Author: Froggy Frog and Miller
"Won't they be suspicious?" Tara said. "I mean... exactly what can we say?"
"We can ask them if they are members of a cult visiting town, to attend some evil, dark ritual," Willow said. "That should work well."
"Very subtle," Tara said.
Willow turned the car down the quiet main street of Turrendale towards their motel.
"Actually, I'm not really sure what to ask them, Tara," Willow said. "But we'll figure something out, eh?"
Willow turned into the motel and parked in the car-park. Both agents got out of the car and made their way towards the stairs to their second floor room. Willow had just set her foot on the bottom step when she felt Tara's hand on her shoulder.
"Tara?" Willow said. "What's up?"
"Our door, Willow," Tara said in a hushed voice. "Look at our door."
Willow peered up the stairs and counted the doorways until she saw the door to their room. Something was drawn on their door. From this distance it looked like red graffiti. But both agents knew better.
"Oh hell," Willow said. She scanned the other doors but could see no other marks anywhere.
"Oh Willow, they know!" Tara said. "About us."
"It would seem to be that way, yeah," Willow said. She saw a drape pull slightly aside in the window of one of the first floor rooms. From a ground floor window, she noticed a man's face peering out at them.
"Erm... Let's take a little walk, eh?" she said.
Willow and Tara walked back across the car park and onto the main street.
"Willow," Tara said. "What are we going to do?"
"Hmm... dunno," Willow said, frowning. "This isn't good. Someone must have seen us. Last night. Either me painting the ground with my dinner, or you helping me out. Figured us to be witches. They - the murderers - were probably hanging around the crime scene."
"I hope this isn't all my fault," Tara said. "I had to help you. Perhaps a spell wasn't the best thing to do."
"No. The spell was great," Willow said. "I'm not sure what else..."
There was a loud chirping sound, and both agents instinctively fumbled for their cell-phones. It turned out to be Tara's.
"Agent McClay," Tara said. She listened intently for a few seconds. "Thank you. Bye."
She put her phone into her pocket. "That was the morgue," she said. "They ran the tests on the blood I found in the victim's stomach. It wasn't his. Which means he ingested the blood prior to being murdered."
"Hmm... Yummy," Willow said. She peered down the street at the shops, her hand shielding her eyes from the bright morning sun. "Tara, what's the likelihood that there's a magic shop in Turrendale?"
"A magic shop?" Tara said. "Well... Not much of a chance, I'd say. I mean, Sheriff Peterson said there was no sign of the occult or witchcraft here - not that I believed that, of course - but it's unlikely he'd have said it if there was a big witchy sign in the middle of the main street."
"True. But I think we're going to need one," Willow said.
"We are?" Tara said. She looked at Willow closely. "You've a plan?"
Willow sighed. "No. Not really. Not so much a plan as an idea. A desperate idea, actually. My computer's in the car, but we'll need my overnight bag... And you're bag, if it's got a certain something in it."
"Well, yes. My underwear. Which you forgot to bring this morning, by the way," Tara said. "And my spell book, of course."
"Okay. I'll ring the motel," Willow said. "Get them to deliver our bags to the Sheriff's office. They owe us a favor or two for the double bill we're paying. Then we'll drive over to the Sheriff's, and pick them up!" She pulled her cell-phone out of her pocket.
"Good idea," Tara said.
"Oh, and anyway... I like my girls without underwear," Willow said, offhandedly, while concentrating on pushing the buttons on her phone.
Tara smiled. "I am, you know... if you want."
"What's that, Tara?" Willow asked.
"Your girl," Tara replied.
Typical. The coffee tasted like dishwater. Well, whatever dishwater tasted like, Willow thought - she wasn't in a habit of drinking it. She shivered as she swallowed the weak, tasteless but somehow still terribly bitter liquid.
Willow looked at her computer screen and grinned. That would do nicely, she thought. She grabbed a piece of paper from the deputy's desk and scribbled down an address and a telephone number.
The agents were waiting in the Deputy Mannington's small office for their bags to arrive from the motel. The sheriff was currently busy with someone, and the deputy was out on patrol, so they had been left to wait alone. She put the full coffee cup on the deputy's desk, closed the lid of her laptop computer, and went to sit next to Tara on the couch. Tara was busy scribbling on a notepad, frowning at the paper. Willow slid close to her and pressed her thigh gently against Tara's own. That got her attention, Willow noticed. Tara looked up at her and smiled.
"What're you doing?" Willow asked. "Letter to Mom?"
"No, no," Tara said, "I'm just collecting my thoughts. Writing them down sometimes helps. I'm... I'm a little puzzled..."
"What by?" Willow asked. She felt content, leaning close to Tara, pressing against her warmth, breathing in her wonderful fragrance.
"Well... the ritual, actually," Tara said. "You know, the one that's going to happen soon... It... it doesn't make sense."
"Well, no... It wouldn't," Willow said. "You see, these people are probably all cuckoo. Looneys. They chop people up, remember?"
Tara peered at her through half closed eyes. "Willow..." she said, teeth clenched.
"Sorry. I'm all ears, dear," Willow said. "Well... the ear parts are anyhow. The rest of me is all girly and stuff."
"That's good to know," Tara said. "Well, what doesn't make sense here are the proportions. Like, there's over a hundred visitors here, presumably for this ritual... Well, that's our current theory anyhow. But the items collected can't possibly be for a terribly major summoning... You see, there's not enough energy involved for a really large demon. So, now I'm confused by the number of people here in town from the law firm."
Willow frowned. "Perhaps there's an amulet or item that assists the summoning." she suggested. "Or maybe there'll be extra sacrifices on the night. And then, perhaps not everybody in the law firm is attending the ritual."
"Perhaps. But... I have another theory," Tara said. "Willow, I don't think it's a major summoning at all."
"Then... again... why so many visitors from our friends at Ridman and Black, the witch-vomit lovers?" Willow said.
"Well... I think it's an initiation rite," Tara said. "Like, some initiate- our murderer - would have to perform some particular level spell, like a minor summoning or similar, to be accepted into the group."
Tara looked at Willow expectantly, her lower lip firmly held between her teeth.
Willow pondered Tara's idea. "So, you think some person's been preparing for the last five years or so? For entry into a club?" Willow said. She didn't mean to sound quite so skeptical. Tara's shoulders dropped slightly.
"Well... well..." Tara said. "You know, it's only an idea. And, anyhow, I've seen similar things - like the requirements for acceptance into this particular coven in the UK - it's like, four years of preparation... and after that you only get allowed to enroll to sit the actual entry test. Which is another six years of preparation... so, you know... it's possible."
"Okay... Okay, Tara," Willow said. "I guess it's not a bad theory. And we're short on them anyhow. But... we're going to have to do more than theorize." Willow winked at Tara. "Let's observe!"
Tara suddenly looked very worried. "O-observe?" Tara said.
There was a knock on the door and a pale white face peered around. It as the young officer who had asked them to wait in Deputy Mannington's office.
"Excuse me, ladies... erm... agents," he said, nervously. "Your bags have arrived."
"Thank you, officer", Willow said.
Willow stood up and went to the door. "Come on, Tara. We've work to do!" Willow said.
They collected their bags and went outside to the car.
"How far is this place again?" Tara said, looking through the dusty windscreen. "We're in the middle of nowhere. Or close to there."
"Not too far. Just at the end of this dirt road," Willow said. "Well... if it's the right dirt road, that is."
"It's the only one on the map," Tara said. "In fact. It's the only thing on the map other than the highway."
"Well, it's the closest thing I could find," Willow said. "Did you get the list sorted out?"
"I think so. All the things we'll need for the charms," Tara said. "I like your spell book, by the way. It's got some great things in it."
"Thanks, Tara," Willow said. "We should compare them later, perhaps?"
"I'd love that," Tara said. "Oh look, there it is!"
"I see it," Willow said.
She pulled up in front of an old farmhouse. The main building was a huge, two story wooden construction with a dark, shingled roof. Around it stood several smaller buildings, barns and sheds. A massive oak tree grew in front of the house, around which wound a circular driveway.
Willow and Tara climbed out of the car. Willow yawned and stretched in the midday sun. She'd driven for three hours without a break and her back ached.
The two agents approached the large wooden front door. Willow reached out for the doorbell, but the door opened just before she could press the button. In the doorway stood a tall, slender young woman. She wore a tie-dyed t-shirt and blue jeans, and stared at Willow and Tara over the top of her black-rimmed glasses.
"Yes?" the woman said. Her voice was soft and mellow. "Can I help you?"
"Hello Ma'am. I'm Agent Rosenberg. This is Agent McClay. We're from the FBI," Willow said. "Are you Sarah Durham?"
The woman frowned at them. "No. I'm her friend, Trisha," she said. "Sarah is out for the day. Can I help you?"
"Erm... I hope so," Willow said. "I found your mother's details on the web. I left an email to say we'd be here. We need some things... er... Tara?"
Tara presented the young lady with a sheet of paper. "We'd like to purchase these items, please."
The woman looked over the sheet of paper.
"Please come in," she said.
She led them into a large room with a high ceiling. One wall was made up of large windows that looked out over the rolling hills and meadows. Covering the other walls were large paintings and hanging rugs. The room felt very peaceful. The air was cool and fresh, and Willow thought she could smell flowers.
"Tara... this feels..." Willow said, her voice hushed.
"...like a tranquility spell," Tara finished.
"Yeah," Willow said.
The lady walked towards a large wooden table in the center of the room. "Please take a seat here. I'll be back shortly," she said, and left the room.
"Nice place," Willow said, looking out of the huge windows at the ountryside. She grinned at Tara. "Perhaps we should stay here for a few days and forget this whole Turrendale murder thing? We could... erm... get to know each other a little better, eh?"
"Temptress," Tara said. "Oh look at this! It moves!" She was looking at a small bronze statue that stood in the middle of the table. It was the figure of a naked woman standing on a small pedestal. The statue's left arm pointed towards Willow and Tara, a slender, exquisitely detailed finger extended towards the both of them. The statue's right had was raised, palm outwards, fingers splayed.
Willow examined it closely. "It's beautiful. So well made. But I can't see it move."
Tara walked around the table. The statue slowly turned towards Tara, closing three fingers on its right hand so that only two fingers were raised. It froze, pointing directly at Tara for several seconds. Then turned once more back to point at where Willow stood.
"Oh my, that's delightful!" Willow said. "I wonder what it is."
"It's a witch finder," said a voice behind them. The young woman stood by the front door, holding a brown paper bag in each hand. "I have the items you wanted." Willow and Tara went over to her.
"A witch finder? It's wonderful," Tara said while Willow paid the woman. "But why does it hold up two fingers?"
The woman looked at the statue, then at the two agents. "Two? I'm impressed. That's the magic potential of the witch it has found. Which of you scored a two?"
"Both of us did," Willow said. "But there must be something wrong with it though. When we stood near each other, it held up five fingers. Well, four fingers and thumb, that is."
The woman looked rather surprised. Then she frowned. "Then, be careful doing spells with each other, girls," she said, her tone suddenly serious. "Very, very careful."
The two agents said goodbye to the woman and left the house. They returned to the car in silence.
"You sure they'll be doing it at night?" Tara said. "They could be, you know, a daytime type cult."
"Well, I guess I was assuming it would be at night," Willow said. "Given all the murders were at night."
"I hope you're right," Tara said. "It'll be getting dark soon. We'd better hurry, eh?"
"Yep," Willow said.
The two agents organized the various items they had purchased on the floor. They were in the empty upstairs bedroom of the vacant house on Englewood Terrace, the location of the second most recent murder.
Tara arranged some candles around the room and proceeded to light them. Willow sat cross-legged on the floor reading her spell book.
"The charms should last for the whole night, I think," Willow said. "If we make them properly, that is. They should protect against the effects of other similar charms."
Tara lit the last candle and sat in front of Willow. "That's assuming those red patterns have similar magical properties," Tara said.
"We'll know soon enough, eh?" Willow said. They placed various amounts of the ingredients into small cloth bags and placed the bags on the floor between them.
"You ready?" Willow said.
Tara nodded. She held her hands to Willow, who took them in her own. They both closed their eyes and Tara began the incantation.
Willow felt the familiar surge of magical energy emanate from deep within her body. She concentrated on Tara's words, on the nature of the protection spell they were performing, and tried to coerce the power within her towards that goal.
Willow had performed spells many times before, but something was different this time. She opened her eyes and saw Tara before her. She could clearly see her bright, radiant aura glowing around her body. She felt Tara's energy permeate her own body, flowing with her and blending readily with her own power. She felt a strong surge of joy. It was a pleasant, powerful sensation that Willow found totally exhilarating.
Tara completed the incantation, and Willow felt the amassed energy, both her own and Tara's, quickly vacate her body. Tara opened her eyes and stared at Willow, smiling with pleasure.
"Willow... Did you feel that?" she said, awed. "It was... wonderful!"
"I felt it," Willow said. "I've... I've never had that happen before. Have you?"
Tara shook her head. "Never. My old girlfriend and I, we used to do spells together. But it was never so... divine."
"Yeah... I know what you mean. That was intense," Willow said. She looked down at the two cloth bags. They glowed faintly with a soft, yellow light. "Do you think it worked?"
"I don't know," Tara said. "But we can find out. But, er... you'll have to let go of my hands, Willow."
"Oops. Sorry..." Willow said, reluctantly releasing Tara's hands. "I was just enjoying the... erm... afterglow."
They picked up the bags and made their way down the stairs, and to the basement door.
"Here goes," Willow said. She clutched the charm to her chest, held her torch with the other hand, and proceeded down into the basement.
Tara followed her.
"I feel fine. No dread. No nausea," Tara said, walking around the basement.
"Me too," Willow said. "But... we'd better be sure." She passed her charm to Tara. "Take this. Go upstairs."
Tara looked concerned, but nodded and walked back up the stairs. She had just reached the top of the stairs when she heard footsteps behind her. She turned to see a pale faced, wide-eyed Willow running up the stairs.
"They work," Willow said. "Trust me."
Tara fumbled with her holster, trying to get it to fit comfortably under her jacket. She tightened the strap a little and sighed.
"I hate this thing," she said. "I wish I didn't have to take it."
"Well, you do," Willow said. "Standard procedure."
Willow closed the boot of the car and looked along the tree-lined lane. "There's the lodge," she said. "And it looks rather busy tonight, judging by the number of cars."
They had driven to Turrendale Lodge, a large building situated on a hillside that had a clear view over the majority of the township. Bright lights shone from a multitude of windows and cast a yellow light onto the surrounding lawns and gardens. Willow had parked the car five hundred meters from the building itself, behind a long row of parked cars.
"Well, the man who checked us in at the motel said it was full," Tara said. "But this would explain why the car park at the motel was so empty."
"It would, yep," Willow said. She buttoned up her jacket. "You ready, Tara ?"
"As r-ready as I'll ever be, Willow," Tara said, anxiously.
Willow took Tara's hand and squeezed it firmly. "We'll be fine," Willow said. "You'll see."
The proceeded on foot up the lane towards the lodge. As they approached the building they began to appreciate the size of the building. It was and immense wood and stone structure that sprawled in all directions. A huge wooden door was set into the front of the building underneath a large overhanging eave. It was closed. Scrawled on its surface, glowing brightly, was the now-familiar red pattern.
"You okay?" Willow asked Tara as they walked towards the door.
"Yeah. No problem," Tara said, reassuring herself by touching the small bag tied around her neck.
Willow approached the door and contemplated banging the door-knocker. Tara noticed a sign in a glass-covered cabinet at the side of the door and went to read it.
"You found the menu, Tara?" Willow said.
"Yeah. They've got lots of burned meat too," Tara said. "But it says the lodge and restaurant are closed tonight for a private function. For our favorite law firm."
"Hmm... Lets look around," Willow said. "See what we can see, eh?"
Willow led Tara around the outskirts of the building. They peered into a window and saw people dressed in black outfits carrying plates and glasses around. The next few windows looked in on a large dining room, filled with tables and chairs. A dozen people were busy cleaning the tables and vacuuming the floor. Several windows later, Willow stopped and faced Tara.
"I've only seen the lodge staff. Where is everybody else?" she said.
"I don't know, Willow," Tara said. "But there's a door up ahead. Perhaps we should go inside?"
Willow grinned at Tara. "Getting all adventurous on me, eh?" she said. She made her way through the dark to the doorway, Tara following close behind her.
Willow tested the door handle. It was unlocked. She opened the door and went inside. They entered a dim corridor. Doorways lined both sides of the hallway.
"We should look for a conference room or something," Willow said as they walked down the corridor. They came to a branch in the corridor near a staircase. A sign was fixed to the wall.
"How about 'The Oak Room'?" Tara whispered. "It's just ahead. And it has a second level, upstairs."
"Then upstairs we go," Willow said. "Quickly. Someone's coming."
The agents ran up the stairs. At the top they turned left down the corridor in the direction of the Oak Room. They came across a series of large doors on one side of the hall. Willow went up to a door and opened it slightly. She peeked through the crack.
"Come on," she whispered, grabbing Tara by the hand and slipping through the doorway.
They stood at the rear of a deserted balcony overlooking a huge room. The ground floor was filled with hundreds of people, dressed in black robes, all seated and facing the stage. The lights in the room were dim, and several spotlights shone directly onto a podium in the center of the stage.
Willow and Tara shrank back into the shadows and watched.
A man was standing by the podium addressing the crowd. He wore the same black robe as the others, however his face was obscured by a long hood. He spoke in a deep, gravelly voice.
"...and so the final candidate is to perform the seventh ritual of binding. This ritual is the last item on the agenda, and will conclude this year's conference."
The man walked off the stage in silence. Two people rose from their front row seats and walked onto the stage. One person wore a hood similar to the one the speaker had been wearing, but the taller of the two, a man neither Willow nor Tara recognized, wore no hood. His bald head glistened as he passed through the spotlight beam. Both of them carried large silver boxes in their hands. They approached a clear section of the stage placed the boxes on the floor. The hooded person crouched over the wooden floorboards and started to draw on the surface with white chalk. The other man stood nearby, watching but not helping.
The man drew an intricate set of patterns on the stage. Neither the bald man not the crowd made a sound while he worked. After ten minutes, the man put down his chalk and stood up. He went over to one of the boxes and opened it. He removed the contents, which looked like tiny white sticks, and carefully placed them in inside the design he had drawn.
Willow counted the small sticks. Twenty. The latest victim's fingers and toes.
The man proceeded to open the other box and remove a small ball - the victims eyeball - which he placed in the center of the design.
He signaled to the bald headed man, who bowed to him and moved to stand in the center of the pattern, his feet at either side of the eyeball.
The hooded man moved so quickly it was difficult to make out exactly what happened. There was the glint of a blade, and a few seconds later the bald-headed man lay dead on the stage, his throat cut open and a pool of blood quickly forming around him. The hooded man stood beside the dead man, his hands dripping with blood. He stepped out of the chalk figures and stood at the side of the stage and watched.
The blood seeped over the pattern on the floor, quickly following the lines and circles of the intricate shape. As the design filled with the red liquid, flashes of light appeared within the pattern and around the corpse. A deafening roaring sound filled the hall and a bright flash of red light blazed upwards from the stage.
Willow blinked and stared at the scene below. Crouched on the body of the dead man was a small demon. It stood about four feet tall, and its skin was a slimy blood red that shone grotesquely in the stage light. Small, bony hands and feet gripped the robe of the corpse, and its small wings flapped sporadically. The creature's tiny black eyes darted over the body it was standing on. Suddenly it lashed out ferociously with its sharp teeth, ripping the flesh from the dead man's blood-soaked neck and swallowing it hungrily.
Tara covered her mouth with her hand in horror at the sight. She moved closer to Willow.
The hooded man was joined on the stage by the original speaker, who bowed to the man who had performed the ceremony, then walked past the demon back to the podium. He leaned over the microphone.
"This concludes this year's conference," he said, simply.
He turned to leave the stage. As he did so, the demon made a horrific screeching sound. It raised its head from its feeding and sniffed the air. Suddenly, it flapped its wings and rose above the stage. The speaker turned in alarm, and watched the demon fly over the heads of the crowd up towards the balcony.
"Oh dear," Willow said, seeing the demon alter course midair and head straight towards them.
She drew her gun and aimed at the creature, then fired two shots at it. The creature shrieked and hovered in the air for a few seconds, then resumed it's flight towards Willow and Tara. Willow turned to Tara.
"Run," she said.
They opened the balcony door and ran down the corridor towards the stairs. They heard doors opening downstairs and shouts of anger.
"We'll have to find a different way out!" Willow said, urgently. She grabbed Tara by the hand and the two ran down the upper level corridor. They turned a corner and found a door. It was locked.
"Oh hell," Willow said.
"A dead end?" Tara said.
"Maybe not," Willow said. "Stand back!"
She fired three shots into the door, around the area she imagined the lock to be. Then she heaved her shoulder against the door. It didn't budge.
"Now what?" Willow said, a slight note of panic in her voice. She heard footsteps running down the corridor towards them.
Tara gripped Willow's hand. Willow looked at her, saw her concentrating on the door - felt the gathering of magical energy. She turned to face the door and did the same as Tara, pushing hard against the door with her mind.
The door started to shake and rattle, then abruptly burst open, slamming back so hard it fell of its hinges and fell onto the stairway outside. Willow quickly pulled Tara through the doorway. They were outside, at the top of a fire escape at the back of the building. The two agents clambered down the stairs and ran across the grounds towards the nearby trees. Willow glanced behind them and saw several robed men at the top of the stairs, shouting angrily and pointing at them. Other men were running from a ground-floor door directly towards Willow and Tara.
Willow and Tara ran into the woods.
"This way," Willow said, pulling Tara to the left. "Back to the car."
"No. It's this way," Tara said, pulling to the right. "Trust me."
Willow shrugged and followed Tara as she led her through the dark trees. After a few minutes of frantic running they burst out of the woods onto the road. Their car was twenty metres away.
"Good girl!" Willow said, panting. She ran towards the car.
Both agents climbed into the car and Willow started the engine. She put the car into reverse and skidded backwards, then slammed on the brakes and spun the car around.
Something went thud on the roof of the car.
A horrible red face peered over the top of the car into the windscreen window. The demon. Tara screamed in fright.
The creature tore at the window with its hands, trying to break the screen. It's claws left deep grooves in the surface of the glass. It punched at the scored surface, breaking a hole in the windscreen. It reached through the hole it had made and screeched angrily.
Willow pushed hard on the accelerator, making the tyres squeal and smoke.
"Seatbelt!" she yelled Tara. Tara hurriedly fastened her belt, then reached over to help Willow snap her belt into place.
The creature tore at the glass, making the hole bigger and bigger.
Willow slammed on the brakes, skidding to a halt and throwing the creature off the car and onto the road. She accelerated again, smashing into the demon as it scrambled to its feet.
"I got it?" Willow said.
Tara looked behind them. A red stain covered the road where the demon had been.
"You got it," Tara said.
She sped down the lane away from the lodge.
"Sheriff Peterson's on his way, Agent Rosenberg," Deputy Mannington said.
"Thank you, Deputy," Willow said. She paced backwards and forwards in the sheriff's office. Tara sat on a chair in the corner, sipping some tea.
"He said he'll pick you up on the way, so you can fill him in on the details on the drive to the lodge," the deputy said. "Me and the other boys are off over there now!"
He grinned excitedly and almost ran out of the building. The sounds of sirens blared from the street, and soon faded as the deputy and the other offices drove away towards the lodge.
Willow went over to Tara. She stroked her hair gently.
"You okay?" Willow asked.
Tara look up from her tea and smiled weakly at Willow. "Yeah. Fine," she said. "A little too much excitement for me, I think."
"Me too," Willow said.
They heard the sound a car pull up outside.
"That'll be the sheriff. You ready to go back there?" Willow said.
Tara nodded and stood up. They left the office and walked to the front door.
Sheriff Peterson was just outside the door. He grinned at Willow and Tara and peered over his small spectacles.
"Hey ladies," he said. "You say we've got some trouble to look into? At the lodge?"
"Yes," said Willow. "At the lodge."
"Has Mannington gone off ahead?" he said.
"Yes. Just now," Willow said. "If we get going, we can catch up with him, I think."
The sheriff waved towards the street. "The car is this way, ladies," he said.
Willow started to walk towards the sheriff. She heard a gasp behind her and froze in her tracks.
Puzzled, she looked over her shoulder at Tara. Tara had her hand over her mouth and was pointing at Sheriff Peterson.
"It's h-him," she gasped. "Willow! It's him!"
Willow snapped her head back to the Sheriff. He stood just beyond the doorway, his hand extended, gesturing towards the street. Then Willow noticed his hand. Shocked, she took a step backwards. The hand was stained red. Blood red. As was the hand of the hooded man, on stage at the lodge.
The sheriff noticed his own hand. "Oh damn. I should've washed that, eh?" he said, jovially. "Ah well. We live and learn." With the same speed he had demonstrated earlier, he drew his pistol, turned and fired at Willow.
Willow fell backwards to the floor.
The sheriff watched her fall, smiling sweetly, then looked up, ready to aim his pistol at Tara. His face fell in horror as he saw Tara aiming her own gun steadily at the sheriff. She fired once. The sheriff flew backwards onto the sidewalk.
Tara rushed to Willow and knelt beside her.
Willow opened her eyes. She saw Tara smiling at her. What a lovely thing to see, she thought.
"Hey," Tara said. "How're you feeling?"
Her shoulder hurt. A lot. And her head. She felt a little groggy.
"Oh, just fine," she croaked. Her throat was dry. "Where am I?"
"In hospital," Tara said. "You were shot. Do you remember?"
Willow suddenly looked alarmed. "Sheriff Peterson!" she said. "Oh my!"
"He's... he's dead, Willow," Tara said. "I... um... I shot him. After he shot you."
Willow closed her eyes.
"And the lodge?" Willow asked. "Did we get the bad guys?"
"Erm... well, not exactly, Willow," Tara said. She sat on the side if the bed and held Willow's hand. "The deputy went back to the lodge, and the hall - where we saw the ceremony - had been cleared out... it was spotless. No blood, no body... nothing. The guests were all having a cocktail party in another part of the lodge. They group threatened the deputy and his men will legal action - told them to leave immediately. So, they did."
"Then the deputy returned to the office," Tara continued. "To find the paramedics carting you off and a dead Sheriff Peterson. I had some explaining to do. He almost arrested me!"
Willow grinned. "So he doesn't fancy you anymore?"
"No. He doesn't. Anyhow, we visited the Sheriff's home," Tara said. "Discovered the bolt cutters he'd used the cut the victims fingers and toes off with, blood stains, and various items that turned out to belong to the victims. The blood matches are still running, but they'll match the victims too, for sure."
"And the visitors? From Ridman, Black and Associates?" Willow said.
"Gone. All of them checked out and left that night," Tara said. "Their head office denies any knowledge of a conference in Turrendale."
Willow smiled. "So you were right, eh?" she said. "Initiation right and all. Clever girl, Tara." She reached up to touch Tara's face. "I'm going to miss working with you, now this is over."
Tara smiled. "Well. Don't be so sure, Willow," Tara said. "I just got off the phone with Assistant Directory Skinner. He's assigned us indefinitely to his department. As partners."
Willow raised her eyebrows. "Partners? Really?" she said.
"Yes," Tara said. "That okay?"
"That's very much okay, Tara," Willow said.
Tara smiled happily. "Well, then. You'd better get well soon!" she said. "There's a few unclaimed rewards we've got to sort out, remember?"
Willow grinned. "Yes. I remember," she said. She pouted and pretended to look sad. "Although, it would be nice to have a little reward right now. A reward for something."
Tara looked behind her. The door to the room was closed. She leaned towards Willow, holding her head just above Willow's, and looked into her eyes. Willow put her good arm around Tara's shoulders and pulled her even closer.
"This is for being my new partner," Tara murmured softly.
She kissed Willow.
Outside, the night nurse watched curiously, as the frequency of pulses on the heart-rate monitor labeled `Rosenberg, W' increased rapidly.