Author: Chris Cook
Tara awoke feeling rested and content for the first time since she and Willow had fled into the wilderness - so content, in fact, that it took her a moment, and the clue of the darkness surrounding her, to remind herself that there was still a long way to go. She nevertheless felt that they had reached the summit of the mountain they had been climbing, and the rest of the way, however far, was downhill. Whether it was because of what they had discovered the day before, that the master of the demons infesting the land and pursuing them was dead, or simply because a night of uninterrupted sleep with Willow in her arms had lifted her spirits, she didn't know, nor did she trouble herself trying to decide.
She smiled with guilty amusement to find that, again, her hand had strayed during the night to cup Willow's breast, though the feel of leather beneath her fingers didn't compare with warm skin and a racing, aroused heartbeat. With that thought in mind, she lay her head back down and kissed Willow's back, just above the top of the leather around her, slowly and patiently working her way over Willow's skin. She felt Willow stir, and moved her kisses up onto her shoulder.
"Morning," Willow murmured, her voice slurred with sleep, "'s lovely..."
"I agree," Tara said between kisses, "good morning."
"Mmm-mm-mm," Willow chuckled, biting her lip gently. "Come to think of it... mmm... is it morning?"
"I think so," Tara replied, "about an hour after dawn, definitely no more than two hours."
"So..." Willow thought out loud, "we slept... ten hours? Eleven?"
"Something like that," Tara agreed.
"I feel great," Willow smiled in the dark.
"Mmm-hmm," Tara agreed, tightening her hold on Willow and giving her breasts a squeeze through the leather.
"Oh," she sighed, "you feel great too..."
"You know what I feel?" Tara asked, settling back behind Willow and slowly massaging her chest, "I feel safe... I feel cared for... I feel happy. We're deep underground, with demons behind us and goddess-knows-what up ahead, days from safety and a long, difficult road ahead, and... and I feel happy. It's a wonderful feeling, Willow, it's a gift... it's beautiful. Thank you."
"Well, you're welcome," Willow grinned, wriggling around to roll over in Tara's arms, ending up face to face with her. "And you know what, any time you really need me to lie here and be kissed by those divine lips of yours, you just say so. Anything to make my Tara happy." She leaned forward and kissed the tip of Tara's nose. "Just between you and me," she whispered, "it's not exactly a hardship."
She rolled herself and Tara over, finishing up on top of her, and allowed Tara a brief moment of breathless anticipation before leaning down and capturing her lips. Tara tilted her head back against the rolled up blankets serving as a pillow, letting herself be kissed deeply and completely without a hint of reservation. Her body responded on its own, her arms moving around the body pressed against her, her legs tangling with Willow's, slowly kicking away their blankets. Willow gave her tongue free rein in exploring Tara's mouth, teasing her lips, dipping in to touch her tongue or swirl deeply, stimulating Tara much as if she were making love to her. Tara felt Willow's lips against hers turn up in a smile as she responded with increasing vigour. She was breathing heavily by the time Willow released her mouth, and had to fight the impulse to moan.
"I want you," she whispered instead, firm and insistent.
"Now?" Willow whispered in reply, arousal warring with surprise. Tara's hands found their way into Willow's hair and closed, holding handfuls of silk as she stared sightlessly up into the dark where she knew Willow was staring back at her.
"I want you," she repeated carefully, "right now. I want to feel your heartbeat in your sex all around my fingers, I want to feel you come in my arms, I- mmmph," she was cut off as Willow kissed her again, this time fierce and full of need. It lasted only seconds, though it seemed longer, and when Willow pulled back this time, it was with Tara's tongue snaking out to catch one last taste of her lips.
"Take me," she whispered, her breath hot against Tara's face, one hand running up and down the length of her side, "make love to me right here, baby, do it."
Tara hesitated for the briefest moment, her sense of caution making one last stand now that they were at the point of no return, and as if reading her mind Willow murmured: "I'll be quiet, lover. Take what's yours."
Then there was no hesitation at all, and Tara reached for Willow's skirt, finding it already bunched around her hips, and Willow's free hand busily pulling her underwear out of the way. Unwilling to wait for Willow to undress, Tara simply slipped her fingers in beneath the fabric covering Willow's sex, pushing it out of the way as she felt the intense wetness waiting for her.
"You need this, don't you," she whispered in Willow's ear, running her fingertips through her moist folds teasingly.
"Uh-huh," Willow breathed, licking at Tara's exposed neck.
"Goddess you're wet," Tara went on, "oh baby, oh goddess you want me so much..."
"I need you," Willow trembled, "inside... now..."
"Touching your core," Tara whispered, "your juices flowing over my fingers..."
"Yes," Willow replied pleadingly.
"Willow," Tara moaned quietly, sliding a finger inside Willow's soaking sex. Feeling the way Willow thrust her hips against her, and her centre opened up for her, she added a second finger almost at once, and began a steady rhythm, her fingertips easily recalling just where to touch Willow inside to reach every corner of her being, her thumb sliding over her clit.
"Ooh, yes baby," Willow whispered, "yes yes yes, make me come, make me yours..."
"You are mine," Tara whispered in return, "all mine, just feel that Willow, feel how you're open for me, feel how your body wants me deep in you-"
Tara was so focused on Willow's arousal, the sensations of loving her - always strikingly vivid, but after their enforced abstinence, almost blindingly strong - that she barely noticed Willow's thigh slip between her legs, of her own hips begin grinding her sex against Willow, joining her in her rise to climax.
"-all mine, Willow, all mine, my lover, my goddess, come for me Willow, for me, oh-"
She silenced herself by capturing Willow's mouth in a searing kiss, each releasing a soft moan as their bodies reached their own release. Tara kept stroking Willow as long as the shudders ran through her, rewarded by the trembling of Willow's thigh on her mound, as well as by the pleasure radiating off her lover. At last she withdrew, and both their hips stilled their rhythms as she raised her fingers to her lips, sharing the taste with Willow as she slid her fingertips between their joined lips.
"Mmm," Willow moaned approvingly, "mmm, oh gods you're so wonderful... so beautiful, my love..."
"I love you too," Tara whispered, granting herself the last drops of juice from her fingers as Willow kissed around her jaw and neck. She sighed, and composed her thoughts.
"We should get up," she said, with a touch of regret.
"Yeah," Willow agreed ruefully, "I guess... two hours after dawn, you think? So how far will we go today?"
"I think we can make the valley," Tara said as Willow rolled off her. "See if it looks safe to go through, and if so we can find somewhere under cover of the trees to spend the night."
"The highlands on either side will take longer," Tara frowned, "and unless there's some new growth that the map painting didn't show, we might have to spend the night in the open. Not completely, we can probably find a little gully or something, but it wouldn't be my first choice."
Seeing as Willow could see clearly Tara let her attend to their belongings, spending the time by finding some of the dried rations from the monastery in her pack, which she could do by feel. Their meagre breakfast eaten, Willow rolled up the blankets and packed them away, along with a few candles just in case, while Tara did her best with a spare cloth to wipe away the moisture still clinging to her sex, and clean her underwear.
"I'll dry those," Willow offered. "It's only fair, seeing as I was kind of involved in making them wet to start with."
"Thanks," Tara smiled. Willow's spell cast a dim blue glow that let Tara see the shape of her face. It was a surprisingly beautiful moment, to see her eyes reflecting the glow, the hint of the shape of her cheeks and jaw, and Tara was grateful for it.
"I really want to get back into daylight," she confessed as she was pulling on the straps of her pack and fixing her bow into place over it, "I miss seeing you."
"Me too," Willow said. "I mean, I can see you, of course, but it's not the same... here," she took Tara's hand and brought it to her lips, letting Tara trace the curves of her face.
"Love you," Tara said warmly.
"Love you too," Willow said, turning to kiss Tara's palm. "Let's go find us some sunlight."
"The air's moving freer," Tara observed quietly as she and Willow made their way along the tunnel, "I think the door may be open at that end."
"Something might have gotten in?" Willow wondered, keeping a firm grip on her staff.
"I don't know," Tara admitted, "there haven't been any signs of anything in the tunnel..."
"Not that I could see," Willow added.
"...I think there may be a gateway, like in the western tunnel. It's difficult to tell, if the air were moving slower it'd be easier..."
"We can't be far from the end now," Willow mused, "if there's a gate, it can't be far ahead. I don't see anything to the next turn."
"I don't feel anything moving," Tara added. She shrugged, and gave Willow's hand a gentle squeeze as they continued on their way.
"There's the gate," Willow said quietly as they rounded a turn in the tunnel, "it's still closed." She paused as she felt Tara's hand tense in hers.
"There's something there," Tara whispered.
"I don't see anything," Willow replied. "There's..." she peered into the distance, trying to separate the shapes her altered eyes were showing her. "There's something up against the gate, but it's not moving. It's small."
"It's alive," Tara said with certainty, "not a demon..." She started forward instinctively, and Willow kept up with her, not for the first time impressed that Tara was finding her way along the tunnel with ease, despite the complete lack of light.
"I think it's a person," she whispered, "it's weak..."
"I don't... no, I see," Willow said, "it's a child, wait, I'll open the gate-" She paused and touched a stone on the wall, in the same place she had in the western tunnel. The gate shuddered and swung open.
"Light a torch," she suggested as she and Tara neared the curled-up form huddled in a dirty blanket just on the other side of the gateway. Tara reached over her shoulder and drew a torch from her pack while Willow found the matches in a pocket and pressed one into Tara's palm. They reached the child and Willow knelt beside her, afraid of how still and frail the small body seemed.
"Gods," she whispered, "it's just a little girl..." She tentatively reached out a hand, as Tara struck the match on the wall and lit the torch. Worried the girl wouldn't wake up, she touched her shoulder and gently shook her.
The girl jerked awake in an instant, and Willow had to lunge forward to get her hand behind her head, to stop it from hitting the wall hard. The child looked around fearfully for a second, then scrambled to her hands and knees and tried to scurry past Willow. Willow caught her arm as she passed and stopped her, causing the girl to wail and struggle feebly, but already the burst of activity was tiring her and she was barely able to resist as Willow got her other arm around her waist and held her.
"It's okay," she whispered, "it's okay, we're not going to hurt you..." She couldn't tell whether the girl heard her or not, as her only response was to emit another plaintive wail, accompanied by a feeble effort to break free.
"It's alright," Willow whispered soothingly, as Tara knelt beside her and gently took the girl's hand, managing to get her fingers into the weakly clenched fist and hold it. "It's alright honey, it's okay, you're safe, shh, it's okay..." Looking desperately at Tara, she gathered the girl up and held her, rocking her gently and whispering to her. Tara gently stroked her thumb over the back of the girl's hand, as the wail faltered and gave way to shallow breathing.
"Good girl," Tara whispered gently, "that's good, we're not going to hurt you..."
"Who're you?" came a tiny, frightened voice from where the girl's head was cuddled against Willow's chest.
"I'm Willow," she replied, "this is Tara. Are you okay? Please don't run off?"
"You're not goblins?" the girl asked suspiciously.
"No, we're not goblins," Willow said, "we're people, just like you, see?" The girl tentatively raised her head, and gazed at Willow, and then Tara. Tara smiled warmly, and not to Willow's surprise, the girl relaxed.
"Are you hungry, sweetie?" Tara tried. "We've got some food?"
"'es," the girl admitted. Tara handed the torch to Willow and quickly found some rations in her pack, breaking off bite-sized chunks and handing them to the girl, along with a waterskin. The girl ate voraciously, which confirmed Willow's suspicion that she had been down here a long time. Aside from the blanket she had been huddled in, which was stained with dirt from the ground, an empty waterskin, a few rags and scattered crumbs showed that she had exhausted whatever food she had brought with her. Tara stood up and, with Willow pointing the way, found the stone that closed the gate behind them. She then took the torch and wedged it in the gate, leaving both their hands free.
"There's some candles in the lower pockets in your pack," Willow suggested quietly as the girl continued to eat and drink. "Slowly, honey," she added to the girl. Tara lit a candle from the torch and set it on the floor, nodding to Willow to indicate that there was enough light.
"Are you okay?" she gently asked the girl, who at Willow's prompting had slowed her pace and was munching steadily through the food she had been given, with mouthfuls of water now and then. She paused, as if considering, and then nodded once. Willow continued to hold her, stroking her hair tenderly as she ate. Tara watched her, and smiled at the way she comforted the child.
"Where're you from?" the girl asked eventually.
"We're from a long way away," Willow explained, "I'm a sorceress, and Tara's an Amazon."
"What's a sorceress?"
"I do magic," Willow smiled.
"Where are you from?" Tara asked gently.
"The village," the girl said. "But everyone went strange, and then the goblins came and I came here. My daddy always said if there was trouble we'd all come here and go up to the castle together." She paused, and sniffed. "Do you know where my daddy is?"
"No, honey, I don't," Willow said sadly, "I'm sorry."
"He went strange like everyone else," the girl said sombrely, "they all went strange and wouldn't listen to me, and no-one would help me close the gates, so I ran away, but no-one came with me. I think," she added in a trembling whisper, "the goblins got them..."
"Do you have a name, sweetie?" Tara asked, changing the subject as the girl began to look fearful again.
"Amalee," she nodded.
"That's a nice name," Willow offered, looking to Tara for inspiration.
"Amalee," Tara said, "we're going to look after you, okay? We'll make sure you're safe. Do you understand?"
"Okay," the girl said after a moment's consideration.
"We're going to Duncraig," Tara explained, "do you know where that is?"
"That's the big city," Amalee said, "I went there once. There were big towers, and lots of people, and boats. My uncle lives there, he's a architect," she pronounced the word patiently, "he makes big buildings."
"Sweetie, do you have any other family? Apart from in the village?" The girl shook her head slowly.
"Just daddy and granny," she said in a small voice. "They live-" her voice caught. "They lived in the village with me." She closed her eyes for a moment, and swallowed to regain her composure. "Will you take me to the city?" she asked.
"Of course, honey," Willow smiled, "we'll take you to your uncle, okay?"
"Okay," Amalee nodded. She looked up at Willow. "What's wrong with your eyes?" Willow was surprised for a moment, until she remembered the effect of the amulet she wore.
"Nothing's wrong," she said reassuringly, "it's magic. It's so I can see in the dark."
"Oh," the girl said, accepting the explanation without question. "You look like a cat person."
"You know," Willow said, "Tara's seen a real cat woman, haven't you?" Amalee's eyes went wide in the torchlight.
"Uh-huh," Tara nodded.
"Did she have eyes like Willow?"
"She had gold eyes," Tara said, "but apart from the colour, yes, like Willow's." She gave Willow a quick glance, relieved that the girl's spirits were lifting.
"Did she have fur?" Amalee asked.
"Yes," Tara said, "black fur, all over, with a white stripe."
"Wow. Did she have a tail?"
"Yes, she had a tail." Tara glanced again at Willow, and nodded towards the expanse of tunnel beyond them.
"Can you walk with us, honey?" Willow asked Amalee.
"Yes," the girl said, with vigorous nodding. "Are we going to the monastery?"
"No honey, it's not safe there," Willow said carefully, "we're going to the river, so we can get a boat to the city."
"Oh," Amalee said. "I know the way to the river."
"Do you?" Willow smiled. "Will you be our guide, then?"
"Okay." The girl smiled faintly and got to her feet, seemingly enlivened by being given a job to do. Tara watched her with a smile of her own, and caught Willow's hand long enough for a brief squeeze.
Tara carried the torch, still burning so Amalee could see, as they followed the tunnel back towards its entrance. Amalee's blanket they left behind, giving her instead a clean one from Tara's pack to put around her shoulders. A couple of questions and a brief check confirmed that she wasn't hurt in any way, just hungry and frightened, but her spirits remained high as she bombarded Willow with questions.
"Can you do a fireball?"
"No honey, my magic uses ice, not fire," Willow explained.
"Oh. Can you freeze water?"
"Can you freeze a whole tub of water at once?" Amalee wanted to know.
"Yes, if I wanted to."
"Can you freeze a whole lake?"
"Um, maybe, if I tried really hard."
"Can you freeze a goblin?"
"If we have to," Willow said gently. "I promise we'll keep you safe."
"Promise?" Amalee asked, suddenly with a note of need in her voice.
"I promise," Willow repeated. "And Tara's a warrior, she won't let any goblins get anywhere near you."
"You're a warrior?" Amalee asked Tara.
"That's right sweetie," Tara smiled.
"I thought girls couldn't be warriors?"
"It's different where I come from," Tara said, "all the warriors are girls."
"Oh. Can I be a warrior too?"
"If you want to, when you're older, maybe," Tara conceded.
"I saw a warrior once," Amalee said seriously, "he had a big horse, and a shiny sword. Do you have a sword?"
"No sweetie, I have a spear. And a bow. Amazons don't use swords."
"You know," Willow said, "Tara can do magic with her spear and bow." Amalee looked at Tara, wide-eyed.
"Uh-huh," Tara nodded.
"Can I learn to do magic?" Amalee asked.
"Maybe," Willow said, "there's lots of different kinds of magic, maybe you'll find one you like."
"The warrior said his sword was magic," the girl went on, "he said it made him stronger and faster."
"Maybe it did," Willow said, "Tara's spear is magic. So's my staff."
"What does it do?"
"My staff? It means that if someone tries to cast a spell at me, I can stop them."
"Like an evil wizard?"
"Um, yes, something like that," Willow said.
"What does your spear do?" Amalee asked Tara.
"Have you ever seen lightning strike the ground?" Tara asked with a grin.
"Of course, silly," Amalee said with an amused frown.
"Well, I can make lightning in my spear," Tara said, "so if a goblin, or something like that, tries to get anywhere near you, zap!" She jabbed her spear forward for effect.
"Wow," Amalee breathed. "Can all Amazons make lightning?"
"Not all," Tara said, "you have to practice very hard."
"She can shoot an arrow and make it catch fire as well," Willow added. Amalee stared at Tara in wonder.
The doorway turned out to be not much farther along the tunnel, the door slightly ajar, but by the look of it still undiscovered by anything that may have been in the village above. Amalee slipped easily between the door frame and the barrels on the other side of it, while Willow and Tara had a difficult time squeezing through the narrow gap, and Tara had to take off her pack and pass it through first in order to get through. Tara went first up the narrow ladder, and cautiously opened the trap door, peering out into the hall above them.
"It's empty," she said, and pushed the hatch back, allowing Amalee and Willow to follow her up. Willow noticed Amalee had fixed her eyes on the floor in front of her, not looking up at anything.
"Hey," she said, crouching down in front of her, "want to see something?" She waited until she had the girl's attention, then reached up and undid the clasp on the amulet, keeping her eyes open with a little effort as colour and brightness flooded back to her.
"Wow. Does it hurt?"
"No, not at all," Willow said, "it's magic."
"You have pretty eyes," Amalee observed.
"She does, doesn't she?" Tara agreed. She took a moment to observe Amalee, now that they were in daylight. The girl's face and limbs were smudged with dirt, from her time hiding in the tunnel, and her strawberry blonde hair was tangled, but beneath all that she seemed a lively young girl. About eight, Tara guessed, with tanned skin and a build that suggested a healthy, energetic life, though she had definitely been in need of the food she had wolfed down earlier. Tara was glad she had evidently been well fed and cared for before fleeing; otherwise, she might have been in a much worse condition, and the thought of seeing the young girl, with her inquisitive eyes and quick smile, sick, or worse, was more than Tara thought she could bear, on top of everything else they had been through.
'Of course, how many others are gone?' she thought. 'Families and children who used to live here?' She clamped down on the thought, and was grateful that Willow, seeming to read her mind, chose that moment to give her a chaste hug. She smiled her thanks, and the three of them walked down the length of the church hall, which was not so different to the one in the western village, and out into the square.
This too seemed familiar, with the rows of simple wooden buildings, the handful of stores dotted around the square, with stables and storehouses further back, the forge to one side, and the road leading up to the gate in the wooden stockade. Here, though, one side of the village had been gutted by fire, the buildings blackened and half-destroyed, though by some miracle the square and the buildings beyond it had been spared, save for a soot-blackened corner or charred timber here and there.
Amalee broke away from them and ran a few steps towards one of the burned buildings, but stopped before either Willow or Tara could call to her. Tara glanced at Willow and met a glum look, matching her own thoughts, and together they slowly walked to either side of the young girl.
"The goblins had torches," she said simply, turning away. "I saw them. I warned everyone, but they wouldn't listen."
"There was a bad wizard," Willow said softly, "but he's gone now. It wasn't your fault."
"I just ran..." Amalee started again, and choked on a sob. Both Willow and Tara hugged her.
"That's what your daddy would have wanted," Tara said gently, "he would have wanted you to be safe. I bet you were afraid, going into that tunnel all alone?"
"'es," Amalee said.
"That was very brave, sweetie," Tara said soothingly, "going into the dark all alone. I think your father would have been very proud of you, doing that even though your were scared."
"He told me to," Amalee said indistinctly, "he said, if ever there was trouble, to go into the tunnel and wait for people to come. And I waited for so long, and I ran out of food and water, but no-one came, but then you did."
"That's right honey," Willow said, "we'll look after you." The girl's crying subsided after a moment.
"I want to go now," she said. Willow nodded, and she and Tara each took one of Amalee's hands as they walked towards the gate.
Outside the land was much as it had been to the west. The grassy plain stretched off to either side and ahead, marked only by the road to the village which disappeared south, and a track which faded away in the grass to the east. Up ahead Tara could see the northern rise bordering the valley they were heading for - the southern rise was hidden behind low hills that rose out of the plain that way. Once they had gone a little way along the track she turned and looked back at the monastery, perched on the edge of its cliff.
"Looks kind of peaceful, doesn't it," Willow observed quietly.
"Yeah," Tara agreed sadly. The sun was shining brightly, giving the stone walls an inviting, earthy tone, and in the sky beyond the clouds were piled high, giving the impression of a tower rising up from inside the walls. As they watched a cloud passed over the sun, its shadow travelling quickly along the cliffs and over the building.
"Come on," Amalee said, "this track leads to the river. We used to follow it down every month, to take things to the pier to sell to the boats going past." She took a hand each from Willow and Tara and urged them forward.
"How long did it take you to get to the river?" Tara asked.
"Two days," Amalee said, "I can walk all the way."
"Really?" Willow grinned.
"Yep," the girl said proudly, "daddy let me lead the ponies. I never get tired."
"Well, just in case you do-" Tara began.
"I don't," Amalee repeated stubbornly.
"Just in case," Tara smiled, "you let us know, and we can stop for a rest."
"Okay," Amalee conceded after a sidelong glance at Tara.
"Spirited little thing, isn't she?" Willow said quietly.
"Remind you of anyone?" Tara replied with a grin.
"I can hear you, you know," Amalee pointed out, then joined in as Willow and Tara laughed.
"Are we going through the valley?" she asked after a moment.
"It depends," Willow said, "we'll see when we get there."
"Daddy always took us through the valley," Amalee went on seriously, "but he said I was never to go in there alone. He said I might get lost. I never get lost, though," she pointed out.
"Well, you're not alone," Tara said, "you're with us."
"That's right," Amalee nodded, "I'm showing you the way. Are you both Amazons?" she added without pause.
"No," Willow said.
"Willow's an honorary Amazon," Tara corrected, earning a brilliant smile from Willow.
"Don't you have to be born an Amazon to be one?" Amalee asked.
"Not necessarily," Tara explained, "in fact, there didn't used to be Amazons at all. The first Amazons were just people from all over the world who banded together. We believe it's how we live, not where we were born, that makes us Amazons."
"Oh," Amalee said. "So you want to live with the Amazons?" she asked Willow.
"Yes," Willow said, glancing warmly at Tara.
"Can I be an Amazon?" the girl asked.
"Maybe one day," Tara smiled, "you're going to Duncraig now. One thing at a time." Amalee thought about this for a moment, then nodded solemnly.
"So you're in armour because you're an Amazon?" she asked Willow.
"Um, not exactly," Willow said, "I just happened to be wearing this a few days ago... we were on the road out to the west, only there were Carv- goblins," she corrected herself, "so we came this way."
"Oh. Do you normally wear wizard robes?"
"Um, yes, more or less."
"Often less," Tara murmured in an undertone too soft for Amalee to hear. She smiled at seeing Willow blush.
"So how come you were wearing Amazon clothes?" Amalee asked.
"Oh... well, we just wanted to see what I'd look like in this," Willow explained.
"You were playing dress-up?"
"Yes," Willow nodded, "yes, that's it."
"Aren't you too old to play that?" Amalee asked critically.
"You're never too old to play," Willow said sincerely, with a surreptitious swat on Tara's bottom when the girl wasn't watching.
"Okay," she said, oblivious to Tara's blush. "Can I wear your armour?"
"Not now, honey," Willow said, "if you did, I'd have nothing to wear."
"Maybe later," Tara said innocently. Smiling and listening to Amalee launch into an extensive description of all the outfits she had worn at one time or another, they walked on across the plain towards the valley.