."

"Well, I wasn't actually doing the magic," Tara admitted, "that was Hefaetrus. So maybe that's why you didn't sense it?"

"It's still impressive," Willow insisted, "you know, I think your magic might be the most controlled I've ever seen. I guess maybe because you concentrate entirely on the focus, on the shape of the spell, where a sorceress has to form the spell and power it at the same time. It's a bit of a juggling act," she added with a grin. "When you were training, was it unusual for spells to get a bit out of hand? Like, the fire being too strong, or things like that?"

"I-I don't think so," Tara said, "I never heard of anything like that happening with magic. It's usually just a case of doing it right or not. If you do it, it works, if not... well, you just fire a normal arrow, and nothing happens."

"Controlled magic," Willow said, "my tutors would be amazed."

"Well, it's not always controlled," Tara admitted, "I remember once when some of the trainees were practicing with explosive fire, they accidentally set one of the storehouses on fire. Their aim was a bit wild." Willow chuckled at the thought.

"I bet you never did that," she said.

"No," Tara said, "I was always very... I'd be very careful when I was practising. And mostly I liked practising just the basic skills, aiming and speed and concentration. I kind of had a knack for picking up the focussing quickly, so I didn't have to spend a lot of time working on that. Just the physical elements of it."

"Speaking of physical elements," Willow murmured quietly, "you know you looked very sexy out there today." Tara raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "Oh yeah!" Willow insisted. "all... disciplined, and controlled, and sleek and strong... the way your arms were so still when you were holding your bowstring back. That must take some strength?"

"Um, yeah," Tara said with a shy grin, "it's a strong bow, it takes a bit of getting used to... there's a few others in our baggage, lighter bows, I was thinking of getting one of those out for you to use, when I show you how..." Willow pushed her plate aside and leaned towards Tara.

"I can't wait," she said in a quiet, sultry voice. "So, how will you do it? Demonstrate first? I know, I'll stand right behind you while you draw the string, and I'll lean against you, and reach around your shoulders and feel your arms, all the tension running through your muscles... so I know how to hold the bow, of course."

"Of course," Tara said with a wry grin. She got up and held out a hand to Willow, who gladly took it and followed her to their room.

"And then it'll be my turn," Willow went on, once Tara had shut the door behind them. She mimed holding a bow, as she had seen Tara do it, left arm outstretched, right bent back, her cheek resting against her hand.

"Looks like you've got the idea," Tara quipped.

"Mmm-hmm," Willow said, "and you can stand right behind me... like that," she added, as Tara obligingly stood so close her chest was pressed firmly into Willow's back. "And make sure I'm holding it just right," Willow went on. Tara put her arms around Willow, holding each of her wrists in position. She adjusted her stance so that her feet were beside Willow's, and their legs were touching all the way down to the floor.

"And then," she breathed into Willow's ear, "you let go." Willow opened the fingers of her right hand obediently.

"You know," she said, "I think what most impressed me was how focused you were out there today. I bet nothing was distracting you."

"Concentration is very important," Tara conceded, keeping Willow in her arms.

"So maybe I should practice that?" Willow asked. "If I can keep hold of my bow, while you try to distract me..." she left a deliberate, suggestive pause there, "then we'll know I'm ready." Tara chuckled to herself, and the sound made Willow shiver in anticipation.

"You mean, distract you like this?" Tara asked innocently, before placing a quick kiss on the side of Willow's neck. Willow smiled, but didn't move. Tara ran the tip of her tongue up to the side of Willow's jaw, then kissed her earlobe.

"Very good," she said, as Willow trembled but held her imaginary bow in an almost-steady grip. She sucked on Willow's earlobe for a long time, tickling it with her tongue. Willow moaned quietly, a long, pure note emanating from her throat, ending only when Tara finished.

"Let's see how good you really are," Tara whispered. "An Amazon can hit a target she's not even watching. Look this way." Willow obediently turned her face towards Tara, away from the line of fire of her bow. Tara kissed her, starting with a quick, feather-light touch on her lips, then again, longer this time, then her lips opened, as did Willow's, and their tongues played. The sensations almost caused Willow to give in and drop her arms, but she held out, even when Tara let out a deep moan which thrilled Willow to her core.

Willow guessed what was coming next, and barely flinched when she felt Tara's hands on her bare sides, stroking lightly up and down. She knew Tara could get her in an instant by tickling her, but apparently that wasn't what Tara had in mind, for she kept the pressure of her fingertips just enough to avoid causing an involuntary reaction. Her fingers ventured around Willow's body, over her stomach, back and forth, moving slowly higher with each pass. She moaned, louder than she had been meaning to, when Tara's fingers found the edge of her top and snuck underneath.

"Oh gods please yes!" she exclaimed, reaching behind herself to hold Tara tightly against her as Tara's hands pushed under the fabric of her clothing and cupped her breasts. Tara held her firmly, squeezing gently, rhythmically, massaging Willow's breasts as she felt her nipples harden in her palms.

"You dropped your bow," she murmured, separating her lips just a fraction from Willow's.

"Then I need... more practice," Willow said hoarsely, arching her back to push herself into Tara's hands, and grind her hips against Tara's. "Later," Willow amended, "for now... why don't you... keep distracting me..."

Tara smiled and captured Willow's lips again, marvelling at her breasts. 'I was right,' she thought gleefully, 'just the right size.' She rubbed her palms around in circular motions, stimulating Willow's nipples as she gently squeezed and released with her fingers. The way Willow was moving against her was intoxicating. Emboldened by Willow's response to her, Tara tightened her hold and kneaded Willow's breasts firmly, pushing them together each time she squeezed. Willow's lips fell completely open beneath her kiss, and her legs began to tremble seriously.

"I-I think," Willow managed to say in between kisses, "I'm gonna fall over."

"I won't let you fall," Tara promised. Willow surrendered herself to Tara's arms, reaching down with her own hands to grip Tara's bottom through her leather skirt. Tara thrilled at the feeling, devouring Willow's mouth.

"Oh gods Tara," Willow moaned, as Tara took a break to plant kisses along her neck, "it's too much..."

Tara's hands instantly stilled, though she didn't withdraw them. She wouldn't allow herself to even hint to Willow that she might ignore anything she said, but at the same time she suspected that if she broke off contact completely Willow would feel somehow guilty, as if she had been wrong to say anything, and she never wanted Willow to think that.

"Do you want me to stop?" she asked gently.

"No... I don't know," Willow admitted, "gods, I don't want you to stop... but you're making me so hot..."

"I love you Willow," Tara said, "if you want to stop now, I promise I'll go to sleep next to you the happiest woman in the world. Nothing can change that."

"Oh gods I love you," Willow said, "you're the most perfect lover... I don't want to stop, I just... if you keep touching me like that, I'm going to have to... you're making me so hot I need to, um... a-and I know you're not ready for that, not yet, I mean, I'm not ready for it either..."

"Y-you could, um, t-touch yourself," Tara suggested quietly. "Like y-you told me this morning... and I'll keep touching you, and hold you while you... while you come..." Willow took a deep breath, trying to contain herself.

"Gods Tara," she whispered, "a-are you sure? I mean... I don't have to-"

"I'm sure," Tara insisted, "I... when you held me this morning, I've never felt so loved, so much a, a part of you. I-I want you to feel that too..."

"Tara," Willow breathed, "you're sure?"

"Please," Tara said. Willow closed her eyes and kissed Tara so deeply that she felt her legs buckle, and sat down heavily on the bed behind her, with Willow still in her arms. If Willow noticed, she didn't mind, she just continued to kiss Tara voraciously. Tara resumed her attention to Willow's breasts, starting slowly but quickly building to the pace she had been setting before. Willow, sitting in her lap, writhed in her embrace, her hips rocking and jolting as she moved. Tara felt Willow's hands leave her bottom, where they had nearly been pinned in place as she sat down, and opened an eye to see Willow reaching for the clasp on the slim silver collar around her neck. She undid it and let it fall to the ground, her hands grasping at the fabric around her chest and pulling it aside, baring herself to Tara's ministrations.

"Oh gods Tara," Willow moaned, "oh gods, that is so good, you're making me so hot, please don't stop, please, oh gods, Tara, gods..." She captured Tara's lips again, her tongue venturing into Tara's mouth just long enough to ensure a response before completely surrendering, giving herself over to Tara completely. At the same time her left hand was covering Tara's, pressing it hard into her breast, while her right fumbled with the catch on her belt. She managed to undo it, pushing the top of her skirt down to reveal her underwear.

"Mmmyou sure?" she asked, not entirely disengaging from the kiss.

"Come for me, baby," Tara breathed. Willow's fingers crept beneath the waistband of her briefs, stretching it out to make room for her hand.

"Yesss..." she sighed as her hand clamped down between her legs. Tara watched, eyes downcast as she kept kissing Willow, seeing the movements of her wrist, feeling her hips rock in time to them. She concentrated on her own hands, steadily increasing the tempo of her intense massage of Willow's breasts. She could actually smell the scent of Willow's arousal, and it excited her like nothing else, driving her to pour all her passion into the woman in her arms, kissing her, caressing her, arousing her, and holding her as she drew closer to release, letting out little high-pitched moans into Tara's mouth with every thrust of her fingers.

Willow orgasmed with a deep, lusty groan, almost a growl, her lips pressed against Tara's, her hips bucking so hard she actually rose up off Tara's lap for a second. Tara leaned back, carrying Willow with her as she lay on the bed, finishing up with Willow sprawled on top of her, breathing in short gasps as she held Tara's hand firmly to her chest, her legs splayed apart off the edge of the bed, the sleeves of her top down around her elbows.

"Oh gods Tara," she gasped, "not much longer, I promise... oh I need you so much..."

"I know baby," Tara assured her, "not much longer." Willow took a deep breath, her body totally relaxed.

"I'm not squashing you, am I?" she asked after a moment. Tara laughed, making Willow giggle as the movement in Tara's chest bounced her up and down slightly.

"I love the way you feel lying on me," Tara confessed.

"Mmm, you feel pretty good yourself," Willow replied, "even if you are still wearing way too much."

"I'd get undressed," Tara countered, "except there's a delicious sorceress lying on top of me."

"Delicious, huh?" Willow teased. "Am I in danger of being eaten?" Tara felt the blush on Willow's cheek as she realised what she had said, but only chuckled. Feeling bold and light-headed, she reached down with the hand that wasn't underneath Willow's and took hold of her other wrist. Slowly, giving Willow every opportunity to pull back, she pulled Willow's hand out from underneath her underwear and raised it to her lips. Willow was staring at her in amazement, but gave no indication that she wanted Tara to stop. Tara opened her lips and reached out with her tongue, touching it to the tip of Willow's forefinger. Then she gently moved Willow's hand closer and took her fore and index fingers into her mouth, her eyes fixed on Willow all the while.

Willow's taste was something Tara could never have been prepared for, like nothing she had ever experienced before. For a fraction of a second it was strange to her, then pleasure washed over her and she was sucking and licking Willow's fingers as if her life depended on it, intent on savouring every last succulent drop of Willow's arousal. When she was finally satisfied that she had cleaned Willow's fingers completely she let them go, gently manoeuvring Willow's hand so that she could chase down every trace of her juice that had made its way onto her palm and her other fingers. She held Willow's stare the entire time, not blinking once.

When she finally let Willow's little finger slide out from between her lips, Willow eyes were as wide as she had ever seen, and her mouth was hanging open. Tara hoped she hadn't shocked Willow - well, not in a bad way - but Willow had never given even the slightest resistance. Now she stared at Tara as if she was something supernatural.

"Gods," she breathed, "Tara... you are so sexy I'm going to burst." Tara laughed, and Willow joined her, rolling off her and just as quickly climbing back on top of her, facing down this time so she could hug Tara back as Tara's arms went around her waist.

"We should get some sleep," Tara suggested once they had calmed down.

"Yeah," Willow smiled. She kissed Tara, which went on for some time, then finally and reluctantly got up and discarded her disarrayed battlegear. Having so little to take off, with her top already half-off and her skirt falling around her knees, she was already naked save for her briefs by the time Tara was sitting up and undoing the straps on the tops of her boots.

"Let me," Willow said, kneeling down in front of Tara and replacing her hands on the buckles. She undid Tara's boots and slid them off, then undid the straps holding the bracer on her left forearm and laid it aside. With a gently tug she brought Tara to her feet, and loosened the laces on either side of her armour. She managed, by standing on tip-toes, to get it all the way up over her head and arms, then laid it out on top of Tara's clothes trunk and came back to stand very close to her as she loosened her skirt. She let it fall to the floor, staring into Tara's eyes.

"I believe I have a promise to keep," Willow said, kneeling down again in front of Tara. Tara wondered for a moment what she was doing, then remembered at the same instant as Willow planted her lips around Tara's navel and thrust her tongue into it, squirming around with relish. Tara squealed and fell gleefully back onto the bed, with Willow holding her around the waist to stop her getting away as she continued to twist her tongue around. Finally she stopped, letting Tara catch her breath, and gave Tara's stomach one last kiss before she got back up and put out the candles. Tara held the blankets up for her as she returned from closing the shutters, and curled around her as she lay down, settling into their accustomed position, Willow on her side with Tara behind her, arm around her waist.

"I love you Tara," Willow said contentedly.

"I know," Tara replied, "I love you too." They lay together for a moment, silent and at peace.

"You never answered my question," Willow said suddenly.

"What was it?" asked Tara.

"Am I in danger of being eaten?" Willow purred.

"Mmm-hmm," Tara murmured, "absolutely. It's just a matter of time." Willow giggled, and wriggled in Tara's arms, teasing her. Tara kissed the back of her neck and held her tightly around the waist.

"Good-night," Willow said softly once they had settled down again.

"Sweet dreams," Tara replied.

"Hope so," Willow said, "but I know it'll be a sweet waking-up."

Continue to Hellebore Chapter Sixteen (Rated NC-17)

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