Return to Hellebore Chapter Twenty-Eight


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 lay awake for some time in the morning, watching Willow sleep. Occasionally she murmured something, but the few words Tara caught were too nonsensical to offer an insight into her dreams. Once a frown marred her otherwise peaceful face, but it took only the lightest of kisses on her brow to banish whatever had troubled her, and she fell back into a restful, content sleep. Tara smiled sadly, wishing Willow's sleep were not troubled by demons from her mind, but oddly proud that she was able to help keep them at bay. Whenever she wondered what she could possibly offer in return for the joy of Willow's love, she only had to look at her sleep, note the way Willow curled up in her arms, with a smile turning up her lips, and she was reminded that Willow felt equally loved, and that completed her as much as she did Tara.

Tara continued to hold and watch her love, silent as her eyes stirred and opened, squinting for a moment in the warm light shining through the canvas overhead. Willow blinked a couple of times, then looked over her shoulder, not seeming at all surprised to find Tara already awake and staring at her with a fond smile.

"Hey," she said softly, "been awake long?"

"Not that long," Tara replied, "I've just been watching you dream."

"I know," Willow said, "I was in a dark place, and then I felt the way I do when you kiss me, and everything was better." Tara grinned shyly.

"You looked a little unsettled," she said, "I thought a kiss might help." Willow rolled over in her arms, draping her leg over Tara's hips and snuggling up to her.

"You know," she whispered, "until I met you, it had been so long since I'd gotten a good night's sleep. And now, I'm always safe, and I always wake up to you... I know I've said it before, but you are so wonderful."

"You don't have to tell me," Tara smiled, "when I see you sleeping soundly, it's... I love you," she finished with a kiss.

"Aw," Willow said with a playful smile, "you'll make me blush."

"Just wait until after we've had breakfast and washed," Tara purred, "I'll make you do more than blush."

"Is that a promise?"

"It is indeed."

"Good," Willow grinned. "I love you too, you know, completely." She returned Tara's kiss, with a long, leisurely kiss of her own.

"Three things I will never get tired of," she went on, with her lips still brushing Tara's, "telling you I love you..." A mischievous grin crossed her face. "Showing you I love you... and being loved by you."

"That's good," Tara agreed, "because I won't either." Willow kissed her quickly, then amused herself by rubbing the tip of her nose against Tara's, making her giggle.

"Is that actually daylight outside?" she asked after a moment.

"Strange, isn't it?" Tara joked. "Looks like the storm might have waned sometime during the night. Maybe we'll actually get to spend some time out in the fresh air today."

"Hmm, aren't I washing thoroughly enough?" Willow asked, with a cheekily raised eyebrow. Tara laughed and swatted her lightly on the bottom.

"You're perfect enough to eat off and you know it," she said. Willow bit her lip and gave Tara the benefit of her most adorable stare.

"Eat off?" she asked.

"Among other things," Tara grinned.

"I'm glad to hear it." Willow yawned and stretched idly. "You're right, it'll be good to get out of this wagon for a little while. Not that I mind one bit what's been going on in this wagon..."

"You're insatiable," Tara laughed, pretending to push her away.

"Yup," Willow grinned, clinging to Tara.

"So what's the plan for today?" Willow asked as she and Tara ate breakfast, the caravan having started on the day's journey. The sky to the north looked quite clear, and much of the activity before setting off had been washing clothes and blankets in the stream, which were now strung out on the sides of the wagons drying in the sunlight.

"I heard Shan say we'd stop for lunch," Tara said, "maybe a bit of practice with your bow? I could use some, actually, I don't normally go this long without practicing at least a little."

"Worried you'll get rusty?" Willow grinned. "Bet you I score the first bullseye."

"Oh really?" Tara countered. "And what might you be wagering on that bet?" Willow put on a thoughtful expression, but couldn't really conceal the glee in her eyes.

"How about... loser does whatever the winner wants, after dinner?" she asked.

"Done," Tara said at once. "You really think you'll win?"

"I think I'll win either way," Willow quipped. Tara shot her a smile, then leaned over to the bags containing her clothes, half-empty now that most of her tunics and skirts were outside drying off. She searched for a moment, then came across her leathers and held them up speculatively.

"I suppose," she mused, "if I'm going to compete, I should look the part of a Warrior." She held the armour against herself for Willow to see.

"Oh yes," Willow said, "definitely. Have I ever mentioned how good you look in leather?" Tara smiled a promising smile and dropped the leathers, then undid the cord at the waist of her robe and shrugged it off her shoulders.

"In leather, or out of it?" she asked huskily.

"Either," Willow breathed. Tara grinned and stretched out her legs as she sorted through the various pieces, choosing an outfit she didn't recall wearing yet on the trip, that fastened in front and behind to a collar, rather than having shoulder straps. It was functional and comfortable, but rather more revealing than Tara had wanted her attire to be in the unfamiliar realms of the mainland. Now, however, her priorities were quite different. She laced the corset around her waist and held up the collar for Willow to see.

"Yummy," Willow murmured, biting her lip. Tara fastened it around her neck and attached the straps at the front, taking a moment to ensure that the armour's contours, which held her breasts snugly against her, were showing off her cleavage admirably in the small space between the two upper chest sections. She turned herself towards Willow, pretending to be absorbed in her work but actually very attuned to her reaction, and reached behind herself to fix the straps from the back to the collar. This had the effect of arching her back and thrusting her chest out, and Willow actually gasped audibly.

"Hmm?" Tara asked.

"I think I just figured out what you do when you watch me sleep," Willow said with a mischievous grin.

"What's that?"

"You think up new ways to turn me on incredibly."

"Just so long as I'm putting my time to good use," Tara said in reply, somehow keeping a straight face. She leaned back and lifted one leg, then the other, elegantly in the air to loop her feet into the leather underwear that went with her armour, then knelt upright and pulled the briefs up her thighs and over her hips. She gave a little wiggle as she snapped the waistband high on her hips, then winked at Willow and ran a finger lightly across the leather covering her sex.

"You're enjoying this," Willow observed in a sultry murmur.

"The way you're looking at me?" Tara replied. "You bet I'm enjoying it." She fastened a skirt around her waist, leather to match the armour and with wide gaps at either side, then leaned back to pull on her boots, strapping them tightly just below the knee.

"I get it," Willow joked, "you wear this into battle, and the enemy drown in their own drool." Tara's smile quickly became a full-bodied laugh, which made Willow laugh as well. Both lay down, Willow lying on top of Tara as she giggled her way back to being able to breathe normally.

"I love making you laugh," Willow said quietly as Tara caught her breath.

"You're very good at it," Tara smiled.

"That's me," Willow said with a grin, "goofy girl at your service."

"Not just like that," Tara said, stifling another laugh, "you're... when I'm around you, I feel more, well, peaceful."

"I'm can't imaging you ever being otherwise," Willow said seriously, "you're the most, oh... you've got this serenity, and when I'm with you I feel it, and it's like nothing I've ever felt before."

"Thank you," Tara said, "but there's peaceful and there's peaceful... I know all about being calm, relaxing, meditating now and then. But you make me feel like everything's new and, and wonderful, and I can just... laugh. Sometimes you make me laugh just for the joy of it, and it's... it's a gift, truly."

"Well then it's yours," Willow said, "like everything else I have to give." She brushed her lips over Tara's, then lifted herself up on her elbows and glanced down at Tara's proudly-displayed cleavage.

"This is armour, though?" she asked.

"It's tracker armour," Tara said after a brief giggle. She sat up. "A really good tracker, a Huntress, can literally feel the world around her, every creature, every plant, every air current, because she can tune herself to the world so well she becomes a part of it all. But there are some parts of the body that are points of focus for those abilities. Here," she motioned the exposed skin between her breasts, "here," the small of her back, where the leather corset sat a couple of inches higher than the waist of her skirt, "here," she tapped each shoulder, "and here," she finished, lightly touching her fingers to the tops of her thighs just below her hips, left visible by the open slits of the skirt.

"Wow," Willow murmured, "you can do that?"

"Well, I can't," Tara admitted, "not very well. I've had the standard training for a Warrior, which includes tracking, but it takes years just to be considered a tracker, and half a lifetime to be considered a Huntress. I can manage a couple of tricks."

"Like catching a crossbow bolt," Willow pointed out, "that's hardly just a 'trick'."

"Oh, that," Tara said dismissively, "all Warriors are taught to do that."

"Well I'm just glad this Warrior can do it," Willow said fervently. "So it's sensing movement?"

"Movement by air currents," Tara agreed, "picking out what's just a breeze, what's an animal, what's the breathing of someone a hundred yards away... really miniscule effects, but if a tracker is good, she can feel them, and because she knows what the forest around her should feel like, she can spot something out of place as easily as if it were standing in plain sight."

"You can do that?"

"A hundred yards? Maybe," Tara said, "on a good day. If the person were moving, disturbing the air more, causing more disturbance to the forest, it'd be much easier. But a Huntress could pick out one person out of a dozen half a mile away, while it's raining, and tell you whether that person was walking confidently or trying to move silently."

"Wow," Willow said again. "How many Warriors become Huntresses?"

"Not many," Tara said, "maybe one in ten become trackers, but a Huntress is something else... they're almost like mages, that level of skill can't be learned, it's something a girl is born with. At the moment, there are seven trackers, out of all the Amazons, who are considered Huntresses."

"Only seven?" Willow wondered.

"Seven is enough. Now you know why they're so useful as Command pieces," Tara grinned. Willow chuckled to herself, then took another long glance down at Tara's leather-clad form.

"And they all dress like this?" she asked with an appreciative smile.

"Something like this," Tara replied, sitting up and reaching for her gloves and the bracer for her left wrist. "It varies with the individual. This is just standard tracking gear, the same as every Warrior starts out with. The more experienced a tracker gets, the more she customises her armour. The contact points for sensing are slightly different for each person, so, perhaps, a Huntress might leave more skin uncovered on her back, and cover the chest. Or vice versa."

"Vice versa sounds tempting," Willow said with a wink. "Gods, you look like a dream!" Tara blushed, but her shyness quickly turned into an aroused smile.

"I remember you telling me about a dream like this," she murmured, "where I was armoured, the image of a proud Warrior." She knelt upright again, lifting her chin regally and looking down at Willow with an expression of supreme confidence. "And you were...?"

Willow, who had remembered the same dream, nodded weakly and fumbled with the sash at her waist as she undid it and practically tore her robe off, flinging it into the corner of the wagon. She knelt in front of Tara, sitting back on her heels and looking up at her, her gaze hopeful and intense.

"You remembered," Tara grinned.

"It's not the kind of thing I'd forget," Willow quipped.

"I'll make sure of it," Tara promised. She put a finger to her bottom lip and tapped it thoughtfully. "Now, what happened first? Oh, yes, the kiss..."

Willow closed her eyes and tilted her head back with a little sigh as Tara leaned down to her. The first touch of her lips was fleeting, there and gone in an instant, just enough to make Willow whimper and crane her neck up, seeking Tara's lips again. Tara gently wound her hand into Willow's hair, just above the top of her neck, and held her firmly as she leaned back down to continue the kiss. Willow opened her lips eagerly, allowing Tara whatever she wanted, and Tara took full advantage of her offer, swirling her tongue across Willow's lips, feeling the edges of her teeth, exploring her mouth and teasing her tongue into action in return. Willow's continuous moaning vibrated through her lips, and she shifted her hips enticingly as she felt Tara's other gloved hand trail down her back, spreading her fingers across Willow's bare skin. Tara's hand finally reached Willow's bottom, and she gave it a cheeky squeeze just as she leant back.

"Oh!" Willow squeaked. Her eyes flew open, and after a moment both of them were giggling.

"That was some kiss," Willow said when she'd caught her breath.

"Did it compare favourably to your dream?" Tara wondered with a sly smile. Willow licked her lips slowly.

"Better," she said firmly.

"So... shall we save the rest of your dream for later?" Tara asked. Willow looked surprised, then glanced ahead at the canvas that separated them from the driver's seat outside.

"Probably best," she agreed, "I don't quite think I'll be able to stay silent. Neither will you," she added with a quick kiss to Tara's neck. "Damn, that's something the rain was useful for, soundproofing." She knelt upright and hugged Tara tightly. "Oh I'm so hot!"

"Yes you are," Tara observed with a thoughtful expression, "and you're not the only one." She leaned down slightly to whisper in Willow's ear: "Just think how hot we'll be by this evening." She flicked Willow's ear with her tongue, then sat back to let her consider the idea.

"Hmm..." Willow murmured, her eyes half-closed, "yes..." She shook herself slightly and focused her eyes on Tara again. "Tease now, please later. I like it."

"Tease now, please later," Tara repeated with a grin. Her eyes twinkled as a thought struck her. "But if the teasing is so pleasing, is it really still a teasing?" Willow laughed.

"If the pleasing of the teasing is because it is a teasing," she replied, trying to keep a straight face, "then the teasing may be pleasing but it's really just a teasing, for the pleasing is in teasing of the pleasing in the evening." She and Tara collapsed onto the blankets laughing.

"Did that make any sense?" Tara laughed.

"I don't know," Willow admitted, "but it rhymed! And that's got to be just as good as sense." She caught her breath and rolled over to rest her head on Tara's shoulder. "I mean, people see something nonsensical and say it's without rhyme or reason, a-and if rhyming didn't count, they'd just say 'That's without reason!' Stands to reason. Or rhyme, even. So rhyming must count for just as much as reason." Tara laughed harder, and Willow went on: "But if you think about it, that's kind of odd, because it's not like you can convince people you're right just by rhyming. You don't get generals standing up in front of their troops and saying 'Men, we're outnumbered a hundred to one, so I want you to attack at dawn and there'll be no reason for us to mourn,' and all the soldiers thinking 'Yeah, it rhymes, so it must be a good plan.' Or maybe that does happen, but we never hear about it because those armies always get defeated."

"Maybe," Tara laughed, "after all, it would limit the tactics they could use. I mean, what rhymes with 'enfilade'?"

"Um, 'stockade'?" Willow suggested.

"That only works if your enemy is in a stockade," Tara pointed out, stifling another giggle.

"Well, you could have your troops build a stockade, then fall back and invite the enemy to occupy it, then go ahead and rhymingly enfilade it. What's enfilade mean, anyway?"

"When you put you archers on the flank and fire along the length of the enemy lines," Tara said after a moment's thought.

"Oh," Willow frowned, "so it wouldn't work if they were in a stockade."

"Not really," Tara agreed. "You're so wonderfully cute."

"And I love making you laugh," Willow added. "Convenient, isn't it?" She sighed and sat up. "Oh well, guess it's getting-dressed time. Drat. Why can't we frolic naked all day?"

"I'm sure we'll find the right day to try it," Tara grinned. A thought occurred to her.

"What?" Willow asked slyly, Tara's speculatively raised eyebrow not escaping her.

"I was just thinking," Tara said, "seeing as you're a budding Warrior, with a gift for rhyming strategy no less, how do you feel about dressing for the role?"

"What, like you?" Willow wondered. "I don't have... do you have armour that'd fit me?"

"You just lie there, my naked nymph," Tara purred, "let me see what I can find..." She leant over to her bags and rummaged around. "My light leathers wouldn't fit, but the other pair is adjustable... I've actually had them for years. Yes," she concluded, holding up a leather bodice, "what do you think?"

"Wow," Willow observed, "for me?" The outfit was much like Tara's usual armour, slightly heavier in parts, with double layers of leather over the chest and sides. It nonetheless looked, to Willow's imagination, eminently sexy.

"Why not?" Tara asked. "And besides, if you like it... well, maybe you can try being the proud Warrior sometime, and see what it's like to have your naked lover kneeling in front of you waiting to be kissed?"

"Deal," Willow said at once, sitting up and reaching for the leather. With Tara's help she fitted herself into it, wriggling to settle everything into place.

"Nothing underneath?" she asked, as Tara busied herself adjusting various straps that were concealed beneath several of the overlapping layers.

"You can wear a tunic or something with it," Tara said, "but it's designed to be quite comfortable without. The inner lining is a special weave blended with fire spinner silk, it won't chafe."

"Feels nice," Willow commented as Tara adjusted the chest to fit Willow. Tara grinned and gave her a squeeze through the leather, then returned to work. Willow was surprised at how adaptable the outfit was - there seemed to be straps everywhere, out of sight for the most part, which allowed it to be fitted exactly to the shape of her body.

"How's that?" Tara asked, tightening the outfit around her body, the laces running down Willow's back, rather than at either side as on Tara's usual armour.

"Divine," Willow murmured, "nice and tight."

"That's the second time you've said something like that when I've laced you up," Tara observed, "don't think I'm not going to hold you to it one day."

"I never doubted it for a moment," Willow grinned. Tara pulled the laces tight enough that Willow was snugly encased, but not actually uncomfortable. "That's good," Willow said.

"It certainly is," Tara said, sitting back and looking at Willow. Willow ran her hands up and down her leather-clad body, smiling back at Tara.

"Do you feel this aroused just from wearing leather?" she asked.

"When you look at me, I do," Tara admitted with an answering grin. "Come on, let's get you decent."

"Why the hurry?" Willow asked, bending down to kiss Tara's thigh as she leant over to her bags. "I'm perfectly happy being indecent."

"So I see," Tara grinned over her shoulder. She found the matching leather underwear and frowned at them. "Now that won't work. These are custom-fitted, and there's no way to adjust them."

"Nuts," Willow said flatly. "Oh! I know, wait a minute..." She jumped over to her bags and rummaged through them, inadvertently giving Tara a wonderful view of her rear. Tara smiled and stared unashamedly.

"Here we go," Willow declared. She glanced over her shoulder. "Turn around." Tara obediently, if reluctantly, looked the other way, resisting the temptation to peek.

"Ta-da! You can look now," Willow told her. Tara turned around to see Willow facing away, looking over her shoulder with a playful grin. She gave her a careful examination below the waist.

"You're... not wearing anything?" she pointed out.

"Huh? Oh," Willow said, twisting around to look at her own backside. She grabbed the bottom of her armour and lifted it to reveal a thin waistband, with a wisp of silk descending between her cheeks. She turned around to reveal her mound covered by only the flimsiest layer of silk.

"You're wearing that with full body armour?" Tara asked incredulously, at the same time unsure whether to laugh or perhaps ravish Willow, regardless of the certainty of being overheard.

"And why not?" Willow grinned. "What do you think?" Tara shook her head, smiling, and leaned across the space between them to kiss Willow, who moaned as Tara's tongue slipped past her lips and licked up and down the length of her own.

"I think you're beautiful, and sexy, and I love you," Tara replied when she finally leaned back.

"I love you too," Willow said. "Now, what's next? I'm still not entirely decent."

"Actually I think you're less decent than before you put those panties on," Tara said with a grin. She found a short leather skirt, holding it around Willow and adjusting it so that it fit snugly around her waist. "Do you have any tall boots?"

"One pair," Willow said promptly, "where did I put them? Ah." She located the pair of boots she had worn with her battlegear the night of the dance and put them on, making a show of tightening the laces at their sides around her shins, and finally snapping the silver bands closed below her knees.

"They go well together," Tara commented.

"Thank you," Willow replied, putting on her belt. She found a pair of leather gloves and started pulling them on.

"Actually, you'll want to leave your arrow hand uncovered," Tara suggested.

"Oh, good idea. How come you've got both gloves on?" Willow asked, discarding one glove and moving on to strapping on the bracer Tara had given her.

"I like to practice in gloves," Tara said, "it makes it harder, so if I really, really need to aim well, I take off a glove and it's easier. Warriors learn to fire a bow either way, just in case we get into a situation where we have to fire and then switch to hand-to-hand fighting quickly." Willow nodded and snapped her silver wrist bands on, the left one just beneath the edge of her bracer.

"Well?" she asked. "Is Amazon-sorceress a good look?"

"Good enough to eat," Tara replied with a sultry stare.

"I like the sound of that," Willow observed, raising an eyebrow.

"You'll like the feel of it a lot more this evening," Tara purred.

When the caravan halted for lunch, Willow and Tara gathered their bows and stood outside their wagon, looking for a likely spot for archery.

"How about over there?" Willow asked, pointing to a spot across the road, where beyond a meandering stream there was an expanse of grass, with a few trees dotted about.

"Good choice," Tara said, "hello Tryptin."

"Ladies," Tryptin said, on his way past. "I didn't realise we'd brought a second Warrior with us, how do you do?"

"Hi Tryptin," Willow grinned.

"Long lunch break," Tryptin said, "there's a good camp site less than half a day's journey from here, so Shan's decided to wait a while and make for that at a leisurely pace, rather than press on and camp in the open." He smiled and made his way back towards the supply wagon, glancing back at Willow and shaking his head in amusement.

"Do you think he recognised me?" Willow asked out of the corner of her mouth as they crossed the road and the stream. Tara laughed and set down her pack, opening one of the two quivers attached to it and handing Willow a few arrows. She strapped her harness, with its own quiver, over her shoulders, and tested the string on her bow.

"What's the bullseye?" Willow asked. Tara looked at the trees nearby, then opened one of the myriad pockets in her pack and drew out a rolled-up piece of cloth, which turned out to be marked with a circular target.

"We should have a proper bullseye," she said seriously, belied by the twinkle in her eye, "if we're competing." She wandered over to the tree and pinned the target up. One of the Duncraig guards crossed the road and began filling waterskins in the stream, offering one to Willow once it was full.

"Thank you," she said, as Tara came back and took up her bow.

"Oh, wait," she said, putting it down again. She fixed a ribbon around the end of her spear and stuck it in the ground, point first. "It's a bit gusty," she explained, "remember to check which way the wind's blowing before you fire."

"Okay, ready," Willow said, offering the waterskin to Tara, who declined, before handing it back to the guard, who picked up his load and turned back towards the caravan.

"First bullseye," Tara said, drawing her bow. She glanced at the ribbon fluttering in the breeze and paused.

"Hmm?" Willow asked. The ribbon was dancing in circles. "There's not that much wind, surely? It... do you feel that?"

"What?" Tara asked, though as she said it she did have a vague impression of the air being slightly greasy in texture. Willow had already turned back, drawing breath to call out towards the caravan, when a colossal blast sent them both staggering to their knees. A great tide of earth leapt up from the middle of the road, throwing chunks of dirt and rock everywhere and obscuring the caravan beyond with a mammoth dust cloud. Dirt showered over Willow and Tara.

"What the? Pft!" Willow coughed, spitting out dirt. "What the hell?"

"Oh goddess," Tara said softly, her voice somehow penetrating the ringing in Willow's ears. She turned to see Tara staring to her side, where the body of the guard lay, his entire left side torn and bloody. Tara was just staring at him, in shock, and Willow felt herself trembling. A bolt of stubbornness shot through her - 'Get a grip,' she thought, 'something bad's happening, don't go all dazed now!'

"Tara," she said, turning back towards the caravan, "Tara! Tara!" Tara's head snapped around, and they both leapt to their feet as quick, darting shapes began to emerge from the dust cloud. Willow had a sphere of swirling cold in her hand even as she recognised the short, lanky demons, and when she glanced to her side she saw Tara had set her spear back into the ground beside her, and was already drawing an arrow.

They let fly together, Tara's arrow catching a Carver in the neck, Willow's cold bolt blowing a glittering, icy hole through another's stomach. Willow automatically cast again, and again, aiming at one creature after another, knocking them from their feet. Arrows were flying from Tara's bow almost as rapidly, each finding their mark in a Carver's neck or chest. The demons seemed to falter in their charge, realising the two women were not as vulnerable as they seemed, and Willow took a moment to cast a chill armour. Tara fired another arrow, which caught fire in mid-air and exploded against the Carver it struck with such force that only a pair of legs remained, and the others nearby were thrown to the ground.

"Nice shot- Tara!" Willow yelled, turning just in time to see the dead guard rise up behind Tara and grab at her. Tara heard her and spun around just in time to wrench her arm free of the corpse's grasp, crying out as the jagged, broken tips of its fingers dug into her flesh. Willow wasn't even conscious of thinking, but in the space of a heartbeat her hand was extended and the thing was hurled to the ground several feet away, shattering as it landed.

"Are you okay?" Willow yelled, looking back at the Carvers, which seemed to be regrouping.

"Yes!" Tara said, flooding Willow with relief. She turned her attention back to the demons in front of them, noting with a sinking heart that there were more of them. They charged, and Willow abandoned her single bolt strategy in favour of letting fly with a stream of freezing magic from her fingertips, lashing the torrent of cold from side to side like a whip across the charging Carvers.

Tara flexed her fingers, glad that despite the throbbing pain in her upper arm she hadn't lost any mobility in her hand. Seeing the demons drawing closer she flipped her bow over her shoulder, feeling it slide into place on her harness with practiced precision, and pulled her spear from the ground. The feel of it, even though she chose to control it with her left hand, in case her right had been hurt more than she noticed, was comforting - it was Silverstrike, the storm-caller, a legendary weapon. Her fright at the attack, and the terror of seeing the horrible, bloody thing reaching for her, were washed away in a wave of protectiveness as the Carvers charged her and Willow.

"Go to hell!" she yelled, decapitating the first demon to come within range with an efficient slash of the spear's curved blade. She summoned Zerae's favour and impaled another Carver through the chest, the spear unleashing a bolt of lightning that charred her target black and leapt to the creature behind it, blasting it from its feet. It didn't get up, and the first demon collapsed in a heap, smoke wafting from its mouth.

There was a terrible roar from the dust cloud, causing even the Carvers to check and scuttle about, as if frightened. For a moment there was only the sound of their harsh chittering, and the distant clanging of swords from where the caravan was, then the roaring resumed, a deep, braying war-cry that chilled Tara to the bone. She glanced at Willow, and saw she was just as frightened.

A new shape emerged from the dust, striding up over the edge of the pit which was just becoming visible as the swirling wind blew the cloud apart. Its legs were shaggy, ending in hooves, but its body and arms were those of a man, though obscenely muscled and coloured a deep red. From atop its shoulders the head of a goat swivelled, surveying the battlefield with tiny, mad eyes. It lifted a huge poleaxe in its hands, let out another deafening bray, and swung the weapon, lifting the nearest Carver and tossing it through the air, trailing gore from the massive wound in its side.

"Oh gods!" Willow exclaimed. "Not good! Really not good!" More of the goat-men were climbing out of the pit, braying and swinging their weapons, throwing the Carvers into disarray. For a moment the demons fought amongst themselves, then one of the goat-men caught sight of Willow and Tara, and brayed a signal to its comrades. As one, they turned towards the women, charging towards them, bashing Carvers out of their way.

"Crap!" Willow yelled, letting loose a blast of cold that struck the leading demon square in the chest. Tara concentrated as hard as she could, and a bolt of lightning flew from her spear, leaping across the space between her and the staggering creature. It fell to the ground, but then, to both women's horror, staggered back to its hooves. It reeled from side to side drunkenly, and bled copiously from the gaping wound in its chest, but nevertheless it fixed its red eyes on them and lurched forward, as its undamaged fellows charged on either side of it.

"Run!" Tara yelled, snatching her pack off the ground and slinging it over her shoulder. She let fly a last bolt of lightning, as Willow fired bolt after icy bolt at the towering demons, then as one they turned, took each other's hand, and ran.

Continue to Hellebore Chapter Thirty

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