"That's Thea?" Willow said disbelieving turning to Tara.
"Young lady, if you're going to talk to an elder, you might learn some mode of respect," came a sharp upper class English reply the standing before her. The words pushed out of her haggard mouth as if sticking to the walls of the almost hollow cheekbones that were carved into her withered face. The grey hairs were whizzing out each which way, and wild eyes betrayed her true emotions. Yet, even among the extreme chaos that was Thea's outsides, there was a majestic quality to her as she stood before the now parting crowd.
"Yes, mum," Willow replied instinctively.
The long grey-haired woman turned her attentions to the blonde the redheaded stranger had been holding dearly and spoke softly, "Tara?"
Tara did not look up immediately as shame started to sink in. Not again... not again... How... how could I have let this happen? What am I? I-I-I am w-what she says... a beast... no better than the man that murdered... mama. She'd be ashamed to see me now...
"Tara, look at me," she raised her hand to touch the girl but as she did so her redhead companion flinched, instinctively jerked her arm around Tar's torso to keep the intruding hand away.
"I won't hurt her, stranger," she softened her gaze at Willow then, "she is one of mine." Willow stood her ground, surmising how much power this woman actually had. After several split second calculations the redhead deduced enough to toss her about like a Caesar salad. So she loosened her grip - but only a little.
"Tara, we need to get you cleaned up, and I think...I think some clarification as to what's just happened should come shortly after-"
"Oh nu-uh, you're not forcing a word out of her, not until she's out of shock-mode and well fed, plus a nice bath and did I mention 'nu-uh'?"
"I meant..." The old woman grunted appreciating this sudden protectiveness. Apparently Tara's found herself a spokes-person and bodyguard in one. "I meant from me," she said simply, "Please, Tar'airah, follow me," She looked back to the redhead and added, "I promise, I will not harm a hair on her head," but upon seeing the tight grip the redhead wielded over the now sullen blonde she tacked on, "You can accompany her, if you like. Just as long as she follows me."
Willow seemed to agree with that idea, and looked towards Tara for confirmation. When she received a small, almost imperceptible nod, she looked up at the old woman and said reaffirmed, "I stay with her. That's the rule."
"Fine by me. Please, come this way," the old woman lead the two out of the Calethia, past the questioning murmurs of the crowd that was slowly dissipating.
This will be interesting...
"Our walls have been protecting this small world for almost a century, blocking the dangerous forces of the outside since the original group of girls sought out safety in numbers - and self defense. A spell was placed on the jungle's outer rim, with seven trees lined in a large circular formation, the last one being the largest and strongest..."
Willow sat with Tara on the soft animal skins within Thea's large hut. After disbanding the crowd, promising a talk with the other tribe elders at a later date, (due to one Thaliemehia's constant whining of never being "in the know" with Thea's actions) the woman escorted the two girls to her dwelling for further discussion. For several hours the girls had recounted their story to the old woman, who patiently listened. When the topic of their developing relationship came up, though, both Willow and Tara remained lock-lipped. When her time to speak came she took in a long breath, wanting to savor the last few moments Tar'airah's innocence of the truth that remained.
"For years..." Thea began slowly, "the Walls captured those we could not nor would not trust..." she looked at the girls' expressions and heard a sharp clarification burn through her ears from the redhead.
"You mean men."
"Yes," the answer gritted through her teeth at the now prejudice comment it seemed to be. She looked down then, almost ashamed of the lives lost to benefit the protection of her women. But then her resolve rekindled, they do not deserve pity - we received none, "We disposed of them every time they were captured by the Trees. After a while, it became clear to natives that those that loose themselves here, loose their lives."
Willow looked on plaintively, wondering how long "a while" was, how many lives were lost just so a colony of frightened and battered women could be left alone.
"Thea, what does this have to do with what Caranthia said? She kept shouting about some sort of key?" Tara interjected.
"I'm getting to that, my child," The sage rose up and began walking to and fro in front of the two girls, "when the spell was set, there was also a remedy to the spell fated to come one day. A key, if you will, that would break the walls down, so our tribe no longer would live cut off from the rest of the world. You have to realize Caranthia lived in fear of this - her whole world had become this tribe..."
"That's no excuse for attacking Willow," Tar' shot back.
"I'm not saying it is, dear... please, understand, Caranthia has fought for all her life to protect and serve her people - being... being who she is, it was impossible not to want to ward off the impending destruction of the Walls... they were her protection as well, you see... and it's not as though she wouldn't overreact-"
"Thea..." Tar'airah rolled the name off her tongue warningly. She could tell when Thea was trying to hide information, "What are you not telling us?"
The woman looked pointedly at the young girl as Willow's head bobbed back and forth between the two. She's not telling us everything? Thea made a sort of 'harumph' and scowled mildly at the blonde's inquisition. Why we couldn't have just skipped intuition and cunning completely in her training I'll never know.
"The thing is, well," Thea hedged scrapping at her robes nervously, "I do believe... at least as far as calculations are correct in the spell's age and when there were last storms of this measure... I... Mrs. Rosenberg, you are key." "What?! That's not true, the Tree thing was a flukes! The spell's all old and... broken."
Tara quirked her eyebrow at the last comment, but allowed the redhead's worried eyes to sooth away all doubts of the redhead's seriousness.
"The Trees are only set to capture men, my dear, you said it yourself," Thea calmly replied.
"But I was - am - wearing pants, with a... a helmet! And did I mention the mud?" Tara didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the naiveté words tumbling out of Willow's mouth by the second, she was still rambling when she stole a look at Thea for a sign of comfort.
"The Trees don't need clothes to know a person," Willow looked pointedly at Tara who for some odd reason wasn't meeting her gaze, "They breathe your identity into the roots. That's how the spell works."
I knew I shouldn't have kicked the damn thing.
"How do you know I'm this key-thing? If you ask me it sounds like a phony pass off for an inexplicable plot twist to your psycho story."
"Willow, calm down," Tara soothed the redhead. She doesn't understand, "You being the Key does not change who you are one bit, you're just the link-"
"And so are you, my dear."
"What?" Tar'airah's head shot up at that. Since when do I get pulled into the psycho story?
"You two are the bridge between both worlds. With your connection the tribe can finally live within and without the boundaries of the jungle. It is time our women stop living in fear - the world is ready for us, as the Walls are already starting to fall..." Thea said standing in her large robes.
"When did you first know?"
"When did you first see that the Walls were breaking?"
"I didn't, not really. I suspected there were problems with them, warning signals had been shot up and I did not recognize them for what they were."
"The air-fire..." Tar'airah whispered. Thea nodded in agreement, "It's been decades since we've had storms like that, let me tell you," she nodded sagely.
"But I did not know it, that is, believe it until today... I found Perhamia's body laid below the sheets of Caranthia's bed, worn with the backlash of magic that was used on the Tree's bark. That was when I knew."
"Perhamia's body? Is she...?"
"Dead?" Thea breathed out shortly, wondering how to continue. Once you start a fire, it must burn until all the leaves are crackled, lest unnatural smoke rise in the wake. The grand lady, burdened with remorse for her passing friends and family slowly began again "...it seems Caranthia had employed her powers to hide the spell's disintegration. But I don't think... I don't think Perhamia knew what she was getting into at the time... she would've told me, she would've..." Thea's brow crunched together, as it was rare for her to show her emotions openly, she let the tears recede back into her eyes. No need... not now.
"I should have known Caranthia would try to stop it from happening... since childhood she was overprotective, too controlling even within our small world. Then again, in the most protected environment, control is the root of all power."
Silence seeped in, but just as the buzz of bugs outside started to creep in sync with their breathing Willow's brow furrowed with a rush of anger.
"So what happens now? What about all the traditions? The Sacraments? Your beliefs? What about everything that you have taught to these girls? Are you going to just throw it all away and dump them into the 'real' world without any preparation or training that will actually do them good?"
"It will take time, years... decades perhaps... but this is the beggining. At the least, we have a start. We shall never loose our beliefs, we shall never loose what we are: we're Amazons, women warriors bred to be who we are. But now, we have the choice - don't you see? By giving us the link to the outside world, you give each and every one of us a choice."
"So why isn't Caranthia okay with the bridge if there's a choice?" Willow fumed.
"Because she knows that over time, the tribe... our world will disappear. She will disappear as Caranthia and become just another woman. At least... that's what she fears will happen."
Silence enfolded the room.
Softly, Willow spoke up, realizing her new role in all of this, "What do we do now?"
"My dear girl, you don't 'do' anything. By becoming friends with my Tar'airah, you have already started, as they say, the beginning of the end."
"And it seems, I should explain to you the other half to this maddening story you've become entwined in..."
The girls looked up expectantly as the old woman inhaled a large breath.
"Tar'airah, do you remember when you first came to us?"