Author: Chris Cook
Willow and Tara's flight through the portal atop Hellebore had deposited them almost three miles east of the cliffs - or what remained of the cliffs, now. Both were tired, Willow from calling on so much magic, Tara from channelling it, and each of them in dire need of a rest, to soothe an exhaustion that was more than physical. The walk back towards their camp site of the night before was slow, and for the most part silent. Willow in particular had barely said a word since finally hauling herself to her feet - on reaching the ridge beneath the cliff and seeing that, beyond the extent of the crater, the devastation had apparently been limited to a few minor rockslides, she had managed a small but genuine smile when Tara said she expected Anji would have been well clear of the effects of the tower's destruction. And once Tara spotted a tiny dart gliding high in the sky, and Willow was instantly alert at her side, but after watching for a moment Tara saw that it was a natural creature, not a demon. But aside from that she had spoken little, and her attention had been turned inward.
By the last light of the day they approached the boulders among which they had made camp previously. Tara felt a knot in her stomach as she saw white, freshly-broken rock strewn around, and as they drew closer they saw a section of the cliff, evidently shaken free by the tremors, had fallen onto the north side of the little enclosure, breaking apart the boulders there and tearing up the ground.
Willow leant heavily on her staff, her eyes bleakly surveying the rubble. Tara spared a moment to stand by her, placing a hand on her shoulder and receiving a grateful glance in return, then moved forward, scanning the cliff face for signs of weakness, and finding none moving into the debris, checking what had been damaged and what had remained unscathed. Willow's gaze followed her as she looked here and there, and she tilted her head, curious, as Tara climbed up onto one of the untouched boulders. Standing atop it she held her fingers to her lips and blew a piercing whistle.
A moment later Willow caught the sound of hoofbeats on the wind, and Tara smiled and jumped to the ground, taking her hand. They stood there together as, out of the fading day, Anji galloped over the ridge and down to the cliff, slowing to a walk as she approached the two women.
"Hey, girl," Willow murmured, her voice thick with tears. She took a step forward, meeting the horse as it neared, and gently leaned her head forward until she was resting her forehead on Anji's long face. The horse gave a quiet whinny and ducked slightly, brushing Willow's hair to one side.
"She's okay," Willow said, turning to Tara.
"Yeah," Tara nodded, holding out her arms. Willow bit her lip, a look of incredible gratitude in her eyes, then she turned and stepped into Tara's embrace. Her tears began to fall the moment she buried her face in Tara's chest, and for a long time they stood there, motionless, as the sun set, and tears began to trickle silently down Tara's cheeks as Willow cried her heart out.
Anji stirred, then stepped closer and gently nudged Willow's back with her nose, prompting her to look over her shoulder.
"It's okay girl," she murmured, "I'm okay." She turned back to Tara, staring forlornly into her gaze. Her eyes were red from crying, her cheeks glistening in the scarlet sunset light.
"I'm not okay," she said quietly. Tara nodded silently, drawing her close again, smoothing her hair with one hand as the other pressed gently against her back.
"I'll-" Willow began, just as Tara was drawing a breath to speak, "I'm... it'll be alright, it will. I just need time. I just... just time. I'll be okay."
"I know baby," Tara whispered, doing nothing to disguise the heaviness her own tears had lent to her voice, "me too."
Tara held her a while longer, then by unspoken agreement they both set about making camp for the night, cleaning themselves up as best they could with just the water they could spare. Having seen the charred remains of various demons scattered about the plain, Tara felt they would be safe making a fire for the night, and set to making a suitable spot for one, clearing away a patch of the scraggly weeds that were all the greenery that had ventured close to the cliffs, and gathering some of the rocks to make a fire circle. Willow spent a few moments setting up a standing spell with her rune stones, as a precaution, then began sorting through the packs they had left at the site earlier. One had been torn as a chunk of rock gouged into the ground in which it was buried, but their losses amounted to only a few rations, and a blanket torn beyond repair.
Having relieved Anji of her saddlebags and left her grazing idly, Tara sat down next to Willow on the blankets she had laid out before the fire, and accepted the food she was offered. She reached her free hand around Willow's waist and gently hugged her, kissing the crown of her head when she ducked and rested her cheek on Tara's shoulder. They ate silently, only the quiet crackling of the fire breaking the stillness of the night, until Willow wrapped up the remainder of her share and set it aside.
"Do you want to talk?" Tara offered, reaching around Willow to draw a blanket around her shoulders. She nodded, then sighed deeply.
"I'm sorry I didn't," she began, "earlier, I mean..."
"It's alright," Tara assured her, "you needed time. To catch your breath... so did I."
"Thank you," Willow murmured, "you're... no-one could heal me the way you do. I love you so much."
"I know," Tara smiled, "I love you too. You heal me too."
Willow's arms went around Tara's waist and held her warmly, snuggling close beneath the blanket covering them. After a moment's silence she took a deep breath and began.
"It must have been the banishing spell," she said, her voice quiet, a little distant, "in Entsteig, all that time ago... when she was being defeated, rather than go back to hell she let her body be destroyed, and hid her soul in me... all this time."
"No-one suspected?" Tara asked gently. Willow shook her head.
"Something like this is... well, unheard of. Normally a banishing spell either works completely, or fails completely and the caster ends up possessed. And possession is easy to spot, if you're a powerful mage, the Council would have known right away if that had happened. And I'd have been gone... no-one could survive something like that, for this long. She... she used me, to carry her around, hidden... dormant. Unless-"
Willow's breathing caught, and she tensed in Tara's arms.
"What if she was influencing me?" she asked in a hollow voice. "Everything I did, the choices I made, what if-"
"Willow," Tara said quickly, "I stood in front of her, I felt the... what she was, in her soul, I felt it radiating off her. I've never felt that from you, never." She pressed a gentle kiss onto Willow's hair again. "You've let me into every corner of your soul, you've shown me everything that you are... I know, baby, I know that what she is, is not a part of you. It never has been. No matter how she hid in you, she never truly reached you."
"I-I want to believe that," Willow admitted.
"Then do," Tara said soothingly, "I do. With all my heart, Willow, I know that she has never touched your soul." She smiled, and squeezed Willow's waist gently. "It was never hers to touch."
Willow let out a breath she had been holding, chuckled quietly, then raised her head to look Tara in the eye.
"It's yours," she said.
"Darn right," Tara nodded. Willow's eyes widened, then she let out a genuine laugh, and suddenly the weight she had been carrying had begun to crumble.
"See?" Willow smiled. "You heal me. Gods though, all this time... all the demon creatures, the mages she influenced... no wonder it seemed like she was following us."
"Hydris, in Kingsport," Tara mused, "the Carvers and goat-men attacking the caravan, driving us towards the monastery... towards Hellebore. My goddess," she added suddenly, "do you remember what that possessed mage wrote? 'Tomorrow at noon my mistress comes'... and the next day, it would've been around noon when we first got out of the catacombs and began searching the monastery..."
"It was me all along," Willow said quietly.
"No, sweetie," Tara gently argued, "no, it wasn't you, it was her. You fought her, remember? In Entsteig, like you told me-"
"I gave her the chance to get into me," Willow pointed out.
"You fought her as best you could," Tara insisted, "you don't know what might have happened, if you hadn't been there, if your spell hadn't kept her busy until the other sorceresses arrived. If she'd escaped... how difficult would it have been, for her to get from there to here? To reach Hellebore on her own?"
"Difficult," Willow said at once, "she'd have to be very careful not to be tracked down... but not impossible," she admitted after a pause.
"You fought her," Tara repeated, "and even when you didn't realise she was with you, you still fought her... all this time, you did everything you could to defeat her. And you did."
"We did," Willow said.
"We did," Tara nodded, "against a terrible, powerful, ancient demon, we won."
"At a cost," Willow murmured, "all the people who lived here, Amalee's family, the monks-"
"She did that," Tara insisted, "not you."
"I... it's just difficult to face, you know?" Willow said in a small voice. "I wonder if I could have done something differently... everything that happened, even if it was her causing it, I was at the centre of it... I can't forget all that- all those people."
"I know baby," Tara whispered, "I know... that's as it should be. One life lost is too many... but one life saved..." She paused, and Willow looked up at her.
"One life saved is beyond price," she finished. "Remember all the people you saved- we saved," she corrected with a faint grin, as Willow opened her mouth to say it. "Remember them. Remember what a blessing it was to save Amalee, when a demon was laying waste to her homeland. Remember how special she is... and remember that, today, you helped save millions of lives."
"I will," Willow sighed, "and hey, you too. You don't have to worry so much about me that you ignore yourself, I mean - you had to fight her, face to face. I know that's... it's not something you can dismiss lightly."
"No it isn't," Tara agreed. Willow heard the sadness in her voice, and raised a hand to caress Tara's cheek.
"I'm so sorry you had to go through that," she said in a tiny voice. Tara nodded, then turned and kissed Willow's palm.
"Maybe it's for the best," she sighed, "now, I've seen one of the most terrible beings in creation... now I know. But she's gone, she's in hell where she belongs." She looked down and returned Willow's gesture, lightly stroking Willow's cheek, her fingertips teasing the corners of Willow's lips.
"And I've seen one of the most beautiful beings in creation," she whispered, "and she's right here... and she loves me."
"She does indeed," Willow agreed, "and she feels fortunate to be able to love you." She snuggled closer to Tara, and both turned their eyes on the fire, crackling merrily to itself.
"I feel good," Willow said, not without a little amazement. "Regardless of everything we went through... today, and before then, all of it... I feel good. That's your gift to me baby, and I love you so much for it."
"I love you," Tara replied, holding Willow tightly.
"A pity about the tower," Willow sighed after a moment's peace. "It was too dangerous, of course, but... the knowledge to build something like that... I can't help being sorry it's lost now."
"Actually..." Tara said, trailing off.
"Well... you remember that book that appeared on the lectern, at the bottom of the catacombs?"
"Moac's journal," Willow replied, "it vanished once the tower rose... didn't it?"
"It's in my pack," Tara admitted.
"It's- what?!" Willow twisted around, staring at Tara in confusion. She sat up straight, eyes wide.
"When it appeared," Tara explained, "you turned back to the wall, when the key was still turning... then the floor started shaking, and I grabbed the book before I lost my balance. I figured, if it was what the demons wanted, we shouldn't risk losing it... better to keep it where we could protect it, or destroy it if we had to-"
"You've had it all this time?" Willow asked, incredulous. "Why didn't you say something? When it was over, I mean?"
"You were upset," Tara pointed out gently, "and from what we saw, all the demons around here were destroyed... it didn't seem urgent. It would have distracted us from what we'd gone through, I thought... it seemed more important to me that we both concentrate on us."
Willow stared at her for a moment, then her lips spread in a grin, then she was laughing, her body shaking in Tara's arms.
"Oh goddess," she said, reining in her laughter, "oh... I love you..."
"I know," Tara smiled. "I... that was the right thing to do, wasn't it?"
"It was," Willow nodded, "like I said, I feel good now. I'm glad I didn't just push it out of my mind... that you helped me come to terms with it all, at least start to..."
"And you helped me too," Tara reminded her, "but, I meant, when we were on top of the tower... it didn't occur to me, too much was going on, but it wouldn't have helped then, would it?"
"Oh," Willow's eyes widened, then she frowned in thought. "No," she decided, "I doubt it... unless the first page was 'How to destroy the tower when someone else is controlling it,' and that seems kind of unlikely." She smiled at Tara's quiet chuckle.
"Well, we can check," she offered, reaching over to her pack. Willow held her breath as Tara placed the old book in her hands, slowly exhaling as her fingers traced the subtle contours in the leather, and the edges of the metal binding. With a trembling hand she opened the volume and carefully turned the first few pages, studying the arcane symbols and geometric diagrams traced in coloured inks, in an intricate, precise hand.
"It's so old," she whispered, "but... not fragile at all... gods, the language..."
"Do you know it?" Tara asked.
"It's ancient," Willow nodded, "I can read it, a bit... but there's so much magical theory bound up in it, it'd take weeks just to decipher it, to even begin to understand it..." Her lips moved silently as she studied the pages.
"Sounds like just the thing to keep you happy," Tara observed. Willow glanced up at her, studying her smile. Her own lips turned upwards at the corner, and she carefully closed the book and tucked it back into Tara's pack.
"You know what," she said, snuggling back up beside Tara, "it can wait. For now... I want to hold you, and cuddle, and fall asleep in your arms. That'll make me more than happy."
"Really?" Tara asked lightly, wrapping her arms around Willow. "My knowledge-girl isn't the least tempted by the ancient tome, just half a metre away?"
"Well," Willow admitted, "I wouldn't be me if I wasn't tempted... but today was a pretty good demonstration for why you shouldn't get carried away with knowledge, at the expense of everything else. You end up building towers that can bring about the end of the world, so I think... perspective. There'll be nights for staying up late, with the candles burning low, going over every page in minute detail... but this night isn't one of them." She reached over and pulled another blanket over herself and Tara, settling beside her as she lay down.
"You're very wise," Tara said softly.
"Wisdom is easy when it leads to Tara snuggles," Willow pointed out. "I love you, you know."
"I know," Tara smiled, "I love you too Willow."
"Just reminding you," Willow murmured.
"I've never forgotten it," Tara said, "not for a moment... not since... I bowed, held out my hand, and asked you to dance, and you smiled. Right then, all my doubts just... vanished."
"I remember," Willow smiled, helping Tara as she slowly undid the buckles on her armour. "When I came into the hall that evening, and saw you, and you saw me," she chuckled, "we just had to render each other speechless at the exact same moment. Was I really that good?"
"You were stunning," Tara said firmly, "just like you always are. Wearing these very clothes, too..." She undid the clasps holding Willow's battlegear on, and slowly slid the skirt down her legs, and the top over her head and down her arms. There was a moment's activity as they both kicked off their boots and leaned back, dragging their discarded clothes from beneath the blankets and laying them aside, then they were back in each other's arms, still and content in the firelight.
"Gods, what a day," Willow sighed. "Mmm... what a way to end the day, though... you know," she added, a grin teasing her lips, "if I wasn't utterly exhausted... gods I wish I had the strength to make love to you like I'm imagining..."
"Oh?" Tara smiled.
"Uh-huh," Willow nodded wearily, "all night..."
"And if I wasn't utterly exhausted," Tara replied, "I'd do my best to make sure that we both were, by morning."
"Mmm gorgeous," Willow murmured, "your best is better than heavenly..." Tara managed to roll over slightly, so that she and Willow lay on their sides, face to face, their arms encircling one another.
"I'd kiss you," she whispered, "again, and again... taste your lips, your mouth, so deeply..."
"Your kisses are magic," Willow sighed happily. She closed her eyes, shifting slightly to press herself a little more firmly against Tara. "Magic kisses... I'd caress your tongue as you tasted me..."
"I'd tease you into my mouth," Tara smiled, "then capture you... close my lips around your tongue, keep you right there, where I want you... and when I finally release you-"
"Don't wanna be released," Willow protested faintly.
"You won't be... you're mine... I catch your bottom lip between my teeth, hold you, sucking... roll you onto your back, straddle your hips, on top of you, pressing down on you..."
"Your hair falling around my face," Willow whispered, "your legs, so smooth... thighs pressing against my hips..."
"My breasts pressing against yours," Tara continued, "and I can feel your nipples, so hard, just like mine... rubbing together..."
"Your breath on my cheeks as you look down at me... let me feel your gaze, claiming me..."
"And," Tara said slowly, in a low, sultry murmur, "as I lower myself, my mound pressing against your stomach... hairs scratching lightly on your belly as I move... heat already coating my lips, my thighs... wetting your skin..."
"Mmm, oh..." Willow sighed, tightening her hold around Tara, "I can feel you, baby..."
"I lean down... lick your ear, breathe over the wet skin... whisper..."
"'I'm yours Willow... take me...'"
"And I do," Willow breathed, "my hand goes to your head, my fingers reaching through your hair, holding you close baby, while I kiss you... just as deep as you kissed me, as long and deep and wonderful... you're moving so sexily, writhing on top of me with every breath, every heartbeat... just as if I were part of you already... not yet, but I'm close baby, so close, my hand sliding down between us, reaching for you..."
"Yes," Tara whispered, a note of desperation in her voice.
"Tickling your hairs, then further, holding you... palm and fingers, cupping your mound..."
"Mine," Willow agreed, "and so wet... so perfectly, beautifully aroused..."
"Me'elas te's'sori," Tara whispered, lapsing into Amazonian.
"I know," Willow said, "I feel it... I feel you... like a river inside you, and it flows, baby, oh goddess it flows."
"For you," Tara moaned, "I flow for you." Without fully realising, Tara's legs had parted, tangling with Willows, and their thighs were gently drawing closer to the heat burning in their cores.
"And just like a river," Willow sighed, "I test first... dipping in, just a fraction... testing the waters..."
"And it's better than perfect... I dive... plunging deep... oh baby, you're a wonder..."
"I love you," Tara whispered fervently.
"I love you," Willow replied, "I love you... seeing you like this is perfection... seeing your... your rapture... but to be part of you, within you, to give you this... oh goddess... oh goddess..." She unconsciously adjusted her arms around Tara, lower, as Tara did the same, a rhythm of gentle gyration developing between them as their soaked undergarments pressed against each other's thighs.
"And now, my goddess, I release your mouth, so I can hear you moan," Willow breathed, "I take your nipples, sucking, nibbling, drawing the most beautiful sounds from you..."
"It feels wonderful," Tara trembled, "feast, baby... take all of me..."
"Within you, one finger at first," Willow went on, "just one... touching you, inside... a fingertip brushing your heavenly places... but I know you want-"
"More," Tara moaned, "oh my Willow goddess, I want you to-"
"Take you," Willow finished for her, "faster now, higher... not just one finger, but two now... deep, again and again..."
"Yes... oh yes, yes, my Willow..."
"Trembling around me-"
"Holding you in me-"
"Te'la," Willow whispered, "me' te'elav-"
"Me' te'elav, I love you endlessly-"
"Goddess!" Tara gasped. She sought out Willow's mouth as the climax she had half-thought was in her mind erupted from her, and felt Willow shudder in her arms, her body feeling its own release, as she kissed her back, opening her lips to her, sharing her love and pleasure and bliss.
"Oh gods," Willow breathed as her body stilled, "I love you..." She kissed Tara again, and again.
"Love... you..." Tara replied between kisses.
"Goddess," Willow breathed, "you're amazing..."
"It takes two to make love," Tara grinned, "even with words..."
"Did I get the Amazonian right?" Willow asked, snuggling tightly against Tara, pulling the blankets half-way up over her head.
"Perfectly," Tara replied, ducking down to join her in the warmth their bodies had created, "perfectly..."
The sky was still dark when Willow awoke, and for a moment she wondered what had roused her. Then she noticed an odd tickling sensation, like something touching the back of her neck. Half-way to reaching behind herself to see what it was, she realised it was a sense, not a physical sensation, and recognised it.
"Tara," she whispered urgently, "Tara, wake up... baby?"
"Something's crossed the rune stone boundary I set up."
"The rune st-" she murmured sleepily, then Willow felt awareness race through her. In perfect silence she slid out from beneath the blankets, one hand already on her bow. In the time it took Willow to get upright Tara had pulled on her boots, knotted a spare blanket around herself as a makeshift covering, and slung her quiver over her shoulder.
"I feel it," she whispered as Willow joined her, quickly pulling her skirt on - she didn't have time to don her top, but embarrassment was far from her mind.
"It's not a small animal," she quickly explained, as the faint tinge of magic at the back of her mind subsided - whatever it was had crossed the boundary area completely.
"It's... human," Tara frowned. She fitted an arrow to her bow but kept the string loose as she aimed into the shadows.
"Friend or foe!" she challenged, slowly drawing her bow.
"Friend," came a female voice from the darkness.
"Show yourself," Tara replied smoothly.
From the cover of a half-broken boulder a figure clad in black emerged, holding a crossbow pointed safely away to the side, her other hand, on which she wore a heavy leather glove, held open and empty, unthreatening.
"I hope I'm not interrupting," she said with a sly grin. Willow quickly let go of her staff with one hand and wrapped her arm over her chest, cursing under her breath as Tara lowered her bow and bent down to fetch her a blanket.
"Lady," she greeted the newcomer courteously.
"Sorry about that," Lindia said, "no offence meant," The noblewoman flicked a switch on her bow, causing its vanes to snap neatly back against the stock, and slipped it into place next to the quiver of bolts on her back.
"No harm done," Willow grudgingly allowed, unable to remain perturbed when confronted with the adorable sight of Tara trying not to grin. She wrapped the offered blanket around herself, and cast Tara a quick smile, just to let her know she could see the funny side of it.
"How did you do that, by the way?" Lindia asked, approaching and kneeling down to toss a little extra kindling on the fire, which had burned down during the night. "Know I was out there, I mean?"
"You crossed a runic barrier," Willow said with a satisfied smile.
"I know," Lindia said with a thoughtful frown, "a staggered arc with an eastern-style standing spell, wasn't it? I thought I'd gotten around it."
"I used a hybrid of eastern and northern patterns," Willow noted.
"Damn!" Lindia shook her head, letting her wavy blonde hair out of its ponytail. "I must be getting out of practice, I didn't think of that... how are you both?"
"We're fine," Tara said, taking a seat next to Willow, "but what are you doing out here, I thought you'd ridden north?"
"I did," the noblewoman nodded, "but then things got interesting, and... well, I should let them explain."
"Them?" Willow echoed.
"There's some people who'd like to talk to you," Lindia said with an easy smile.
The sun rose while they were riding, in Lindia's wake, down towards the river. Her horse was an energetic Khejan charger, and from the way she rode it in the waning night Willow guessed she had night vision to equal Tara's. It was a somewhat unnerving experience to be almost unable to see while riding at a fast pace, but Tara's presence behind her, and Anji's beneath her, soothed her anxiety.
Just as the morning light was brightening into day proper, they crested the last ridge and saw the river laid out before them. Lindia had led them a few miles north of the old pier where they had waited for a passing ship last time, but under the circumstances Willow saw it didn't matter. Three ships were riding at anchor in the river, one a lean little pinnace, oars stowed and sail rolled up, while the others were tall warships, their hulls strong and reinforced, their decks protected by iron shields fixed to the railings, each vessel armed with a heavy siege crossbow mounted on the forward deck, and a steel-tipped ram just visible beneath the surface of the water.
A wide area of the riverbank had been cleared, and was busy with boats going to and from the big ships, unloading cargo and soldiers. Several long tents had been pitched, and officers were here and there calling orders to the squads of men occupied in the unloading, or in arming themselves for what looked like an expedition.
"Where did all this come from?" Willow wondered. "They can't have gotten here so soon, after what happened at the monastery- there hasn't even been time for word to get back to the city, has there?"
"Well, don't underestimate the speed a scout can reach after he sees a square mile of the highlands demolish itself," Lindia shrugged, "but no, you're right - we set out two days ago. The night before that - that would've been after the morning you two set out, so they tell me - a party of mages arrived in the city, with news that they suspected the realm was in danger. That set things in motion - I was with Myrreon at the time, riding back from the north as fast as we could. He had a premonition, or something of the sort, and besides there was nothing really for him to do with the army, there wasn't any real magical threat up there. Morning!" she called to one of the soldiers, on guard in front of the camp, as they neared.
"Morning m'lady," he replied, touching the brim of his helmet as they passed.
"What mages?" Willow asked sharply. "The ones who arrived after we left, who were they?"
"Friends of yours, actually," Lindia said, dismounting and leaving her horse with the guard. "This way."
Tara held Willow's hand as they left Anji and followed Lindia towards one of the larger tents, where a handful of officers were milling about, talking to each other in low voices and trying not to shiver too much in the morning chill. One of them, a young lieutenant, looked up at Lindia's approach, glanced at Willow and Tara behind her, and ducked inside the tent.
"Friends of yours?" Tara wondered.
"Sorceresses?" Willow guessed. "But there's no Zann Esu stationed anywhere near here, not that I know of... how could they have gotten here so fast?" She broke off as the young officer returned, with a trio of women behind him. They were indeed sorceresses - all wore the colours of the Zann Esu order, the same green material and silver adornments Willow herself wore. Two of them, Willow's age, wore battlegear identical to hers, though Tara noticed their staves were different - where Willow's was plain wood, theirs each had sculpted metal caps, one of polished bronze in the shape of a flame, the other a diamond cast in ghostly-white silver.
The third wore a simple robe in a figure-hugging cut, otherwise quite similar to those Willow had worn during her travels. She was older then the others, though the few lines that had crept in around her eyes did little to diminish her beauty. She had rich auburn hair which spilled casually across her shoulders, and her eyes were a warm brown with flecks of green that seemed to sparkle in the morning light. They lit up when she saw Willow, and she raised her staff - an elaborate weapon with a golden fleur-de-lys head - in salute.
"Hello Willow," she called, as the other two sorceresses stepped aside, "it's good to see you again."
"Ember?" Willow replied, her voice hushed with surprise.