Author: Phoenix
Rating: R for violence and disturbing content.
Feedback: Please!
Disclaimer: All things Buffy belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy. I'm just borrowing Tara and Willow, and I promise to return them in better-than-new condition.

Tara couldn't stop looking at the wedding ring on the dead man's finger. She saw it now encrusted with bile, blood and dirt, the slightly translucent skin puffing around it, seeking to encapsulate it. Scott had maintained the ring had been royal at one time, eight carats of antique gold and a purple square cut diamond the size of a dime, the 5 million dollar price tag perfect for a wealthy man's finger. Tara wondered what kind of ring Scott gave his wife or if she was obliged to frost herself.

Yet Scott liked to spit, chased rye with water, and sported a nasty prison tattoo on the small of his hairy back.

And because Scott liked to foreclose mortgages on a whim, destroying whole families, a corn farmer from Iowa murdered both him and Tara. Scott, deliberately.

Tara? Just in the wrong place at the wrong time, doomed to death because she always did the right thing.

There was a cloud of no-see-ums and midges surrounding the fleshy puppet that was so recently playboy Scott. From time to time advance scouts would leave the cloud and venture toward Tara as she lay propped up with her back against a boulder, her mangled legs in a tangle of debris and clotted with pain. Tara barely had the energy to wave her hand against them. When the blazing summer mountain sunshine shone directly on her she felt cooked.

Tara's cracked lips split into a freakish grin. "Soup's on, boys!" she screamed, or thought she screamed. It came out a mere croak and died quickly in the water-laden air.

Her gaze wandered up the rock fall. It looked surly and bruised, tinged with Scott's "blue" blood.

"Royal, indeed," she muttered. The midges, feasting merrily on Scott's eyes, paid her no mind. A feast fit for a king. How's that for service, Your Majesty? You've glutted yourself on sin, sated yourself on the misery of others, and now you've discovered that you can't pay the bill. No washing dishes in this establishment, your penalty is death.

Near the top of the rock fall there was an open wound in the stone and dirt where a small tree had once enjoyed its precarious yet sublime existence. Scott had been holding on to it with his surprisingly callused hands (not a rich man's hands, but the hands of a man who liked to spit and chased rye with water) as Tara dove to her stomach to rescue him.

"Don't let me fall, please, Tara!" Scott had screamed, one hand holding his lifeline of leaves and pith, the other stretched out to her.

Never mind that she secretly detested the man, loathed his incessant teasing and aristocratic airs. He had hit on her the first day, right in front of his girlfriend/mistress. Tara took pleasure in letting him know she was far more interested in their green-eyed female tour guide (oh the stars, the pearls) than in him. He turned spiteful and malicious, then. Blue blood indeed. Scott was about as royal as Jeff Foxworthy. She was constantly stunned by Scott's callousness, the ease by which he boasted of the lives he destroyed, counting them up deliciously in his mind the way a serial killer might. Never mind that she had been doing the right thing for her entire life, often to ill consequence.

"In saving the world have you ever discovered how to save yourself?" her older brother Donnie had once asked.

So solid, predictable (reliable) Tara had held out her hand to scrabbling Scott, steeling herself for the yank in her shoulder. There was crunching noise of boots on shale and Tara turned around hoping to see red hair and green eyes, yet somehow knowing it wouldn't be her erstwhile hiking companion (and kissing buddy), it would be her murderer instead. Scott had latched on to Tara's hand, which was already slippery with (terror) sweat. The solid, blocky massive growth that was Terry, a farmer from Iowa, knelt down next to Tara, and even in her terror she couldn't let go of Scott's hand, even though it was Terry who had broken up their group and began hunting them like he hunted gophers on his farm. Terry had grinned, in a kind of feverish maniacal way that reminded Tara sharply of her father.

"Where are your homies, now?" Terry spat at Scott. Only then did Tara recall the story drunken Scott told of one of his ‘acquisitions' of four years ago. Scott had turned a pretty penny in foreclosing the mortgage of a man's farm whose wife had died of cancer. He had turned a deaf ear to the man's pleas, save my farm, please!

Not a chance, not while there are five million dollar rings to display so arrogantly on well-pampered fingers, not when there's a piece of fluff in the sleeping bag and a wife at home. He showed no remorse then. He sure did now.

"I'm sorry!" Scott screeched in terror. "Please, I'll give you anything! I'll give you my ring!"

"Rings don't buy wives," Terry responded. In the madness of the moment, somehow so surreal, birds were chirping, wind was hissing, and Terry was pulling on a brand new set of brass knuckles. At seeing them, Tara wondered where on earth a farmer from Iowa would come up with such a thing (was it the five and dime or the pawn shop?). Scott's eyes had flown wide, and then his whole face was a mess of pulp and bone.

Scott had screamed, loosing his hold on the tree, slipping through Tara's fingers. Before Tara could turn away (could this really be happening?) she saw Scott's skull make a blistering impact with the rock wall, a mini-bomb that exploded with fireworks (oh say can you see by dawn's early light) of arterial spray and gore.

"Chilled monkey brains," Tara now croaked as she looked over at her unfortunate companion. The Indiana Jones movies had led her to believe that brains were pink. Scott's were rather gray, with hideous streaks of red. "We named the dog Indiana."

Tara knew she was going crazy. Nuts. Three fries short of a happy meal. Light's on but no one's home. Lost her marbles. Her fevered and pain-addled mind sifted through associations and memories, scattering them into her consciousness to wander every which way like a puff of dandelion on the wind. One thought she tried to bring back, time and again, was that of her tour guide, Willow Rosenberg. After Tara had first fallen, she had called and called for Willow, for anyone, really (but not the chipmunks, never the chipmunks, nor their unholy army). Dimwitted from dehydration and unrelenting heat, Tara forced her mind back and back again to her tour guide (kissing buddy), and the Indiana Jones movies.

"I have fond memories of that dog," Tara continued quoting, just to keep her sanity, but instead of thinking of Indiana Jones she thought of Tripod, her girlhood Irish Setter. Tripod had lost a back leg in a fight with a coyote when Tara was six years old. That dog remained the one constant in Tara's precarious childhood. The lies, the screams, the booze, the drugs, the man she was supposed to call father, Tara absorbed it all. When she was full to bursting with the hot vileness of it, she would run with Tripod into a nearby field (and thank goodness it wasn't corn, because evil always happens in the corn, just ask Stephen King or M Night Shyamalan) and spill her guts, vomiting up the blistering exchanges between her father and her family. The words could never char Tripod as they did her.

Poor, blind Tripod lived to be thirteen years old. His joints seized with arthritis, his eyes clouded over, his soft red hair generously frosted with white. He lost his life quite suddenly the day before Tara graduated high school, when Tara's drunken father kicked him to death as he lay sunning himself on the porch.

Scott's shirt was rucked up, sprinkled with blood and dirt. Tara could see his tattoo. The man had boasted easily enough that he got the tattoo in prison (and did that really impress the fluff named Janice?). He never told Tara what he was in the slammer for; after their thunderous altercation with a corn farmer from Iowa, Tara could now easily guess.

An iridescent beetle was crawling up Tara's leg. Determined.

Tara hadn't eaten since yesterday, since before the brass knuckles made a pulp sandwich of Scott's face.

She thought of Willow.

Her tour guide was a self-assured and confident middle-aged woman (oh the stars, the pearls), maybe only a year or two older than Tara herself. She was an accomplished woodsman (woodswoman?) and her backcountry tour of Mount Robson, Jasper, Alberta had garnered a five star rating with Hiking Outdoors magazine. Tara had been told to take a vacation (I believe the words were take a break or you're fired, Tara), and though she had plenty of money, Tara still shopped for her trip on Ebay, sniping the auction with less than ten seconds left and paying a grand total of fifty four dollars and twelve cents. American.

Sissy Canadian money, all colourful and stuff. Blue fives, purple tens, red fifties, brown hundreds with Prime Minster Borden on them.

Tara absently wondered if she should ask for a refund.

Now the beetle was navigating Tara's thighs, heading to her stifling flannel shirt. She sniffed the shirt deeply. It still had Willow's scent on it. At dawn yesterday morning, hours before playboy Scott would roll himself out of his blankets complaining about the lack of service and the rock under his kidney all night, hours before a corn farmer from Iowa would pull out a brand new set of brass knuckles, Tara had crept from her sleeping bag to stand by the edge of the ice-cold lake. It took only a moment for the chill summer mountain air to penetrate her skin, but before she turned back to her pack she heard the crunch of boots on shale, and saw her tour guide walk up with a flannel shirt in her arms. She had been nervous to see the girl in daylight after their amorous exchange under the stars the night before.

"Aren't you cold?" Willow had asked.

Not anymore. Now the shirt was stifling her, but she wouldn't take it off. She needed the shirt more than she needed Indiana Jones. She needed Willow more than she needed the shirt. She needed rescue more than she needed Willow. Maybe Willow would rescue her.

But maybe Terry got to Willow, too. Did they cover how to escape corn-fed assassins in the tour guide manual?

"In saving the world have you ever discovered how to save yourself?"

The Mount Robson tour group was small. There was Julia and Frank, a young husband and wife from Portland, Oregon (and what kind of death did Terry serve up for them?). She was expecting their first baby, and they had always wanted to do an adventure like this. There was Terry, massive and eerily quiet, with hands that could probably crush rocks into powder, and no wonder now that one punch was all he needed to permanently rearrange Scott's face. There was Jim (momma never taught me to swim), a scrawny youth who looked every morning for stubble on his chin, and stopped hitting on Tara when she asked him. There was playboy Scott, with a piece of fluff on his arm named Janice, and Tara knew it wasn't his wife.

No self-respecting wife would be ordered around like Janice, attending to Scott's every need like a well-heeled dog.

They had spent four days so far in the backcountry, and Tara had supposed that their fate was in Willow's hands, in the crumpled map and the compass pinned to her shirt (and a radio and GPS in her pack). That was before she discovered that their fate was inexplicably linked to the untimely death of Terry's small wife, and the single dark and malignant baby spawned from her failing womb.

The beetle was now on Tara's shirt, waving it's long antennae as it curiously investigated it's new home. Tara watched it as if her life depended on it. It made for better viewing than the decaying man next to her, but the slight beetle entertainment did nothing for the smell of gangrene that wafted from either her putrefying legs or the husk of Scott.

Willow was easygoing and openly flirtatious. She obviously didn't care about the homophobic ire of playdude Scott and his playmate. Tara had slowly opened up to her, telling her about her work in youth centers, her dream of someday opening her own restaurant. In turn, Willow had shared her love of the backcountry, the thrill of conquering mountains, the peace of crisp evenings when the Milky Way was an open shower of light, pearls on the velvety throat of night. The others had spent that night quaffing beer (no Julia, you shouldn't be drinking) and comparing lifestyles of the rich and famous, a topic nakedly introduced by Scott the wonder puppet so he could show them all his ring. Willow didn't drink.

Neither did Tara.

"Don't be bashful, Tara, have a drink with us!"

No, because cold beer makes for hot nights of anything but love, nights of hot piss dribbling down pajama bottoms of terrified boys and girls, siblings caught together in a circus of neglect, nights of heated arguments and drunken fists that somehow always hit the right target, nights of hot blood running down tired female faces.

The next morning all the others, save Willow and Tara, spent time getting acquainted with the fragrant butt-hole of the latrine that Willow had built for them. Bowing to the porcelain god in the middle of the forest wasn't an experience Tara felt she needed to have on her resume. Not when she and Willow had a secret.

If only she had guessed Terry's secret, she wouldn't be staring at the beetle and contemplating how good it would taste with fries. She wouldn't be wondering if the putrid stench of death was coming from her or from Scott. She wouldn't be reflecting on that one kiss from Willow, believing it to be the last.

Because Terry, corn farmer turned psychopathic killer from Iowa (where cornbread is always served hot with honey-butter, freshly ground from corn fields, those evil corn fields where children served a boy named Isaac who had all the adults killed, or where aliens carved signs and were afraid of water, or where dead baseball players dreamed of one last home run in Fenway Park), he had a fish-filleting knife and he had no compunctions about using it on people. He was a pragmatic man, this farmer (choose the right tool for the right job), and poor Jim who looked liked he'd never had a girl in his whole life, he didn't get the knife or even the gun. When the slaughter began, he screamed in terror and began to run but everyone knows that when a corn-fed killer is after you (oh, the evil corn), you can never run fast enough, no, because the thudding feet are always right behind you and their crazed breath is all you can hear and you can't even look where you're going you're so petrified with fear, and dark wetness trails down your jeans and puddles warmly in your shoes until your shoes fill with chilled water from your headlong charge into the glacier fed lake (pearls and stars) and you never learned how to swim because your momma could never afford it and the psychopath comes to the shore and pelts stones at you until you drown, locked in the icy embrace of the eager water-accomplice.

And Tara followed Willow (because I just found her, yes I did, under the stars that looked like pearls on the velvety throat of night) at first, with Scott close behind them, bawling at Janice for her to keep up. Just like Jim, Janice discovered the futility of running from Implacable Murder, tripping over a fallen branch and falling with a gentle thud into the prickly blanket of dead pine needles. Tara made to stop, to go back, but Willow knew her duty. To the end, she knew her duty.

Tara didn't really need a refund, not really.

The beetle fluttered its wings as if to leave (no party here, boys, someone put out pretzels but there's no beer). And some part of might-as-well-be-dead Tara stopped her wandering thoughts long enough to lift a trembling hand to this iridescent beetle, clutched it's terrified form between thick and clumsy fingers, then dropped it's sacredness into an eager mouth, teeth crunching, throat gagging. Willow would have known what type of beetle it was, and could have recommended an appropriate side dish (chilled monkey brains).

"Tastes like chicken," Tara muttered as she picked at her teeth. She would accept that cold beer now, though frankly another kiss from Willow would be far preferable.

It was a kiss with a promise. It was unspoken, but they negotiated the nonverbal contract before the very stars as witnesses. With the homophobe passed out, dead to the world (now as ever he should have been), Willow and Tara had slipped away to the edge of the glacier fed lake, their boots crunching mercilessly on the shale (like the crunchings of beetles between teethsies it was, gollum!). Willow took Tara's hand. Tara took Willow's lips.

She wished she still had them. Anything to take away the disconcerting bits of exoskeleton stuck in her teeth. She willed herself not to, knowing she had to preserve her meager water supply, but her mouth once again simply did whatever it felt like, this time descending to lick the silty moisture from a crevice within the rock. From the corner of her eye she could see sunlight glinting off the five million dollar ring. Why didn't Terry come down and take it? Blood money for his dead wife and child?

Because Tara also heard gunshots.

And no corn farmer from Iowa was self-assured enough to somehow climb down this treacherous rock fall, come face to face with the murdered man and the woman who always did the right thing, who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, to filch a five million dollar ring from a sausage bloated finger. No witnesses, no trial, and Tara knew that one of those gunshots echoing from far and away must have been to his own temple.

It's what cowards did.

Like her father.

(You know better, Tara, you know what really happened.)

She only prayed that Willow wasn't on the receiving end of another shiny metallic package.

Because Willow knew her duty, to the end she knew her duty (wouldn't abandon her post even if the ship was sinking). And so when Janice tripped and fell, it was Willow who ran back to save her, telling Tara and Scott to keep on running, but Tara wasn't going to, as if she was going to leave Willow in the rampaging path of that Terry-bull, waving the red flag to draw him off and away from his real quarry (rings don't buy wives). But Scott grabbed her hand with that meaty and sweaty fist of his, and dragged her away with him, and with Willow screaming in her ears, "Run, Tara, run!" she complied unwillingly.

Her last glance at Willow should not have been through such terrified eyes. She should not have seen her girl's agonized expression, the millions of words that should have been shared over a course of a lifetime reflected in those magical green eyes.

Scott didn't know where he was going. He tried to stop before running off a cliff that suddenly loomed before them both. He tried, but he couldn't stop, he slid off the edge and found faint purchase in that tiny doomed tree (such a precarious and sublime existence, just like mine) and the hand of his hiking buddy who always did the right thing. Who was always reliable. Who never smoked, never drank, never stole.

The shrinking part of Tara that somehow stayed optimistic of rescue (she hadn't seen Willow die now had she, no she hadn't) devised ways of taking this ring to fix everything in her life. (Finders keepers, losers weepers.) It could fill her bank account which was shockingly empty for a thirty-five year old single professional (who always did the right thing!). It could buy a new home for her brother, though it was abundantly apparent, now as ever, that he didn't need Tara's money or her charity (how crafty to make it look like an accident, Donnie, really). It could prop up the rehab program she had worked so hard for. Because too many of those socially rejected youth ended up in jail. Too many ended up with unsmiling faces, cynicism boiled into their skin, and their new rank in this life identified by a tattoo.

The tattoo on Scott's back was a dark blotch in a sea of bloated, shiny skin (oh the flesh puppet). It was a stylized dagger, point facing down, with the number three above the hilt and the number twenty-five on the blade. She should have asked what it meant.

"Shoulda, coulda, woulda," Tara muttered, sniffing her shirt.

She should have known that the corn farmer, once started upon his murderous rampage, would leave no witnesses behind. What better place to fade out of the world, than in the vast expanse of the mountains? Where fatalities were almost expected? I swear it was a grizzly bear, Your Honour. That or the murderous cult of chipmunks (What are we going to do tonight, Brain? The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!).

Tara soon realized that she, too, would simply disappear. She had figured it out rather quickly. Because after the brass knuckles smashed into Scott's face, Terry kicked Tara over the cliff with as much remorse as swatting a fly (goin' gopher hunting). Tara landed on the bottom on her legs, which then snapped like dry twigs. Was she lucky or not, that she didn't open her skull like Scott? (Such pretty mini-bombs, those fireworks…oh say can you see?)

Tara had looked up then and saw the calm face of her killer.

"Why, Terry, why?" she screamed.

"She was beautiful, Tara, beautiful like you. Even when the cancer hollowed her, she was still beautiful. And after she died I didn't have anything except the corn. And Scott took that away." There was little remorse in Terry's voice.

"But why me?" Tara choked.

"Because nice guys always finish last." Terry had wandered away, then, before she heard one gunshot, another some time later, and another immediately following. Coward.

She was frantic about Willow. Those first fifteen minutes she screamed Willow's name, her voice sharpened to razor keenness because of the agony of her legs. Surely her guide got away. She was a woodswoman, for pity's sake. She was MacGyver, she could probably make a nuclear warhead from a pack of matches and duct tape. She could mount a rescue operation with toothpicks and pipe tobacco. Willow knew everything, for crying out loud.

See, Willow would know the name of the bird that screeched from the pine tree near Tara. She could name the cheerful bubbling creek that was only thirty feet away but infinitely far to a woman with broken legs and no hope. She probably recorded the sessions of the chipmunks as they met to discuss taking over the world. And the devious sound of the cricket that wasn't a cricket, it was a...

"Don't be bashful, Tara, have a drink with us!"

"Boreal Chorus Frog," said the handy-dandy-lips-of-licorice-tour guide. Willow had been explaining it, sitting on a comfy couch in front of the crackling fire. That first night they stayed in the cabin before starting their two week odyssey into mind-numbing terror, their regular tour programming suddenly canceled by breaking news (And now, from somewhere deep in the woods, a corn farmer from Iowa goes on a murderous rampage, stay tuned for more details!). "Small enough to fit on the tip of your finger, loud enough to hear from far away."

That was just before the music began, for Willow had pulled out a guitar, and had tuned it up and played a melody or two to the compliant and still nervous strangers around the fire. Tara had found her courage somewhere in the deep green depths of Willow's eyes, for she asked for the guitar next.

And played under the blazing eyes of Willow Rosenberg and the blazing heat of the crackling fire, so hot she felt like she was dying, but the music sustained her, flowing through her veins like a cooling flood, rippling out her fingers onto her guitar, the best she had ever played because she was playing with her soul, and the room was so hot, and Willow kept looking at her with crazed lust in her eyes and Tara soared in ecstasy, and the music was her food and drink, filling her up until she could feel nothing else except for far pain in her fingers for they almost bled. And Willow's eyes, her hot and blazing green eyes, immolating her from within, the soul in Tara's eyes met the soul in Willow's eyes and Tara played only for her. Only her.

She was so beautiful.

Did Willow live?

Of course she did. She was MacGyver. She could defeat the farmer with nothing but paper clips and her swiss army knife. And nunchuks. Definitely nunchuks.

Michaelangelo the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle had nunchuks. He was the one with the orange headband and the crazy sayings.

"Cowabunga, dude," Tara whispered, with no one to hear her except the contemptuous wildlife (the chipmunks were recruiting). A dementia of dehydration and exhaustion fogged her mind.

Tara wished another beetle would come and hang out with her. Willow would be better. She should invite Willow over.

"Red rover, red rover, I call Willow over!" Tara chuckled madly.

"In saving the world have you ever discovered how to save yourself?"

Tara couldn't count the number of times she had been in a room with a severely damaged fellow human being. How she had sat there, a faint smile on her face, leaning forward with deliberate attention, her ears scorching with the endless tales of violence, abuse, and neglect. It was always Tara who listened. Day after day, week after week, month after month she sat benignly and let them, those feeble and tragic ones, the millstones of private despair drowning them, she let them pour their blackened viscous tar all over her until the taste of violence was always on her tongue and the stench of abuse penetrated her bones.

"Take a break, or you're fired, Tara."

She always listened. Why did she always listen, and never speak?

So here, within spitting distance of death, Tara began to speak. Why was it that nice guys always finished last? Why was it she who had to listen, she always had to listen, to save those around her? Why did that one kiss with Willow rearrange her connection with this calamitous world?

"Am I worth saving?" Tara wondered aloud. "Apparently not."

She tore her eyes away from the lecherous cadaver and looked down the mountain valley. She thought she could hear something approaching, something that didn't care about making noise. Maybe it was a bear. "Any bears here?" Scott had asked Willow (and Willow hadn't really been paying attention, had she Tara, since you were sitting next to her on the pine-needled ground and there was a blanket over your combined legs, yes there was, a thin flannel blanket that more than adequately covered the fact that your hand was tracing the inside of Willow's leg, following the sewn crease of her jeans up her hips, and you were delighting, weren't you, in the flush of red warmth in her face, delighting that you knew the reason for that flush but no one else did and it was that very night under the pearled throat of sky that you stood with her and ravished her with your lips, the kiss with a promise of more to come, and come.)

"Oh, yes," Willow had stammered, "This is prime Grizzly bear habitat."

So at the crashing, Tara sat up a little straighter, her muddled mind rejoicing. Being eaten by a bear was certainly a more desirable fate than death by dehydration and exposure. She knew she would not survive another night, oh no she wouldn't, not another night, no more waking in the morning with kiss-swollen lips and a tour guide that gave away flannel shirts.

But it was Tripod who staggered over to her, his awkward gait intensely familiar, his red fur coat gleaming in the brilliant light of day, but why oh why were his eyes so green? Tara didn't care, for Tripod came closer and closer, stumbling a bit over the uneven ground. Was he hurt? For the second time in months, maybe even years, Tara was truly happy (stars and pearls and licorice lips).

She was saved.

"So much has happened, Tripod," she whispered. Tripod didn't sit to listen, he moved about her legs as if assessing the damage done.

The searing sun had begun running to the horizon as if night were a corn-fed farmer from Iowa with a fish-filleting knife and no compunctions on using it. Soon it would hide behind the jagged peaks of the Rocky Mountains and wait for a tour guide/McGyver to rescue it.

"I'm so sorry about what dad did to you," Tara said. "You may be happy to learn that Donnie murdered him last year and made it look like an accident and collected all the insurance money and now lives like king of the trailer park. He tried to tell me dad committed suicide. What am I, brainless?"

Tripod didn't pause in his peculiar ministrations to her legs, barking his approval (I found her, repeat, I found her. Send me a helicopter as fast as you can, the sun is setting soon and she's in really bad shape).

"You know what, Tripod? I finally found her. Knew I was looking all my life for her and I found her here of all places. She's beautiful, Tripod. She's got incredible red hair, remarkably like yours, and her eyes were like jewels."

(Tara, hang in there, rescue is coming.) Was Tripod weeping? Could dogs weep?

"I kissed her, Tripod. Under the starry sky in the middle of the wilderness I kissed her. I kissed her, and suddenly my old life just wasn't enough anymore. Throughout my career I saved over a dozen kids, and it used to be enough. Just barely enough."

(You'll play the guitar for me again, Tara, yes you will. And you'll kiss me under the moonlight again, Tara. And when you do, you'll realize something. Finders keepers, losers weepers. I found you, too. I'll never let you go.)

Tara started to wonder if her body would soon be fodder for the bears and the crows, just like Scott's. In a dozen years, all that would remain of both of them would be the royal, five million dollar purple square cut diamond ring.

"I saved them," Tara whispered.

(And I'll save you, Tara.) Tripod gave her a lick on her cheek, and from the dark funnel she was sliding into, she could hear a strange thwumping of rotor blades. The chipmunk army must be ready to stage their unholy coup.

"In saving the world have you ever discovered how to save yourself?" her older brother Donnie had once asked.

(She's over here, guys! Would you hurry?!)

Apparently so.


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