The blond amazon, upon entering the small hut, was immediately embraced by the smaller body of a panicked redhead.
"TARA! Oh, god. I thought I'd lost you!" She clamped onto the amazon's bare shoulders and apparently wouldn't let go. A breath that Willow had been holding seemed to escape from her nervous mouth, along with a few words as well, "I couldn't get to sleep for the rest of the night, and I know you said you'd be back later, but after I waited all morning, a-and you didn't show, I figured it had all been a dream and that in fact, I hadn't been abducted by bloodthirsty amazons. But then, when the guards came 'round, they very quickly disproved that theory with sharp, pointy staffs and several jabs at my ribcage. And by the way, in any language, and in any culture I'm sure the universal "ow!" is understood. I finally scared them off, though, by grumbling with a deep growl - apparently you're not the only one to have fallen for the 'drag' trick..." Tara just stood there, soaking in the elongated babble, with the gorgeous girl wrapped around her own ribcage.
I'm not supposed to let her get close. I'm not supposed to allow my attraction get the better of me. I'm not supposed to enjoy this... but...
"...But the whole experience was highly rude, if you ask me. I can't tell you how happy I am you're here!" came the final words and a strong squeeze for emphasis.
She missed me.
All previous "final decisions" floated out of her brain along with her logic, sense of surroundings and the feeling in her knees. It took Tara a few moments to realize they were in silence once more. The only thought that registered in her brain was the fact that Willow had been waiting for her return, wanted her to come back - even after... everything. The silence could not survive, though, with that darned impending awkwardness. So Tara squeaked out under the arms of the redhead a response.
Willow finally broke away from her death-grip of a hug and questioned, "huh?"
"You're uh, ability to talk," Tara stated smiling," and talk, and talk..."
"I see where you're going with this, Miss amazonia," Willow said mock-miffed, "but if we're to be friends, you must know that in no way am I a pithy-person."
"I can see."
"Then again, if you don't want to be friends, I-I understand, I just assu-"
"Willow," Tara interjected softly, "I already know you're a friend. Don't ask me why, or how, but I trust you."
The safari-traveler could only smile a mile-wide grin in response.
"I'm sorry about this morning," Tara said casting her eyes down sadly, "I-I didn't want to leave you alone, and if I had known I'd have told the guards you were diseased and not to touch you or something..."
"Thanks..." came the wry voice.
"I should have warned you."
"During the Seven Days the overseer of the ceremony p-prepares f-for the night rituals, the parts where you and I are stuck together - alone," the amazon said, shakily the last word escaped.
"Is that why some weird lady came in early today and dumped those bowls of pudding next to the bed?" Willow asked.
"Yes, a-and it isn't pudding - it's paint."
"Dye, really. You'll see, I'll take you th-through every ritual step by step," Tara said soothingly. She then began to worry over how much she was asking of the redhead, "b-but if you want out, if you don't want to go through wit-"
"I trust you," Willow said evenly. The blond smiled back, upon which the redhead added, "like you for me."
Tara smiled back again, gratefully, "none of the Days involve any violence, or pain before the final one, I swear."
"Okay, as long as there aren't any kinky-bondage rituals, I'll be fine," Willow deadpanned.
Tara stared for a moment, wondering if the traveler was serious.
"Um... n-no not to my knowledge."
"Remember the whole 'get a sense of humor' thing I told you about?" The redhead admonished wagging her finger at the girl. The blond smirked and grabbed the offending wrist, bending it back with a swift movement. Willow looked up fearfully, there wasn't any pain - yet.
"Yes. I also remember enjoying the substitute of flipping you much more than the average joke."
"Touché," she gulped.
Silence enfolded the two again. It seemed to stalk their conversations whenever it rounded onto the touchy subject of their touching. Tara cleared her throat and released the soft skin.
"Well, should we get down to this ritual, then?"
"Sure, if it helps the allusion of you killing me, I'm in. What do we have to do?" Willow asked eyeing the dye uncertainly. She moved towards it and sat down on the ground as Tara did, picking the bowl up carefully.
"Well, normally we paint the ceremonial markings of the tribe, on our f-faces and umm... other parts," Tara said uncertainly, "It's called the 'cleansing process' or 'lithiahu'iliah' which basically allows our bodies to be sacrificed to the will of the goddess in the end. B-but seeing as you don't know the ritualistic markings or how to-"
"You do it," Willow said and then realizing the demand for what it was added, in compromise, "a-a-and in recompense I could do yours, I'll just repeat whatever you do and everything will be just peachy."
"O-okay," she said, "I'll translate the chants to English for you." Tara inwardly groaned.
Willow doesn't know what she's asking me for, though.
"Fine," Willow said grinning. She knew exactly what she was asking Tara to do.
Tara's going to touch my face, Tara's going to touch my face, Tara's going to touch my face, so what if it's to prepare me to be sacrificed? Tara's going to touch my face! Willow's thoughts bubbled happily.
Who knew amazon rituals were so time consuming? Willow certainly didn't. It took a while for her to register just how long she'd be sitting cross-legged before her foot had fallen asleep, in protest of the uncomfortable position. However, there was nothing short of boredom in the small hut; both girls were completely absorbed in one another, regardless of the ritual.
What started out as simple face painting began to turn into an intense period of silence. It sliced through all conversation when the blond amazon began speaking the ancient words of her people.
"Lithiahu'iliah, beagia uhujai juii," she said softly, whilst tenderly smearing the sticky liquid in a line from the redhead's widow's peak down to her lips. When Tara had reached the final destination, it took most of Willow's will power not to kiss the tempting finger. But before she knew it, Tara's hand was gone. The girl translated the words for Willow, "Let the lithiahu'iliah begin."
Willow repeated the whole process; causing Tara's primal instincts to get the better of her when the redhead's fingers brushed against her own rosy lips. The sensation alone of Willow-skin on her mouth caused the blond to slowly heat up - inside out.
"Lithiahu'iliah, beagia uhujai juii," she whispered.
"Y-you don't h-have to s-say it in a-amazonian," Tara whispered, drugged by the feel of the girl's hand. Yet, she was amazed that the girl could memorize - and pronounce - her native tongue so well, so quickly.
"I'm a fast learner," Willow said staring intently at the girl in front of her.
The blond merely nodded, then looked down at her friend's jacket questioningly. She mutely tugged at the unwanted garment in signal to the redhead. Willow instinctively tore the garment off revealing a button-up white shirt. The blond patted her own skin below the collarbone and without further encouragement the redhead began to undo each button, revealing more skin, causing the blond to question when and if it would end. Lower. Lower. Just a little lower...
Tara wondered why the redhead had been so trusting as to comply with her silent request. For all she knew, it was practical joke. And yet, Willow said she trusted her.
She trusts me.
So she reached out - a little too fast for her liking at first - to stop the redhead, who numbly ceased in her undressing.
It's okay, her eyes seemed to say.
Willow took the smile and beautiful eyes staring at her kindly to be a good sign, and forgot the momentary embarrassment at her eagerness to strip for the girl.
Perve. Total, utter perve.
Tara shook her head of all thoughts - naughty or normal - and went back to staring at the bowl questioning inwardly what she had meant with the semi-strip in the first place.
Upon remembrance, she dipped her right hand facedown into the bowl, while holding it with the other. She held her palm forward to Willow and breathed heavily, "Muheia carazonia, courpaina, iah poliah 'ah ju," with the last word she pressed her open palm onto the girl's upper chest.
Willow's breath hitched.
Hand. Hand. HAND.
"My heart, my body, my soul," Tara said trembling with her hand still placed on the girl's bare skin, "to you," she gulped.
Willow never once blinked. She kept her eyes directly boring into Tara's. If she had tried to look down and see what she felt, fainting might've become an issue.
Keep your eyes up. Don't look down. Keep your eyes up. Pay no attention to that hand behind the curtain. Wait, the problem is the lack there of a curtain. There is no curtain! I want a curtain! Why did I strip away the curtain?
Tara slowly removed her hand and offered the bowl numbly to Willow. Lucky for the redhead the blonde's upper chest was already open to the air due to her peoples' version of a shirt.
Willow placed her hand down into the liquid substance, slowly withdrawing it and saying the words again. She lifted her hand to the girl's upper chest, almost fearfully.
"Muheia, carazonia, courpaina, iah poliah 'ah ju," with the last word the redhead touched the blonde's skin and electricity shot from the girl's hand, into her heart.
A flash outside the hut shot through the night air. Buf'aneah and Fa'aithlia looked up questioningly.
It was normal for rain in this country, encouraged among the crop growers. But this air-fire, this instantaneous and untamed flash of light and power, feared among those that had last witnessed it cross their borders, wasn't. Those that had those memories were rare among the sisters. It had been ages since a light-producing storm. They had ended, hadn't they? With the placement of the trees, and the protection spirits adorned on the borders of their community, the fire-air had ended.
The blond and brunette looked back at each other. A mutual thought was written on each girl's face.
What the hell?
"Alakia, alarespira, uh veradija ," Tara said slowly holding her hand up, face forward, no longer needing translation, as Willow mimicked word for word, holding up her palm to Tara's.
"Alakia, alarespira uhi veradija."
So stand, so breathe, so be true.
"Buf'aneah!" came a shout from the dark. A young girl, raced up to the guards, who, at the moment were looking up at the now-dark sky.
"Akhia, what's the matter?" Buf' said questioningly. This girl was an apprentice of hers, a warrior-to-be that Buf'aneah had personally started training no less than a few months ago. She had only just reached her 13th year.
"What, what's wrong with the trees?" the blond said, trying to calm the young girl down.
"I don't know, I-I-I was just standing there, gathering wood, because Thea told me to, and then I heard a loud crack and I didn't know what was happening so I screamed out, and then started running... and, the sky! The sky was on fire! I saw the flames! I saw them, reaching out to my skin, so I ran and kept running and..." she was breathing herself ragged from the force of her words.
Fa'aithlia knelt down slowly next to the frightened child, "breathe," the girl did as she was told, "Now, go slow, you say you saw the sky on fire?"
The little girl nodded vehemently at the question, and croaked out, "The tree's were burning under the light. The largest was struck under the force, and a limb came down almost on me. It was burning, Buf'aneah. It was burning," she said going pale looking at the blond.
"Go to Thea, Akhia, tell her what you saw. NOW," Buf'aneah said urgently. The little girl scampered off into the semi-dark towards Thea's hut. The sun was already below the earth's horizon and a light blue was fading into the deep black of the east.
"Burning?" Fa'aithlia questioned, worriedly, "that can't be right, the Trees are protected against wind, water and fire. Do you think she was telling the truth?"
"I don't know. I've never seen her this scared," she replied, "The air-flames haven't been..."
"It can't be them! They were banished with the evils of the world... it just can't..." Fa'aithlia said disbelieving.
"We did see the light, Fa'aithlia," Buf'aneah reasoned.
"Well, why didn't we hear it?"
The guards looked up again at the sky, now fuming with clouds and thunder. With a short glance at each other they decided to move - quickly.
Slowly, women, children and elders alike emerged from their huts, questioningly looking up to the sky. A universal fear rose among the women, and several questioning glances, fearful looks formed into one final thought.
The moved, almost as one towards their last resort for protection and safety. The stronghold of Thea's guidance would prove to be useful, perhaps explanatory of the sky's sudden ferocity.
Nothing but the sound of feet padding against ground could be heard as the walked, jogged and ran to her.
The two girls inside were sweating profusely from the overwhelming heat that was being produced in the small hut. Why, neither could answer. It was slightly confusing to say the least; Tara could hear a strong wind right outside the hut, and night was falling fast.
Suddenly, the sky seemed to erupt outside in several elongated booms, and both girls' attentions snapped to the curtain's being pulled back. Willow instinctively dived for her helmet, and jacket, shielding the intruders' sight. The redhead barely made it to the slim shadows the hut allowed with the small torch burning on the inside.
She kept her head tilted down with a small view of two women walking in and stayed silent as Tara looked on questioningly. When a voice sounded from behind her, though, she understood the urgency in Willow's actions.
"Tar'airah, eh celesatia, eh infeireania... ehes acki" a small blond said coming towards Tara. She sounded vulnerable and frightened to Willow - a child lost to its home.
The blond amazon Willow had readily stripped for began to stand, with a worried expression on her face. She exchanged a few words with the small blond when a brunette that Willow hadn't seen before stepped forward into the torchlight nearby, confirming whatever the other had said before.
Something was wrong. Willow could feel it. And she could make it out on the face of the blond.
Tara seemed torn, forced to leave the very thing she was protecting. She slowly walked back to Willow's slumped form, touching her arm slightly, and whispered as carefully as possible, "I must go. The others say they need me at the tribe's Order. The weather..." Tara looked down, as if trying to explain to a very quiet, very still Willow, "the weather frightens them so..."
A few more words escaped the smaller blonde's mouth pulling Tara - her Tara - away. The amazon began to stand once more when Willow's hand shot out grasping the young woman's arm, alarming the guards to step forward, staffs at ready.
Tara glanced over consolingly to quell the violent intentions of her companions. Once they're staffs seemed suppressed, Tara looked down questioningly at the figure of her friend, and saw the glow of green beckoning to her from the dark of the hut's shadows.
"Be..." Willow croaked, "Be... careful." And with that she let go. Tara smiled, too subtle for any real effect, yet enough for Willow - it was always enough - and turned towards her colleagues.
"Umbraihia," she whispered. And slowly the girls walked out, one by one. With one last look, Tara pulled back the curtain in pursuit of her friends.
And Willow was alone.
Please, let her be safe.
Buf'aneah had raced into the hut, so as to notify Tar'airah as quickly as possible. Surely, she had heard the calamity outside? But as she came into view it took the capture's reaction to raise attention to their entry.
"Tar'airah, the sky, the air-flames... they're here," Buf'aneah said breathlessly.
"Here?" Tar'airah said standing.
"Yes, it's true, tell her, Fa'aith!"
"Buf'aneah and I were standing, waiting as usual and we saw it for our very own eyes."
"Then they are here..." Tar'airah said slowly, her mind seemed to churn as what to do next. She walked towards the figure of the small boy and knelt down to him, touching his upper arm softly - a gesture of kindness and familiarity if Buf'aneah ever saw one, but that was another fault waiting to be dealt with later - and spoke to him in a language foreign to her ears. The one-sided conversation seemed over as Tar'airah pulled away when the small figure went for her arm, frantically - it didn't want to let go. Buf'aneah and Fa'aithlia instinctively went to protect their friend when it seemed Tar'airah wanted nothing to do with their help, and showed them so, with a glare.
Fa'aithlia and Buf'aneah backed off respectively, as the small figure said something barely audible to their ears. Fa'aithlia couldn't help but think something else had just passed before their eyes - something quiet, and powerful.
The thought would have to be sedated for the moment, though; her tribe was in danger, and that was all that could be processed at the moment.
"Come on, Tar'airah, let's go," Buf'aneah whined slightly.
Tar'airah stood up slowly, and turned towards her friends once more, "I'll follow."
Buf'aneah and Fa'aithlia stepped out, with Tar'airah slowly after them. Other amazons were racing towards the home of their elders, and mistress, Thea. Fearful glances were shot every which way as each woman, and girl made their way to the sanctuary of Thea's care. One amazon was standing still though, Fa'aithlia realized. Tar'airah would not move from the front of the hut.
What is wrong with her?
Fa'aithlia approached her and tugged at her arm, once more. Unshed tears shone in the blonde's eyes, Fa'aithlia could see.
"It'll be alright, Tar'airah, you'll see," Fa'aith said comfortingly, "Thea will tell us what's wrong, help us understand. Come on, we must go to her, we'll be safe there," she said encouraging the blonde's movement.
Tara was numb from the feel of rain dripping on her bare skin, watching her family run towards their shelter, their solace, their peace, while she was walking away from hers.
Please, let her be safe.