The Kitten, the Witches and the Bad Wardrobe - Willow & Tara Forever

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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Sun May 23, 2004 1:59 pm 
Well that was great. I loved how you had Tara and Willow combine really to defeat Shadai and how they had to trust each other to do it. I am glad that they are both safe now and I'm hoping that all of the carvers and goatmen etc have been destroyed also. I look forward to finding out what happens now that Hellebore is destroyed. Thanks for the update Chris and also for your wonderful description which makes everything so much easier to picture.



It's a moo point. It's like a cow's opinion. It's moo.
Words of wisdom from 'Friends'



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Sun May 23, 2004 3:11 pm 
Hi there :wave



I apologize for not leaving a reply to chapter 62, I haven't been spending much time on W/T fanfic land and I kind of missed that last chapter :buried :blush

Anyway since I think you deserve to get tons of feedback on this truly amazing story of yours I figured I should now reply to both of your chapters :kgeek



I loved your description of the underground catacombs and of W/T path to the Hellebore center. From the Wraith to the 'Urbar' I had a really clear vision of what was happening to them all the time, eh, I could almost hear the ghouls bones breaking and the corpses falling on the floor... You go W/T :grin



I was surprised with the 'big' fight, somehow I had imagined a whole different thing. But I'm glad that it didn't turn out to be the way I expected it to be, I like surprises :)

It is funny how Shadai's plan to render Willow powerless, in the end turned out to be her bigger weakness as she was left open to Tara's attack :moo



Now I'm looking forward to see the aftermath of this battle and what will W/T do now :bounce




"I know I was born and I know that I'll die.

The in between is mine.

I am mine!" - Pearl Jam



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Mon May 24, 2004 9:34 am 
This journey has been absolutely incredible - and I've enjoyed every second (word) of it. For that I thank you :)



Did the connection that was established between Willow and Shadai when she cast the banishing spell create a bridge for Shadai to travel? Into Willow, that is?



How horrible to find out that the creature you are most afraid of has been living inside you all this time. Talk about living with your fears.



I'm in awe of how you've managed to represent WT in this story. The characters are so strong and brave, yet kind and generous, wise and loving ... they're the whole package ... and I think they're exactly how us kitten see them, no matter what imperfections canon Buffy tried to impute.



I'm eager to find out the aftermath...now that the big fight is over - will they set sail to the islands, or will Willow complete her 'studying' first?



I read that you have a sequel planned. Will it take place in the Amazon Islands? I'd like to see Tara on her own 'home-turf' :)



Anyway, thanks Chris for this wonderful story, I know it's not done yet .. but you deserve a big thank you for every update.

--------------------------

Tinna Karen

-tölvunörd í fyrsta ættlið



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Mon May 24, 2004 9:40 am 
OMG!! That was fantastic :applause I love how you describe everything. It is so easy to get completely lost in 'your' world. Okay - on to specifics...



Creepy naked Shadai/Willow was... well, especially icky. Plus I think my imagination is a little too vivid sometimes, because seeing those claw/manacles explode from Willow was really quite gory :glasses I loved (LOVED) how Shadai couldn't hurt Tara. It made perfect sense to me. I also liked how it was Shadai's own arrogance that allowed for her ultimate defeat. I'm sure she thought she was brilliant, hiding away within Willow. And, to quote, "Take that, bitch." Is it wrong that her death brought me so much joy? Oh, well :D



Tara using Wllow's raw power was brilliant. The mage's (forget his name at the moment) advice to "Trust her," came into play perfectly. I have to admit I was getting a little nervous at first - I knew Tara should be able to use Willow's power, but it seemed so overwhelming. And then it all comes into focus - trust in the deepest sense of the word. Not just for Willow, but for Tara as well.



Great chapter!! I can hardly wait to see what they tell the folks back at the castle, especially Tryptin :D

-shuyaku

Oh God, Willow—you’re giving me the gift of Karen Carpenter. Just when I think I grasp the full extent of your love." - Tara

"Why do birds suddenly appear? It’s because, you are queer…" - Willow (Gods Served and Abandoned by AntigoneUnbound)



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Mon May 24, 2004 11:37 am 
I wonder how far away from the castle they are actually. For all we know they could be 5 miles north from Ensteig, jumping into an unknown portal tends to do that you know :)



I would like for W/T to meet the other's de-facto-parents (Ember, Solari). I wonder what Ember will say about Willow's actions, I think Ember's opinion is very important to Willow. More so than Solari's to Tara, as she didn't leave as some sort of punishment or with a mission to learn behave herself. Hmm.. hopefully that made sense :) .



Yeah, "meeting the parents" should be fun.



I keep thinking about how Shadai could have gotten into Willow. Maybe it was during Hidris' court case, he DID summon something or at least attempted to. No doubt Willow will want to get to the bottom of that as well, must be a truly icky feeling; having been a host to something like Shadai. (let's hope she doesn't have lapses of memory, hmm)



You wrote a nice update Chris, now I'll be left continueing to think up possible explanations... :lol .



Btw. from some chapters waaaay back, where did "Deckard Cain" dissappear to ? Hmm... come to think of it, that would defeat the idea of 'dissappear', but I wondered what would happen if Willow ever met him. Lots of knowledge to be had for sure :)



Now where will the wedding be held, amazon isles or in Kehjistan ? Inquiring minds want to know :bounce



I noticed that Willow's orders/sentence was to follow training in Westmarch and Khanduras. Did they ever reach Khanduras ?? It's not on HellMap that I can see, I assume it's another province ?



Btw. first part of this story was posted 16-jun-2003, almost a year 'round... and I think you'll reach the full year too. Without the sequel even :)



Grimmy :wave (I'll think of something else soon, trust me ;-)

--
"You hurt Tara," Willow said too calmly. "The last one who tried that was a god. I made her regret it." -- Unexpected Consequences by Lisa of Nine



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Mon May 24, 2004 5:27 pm 
The final dust up with Shadia was incredible. You culd feel Tara's pain at having to hurt something that even looked like Willow. Willow's vision came true but it was of her and Tara working together to kill Dahadai rather than of Tar's death. The whole descritption of Hellebore rising and falling was monumental. :) Shadai tried to use Willow to get Hellebore but it proved to be her undoing because of Tara. Their love is not only wonderful but can save a world. Wonderful fic !!!



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2004 11:59 am 
Hello Kittens, and thank you all :) Phew, that's the climactic battle out of the way... that one's been in my mind for a long time, getting played with, having elements put in and taken out, being tweaked and adjusted... and *still* it turned out different than I'd imagined when I sat down to write it. :) (That whole 'web of skin' thing that Shadai did was something I didn't think of until literally the moment I wrote it.)



The next chapter is mostly done, and if not tomorrow, then definitely on Friday it'll be finished and posted. The demon may be back where she belongs, but there's still a little way to go, and I promise you, you *do* want to see how it ends.



Debra: Thanks :) This chapter really flowed directly from the end of the previous one (well, cliff-hanger and all that it was), so it was very easy to start work on it, and being just one continuous scene, it was easy to just keep writing :) It's not the shortest chapter I've done - the early ones were pretty short, and even later there have been some about the same. Looking over it, the lack of scene breaks, or long stretches of dialogue, definitely gave it a speedy feel. Nothing like an exchange of short sentences in dialogue to fill up a page :)



The portal is something that, in retrospect, I probably should have given a little more detail on. For the benefit of people just reading the story itself the relevant information will be in the next chapter, but yes, when they were seeing Hellebore fall it was direct line-of-sight, the portal had shut off when the tower began collapsing. They're a couple of miles away from the crater. And I was deliberately careful with distances in one instance - the crater extended half a mile from the monastery, and Willow and Tara's camp site the night before, where Anji was told to return and wait for them, was two miles away. All things being equal, she should be fine :)



As for how history will record these events... well, same as always, differently for different people. Certainly a mile-wide crater is the kind of thing that gets noticed, so some of what happened will become public knowledge. Important people will find out more, and certainly the Duke would want to know why a bit of his realm blew up. Certainly questions will be asked. Willow and Tara have a degree of credibility, though, even in such an extraordinary situation - being an Amazon emissary and a Zann Esu, their word counts for a lot. The 'fallout' from Hellebore is one of the things the final chapters will deal with.



Grimlock: Sorry you didn't get a clear visual, I tend to visualise very strongly when I write, so at times I overlook the effect it could have if it were read *without* that image in mind.



As you say, this chapter was all about the immediate threat, but explanations will be forthcoming - as I mentioned above, to Debra, when a chunk of the highland explodes people start to ask questions, so those questions will be answered. Probably a lot of the questions you have will be in future chapters, though I haven't planned them exactly. Concerning the magic, and Willow's inability to harm Shadai - what killed her was Willow's power, but the spell that harnessed that power was Tara's. Normally Willow would both draw on power and form the spell herself, while Tara would form a spell using power from her gods. In this case Willow couldn't use her spells, and Tara had no gods to help her - but between them they still had enough for a risky, but workable casting :)



Hellebore was working - Willow and Tara were simply inside the shield, along with Shadai. Hence Tara not being able to call to her gods - they're outside the shield, and nothing outside can reach in.



The paradox with the Necromancer's vision spell is the kind of thing I enjoy doing - yes, Tara wouldn't have known about Willow's ability to 'free cast' unless Willow had already seen it happen. But it all works out, if you accept the 'closed loop' of time - the event happened, so Willow could foresee it, and because Willow's vision happened, the event she saw *could* happen. Each half of the equation relies on the other to make sense, but so long as both *do* happen, it works.



Hellebore didn't affect Shadai though - her inability to harm Tara was purely because of the form she had inadvertently taken. She didn't mean to appear as Willow, just that being inside her for so long, she sort of... got moulded. The soul of the demon wanted to kill Tara just fine, but the body inherited from Willow a certain 'shape', in the psychic as well as the physical sense. It just wasn't something the body was capable of doing. Not a permanent effect - it'd have worn off after a while, and she'd have ended up looking like her usual monstrous self - but while it lasted, Shadai was stuck with it.



As for the other questions remaining, some of them will be answered directly, so I'll keep quiet on them for now. For the others: Shadai wanted Hellebore exactly for the reason Tara's magic wouldn't work - the shield kept any outside power from reaching through it. And as we saw, Shadai was quite capable of projecting her power out of the shield - she'd be invulnerable, yet still able to attack. The only way to defeat her would be to get inside the shield, as Willow and Tara were. I can confirm that no-one knew where Shadai was - if they Zann Esu had, the last thing they'd have done would be to let Willow out of their sight.



Whether or not Shadai could have got past Tara to kill Willow is up for debate - maybe, maybe not. On the one hand she did have a lot of interesting weapons at her disposal, but against that, remember that Tara (once she figured it out) didn't have to defend herself at all - that gives her a lot of options to block Shadai's attacks. Maybe part of her defiance was just anger, but I think she had that in mind as well.



Shadai being able to harm Willow, but not Tara, is just a matter of perspective - the body Shadai ended up with knew, in a way, that *it* was Willow, therefore someone else couldn't be. It's used to relating to other people as, well, other people - so it would regard Willow as 'someone else', not itself. It's not really a very clear point, but I think there's a basis for it. I hope so, anyway :)



I thought you might regret seeing Hellebore fall - and yes, I'm afraid that the whole thing, catacombs and all, was absolutely demolished. Still, all it really was was a weapon, and some weapons are just too powerful. The knowledge behind it was awesome - Moac was a genius, after all - but there really was no choice once Shadai became part of it. All or nothing - all that got out was Willow and Tara. That's victory enough, I think.



Why did Shadai get summoned in the first place - there's always people looking for a short cut to power. One of them happened to be just powerful enough, and looking for dark power in just the right place, that Shadai snared him. Before that, he really wasn't that different to Hydris, or the mage in the monastery - too curious, too envious of others' power, too short-sighted to know when he was getting in over his head. Sanctuary has plenty of people like that, which is why it needs people like Amazons and sorceresses :)



I'll answer your second post below, I'm just going through the replied in order :)



Puff: Thanks. I recall Grimlock foresaw the notion of Tara channeling Willow's power (good call), but I didn't want to change it just to be a surprise. I like finding ways like this to overcome the villain - something more interesting and unique than just pure power, physical or magical. Willow and Tara are, after all, just young - they're by no means the uber-powered Level 90 warriors you get after you play Diablo for hours, who can annihilate whole armies of demons without being touched. I thought it appropriate that they be in a unique situation in order to defeat a demon as powerful as Shadai - not to say it was easy, but the opportunity was there. Rather than magic or fighting skill though, it took courage and love and faith in each other to use the opportunity they had.



Sabina: Hi there, good to see you :) I hope your absence from W/T fanfic land was only temporary - you know, I've had people emailing, from Looking-glass, who're head over heels about Artifact :)



I wouldn't describe Shadai taking on Willow's form as part of her plan, really - it just happened, in a subtle kind of way that she didn't foresee, or realise the consequences of. If existing within Willow hadn't moulded Shadai, she'd still have been able to dismantle her spells - that part she knew, and intended to take advantage of. She just forgot that when you get that close to something and study it, you're not left unchanged by the experience yourself :)



Tinna Karen: Thank you :) And thanks for agreeing to have The Mendacity of Tara Maclay on Looking-glass, it's a lovely story, a lot of fun.



More will be explained in the next couple of chapters, but for now I can safely say that you've hit the nail exactly on the head - Willow's spell was a bridge that allowed Shadai to escape her banishing in Entsteig. Good call :)



As for what happens next, well, we won't get as far as the Amazon Islands in this story - but I have several short stories vaguely planned to take place between Hellebore and the sequel (which occurs a year later), and one of those will take place there. As for where the sequel will take place - Khanduras, and Entsteig, and the barbarian northlands, and Aranoch, and Kurast, and the jungle wilds of Kehjistan, and at sea, and some places we visited in Hellebore, and a lot of places that aren't even on the Diablo map. It's going to be a big story, which is why I'm planning on taking a long, long break before I start work on it. (Of course, my idea of a break is to write something else :) )



shuyaku: Thanks. I liked naked Willow/Shadai - not just for the obvious naked Willow reason (that doesn't really hold true anyone, once the demonic stuff starts happening), but also because I didn't want to reuse Shadai's form from the chapter where Willow described her. Something new seemed better to me. And I also found that, thinking of it, it had a nice, fresh feel to it - it's not something you see in films, or most fantasy stories. Normally human villains go around decently clothed, and non-human ones don't have any identifiable naughty bits anyway. I think the makers of Diablo only put in the naked Andariel because she was only fifty pixels tall :)



That line you mention (his name was Gelt) was one of the ones I put there specifically because I knew exactly how the battle would go. While I write stories from the start and just go forwards (almost exclusively - it's extremely rare that I edit parts I've already written, even within chapters), I tend to plan from the finale and work backwards. It also lets me be a smart-ass sometimes - remember Willow waking up with a hangover and saying "I've got a demon in my head", or von Karlin (von Sprout, unofficially) pointing to her in the courtroom and insisting "*There's* the demon!"... I'm a horrible tease, I know :) Hopefully I'll be forgiven my indulgences.



Grimlock: Wow, when you leave feedback you don't mess about :) I'm very grateful for it.



You're right, Ember's opinion is very important to Willow indeed. Tara was raised as part of a large family - Amazons operate in extended family groups, and don't tend to isolate themselves into smaller parent-child groups. Her 'parents' were Eponin, her daughter Jenavria, Jen's partner... I've forgotten what I called him, but I'm sure I mentioned his name a while back... and Solari - the people who cared for her, made her feel loved and valued as a person (even if she was a bit of a loner during her teenage years - some people just are), and who she looks up to as individuals. As there's several people in that group, Tara's ended up with a certain independence, and her sense of self-worth is stronger, because the praise and love that contributed to her feeling good about herself (as she did mostly, even when her romantic hopes weren't high) came from multiple sources, not just one.



Aside from Willow's parents, who raised her to age 7 and gave her a typical, healthy childhood, her life has been spent with the Zann Esu, in what was basically a boarding school. Students aren't neglected by any means, but it's a very intellectual environment - Ember is really the only person who, as a young adult, Willow has admired and 'been parented by' as an individual. Consequently, her opinion matters to Willow more than almost anyone else's. Fortunately Ember's a good person :) As for whether we'll meet her... well, I didn't explain all this for nothing :) And as has been noted, Shadai's manifestation would've set off alarms in the head of every mage within range, and that kind of news spreads fast.



I remember mentioning Deckard Cain a while back, way back in the second chapter actually (for those of you who haven't played the game, Cain is a really old mage, last of the Horadric, who knows all sorts of cool stuff no-one else knows, and accompanies the adventurer on his/her journey - sort of an Obi-Wan Kenobi/Gandalf figure, except that he never actually *does* anything, just stays in town, and says "Stay a while, and listen" any time you go near him. He did indeed disappear, in this version of the Diablo world - according to the stories, he was with the adventurers who drove back the Prime Evils during the Reckoning, and some say he followed their leader when he/she (it varies depending on the story) went into hell itself to defeat Diablo. Whether that's true or not, who knows - he certainly hasn't been seen since, but there's a definite reluctance on all parts to assume that he just died of old age finally :)



I'm preparing a map of the whole Diablo world, which will accompany the sequel (seeing as it'll be more expansive than Hellebore in its scope). Briefly Khanduras is north-east of Westmarch, and is basically densely-forested Germanic/eastern-European/stereotypical Transylvanian countryside. There's towns and cities, of course, and lots of mages. Khanduras is where the Reckoning began, and consequently there was a hell of a lot of demon and undead activity there at the time. In order to keep things safe and prosperous, there's now a lot of mages around there. It's not too dangerous for someone like Willow to travel through, provided you don't go off the beaten track too much, and there's a lot of people practicing all kinds of magic she can learn from.



You're right, I think I may just make this a full year of writing one story. Yipes :)



sam7777: Thanks :) I'm glad you liked the tower rising and falling, that was something I had a very strong mental image of, but I wasn't sure I really conveyed it the way I was seeing it. Sometimes I wish I was making a movie... but then again, with the odds against anyone giving me the budget to film 30 hours, half of it rated NC-17, and have the villain turn up stark naked, I guess pure writing has its benefits :)



Thank you all again, and look out for the next chapter in a day or two.



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2004 2:09 pm 
OH MY GOD!!



Chris!

This is amazing! I've just read the last 2 chapters, and I'm blown !

So that was it! the cataclysm, the BATTLE, SHADAI!

WOW!

At first you built the tension wonderfully with the whole getting deeper and deeper, and the danger getting stronger, and then whoop, we get up at an alarming speed, but the schoking thing was Shadai being inside Willow!

how come she never manifested before? how come she was never detected? was she trapped INSIDE Willow?

And then the whole vision becoming reality, and the trust, and the PURE POWER , raw power, Willow power...that was brilliant!

So many questions, maybe some of them other kittens asked, but I haven't got the time to stay and chat,





I can't wait for more!! Definitely NOT!!



SIMPLY AMAZING,



~Arwen

Hear That Baby? You're My Always... Willow



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore
PostPosted: Wed May 26, 2004 3:20 pm 
:sheep :sheep :sheep



I finally had a chance to read the last few chapters last night (although my boss might not have been to happy with me since I was a bit of a ghoul/zombie this morning). :sleepy



I'm glad I read them all at once or I would have been telling you what a :devilish person you were to leave us with that one cliffhanger. Instead I can tell you how amazing the last few chapters have been. Of course now I'm going to have to go back and re-read the entire thing just to clarify a few points for me. I guess I ought to tell my boss I need a weeks vacation huh :D .



I'm really glad to hear that you're not done with the story and that you're already planning on writing a sequel. I find that I tend to procrastinate reading the end of stories I really like because I get depressed at the thought that they're ending. I couldn't stand the thought that this story was almost done, expecially after JustSkipIt's Path's Diverged story just finished. I mean I might have actually been forced to go to a bookstore or, perish the thought, started my spring cleaning.



I'm always amazed at how you and all the other kitten authors come up with all these stories and managed to put pen to paper (I guess that saying needs to be updated huh). I've always thought of myself as a good writer in terms of my work but when it comes to trying to write an original story it just comes out as :puke (yea, I finally got to use that icon).



Thanks for all the great writing. I may have to actually get that Diablo game you keep mentioning just to try and get a better visual of some of the parts of this story.



Mic





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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Thu May 27, 2004 8:17 am 
Arwen: Thanks :) There'll be lots of questions asked about Shadai's hiding place, so hopefully your curiosity will be satisfied during the next couple of chapters.



Mic: Thank you :) Yes, I do evil cliffhangers, I know... Yes, there will be a sequel. Not for some time though, and in the interim there will be other stories I've been thinking about lately.



Thanks to everyone, and enjoy the next chapter, which I will be posting in just a moment :)



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 Post subject: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 64)
PostPosted: Thu May 27, 2004 8:19 am 
Hellebore



Author: Chris Cook

Rating: NC-17

Summary: A headstrong sorceress and a young Amazon join forces to locate and destroy an ancient source of demonic power.

Spoilers: None.

Copyright: Based on characters from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', created by Joss Whedon and his talented minionators, and 'Diablo II' by Blizzard Entertainment. All original material is copyright 2003 Chris Cook.

Feedback: Please. Here, or to alia@netspace.net.au



--

Chapter Sixty-Four

--



Willow and Tara's flight through the portal atop Hellebore had deposited them almost three miles east of the cliffs - or what remained of the cliffs, now. Both were tired, Willow from calling on so much magic, Tara from channelling it, and each of them in dire need of a rest, to soothe an exhaustion that was more than physical. The walk back towards their camp site of the night before was slow, and for the most part silent. Willow in particular had barely said a word since finally hauling herself to her feet - on reaching the ridge beneath the cliff and seeing that, beyond the extent of the crater, the devastation had apparently been limited to a few minor rockslides, she had managed a small but genuine smile when Tara said she expected Anji would have been well clear of the effects of the tower's destruction. And once Tara spotted a tiny dart gliding high in the sky, and Willow was instantly alert at her side, but after watching for a moment Tara saw that it was a natural creature, not a demon. But aside from that she had spoken little, and her attention had been turned inward.



By the last light of the day they approached the boulders among which they had made camp previously. Tara felt a knot in her stomach as she saw white, freshly-broken rock strewn around, and as they drew closer they saw a section of the cliff, evidently shaken free by the tremors, had fallen onto the north side of the little enclosure, breaking apart the boulders there and tearing up the ground.



Willow leant heavily on her staff, her eyes bleakly surveying the rubble. Tara spared a moment to stand by her, placing a hand on her shoulder and receiving a grateful glance in return, then moved forward, scanning the cliff face for signs of weakness, and finding none moving into the debris, checking what had been damaged and what had remained unscathed. Willow's gaze followed her as she looked here and there, and she tilted her head, curious, as Tara climbed up onto one of the untouched boulders. Standing atop it she held her fingers to her lips and blew a piercing whistle.



A moment later Willow caught the sound of hoofbeats on the wind, and Tara smiled and jumped to the ground, taking her hand. They stood there together as, out of the fading day, Anji galloped over the ridge and down to the cliff, slowing to a walk as she approached the two women.



"Hey, girl," Willow murmured, her voice thick with tears. She took a step forward, meeting the horse as it neared, and gently leaned her head forward until she was resting her forehead on Anji's long face. The horse gave a quiet whinny and ducked slightly, brushing Willow's hair to one side.



"She's okay," Willow said, turning to Tara.



"Yeah," Tara nodded, holding out her arms. Willow bit her lip, a look of incredible gratitude in her eyes, then she turned and stepped into Tara's embrace. Her tears began to fall the moment she buried her face in Tara's chest, and for a long time they stood there, motionless, as the sun set, and tears began to trickle silently down Tara's cheeks as Willow cried her heart out.



Anji stirred, then stepped closer and gently nudged Willow's back with her nose, prompting her to look over her shoulder.



"It's okay girl," she murmured, "I'm okay." She turned back to Tara, staring forlornly into her gaze. Her eyes were red from crying, her cheeks glistening in the scarlet sunset light.



"I'm not okay," she said quietly. Tara nodded silently, drawing her close again, smoothing her hair with one hand as the other pressed gently against her back.



"I'll-" Willow began, just as Tara was drawing a breath to speak, "I'm... it'll be alright, it will. I just need time. I just... just time. I'll be okay."



"I know baby," Tara whispered, doing nothing to disguise the heaviness her own tears had lent to her voice, "me too."



Tara held her a while longer, then by unspoken agreement they both set about making camp for the night, cleaning themselves up as best they could with just the water they could spare. Having seen the charred remains of various demons scattered about the plain, Tara felt they would be safe making a fire for the night, and set to making a suitable spot for one, clearing away a patch of the scraggly weeds that were all the greenery that had ventured close to the cliffs, and gathering some of the rocks to make a fire circle. Willow spent a few moments setting up a standing spell with her rune stones, as a precaution, then began sorting through the packs they had left at the site earlier. One had been torn as a chunk of rock gouged into the ground in which it was buried, but their losses amounted to only a few rations, and a blanket torn beyond repair.



Having relieved Anji of her saddlebags and left her grazing idly, Tara sat down next to Willow on the blankets she had laid out before the fire, and accepted the food she was offered. She reached her free hand around Willow's waist and gently hugged her, kissing the crown of her head when she ducked and rested her cheek on Tara's shoulder. They ate silently, only the quiet crackling of the fire breaking the stillness of the night, until Willow wrapped up the remainder of her share and set it aside.



"Do you want to talk?" Tara offered, reaching around Willow to draw a blanket around her shoulders. She nodded, then sighed deeply.



"I'm sorry I didn't," she began, "earlier, I mean..."



"It's alright," Tara assured her, "you needed time. To catch your breath... so did I."



"Thank you," Willow murmured, "you're... no-one could heal me the way you do. I love you so much."



"I know," Tara smiled, "I love you too. You heal me too."



Willow's arms went around Tara's waist and held her warmly, snuggling close beneath the blanket covering them. After a moment's silence she took a deep breath and began.



"It must have been the banishing spell," she said, her voice quiet, a little distant, "in Entsteig, all that time ago... when she was being defeated, rather than go back to hell she let her body be destroyed, and hid her soul in me... all this time."



"No-one suspected?" Tara asked gently. Willow shook her head.



"Something like this is... well, unheard of. Normally a banishing spell either works completely, or fails completely and the caster ends up possessed. And possession is easy to spot, if you're a powerful mage, the Council would have known right away if that had happened. And I'd have been gone... no-one could survive something like that, for this long. She... she used me, to carry her around, hidden... dormant. Unless-"



Willow's breathing caught, and she tensed in Tara's arms.



"What if she *was* influencing me?" she asked in a hollow voice. "Everything I did, the choices I made, what if-"



"Willow," Tara said quickly, "I stood in front of her, I felt the... what she was, in her soul, I felt it radiating off her. I've never felt that from you, never." She pressed a gentle kiss onto Willow's hair again. "You've let me into every corner of your soul, you've shown me everything that you are... I know, baby, I *know* that what she is, is not a part of you. It never has been. No matter how she hid in you, she never truly reached you."



"I-I want to believe that," Willow admitted.



"Then do," Tara said soothingly, "I do. With all my heart, Willow, I know that she has never touched your soul." She smiled, and squeezed Willow's waist gently. "It was never hers to touch."



Willow let out a breath she had been holding, chuckled quietly, then raised her head to look Tara in the eye.



"It's yours," she said.



"Darn right," Tara nodded. Willow's eyes widened, then she let out a genuine laugh, and suddenly the weight she had been carrying had begun to crumble.



"See?" Willow smiled. "You heal me. Gods though, all this time... all the demon creatures, the mages she influenced... no wonder it seemed like she was following us."



"Hydris, in Kingsport," Tara mused, "the Carvers and goat-men attacking the caravan, driving us towards the monastery... towards Hellebore. My goddess," she added suddenly, "do you remember what that possessed mage wrote? 'Tomorrow at noon my mistress comes'... and the next day, it would've been around noon when we first got out of the catacombs and began searching the monastery..."



"It was me all along," Willow said quietly.



"No, sweetie," Tara gently argued, "no, it wasn't you, it was her. You fought her, remember? In Entsteig, like you told me-"



"I gave her the chance to get into me," Willow pointed out.



"You fought her as best you could," Tara insisted, "you don't know what might have happened, if you hadn't been there, if your spell hadn't kept her busy until the other sorceresses arrived. If she'd escaped... how difficult would it have been, for her to get from there to here? To reach Hellebore on her own?"



"Difficult," Willow said at once, "she'd have to be very careful not to be tracked down... but not impossible," she admitted after a pause.



"You fought her," Tara repeated, "and even when you didn't realise she was with you, you *still* fought her... all this time, you did everything you could to defeat her. And you did."



"*We* did," Willow said.



"We did," Tara nodded, "against a terrible, powerful, ancient demon, we won."



"At a cost," Willow murmured, "all the people who lived here, Amalee's family, the monks-"



"She did that," Tara insisted, "not you."



"I... it's just difficult to face, you know?" Willow said in a small voice. "I wonder if I could have done something differently... everything that happened, even if it was her causing it, I was at the centre of it... I can't forget all that- all those people."



"I know baby," Tara whispered, "I know... that's as it should be. One life lost is too many... but one life saved..." She paused, and Willow looked up at her.



"One life saved is beyond price," she finished. "Remember all the people you saved- we saved," she corrected with a faint grin, as Willow opened her mouth to say it. "Remember them. Remember what a blessing it was to save Amalee, when a demon was laying waste to her homeland. Remember how special she is... and remember that, today, you helped save *millions* of lives."



"I will," Willow sighed, "and hey, you too. You don't have to worry so much about me that you ignore yourself, I mean - you had to fight her, face to face. I know that's... it's not something you can dismiss lightly."



"No it isn't," Tara agreed. Willow heard the sadness in her voice, and raised a hand to caress Tara's cheek.



"I'm so sorry you had to go through that," she said in a tiny voice. Tara nodded, then turned and kissed Willow's palm.



"Maybe it's for the best," she sighed, "now, I've seen one of the most terrible beings in creation... now I know. But she's gone, she's in hell where she belongs." She looked down and returned Willow's gesture, lightly stroking Willow's cheek, her fingertips teasing the corners of Willow's lips.



"And I've seen one of the most beautiful beings in creation," she whispered, "and she's right here... and she loves me."



"She does indeed," Willow agreed, "and she feels fortunate to be able to love you." She snuggled closer to Tara, and both turned their eyes on the fire, crackling merrily to itself.



"I feel good," Willow said, not without a little amazement. "Regardless of everything we went through... today, and before then, all of it... I feel good. That's your gift to me baby, and I love you so much for it."



"I love you," Tara replied, holding Willow tightly.



"A pity about the tower," Willow sighed after a moment's peace. "It was too dangerous, of course, but... the knowledge to build something like that... I can't help being sorry it's lost now."



"Actually..." Tara said, trailing off.



"What?"



"Well... you remember that book that appeared on the lectern, at the bottom of the catacombs?"



"Moac's journal," Willow replied, "it vanished once the tower rose... didn't it?"



"It's in my pack," Tara admitted.



"It's- what?!" Willow twisted around, staring at Tara in confusion. She sat up straight, eyes wide.



"When it appeared," Tara explained, "you turned back to the wall, when the key was still turning... then the floor started shaking, and I grabbed the book before I lost my balance. I figured, if it was what the demons wanted, we shouldn't risk losing it... better to keep it where we could protect it, or destroy it if we had to-"



"You've had it all this time?" Willow asked, incredulous. "Why didn't you say something? When it was over, I mean?"



"You were upset," Tara pointed out gently, "and from what we saw, all the demons around here were destroyed... it didn't seem urgent. It would have distracted us from what we'd gone through, I thought... it seemed more important to me that we both concentrate on us."



Willow stared at her for a moment, then her lips spread in a grin, then she was laughing, her body shaking in Tara's arms.



"Oh goddess," she said, reining in her laughter, "oh... I love you..."



"I know," Tara smiled. "I... that was the right thing to do, wasn't it?"



"It was," Willow nodded, "like I said, I feel good now. I'm glad I didn't just push it out of my mind... that you helped me come to terms with it all, at least start to..."



"And you helped me too," Tara reminded her, "but, I meant, when we were on top of the tower... it didn't occur to me, too much was going on, but it wouldn't have helped then, would it?"



"Oh," Willow's eyes widened, then she frowned in thought. "No," she decided, "I doubt it... unless the first page was 'How to destroy the tower when someone else is controlling it,' and that seems kind of unlikely." She smiled at Tara's quiet chuckle.



"Well, we can check," she offered, reaching over to her pack. Willow held her breath as Tara placed the old book in her hands, slowly exhaling as her fingers traced the subtle contours in the leather, and the edges of the metal binding. With a trembling hand she opened the volume and carefully turned the first few pages, studying the arcane symbols and geometric diagrams traced in coloured inks, in an intricate, precise hand.



"It's so old," she whispered, "but... not fragile at all... gods, the language..."



"Do you know it?" Tara asked.



"It's ancient," Willow nodded, "I can read it, a bit... but there's so much magical theory bound up in it, it'd take weeks just to decipher it, to even begin to understand it..." Her lips moved silently as she studied the pages.



"Sounds like just the thing to keep you happy," Tara observed. Willow glanced up at her, studying her smile. Her own lips turned upwards at the corner, and she carefully closed the book and tucked it back into Tara's pack.



"You know what," she said, snuggling back up beside Tara, "it can wait. For now... I want to hold you, and cuddle, and fall asleep in your arms. That'll make me more than happy."



"Really?" Tara asked lightly, wrapping her arms around Willow. "My knowledge-girl isn't the least tempted by the ancient tome, just half a metre away?"



"Well," Willow admitted, "I wouldn't be me if I wasn't *tempted*... but today was a pretty good demonstration for why you shouldn't get carried away with knowledge, at the expense of everything else. You end up building towers that can bring about the end of the world, so I think... perspective. There'll be nights for staying up late, with the candles burning low, going over every page in minute detail... but this night isn't one of them." She reached over and pulled another blanket over herself and Tara, settling beside her as she lay down.



"You're very wise," Tara said softly.



"Wisdom is easy when it leads to Tara snuggles," Willow pointed out. "I love you, you know."



"I know," Tara smiled, "I love you too Willow."



"Just reminding you," Willow murmured.



"I've never forgotten it," Tara said, "not for a moment... not since... I bowed, held out my hand, and asked you to dance, and you smiled. Right then, all my doubts just... vanished."



"I remember," Willow smiled, helping Tara as she slowly undid the buckles on her armour. "When I came into the hall that evening, and saw you, and you saw me," she chuckled, "we just had to render each other speechless at the exact same moment. Was I really that good?"



"You were stunning," Tara said firmly, "just like you always are. Wearing these very clothes, too..." She undid the clasps holding Willow's battlegear on, and slowly slid the skirt down her legs, and the top over her head and down her arms. There was a moment's activity as they both kicked off their boots and leaned back, dragging their discarded clothes from beneath the blankets and laying them aside, then they were back in each other's arms, still and content in the firelight.



"Gods, what a day," Willow sighed. "Mmm... what a way to end the day, though... you know," she added, a grin teasing her lips, "if I wasn't utterly exhausted... gods I wish I had the strength to make love to you like I'm imagining..."



"Oh?" Tara smiled.



"Uh-huh," Willow nodded wearily, "all night..."



"And if *I* wasn't utterly exhausted," Tara replied, "I'd do my best to make sure that we both were, by morning."



"Mmm gorgeous," Willow murmured, "your best is better than heavenly..." Tara managed to roll over slightly, so that she and Willow lay on their sides, face to face, their arms encircling one another.



"I'd kiss you," she whispered, "again, and again... taste your lips, your mouth, so deeply..."



"Your kisses are magic," Willow sighed happily. She closed her eyes, shifting slightly to press herself a little more firmly against Tara. "Magic kisses... I'd caress your tongue as you tasted me..."



"I'd tease you into my mouth," Tara smiled, "then capture you... close my lips around your tongue, keep you right there, where I want you... and when I finally release you-"



"Don't wanna be released," Willow protested faintly.



"You won't be... you're mine... I catch your bottom lip between my teeth, hold you, sucking... roll you onto your back, straddle your hips, on top of you, pressing down on you..."



"Your hair falling around my face," Willow whispered, "your legs, so smooth... thighs pressing against my hips..."



"My breasts pressing against yours," Tara continued, "and I can feel your nipples, so hard, just like mine... rubbing together..."



"Your breath on my cheeks as you look down at me... let me feel your gaze, claiming me..."



"And," Tara said slowly, in a low, sultry murmur, "as I lower myself, my mound pressing against your stomach... hairs scratching lightly on your belly as I move... heat already coating my lips, my thighs... wetting your skin..."



"Mmm, oh..." Willow sighed, tightening her hold around Tara, "I can feel you, baby..."



"I lean down... lick your ear, breathe over the wet skin... whisper..."



"Oh yes..."



"'I'm yours Willow... take me...'"



"And I do," Willow breathed, "my hand goes to your head, my fingers reaching through your hair, holding you close baby, while I kiss you... just as deep as you kissed me, as long and deep and wonderful... you're moving so sexily, writhing on top of me with every breath, every heartbeat... just as if I were part of you already... not yet, but I'm close baby, so close, my hand sliding down between us, reaching for you..."



"Yes," Tara whispered, a note of desperation in her voice.



"Tickling your hairs, then further, holding you... palm and fingers, cupping your mound..."



"Yours..."



"Mine," Willow agreed, "and so wet... so perfectly, beautifully aroused..."



"Me'elas te's'sori," Tara whispered, lapsing into Amazonian.



"I know," Willow said, "I feel it... I feel you... like a river inside you, and it flows, baby, oh goddess it flows."



"For you," Tara moaned, "I flow for you." Without fully realising, Tara's legs had parted, tangling with Willows, and their thighs were gently drawing closer to the heat burning in their cores.



"And just like a river," Willow sighed, "I test first... dipping in, just a fraction... testing the waters..."



"Please..."



"And it's better than perfect... I dive... plunging deep... oh baby, you're a wonder..."



"I love you," Tara whispered fervently.



"I love you," Willow replied, "I love you... seeing you like this is perfection... seeing your... your rapture... but to be part of you, within you, to give you this... oh goddess... oh goddess..." She unconsciously adjusted her arms around Tara, lower, as Tara did the same, a rhythm of gentle gyration developing between them as their soaked undergarments pressed against each other's thighs.



"And now, my goddess, I release your mouth, so I can hear you moan," Willow breathed, "I take your nipples, sucking, nibbling, drawing the most beautiful sounds from you..."



"It feels wonderful," Tara trembled, "feast, baby... take all of me..."



"Within you, one finger at first," Willow went on, "just one... touching you, inside... a fingertip brushing your heavenly places... but I know you want-"



"More," Tara moaned, "oh my Willow goddess, I want you to-"



"Take you," Willow finished for her, "faster now, higher... not just one finger, but two now... deep, again and again..."



"Yes... oh yes, yes, my Willow..."



"Trembling around me-"



"Holding you in me-"



"So deep-"



"So open-"



"Three..."



"Yes!"



"Te'la," Willow whispered, "me' te'elav-"



"Me' te'elav, I love you endlessly-"



"S'ela's-"



"Goddess!" Tara gasped. She sought out Willow's mouth as the climax she had half-thought was in her mind erupted from her, and felt Willow shudder in her arms, her body feeling its own release, as she kissed her back, opening her lips to her, sharing her love and pleasure and bliss.



"Oh gods," Willow breathed as her body stilled, "I love you..." She kissed Tara again, and again.



"Love... you..." Tara replied between kisses.



"Goddess," Willow breathed, "you're amazing..."



"It takes two to make love," Tara grinned, "even with words..."



"Did I get the Amazonian right?" Willow asked, snuggling tightly against Tara, pulling the blankets half-way up over her head.



"Perfectly," Tara replied, ducking down to join her in the warmth their bodies had created, "perfectly..."







--------------------------------------------------------------------------------



The sky was still dark when Willow awoke, and for a moment she wondered what had roused her. Then she noticed an odd tickling sensation, like something touching the back of her neck. Half-way to reaching behind herself to see what it was, she realised it was a sense, not a physical sensation, and recognised it.



"Tara," she whispered urgently, "Tara, wake up... baby?"



"Mmm... mm?"



"Something's crossed the rune stone boundary I set up."



"The rune st-" she murmured sleepily, then Willow felt awareness race through her. In perfect silence she slid out from beneath the blankets, one hand already on her bow. In the time it took Willow to get upright Tara had pulled on her boots, knotted a spare blanket around herself as a makeshift covering, and slung her quiver over her shoulder.



"I feel it," she whispered as Willow joined her, quickly pulling her skirt on - she didn't have time to don her top, but embarrassment was far from her mind.



"It's not a small animal," she quickly explained, as the faint tinge of magic at the back of her mind subsided - whatever it was had crossed the boundary area completely.



"It's... human," Tara frowned. She fitted an arrow to her bow but kept the string loose as she aimed into the shadows.



"Friend or foe!" she challenged, slowly drawing her bow.



"Friend," came a female voice from the darkness.



"Show yourself," Tara replied smoothly.



From the cover of a half-broken boulder a figure clad in black emerged, holding a crossbow pointed safely away to the side, her other hand, on which she wore a heavy leather glove, held open and empty, unthreatening.



"I hope I'm not interrupting," she said with a sly grin. Willow quickly let go of her staff with one hand and wrapped her arm over her chest, cursing under her breath as Tara lowered her bow and bent down to fetch her a blanket.



"Lady," she greeted the newcomer courteously.



"Sorry about that," Lindia said, "no offence meant," The noblewoman flicked a switch on her bow, causing its vanes to snap neatly back against the stock, and slipped it into place next to the quiver of bolts on her back.



"No harm done," Willow grudgingly allowed, unable to remain perturbed when confronted with the adorable sight of Tara trying not to grin. She wrapped the offered blanket around herself, and cast Tara a quick smile, just to let her know she could see the funny side of it.



"How did you do that, by the way?" Lindia asked, approaching and kneeling down to toss a little extra kindling on the fire, which had burned down during the night. "Know I was out there, I mean?"



"You crossed a runic barrier," Willow said with a satisfied smile.



"I know," Lindia said with a thoughtful frown, "a staggered arc with an eastern-style standing spell, wasn't it? I thought I'd gotten around it."



"I used a hybrid of eastern and northern patterns," Willow noted.



"Damn!" Lindia shook her head, letting her wavy blonde hair out of its ponytail. "I must be getting out of practice, I didn't think of that... how are you both?"



"We're fine," Tara said, taking a seat next to Willow, "but what are you doing out here, I thought you'd ridden north?"



"I did," the noblewoman nodded, "but then things got interesting, and... well, I should let them explain."



"Them?" Willow echoed.



"There's some people who'd like to talk to you," Lindia said with an easy smile.



-----



The sun rose while they were riding, in Lindia's wake, down towards the river. Her horse was an energetic Khejan charger, and from the way she rode it in the waning night Willow guessed she had night vision to equal Tara's. It was a somewhat unnerving experience to be almost unable to see while riding at a fast pace, but Tara's presence behind her, and Anji's beneath her, soothed her anxiety.



Just as the morning light was brightening into day proper, they crested the last ridge and saw the river laid out before them. Lindia had led them a few miles north of the old pier where they had waited for a passing ship last time, but under the circumstances Willow saw it didn't matter. Three ships were riding at anchor in the river, one a lean little pinnace, oars stowed and sail rolled up, while the others were tall warships, their hulls strong and reinforced, their decks protected by iron shields fixed to the railings, each vessel armed with a heavy siege crossbow mounted on the forward deck, and a steel-tipped ram just visible beneath the surface of the water.



A wide area of the riverbank had been cleared, and was busy with boats going to and from the big ships, unloading cargo and soldiers. Several long tents had been pitched, and officers were here and there calling orders to the squads of men occupied in the unloading, or in arming themselves for what looked like an expedition.



"Where did all this come from?" Willow wondered. "They can't have gotten here so soon, after what happened at the monastery- there hasn't even been time for word to get back to the city, has there?"



"Well, don't underestimate the speed a scout can reach after he sees a square mile of the highlands demolish itself," Lindia shrugged, "but no, you're right - we set out two days ago. The night before that - that would've been after the morning you two set out, so they tell me - a party of mages arrived in the city, with news that they suspected the realm was in danger. That set things in motion - I was with Myrreon at the time, riding back from the north as fast as we could. He had a premonition, or something of the sort, and besides there was nothing really for him to do with the army, there wasn't any real magical threat up there. Morning!" she called to one of the soldiers, on guard in front of the camp, as they neared.



"Morning m'lady," he replied, touching the brim of his helmet as they passed.



"What mages?" Willow asked sharply. "The ones who arrived after we left, who were they?"



"Friends of yours, actually," Lindia said, dismounting and leaving her horse with the guard. "This way."



Tara held Willow's hand as they left Anji and followed Lindia towards one of the larger tents, where a handful of officers were milling about, talking to each other in low voices and trying not to shiver too much in the morning chill. One of them, a young lieutenant, looked up at Lindia's approach, glanced at Willow and Tara behind her, and ducked inside the tent.



"Friends of yours?" Tara wondered.



"Sorceresses?" Willow guessed. "But there's no Zann Esu stationed anywhere near here, not that I know of... how could they have gotten here so fast?" She broke off as the young officer returned, with a trio of women behind him. They were indeed sorceresses - all wore the colours of the Zann Esu order, the same green material and silver adornments Willow herself wore. Two of them, Willow's age, wore battlegear identical to hers, though Tara noticed their staves were different - where Willow's was plain wood, theirs each had sculpted metal caps, one of polished bronze in the shape of a flame, the other a diamond cast in ghostly-white silver.



The third wore a simple robe in a figure-hugging cut, otherwise quite similar to those Willow had worn during her travels. She was older then the others, though the few lines that had crept in around her eyes did little to diminish her beauty. She had rich auburn hair which spilled casually across her shoulders, and her eyes were a warm brown with flecks of green that seemed to sparkle in the morning light. They lit up when she saw Willow, and she raised her staff - an elaborate weapon with a golden fleur-de-lys head - in salute.



"Hello Willow," she called, as the other two sorceresses stepped aside, "it's good to see you again."



"Ember?" Willow replied, her voice hushed with surprise.





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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 63)
PostPosted: Thu May 27, 2004 10:20 am 


Great Chapter!



I'm suddently so glad to have just read the last chapters yesterday!! the update was quicker for me!! :p



Anyway, lovely regrouping and recovery. They needed to talk, and it's great how they function as a couple!

oh and by the way, all the time during the 'spoken-love-act' I was like, "shut up! and just do it!' , but hey, your way, is a great way, and it's great how only their words can set them off in such a way.

now the BOOK! isn't it dangerous, just the fact that it's still there, that means that ppl can someday rebuild the tower? but then again, they could learn so many facts...

However I personnally think that Willow should give it up to the Zann Esu so that they lock it in their vaults...or not? shouldn't she be the one to have it, since she so bravely earned the right to have it?

it's confusing, but doesn't the mere existence of the book suggest its threat , hence a certain Sequel? Unless I'm totally off track. (it could happen, with everything going on in my life :dumbo )



anyway, I was spooked by the 'night-attack' and then confused : who the hell is the lady...then of course, I remembered.

I was thrilled by the presence of the Zann Esu, WE FINALLY GET TO MEET EMBER!! And for Tara it's a way of 'meeting the in-laws' lol

is there more threat now that Shadai isn't ?



Brilliant chapter as always!

more????





~Arwen

Hear That Baby? You're My Always... Willow



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 64)
PostPosted: Sat May 29, 2004 9:57 am 
I'll have to look up Lindia to be really sure, am also confused why she would want to side-step a magic defense. After all she knows the people she wants to meet are there, so might as well ring the doorbell :) Bit rude to try and open the door silently to surprise the inhabitants of the cave, bit dangerous to (given that those two have just survived a meeting with a demi-hellgod:-)



I'm amazed Willow and Tara actually travelled that far before they went to sleep. Both must have some condition if they still had sufficient energy for that :lol .



It was good to see Tara try to relieve Willow of her doubts and troubles. I doubt those thoughts will stay away for long though, memories like those tend to stick around :cry .



I still blame the Zan Esu clean-up crew and procedure for being so sloppy in not detecting Shadai. I firmly intend to keep blaming them unless they come up with a good reason why they didn't check, "it has never happened before" is NOT a valid reason. Okay, part of the reason I blame them is to avoid blaming Willow, so sue me :)



How did the Zan Esu SWAT team (which I think it is) get to Duncraig that fast ? It stands to reason that such a team would have fast transport options, but as I recall teleporting is 'not done' in this universe... which kinda limits the options :)



The Hidris-summons-Shadai story becomes more interesting when considering that Shadai was already hiding in Willow, at least that is what Willow thinks. That would at the very least indicate that Shadai would have preferred to go to the monastary alone... without using the goatmen and such. Otherwise why would she want to be summoned ??



Hmmm... the sourcerer at the monstary is also a point of interest. How did Shadai influence him if she was in Willow at the time ? And if she did, why didn't Willow notice ?? Lets hope Willow didn't get (parts of) Shadai's memories, guaranteed nightmares from those :cry .



It's nice that Tara thinks Shadai is back in hell. However I seem to recall several Zan Esu back in Ensteig thinking much the same thing. They NEED a means of detecting Shadai's location or at least a ritual to determine if a demon is hiding in a sourcerors body. Even if only to reassure Willow that she really IS 'clean' now. Before such a thing is invented I rather not trust Tara's limited magical knowledge about it, much to dangerous (although I'm sure Tara was sincere in her belief that Shadai was in hell now). It can't be fun for Willow to doubt herself like that, stupid Shadai demon :smash :smash



That diary is indeed an excellent present for Willow :lol . Sure it should be secured in the Zan Esu vaults. Doesn't mean Willow can't READ it there (as she has done during her study plenty of times). The diary has the added advantage of serving as soom sort of proof to their entire story. Also the fact at least some knowledge wasn't lost didn't escape my attention :geek



We get to meet Ember again, goody... :bounce :bounce . I have rather positive view of Ember, which is based on precious little direct knowledge actually... I guess I trust Willow in liking good people :) Ember is not only a sort of parent to Willow, but also knows quite a lot about magics and that could proof usefull when explaining certain events.



Grimmy

--
"You hurt Tara," Willow said too calmly. "The last one who tried that was a god. I made her regret it." -- Unexpected Consequences by Lisa of Nine

Edited by: Grimlock72 at: 5/29/04 1:34 pm


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 Post subject: Great Chapter
PostPosted: Sat May 29, 2004 2:47 pm 
That was such a great chapter, but what a way to be a tease. How did they get there so fast did Embers friend tell her of Willow's vision, or did she just know her suedo child was in danger. I loved that Tara saved the book. That was a great treat for Will but I am more impressed that you gave Willow the forsight to know there would be other times to read it right then she needed Tara and Tara needed her to. Now about ole girl trying to bypass the borders whats up with that. That doesn't seem to be a very smart move on her part but more importantly why would she do that? I love the way you are weaving this story and I can't wait for more.

Arron



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 64)
PostPosted: Mon May 31, 2004 10:26 am 
Hi there :) The next chapter should be ready in a couple of days. As you might guess from the current one, it's going to be a fairly talky what-the-hell-just-happened explaining chapter (although it won't be *all* talk...) - at any rate, a bunch of the questions you guys and gals have asked will be addressed then, so if I don't answer some of them now, don't think I'm ignoring you :)



Arwen: It would have been nice to actually do the making-love stuff they talked through :) But I was going on the idea that they were just too physically exhausted to really attempt it - technically, too tired to make love, except those crafty girls found a way anyway :)



Yes, the book is dangerous. If it is Moac's complete journal (which is a reasonable assumption, given that it was at the heart of the whole tower), then it's also reasonable to assume based on the way mages keep records that it will contain the required knowledge to recreate Hellebore. But as you note, there's a lot else they can learn from it - just like knowing how to make a nuclear bomb from scratch will give you a lot of beneficial, non-military applications of nuclear physics and so on.



I can confirm - in the interests of not unfairly keeping people in suspense - that Shadai and Hellebore are not related to the storyline I've got in mind for the sequel. There's a lot in this story, though, that I included mindful of the possibility of having a sequel. Several people guessed the identity of Elizabeth, the Baron of Kingsport's daughter, and indeed she's one of the other characters who'll be appearing, as the sequel won't be solely a Willow/Tara story like this one (though they will nevertheless be the main characters). There's been a lot of other details I've introduced that'll turn out to be important in the sequel. As for what it's *about*... I'll keep that secret for now :)



I did foresee people being a bit confused about who Lindia was, and I don't think I really managed to convey it very well - I didn't want to have lines like, 'Lindia, whom they last saw in the opera house hitting on the sabrecat chick'. But leaving out that kind of heavy-handed reminder did leave her a bit vague, until you recall the name and make the connection... oh well, we live and learn :) She's just a minor character in this, but since I accidentally invented her I've had a fairly strong image of her in my mind, so I put her back in here just for the hell of it. She's a 6'-tall blonde smartass in leather pants, naturally I like having her around :)



Actually I've mused vaguely about writing a little spin-off about her, entirely unrelated to Willow and Tara - just 'The Adventures of Lindia, in Battles and Bedrooms'... I'll probably never get around to it - why write something else when I could be writing Willow/Tara? - but it's a cute thought :)



Grimlock: A lot of what you ask is going to be explained in the next chapter - how the Zann Esu got there so quickly, why no-one knew where Shadai was, how we can be sure where she is now, what Hydris was up to, how Shadai influenced all those demons, and both the mages she got, even why Lindia just can't walk through a magic alarm without seeing if she can slip by it unnoticed. Like I said, it'll be a big explain-y chapter :)



I thought, from your comments about not wanting to see Hellebore lost, you'd be glad the book survived :)



Arron: About Willow realising she needed Tara and Tara needed her, rather than staying up all night reading the book, that was something I hadn't foreseen at all, until I came to write it. And yet now that I look at it, it's obvious - the whole thing begins with Willow lacking a sense or perspective, valuing knowledge too highly above other pursuits, and now she's got that perspective :) Of course, who wouldn't give up some old book for Tara :) As I said, Lindia's actions will be explained in passing, but rest assured it's nothing ominous :)



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 64)
PostPosted: Mon May 31, 2004 3:12 pm 
Woo Hoo!!



Ive been following this fic for a while on the Looking Glass Archive. Now I finally have somewhere to post my review. Your plot is amazing. The way they defeated (or at least I think they defeated) Hellbore was really great. And the-....ok, I'll stop myself. Anywho, this is great, keep going!!



Sincerely,

BWR



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 64)
PostPosted: Thu Jun 03, 2004 1:03 pm 
Chris, very well done. Nice denouement piece. Of course Tara picked up the book. I must say that I fully expected Ember to show up although I was saying to myself, "who the frilly heck is Lindia?" the only clue to me was that she was a noblewoman and known to them. Then I did a search and confirmed that she was the flirt at the Opera.



One thing that I am very interested in is how much the Zann Esu knew when they sent Willow on her expedition. The council included Seers right? So how much did they know when they sent her off? Has Ember known the future, at least to the point of the point that the necromancer told Willow all along? Interesting to see this explained.



Of course, I'm also interested in how much control Shadai had while inside Willow. Well done!

Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 64)
PostPosted: Sat Jun 05, 2004 10:35 am 
Hi Kittens, thank you all :) I know, this chapter's a few days late... things kept popping up that I had to deal with. But the good news is that, if I *had* written it when I'd meant to a few days ago, it wouldn't have had the closing scene that it does now, which (I hope) you'll consider worth a couple of days' wait.



BWR: Hi there, thanks :) Always nice to hear from a Looking-glass reader, it's a very rewarding website to maintain. I'm glad you liked the way the plot played out, I admit I spent a lot of time early on thinking up how it would go, and laying groundwork for what I knew I'd have to do later. And then again, a lot of it just turned up as I was writing :)



(Self-promotion moment: Through the Looking-glass, in case any of you don't know, can be found here: alia.customer.netspace.net.au/glass.htm and is devtoed solely to Willow/Tara uberfics, just like this one. Most of the fics archived there can be found on Pens, but I think there's a few new ones that Kittens may not have seen. Okay, I'm done advertising now :) )



Debra: Thank you :) That's an interesting question you pose, regarding the Zann Esu Council and their Seers. A lot will be explained in this coming chapter, and more in the one after it. For now though, I will say that (like you probably noticed with Gelt, the Necromancer) seeing the future is a tricky business - in the Diablo world there's fate and predestination, but also choice and chance. It makes for an interesting, if frustrating, time for anyone trying to predict with any reliability :)



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 Post subject: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Sat Jun 05, 2004 10:37 am 
Hellebore



Author: Chris Cook

Rating: NC-17

Summary: A headstrong sorceress and a young Amazon join forces to locate and destroy an ancient source of demonic power.

Spoilers: None.

Copyright: Based on characters from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', created by Joss Whedon and his talented minionators, and 'Diablo II' by Blizzard Entertainment. All original material is copyright 2003 Chris Cook.

Feedback: Please. Here, or to alia@netspace.net.au



--

Chapter Sixty-five

--



Tara watched, unable to suppress a faint smile, as Willow ran the last few steps and hugged the older woman. Ember was instantly embracing her in return, rubbing her back, her other hand stroking Willow's hair, calming her tenderly, just as a mother would.



"I'll leave you girls to it," Lindia said from beside Tara, glancing over her shoulder at Ember and Willow as she walked back towards her horse. "Sitting around discussing... not really my area of expertise."



"Thank you for finding us," Tara said quietly, offering a hand. Lindia raised an eyebrow, then shook her hand warmly.



"It's what I do," she said off-hand. "I suppose a kiss is out of the question?"



"It is," Tara said firmly.



"Just kidding," the noblewoman winked, "you two take care of each other." With a flourish she turned and strode away, beckoning an officer to talk to as she went.



'Willow was right,' she mused, glancing at the retreating figure before turning back to the scene in front of her, 'I *do* need to get myself some pants like that.' Shaking her head in amusement, she watched as Willow disentangled herself from Ember's arms, looking slightly embarrassed as the other trainee sorceresses greeted her, then she turned back to Tara.



"Tara, this is- well, you know who, I just said- this is Ember," she said, grinning happily. "Ember, this is Tara, my partner."



"An honour," Ember said, surprising Tara who had been about to say the same.



"F-for me also," she replied, holding out a hand.



"Co'te," Ember said quietly as she took Tara's hand. Tara tried not to be surprised as she returned the ritual greeting between warriors, reminding herself of all that Willow had told her of her mentor's immense wealth of experience and knowledge - and, she recalled a moment later, that according to her journal she had travelled with an Amazon warrior for a time, no doubt learning all she could about the culture in the process.



Ember ushered her and Willow into the tent, waving a hand to the other sorceresses, who nodded and remained outside. Inside the long tent was divided into several areas by long drapes hung from the rails supporting the roof - Ember led the way into one of these, a small enclosure with a pair of wooden benches with cushions, and a low table with a jug of water, and drew the drapes shut in their wake.



"Now I can see by that insatiably curious gleam," she began, forestalling the question on Willow's lips, "Lady Lindia didn't explain very much?"



"She said you arrived three days ago," Willow replied, "she said she'd leave the rest of the explanations to others - to you, I guess. She was acting kind of... dramatic... scared the heck out of us sneaking through the runic boundary I set up, is there something else going on?"



"That sounds like her," Ember nodded, "a fine woman and adventurer, and the one thing career adventurers always have is...?"



"A sense of theatre," Willow finished, as if remembering something she had once heard. She sat opposite Ember, on the other bench, with Tara at her side.



"Myself excepted, of course," Ember said, in a tone of voice that suggested she was quite happily making fun of herself. Tara found herself at ease in the older sorceress's presence - she was much as Willow's descriptions had led her to imagine. There was authority and dignity to her, but also a sense of fun that kept her from seeming austere or unapproachable. Tara hazarded a guess that her humour concealed a formidable woman, not only because she couldn't imagine Willow respecting anyone so much who wasn't.



"Well, first things first," she went on, pouring a glass of water each for Willow and Tara, then one for herself, "it was the report you wrote from the castle at Kingsport, about what happened with the mage there. That arrived at about the same time as we got word from the Vizjerei that there had been an incident in Kingsport, involving Shadai and one of our sorceresses. Of course they had no idea that you had been involved in her rising in Entsteig, but I didn't like the connection. There's a saying - from Entsteig, in fact - 'once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.'"



"What was the third time?" Tara asked.



"Well, admittedly, at that point there wasn't a third time," Ember shrugged, "but I've learned not to give demons the benefit of the doubt. I made arrangements to suspend my teaching duties and come here, to make sure everything was alright. If it was just a coincidence, well," she waved a hand airily, a gesture that Tara recognised from Willow, and realised she must have inherited from her mentor, "no harm done, the Order can do without me for a couple of months. I had a nasty suspicion something more was going on, though... and I see I was right. I'd say I wish I'd got here sooner, but seeing as you're here and unhurt, and looking not unduly distressed, I'd say things turned out well enough."



"I suppose so," Willow agreed. "But the trainees...?"



"I can't imagine why," Ember said with a wry grin, "but the Council has gotten the idea from somewhere that wherever trouble strikes, I tend to gravitate towards it. When I told them I wanted to follow up on Hydris's attempted summoning, and see if there was more to it, they decided there probably *was* more to it, and formed a delegation. They're in Duncraig now - when we arrived and compared notes with Ocean, the apprentice at the Palace, we realised the situation was more dangerous than I'd feared. A few hours later the Duke's mage showed up, after riding non-stop for almost a whole day and night with his bodyguard, insisting that he'd felt signs of a 'great threat'. Between us we convinced the Duke to call the army to alert, and we amassed this little scouting party as quickly as we could. And... here we are."



She set her glass aside and leant forward, fixing Willow with her full attention.



"That's my side of the story," she went on, "now, if you're comfortable... what the hell happened?"



And Willow talked, telling her mentor everything that had happened from the moment she had set foot on Kingsport docks over a month ago, to the moment she had been awoken by Lindia's approach just a few hours before. She omitted nothing - after a glance at Tara, to which Tara gave her a reassuring smile and a little nod, she told Ember about their relationship, not in any intimate detail but enough, in a discreet fashion, that the progress of their friendship and then love was woven into the story, along with Willow's studies, their travels, the dangers, the friends they had met and made, even such incidental details as their dance in Kingsport castle, and the trip to the opera in Duncraig.



Ember interrupted Willow only three times, through the several hours it took for her to recount the entire tale. The first time was after just a couple of minutes, when Willow was deep in discussing the books she had acquired from the mages she had visited in Kingsport on the first day - admitting she had missed Willow's exhaustive accounts of everything she did, Ember had halted the story just long enough to have a hearty breakfast brought in from the camp's kitchen tent. The second was several hours later, this time for lunch. Each time, once the food had been delivered and Willow had resumed the telling of their story, Tara was intrigued to watch Ember add a few spices to the dishes, and found them much more appetising than the usual camp fare as a result. She wondered privately if the older sorceress has imparted some of that skill on Willow as well, of if their shared culinary talent was coincidence.



The other time Ember spoke was a couple of hours into the afternoon, as Willow was describing their encounter with the wraith in the lower levels of the Hellebore catacombs. Ember leaned forward, momentarily ceasing writing the notes she had been making as Willow talked, and seemed to be hanging on every word as she described its attack on Tara, and her subsequent banishing of the unearthly creature.



"What?" she asked with a confused grin.



"You destroyed it in one blow?" Ember asked. "No magic at all?"



"Yes... that's the idea with wraiths, you taught me that." Willow glanced at Tara, shrugging vaguely.



"It's just that old wraiths are rare," Ember said, leaning back, "difficult to find, not that many people actually try, there's very little known about them, except that they're supposedly exceptionally difficult to destroy." She paused, then glanced at Tara. "Of course, it was threatening you at the time," she noted.



"I'd fallen," Tara nodded, "it was almost on top of me."



"Giving you a very strong incentive to banish it," Ember nodded, turning her attention back to Willow, "interesting... there might be something to the psychic theory behind them, you think?"



"That it's the psychic impulse that damages them, not the physical blow," Willow mused, "having seen one, that's my guess. Of course, it was only one 'test' - I'd recommend further research, only no thanks." Ember gave a little snort of laughter, and gestured for Willow to continue.



When Willow got to the moment where Shadai had made herself known, and revealed quietly that the demon had been within her all along, Ember's eyes widened, but she remained silent. Willow reached for Tara's hand and held it as she recounted the events on the top of the tower, tense at first, but relaxing as Tara gently stroked her thumb back and forth across the back of her hand. The older sorceress looked at Tara, studying her intently, as Willow had described the combined spell they had managed to defeat Shadai. Something in her gaze was different to any expression she had shown so far, and in fact different to how Tara had imagined her, from Willow's description of the woman who had 'seen everything and been everywhere'. She wondered if Willow had actually surprised Ember.



"Well," Ember said at last, when Willow had finished, "that's... quite a tale. Quite a tale... it bring some puzzling details into sharp focus. Hydris, for one - the Vizjerei were adamant that he didn't have the power to do what he was accused of having done. There's been talk among the clan, so I've heard, of ruling that the Baron's investigation was over-zealous - they'd do nothing to harm him," she added quickly, as both Willow and Tara looked suddenly anxious, "after all, the fact that he was involved in demonology is undisputed. Your gathering of evidence," she looked to Willow specifically, "was above reproach."



"Thank you," she ducked her head slightly.



"Nothing to do with me," Ember replied with a smile, "you had the academic skills of a sorceress long before we met... At any rate, the Vizjerei debate much and move slowly as a rule, and their delegation won't have reached Kingsport yet. In light of what you've told me, the Council will I'm sure send a representative to wait for them there, to enlighten them."



"What was he trying to do?" Tara asked as Ember paused. "Hydris, I mean. If it wasn't a summoning...?"



"It was a summoning of a kind," Ember explained, "the ritual preparations you examined, and Willow documented most thoroughly, prove as much. But there were variations in the spell, which only an experienced eye would see... believe me, I've seen more than my share of summoning circles in my time." She chuckled mirthlessly to herself, then fixed Willow with a kind look.



"You were in control," she said, "to Shadai, that was a huge problem. Though she was within you, she was unable to command you - it's a fact," she said, glancing at Tara as if to include her in the discussion, "that demonic possession, immediate control, requires the consent of the host. Not necessarily on a conscious level, but on some level, whether it be subconscious, as a result of duplicity, even accidental. You would never give her that, not even accidentally - not after what happened in Entsteig." Willow nodded fervently, suppressing a shiver.



"So she was safe, but trapped," Ember leant back, "concealed from all manner of magic, which would detect only your soul, not the demon lurking in its shadow. Until she had Hellebore to protect her, she was safe only so long as she remained hidden. But a helpless passenger. She had to use what influence she could exert on... susceptible minds, demons and their followers, to try to steer you in the direction she wanted you to go. No easy task, and demons hate relying on humans. Well, you saw what happened the first time you went to the monastery - her servant took his own life, and you left the catacombs behind you, despite that being the very place she wanted you to be. She probably foresaw, or feared, something of the kind, and hoped to subdue your mind - a variant on a summoning, to summon her partly into your soul. Difficult... impossible had she not been within you to begin with. But under the circumstances... well, it's all guesswork, no-one but the damned know that kind of magic well enough to be sure. But I think that's what was being attempted. If the mage at the monastery had lived, perhaps he'd have tried the same ritual."



"I was lucky," Willow said bleakly, "if he hadn't been discovered by accident before he got me-"



"You were both lucky, many times," Ember interrupted, "but fortune exists, good and bad. During this whole, difficult time, you two have done everything in your power to find and seize good fortune, and make it your own. Sometimes," her eyes grew distant, "sometimes we survive by the merest of margins..." She shrugged and offered Willow a gentle smile. "But try not to dwell on it. What would your Athulua's consort say?" she asked Tara.



"She... oh," her eyes lit up in realisation, "'Be grateful of our fortunes, and fear not that which has not come to pass.' When Athulua rescued Kethryes from her old lord's army," she explained to Willow, "afterwards she was upset about whether she could have been too late, and lost her. That was what she said to her, to console her."



"I..." she said, unable to keep a smile from her lips, "...I'll try." Tara nodded, and squeezed her hand comfortingly.



"Me too," she murmured.



"Um, about the book," Willow said, to cover the blush creeping up her cheeks, as she turned back to Ember. Tara reached behind their bench to where their bags were lying on the ground, and retrieved the ancient volume for Willow. She took it and laid it almost reverentially on the table, between herself and Ember.



"Yes," the older sorceress whispered, betraying a little awe, "Moac's journal... how much have you read?"



"I, uh, just glanced at it," Willow admitted, "I haven't really read any." Ember's eyebrow quirked up.



"You've had this a whole night, and you haven't read it?" She grinned impishly. "Are you sure you're feeling alright?" Tara couldn't suppress a chuckle, and Willow shot her a frown, belied by her smile.



"I had more important things on my mind," she explained. Ember looked at her warmly, for a moment exactly like a proud parent would, then leaned forward and ran her fingers over the book's dark red leather cover.



"There's a space saved for this in the vaults," she said quietly, "among all the very, very powerful texts... even though no-one really believed it existed."



"It belongs there," Willow said firmly, "it'll be safe there." Ember looked up at her, once more warm with admiration.



"It can travel with the delegation from the Council," she said, picking up the book, "there's no safer way to get it to Kurast... and you should give it to them." She handed the volume back to a surprised Willow.



"Me?" she squeaked. "Why? I mean, you're my sponsor... a-and you can protect it better until then-"



"We'll be travelling together," Ember said, "the Dauntless will have unloaded her complement of men by now, so she'll be setting sail for the city tonight, while the Valiant stays here. You can both stay in the cabin they gave me, you could use the rest I imagine - I'll be up most of the night anyway briefing the Duke's field advisors. The ship's rigged for cavalry transport, so you won't have to leave your horse... how *did* you get her onto a horse that big?" she asked Tara with a wry smile.



"It took some doing," Tara said, receiving a playful elbow in her side in reply.



"We can go on board now, if you'd like," Ember went on, "there's no reason not to, and trust me, the food in the officer's mess is better than what they'll serve the troops out here. You'll have time to get cleaned up before dinner. Fiara?" she called, summoning one of the younger sorceresses.



"Ma'am?" she asked.



"See Willow and Lady Tara onto the next launch for the Dauntless - we'll all be going aboard, I'll brief you and Lusilla there. You'll both be scouting the ruins tomorrow, but you'll be able to get some rest tonight. The danger we were concerned with has been dealt with. I'll be returning to Duncraig tonight, I'll be back in a couple of days."



"Yes ma'am," Fiara said, ducking her head, then leaving with a curious glance at Willow and Tara. Ember stood, and Willow stood with her as if out of habit - Tara got a glimpse of the bond between them, the time they had spent together as teacher and pupil.



"Ember?" Willow asked as Tara stood at her side, "is... it is over, isn't it?" Ember looked at her levelly, then smiled kindly.



"It's over," she said.



"Shadai's gone?" Tara asked quietly. "For good?"



"As gone as a demon can be," Ember said, "banished back to hell."



"She couldn't... have escaped again? Like before," Willow asked, choosing her words with care. Ember regarded her sadly, then opened her arms, and Willow stepped forward into her embrace.



"I'm so sorry," the older sorceress whispered, just loud enough for Tara to hear. "If we'd known, been able to tell somehow... if we could have spared you all this..." She sighed deeply, then stood back a pace from Willow.



"I fully believe," she said firmly, "that Shadai, even if she had tried, would have been unable to return to you. Before, in Entsteig, we had no idea, the notion that she'd do something so dangerous, that the banishing spell gave her a means to hide within you..." She shook her head sadly, then met Willow's gaze again. "Now we know. More importantly, *you* know. This time there was no spell for her to take advantage of... and this time you know what she did to you. A demon, no matter how powerful, can never possess those who don't allow them to do so."



"She never did," Tara said firmly. Ember looked at her, surprised at the certainty in her voice, perhaps surprised too at being challenged, then nodded.



"She didn't know," she replied, turning back to Willow, "and that was our fault, not hers. But if you had ever become aware of the demon's presence," she added in a level voice, "I am absolutely sure she would have been forced from you. No matter how powerful the demon, within yourself you are more powerful." Willow nodded, then reached for Tara's hand and held it gently, reassuringly.



"A mage powerful enough and twisted enough to succeed in summoning a demon of her power comes around once in a lifetime," Ember went on, "if that, and most never get the chance anyway. I honestly believe she'll never trouble you again. That's the best I can offer."



"It's enough," Willow said, swallowing to steady her voice. She faced Tara and regarded her with warm eyes.



"It's over," Tara murmured, reaching forward to embrace her. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Ember turn away, giving them a little privacy at least, but then she had eyes only for Willow, who smiled back at her as her arms circled her waist.



"It's over," she echoed in a whisper, before her lips sought out Tara's for a quick, gentle kiss. They lingered for a moment, then reluctantly separated. Willow led the way out of the enclosure within the tent, but Ember reached out and touched Tara's shoulder as she passed, halting her. She looked like she was about to speak, then paused, as if gathering her thoughts.



"I-I'm sorry if I was rude," Tara began, "I know you'd never have let this happen, if you could have prevented-"



"No," Ember interrupted, "no, it's not that... objectively, perhaps, there was nothing that could have been done, but if you blame me, I find can only agree with you."



"I don't," Tara said quietly. "But for Willow..."



"I understand," Ember nodded, "likewise, I'd do anything for her... though," she looked at Tara with a curious smile, "I think only you could have saved her."



"She saved me just as much," Tara admitted, ducking to hide her blush.



"I always knew she'd accomplish something truly remarkable. I thank you for what you've done, Tara. And for what you'll keep doing as long as you and she live."



"I just want to make her happy," Tara murmured.



"I know," Ember said, taking her gently by the elbow and leading her out to where Willow and the other sorceresses were waiting, "that's worth my thanks any day."



-----



Ember's cabin on the Dauntless was not particularly spacious, but the quality of the furnishings made up for it. All the furniture was fixed to the deck - a small writing desk, a closet large enough for just a handful of garments, a deep trunk in the corner, and the bunk set into the wall, just the size of a single bed. Someone anticipating their arrival had lit the two oil lamps, one on either side of the cabin, which was on the port side and getting none of the westering sun's light through its small glass-paned porthole. The ensign who had carried their packs from the launch deposited them neatly by the trunk, saluted, and left, closing the door softly behind him.



"You mind sleeping in close quarters tonight?" Willow smiled wearily as she sat on the protruding edge of the bunk.



"With you, I was happy on the ground," Tara said, sitting next to her and putting an arm around her waist, "this is luxury. Tired?"



"Physically, not really," Willow shrugged, "mentally... ready to drop like a stone."



"Me too," Tara sighed. "We'll feel better after dinner."



"Do you think Anji's okay?"



"She looked fine," Tara assured her - they had left Anji on the shore, waiting for a cavalry barge to take her over to the ship, where the last horses were just being unloaded from the stable deck via a large ramp. "She's probably been on a boat before... I guess all the army's horses would at least be taken on board a transport now and then, to get them used to it in case they needed to be moved by boat. We can go down and check on her once she's on board, if you like?"



"Okay-" Willow's breath caught just after she agreed. "Wait... the rest of the horses have been offloaded, right?"



"I think so," Tara said, with a grin.



"Okay," Willow sighed with relief, "I mean, I'm getting better with horses... well, with Anji. A whole stable full of chargers, though... and they probably get excited when they're being shipped..."



"If there's any other horses down there," Tara promised in a whisper, "I'll make sure they're all very nice to you." Willow laughed, then turned to face Tara, resting a hand casually on her thigh.



"I'm being silly, aren't I?" she asked.



"Yes," Tara agreed, returning her gaze with complete adoration.



"I love you."



"I know sweetie. I love you too." They remained still in content silence for a while, Willow resting her head on Tara's shoulder, Tara in turn lightly resting her cheek against Willow's crown, pressing a soft kiss into her slightly tangled hair now and then.



"Hey," Willow murmured eventually, giving Tara's thigh a squeeze, "what do you say we get cleaned up, then go down to the stable deck before dinner?"



"Sounds good," Tara smiled. She got to her feet and held Willow's hands, pretending to pull her upright as she got up, feigning exhaustion. "Do you think they've got a bathtub we can haul in here?"



"Why," Willow grinned slyly, "are you hoping to get me all wet and play with me?"



"I might be," Tara allowed with a wink, "do you think you might like to get wet and be played with?"



"If you're lucky," Willow said breezily.



"I feel lucky," Tara replied, stepping lithely behind Willow and leaning down to nip at her ear, while her hands roamed over her bare stomach.



"Mmm," Willow purred, "you'll be feeling a lot more... come on, I'm suddenly in a hurry."



-----



The officers' latrine on board proved to be a stylishly-appointed bathroom, complete with a bath, but both women decided they'd rather enjoy the privacy of their cabin. Ember was climbing the ladder from another shore launch just in time to see Willow and Tara hauling an iron bathtub, spare from the enlisted men's facilities, across the deck towards the short flight of stairs leading to the cabin deck.



"Oh," Willow paused, smiling sheepishly, "um, do you need your cabin? We could... um..."



"I'll just be a moment," the sorceress said, "I just need to grab a couple of books I left in the desk and I'll be out of your way for the night. Not wasting any time, I see," she added in an undertone which made Willow blush quite adorably, or so it seemed to Tara who watched her with concealed amusement.



"Well," Willow said, not meeting her mentor's eye, "we *have* been out of civilisation for a few days..." Ember stepped ahead of them and pushed open the cabin door.



"Ah, civilisation," she smiled to herself, "regular meals, soft beds and hot baths." She stood aside as Willow and Tara rolled the tub through the doorway and manoeuvred it so that it would fit in the cabin's limited floor space. "You'll get the first two from the boat, but if you want a hand with the other...?"



"If it's no trouble?" Willow asked in reply, as Tara looked from one to the other of them, trying to work out exactly what they were discussing. Ember shook her head and shrugged, and Willow knelt by the tub, holding her hands out, palm down. Tara watched, smiling at herself being proud of Willow, as water coalesced out of the air and filled the tub.



"Keeping an eye on the book?" Ember asked, as Willow stood up and she knelt down in her place. Willow patted the satchel slung over her shoulder, which hadn't left her since they had boarded the Dauntless.



"Good girl," Ember said absently. She frowned in thought for a moment, then touched a fingertips to the water. Tara thought she saw the merest hint of something spread from the sorceresses fingers, like a wave of sunlight, then she withdrew her hand and stood up, leaving the water steaming nicely.



"Thanks," Willow smiled, turning to Tara and waggling her eyebrows cutely.



"Anytime," Ember said offhandedly, fishing a couple of slim books out of the desk drawers and retreating to the doorway. "Don't do anything I wouldn't," she grinned in parting, closing the door behind her.



"Don't mind her," Willow shrugged, sauntering over to Tara and stroking her cheek as she blushed slightly, "I think she's been waiting years to tease me."



"Uh-huh," Tara said, her bashful smile turning sultry under Willow's caress, "well, there is *one* thing you can do that she wouldn't."



"Yeah? What's that?"



"Me."



-----



Tara sat on the bed and watched Willow conscientiously store away all their belongings in the cabin's trunk. Or rather, she simply watched Willow - the trim expanse of her abdomen, the twist of her waist as she reached behind herself for her pack, left lying on the deck, her arms, moving surely and efficiently as she stowed the pack along with their other gear, the curve of her buttocks as she crouched down, securing the trunk's latch, and her skirt drew tight around her hips, the lean curves of her legs as she stood back up, stretching up on her toes for a moment...



'Look at you, you're practically salivating,' she thought to herself. She and Willow had teased and pampered one another as they bathed earlier, taking their time in bestowing lingering caresses over every available inch of skin. And as a result, the water had cooled by the time they had progressed as far as teasing foreplay could take them. Tara had had just enough possession of her thoughts to realise that the water was getting cold, along with the air as the afternoon waned into evening outside, and had calmed herself before she and Willow had gone so far that any effort to back off would have been truly futile. Willow had briefly pondered whether she could get Ember to give the bath another burst of heat, but in light of her and Tara's condition, naked, wet and thoroughly aroused, decided she's never live down the teasing.



Visiting Anji on the stable deck, where she seemed quite content despite the boat's gentle rocking, had taken their minds off their mutual pressing need for a short while, but dinner had been a kind of torture. Fortunately few people had been dining with them in the officer's mess - a pair of ensigns at the other end of the table, and a lieutenant about to begin the night shift having breakfast, the others being occupied with the same briefing that Ember was attending. Having no need of their boots on the boat's smooth decks neither Willow nor Tara had worn them, and most of the meal was spent trying to appear casual while beneath the table their feet were stroking each other's calves and shins. The contact helped ease some of the need, just enough to get through dinner - though at times, Tara seriously wondered whether she'd be able to get through her meal without leaping over the table and devouring Willow instead.



Willow was far from immune herself - on their way back to their cabin Tara had nudged against her in a tight stairway, and in the space of a heartbeat found herself up against the wall with Willow pressed against her, kissing hungrily. It had taken a deep, shuddering breath for Willow to rein herself in and keep herself in check thereafter, and they had both hurried back to privacy.



Now, watching Willow disrobe, Tara was able to keep her hands to herself purely because she knew she wouldn't have to wait much longer. That, and the way Willow turned this way and that as she undressed, exposing one slender curve at a time. By the time she was naked save for her underwear there wasn't a single part of her Tara wasn't fantasising about, and to judge by the glitter in her eyes as she turned off one of the cabin's oil lamps and sauntered over to the bunk, she knew it.



"What's this for?" Tara asked lightly, hooking a finger in the waistband as Willow sat next to her, and tugging the thin material a little way down her hips.



"I thought you'd like to do the honours," Willow smiled, reaching for the buckles on Tara's leathers. Tara leaned back as Willow loosened her armour, then lifted her arms to let her lift the leather off her torso. The moment it had fallen to the deck Willow was kissing her, starting voraciously with her lips before moving down to her neck and collarbone, licking an sucking the tender skin there.



"Oh gods," she gasped between kisses, "what on earth... gave me the idea... I could resist you... even for a couple... of hours...?"



"Mmm, oh baby," Tara shuddered as she felt Willow's lips close around her nipple, "oh... oooh, goddess..." Willow sucked at her, her tongue dancing around the hard nub of flesh in her mouth, while one hand cupped her other breast, squeezing the soft mound. Her free hand went to the waist of Tara's skirt, deftly undoing it, then sliding beneath her bottom to urge her to lift up, so she could slide the skirt away.



"That's so... so... ah... oh goddess," Tara moaned as Willow switched breasts, her fingers keeping the glistening nipple thus revealed fully stimulated.



"You were saying something?" she said in a sexy murmur, leaving her hands to attend to Tara's bosom for a moment as she moved upwards, brushing her lips on Tara's as she spoke. Tara shook her head, then lifted her hands to hold Willow firmly as she kissed her, her fingers running through her freshly-washed scarlet hair as her tongue delved deep into her mouth. Longer and longer she held the kiss, leaving no depth of Willow's unexplored - first she felt Willow shuddering against her, then her hands moved to her back, holding helplessly, and finally her legs gave out and she let herself fall against Tara, moaning unashamedly into her mouth.



"Good kiss?" Tara purred when she finally released Willow's lips. Willow let out a sob of pleasure and opened her eyes, taking a moment before she could properly focus on the woman smiling at her.



"Take me," she whimpered. Tara's smile widened, and she sat up, lifting Willow with her as she moved.



"You're still a little overdressed," she murmured in Willow's ear, stroking the smoothness of Willow's underwear. When her fingertips brushed against her mound, clad only in thin fabric, Willow's legs again failed her, and she clung to Tara and moaned, her hips trembling.



"Oh goddess," she breathed, with a delirious smile, "I can't even stand when you touch me." With some effort she managed to get a hand to the brass rail set above the bunk's recess in the wall, and held herself up as she stood. Tara ran her hands up and down Willow's sides as she reached her other arm up, doubling her grip, then, finding herself at just the right height, began tasting her breasts with long, deliberately slow licks.



"Uh," Willow gave voice to a high-pitched whimper. Tara looked up at her face, set in an expression of desperate pleasure, and felt that sight alone stir her to the depths of her soul.



"Hold on," she whispered, her lips brushing Willow's cleavage, "I'm going to take you for a ride."



"Take me," Willow whispered again, so softly she barely spoke at all. Tara's lips curled into a sexy smirk as she lithely uncoiled from the bunk, sliding her hands around Willow's waist as she moved behind her, pressing her forward.



"Like this?" she purred, sucking delicately on Willow's neck, her hands beginning to wander over her body. Willow nodded mutely, her mouth hanging open, eyes tightly closed.



"Like this?" Tara went on, bringing her hands up beneath Willow's breasts, lifting them then letting them slip into her grip, feeling her nipples straining against her palms. She moved her kisses down to Willow's shoulder, and began rhythmically squeezing and stroking the soft mounds in her hands in time with the caresses of her lips against her skin.



"Uh... yeah..." Willow moaned, unconsciously grinding her hips against Tara's pelvis. She let her head fall back just as Tara lifted hers, and their lips met in a devastating kiss. Their bodies moved as one, curving and stretching against each other, fitting together perfectly. Tara's hands moved down, one wrapping tightly, possessively, around Willow's waist, the other stroking her hip, slowly edging around towards the junction of her thighs. First one then the other of Willow's hands left the rail she had been holding, instead reaching back, stroking Tara's sides firmly, moving down to her waist, down to her buttocks where Tara's leather underwear covered almost nothing, cupping them, pulling Tara against herself.



"Goddess," she gasped, her word muffled against Tara's lips, "so very sexy..." With a parting kiss Tara quickly ducked around Willow, reversing their positions so that she was now pressed against Willow's front. Reaching back to hold Willow to her she crouched slowly then straightened, luxuriating in the feel of Willow's smooth skin against her naked rear.



"You like that, huh?" she murmured, her voice starting to become ragged as Willow wasted no time in taking advantage of her new position. One hand alternated between Tara's breasts, back and forth, holding, squeezing, tantalising and deftly stroking her nipples to hard peaks. The other cupped her mound, pressing against the leather that was all the clothing that the two of them had left between them. Tara gave a loud, primal moan as Willow's touch soared through her.



"Now who's being taken on a ride?" Willow purred, licking Tara's neck, up to her ear. Her fingers moved lower, between Tara's thighs, feeling the warmth beneath the leather covering her.



"Goddess," she whispered, breathing hard against the glistening marks her kisses had left on Tara's skin, "you're so wet... it's just flowing out of you, isn't it? Too much for this little scrap to contain," she tugged gently at the underwear, "you're coating your thighs, soaking your leather, you're so hot... just waiting for me, aren't you?"



"Y-yes," Tara gasped, "for you..." She almost stumbled, overcome by her need, as Willow covered her entire mound with her hand and pressed inwards, grinding her aching clit against the leather between them.



"You know what," Willow continued, "now you feel a bit unsteady, don't you? Can't have you falling over, my vixen angel, maybe you should hold onto something, hmm? Ah, not yet," she added quickly, as Tara's hands began to rise, "you never finished undressing, you naughty beauty... first things first."



Craning her neck to fix Willow with a sultry smile, Tara arched her back just a little, separating herself a fraction from Willow's body as her thumbs hooked into the waist of her underwear. Slowly, staring at Willow all the while, she bent at the waist, her hips pressing backwards against Willow as she pulled the offending undergarment down her legs. Releasing Tara from her hold, Willow gently stroked her back as she leant down, and then straightened.



"You know how beautiful you are?" she whispered as Tara stood back up. Tara tilted her head back, all the invitation Willow needed to capture her lips and taste her again. The kiss was short and intense - Tara pulled back, closed her hands around the brass railing above her, and planted her feet wide apart on the deck.



"I know one thing," she growled, "I'm yours. Prove it baby... right now."



The raw desire carried in her words jolted Willow to action the moment they were past her lips. Claiming her mouth in another searing kiss, Willow held her with one arm, wrapped tightly about her waist, while her other hand went down, where Tara desperately needed her. Feeling the blistering heat, the copious wetness, she wasted no time, stroking two fingertips down through Tara's folds to her entrance and then rising up within her. She swallowed the passionate moan that welled up from Tara's throat and thrust again, and again, exulting in the wave of ecstatic motion that shuddered through the body in her arms each time.



Tara writhed in her grip, her hips circling, rising and falling, giving herself to Willow with utter abandon. Each time Willow's fingers withdrew she would bend her knees, her body pursuing the intruding digits as far as she could, unwilling to bear their retreat. Each time she thrust, touching a spectacle of passion within Tara's core, she would lift herself up on her toes, arching her back - she moved in time with Willow, her whole body echoing the motion of her hand between her legs, moving with rather than against it, so that as Willow made love to her, it seemed to both of them that her entire being was reaping the joy of her deepest touch.



Throughout their lips remained locked, each stealing breath here and there, but never leaving the kiss that completed the cycle within their two bodies - their lips seemed joined, allowed love and passion to flow between them just as below, with every thrust, there seemed less and less distinction between giving and receiving pleasure, between making love and being made love to, between Willow's fingers plunging deep and Tara's channel welcoming her with flood tides of arousal.



Tara's climax burst upon her like the rising sun shining on the ocean - for a split second she could feel the single gathering of intense, pure love within her, then every part of her was lighting up, reflecting the brilliance of what Willow had given her. She shuddered uncontrollably in Willow's arms, moving faster and faster until finally she could only thrust herself down, one last time, burying Willow within her as her juices flowed, her body shivered at the waves of heat crashing within her. Behind her clenched eyelids she was staring into a private realm only she and Willow could enter, where the ground beneath their feet, the sun in the sky, the air they breathed was fashioned from each other's love.



Secure in Willow's grip, her arms supporting her weight, Tara let her head fall forwards as Willow released her lips at last. She felt too close to Willow to describe - she felt Willow's heartbeat in every part of herself, touching off aftershocks of bliss. She gave a soft, sated moan as she felt Willow's lips touch her ear, her tongue flicking out to taste her skin.



"You are a goddess," Willow whispered, "and I love you, my goddess... there is nothing in this world that can make me feel better than I do right now."



With a shuddering breath Tara regained her balance and turned around, gasping as she felt the fingers withdraw from her, sighing as she caught Willow in a warm embrace.



"You wanna bet?" she breathed, just as Willow had begun to relax into her arms. Willow straightened, then gave a delighted squeal as Tara quickly reached behind her shoulders and knees and picked her up.



"Ooh!" she giggled, "I'm getting taken on that ride after all, huh?"



"You most certainly are," Tara said, turning and laying Willow down on the bunk, "I never forget a promise I make to the woman I love with all my heart." She climbed into the bunk, straddling Willow and staring down at her.



"I'd say get ready," she grinned, "but, love, it won't make any difference at all."





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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 64)
PostPosted: Sat Jun 05, 2004 6:22 pm 
That was lovely, and quite hot ;)



So Ember and co traveled to Duncraig to stop unmentionable evil, but Willow and Tara got there first and did their magic. So what will Ember do now? Hang out and get to know Tara better, or will she return to her teachings.



And what will Willow and Tara do now? They've been working on banishing Shadai for so long, I've sort of lost my place in their original planning. How long will Willow stay in Duncraig for her "training"?



Great update Chris. Thank you.

--------------------------

Tinna Karen

-tölvunörd í fyrsta ættlið



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Sun Jun 06, 2004 2:37 am 
The last few parts have been really good, :applause



So Ember and the others arrived just after the nick of time, it's a good thing that Willow and Tara had everything in hand.



Since Willow is going to take the book back to the council does this mean she won't have to finish her tour, or will she continue it after she's been to the council?



Looking forward to :read more



"To mess up a Linux box you need to work at it; to mess up a Windows box you just need to work on it."



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Sun Jun 06, 2004 6:47 am 




Beautiful chapter!



sorry can't take the time to properly reply, in a rush...







~Arwen

Hear That Baby? You're My Always... Willow



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Sun Jun 06, 2004 3:07 pm 
I'm a bit late replying, busy week and such, but here we gooo :)



I like Ember, seems the perfect parent for Willow. I liked this line from Ember a lot:
Quote:
"I can't imagine why," Ember said with a wry grin, "but the Council has gotten the idea from somewhere that wherever trouble strikes, I tend to gravitate towards it."
For some reason I think that fits Ember nicely, based on Willow's stories anyway :lol



What I missed in Ember's description of why she came over is her sensing of Shadai rising (and fall). Surely she sensed such a huge event ?? I do agree with Ember's reasoning about how two meetings with the same rare and powerfull demon is one too many at least. Given Ember's explanation they were lucky the maid walked in on Hydris when she did. That still leaves the question why Hydris/Shadai would want Tara dead at that early moment. (it gets ugly if you think about it too; Shadai hiding inside Willow influences someone else to get Tara killed... yech)



I'm not sure I'm entirely comfy with the 'no demon can stay in a body of someone who activly resists it' explanation though. Trouble with that is that one would have to actually think about not wanting demons inside one's self :) Well at least it will take Shadai hundreds if not thousands of years to ever get to summonable position from where she is now, heh. It's not likely any other smart demon (i.e. the nasty ones) will ever choose Willow or Tara again as host, better get an unsuspecting victim.



Hopefully some procedures of the Zan Esu will be modified to scan more thoroughly for bad side-effects of failed banishings. I liked that Ember was truly sorry about missing that btw., good Ember :-). I never once saw Willow do anything out of charachter to hint that Shadai was hiding inside. Which makes me wonder how Shadai could ever have influence Hidris and/or the sourcerer at the monastary without Willow noticing. What Willow said about the control rod (sounds icky:) ) back then, was that it took a huge amount of power and some powerfull demon to work with. How did Shadai manage to pull that off ?? It's a lot of 'outbound traffic/power' from Willow's perspective, hard to hide or mask.



Then again we don't know all that much about possesions and such. No doubt Willow will read up on those. After having read Moac's journal of course, heh.



Oh yeah, wouldn't it have been wise to give Ember the book before their nice and hot bath-tub session ? It's not like Willow had her mind on guarding the book at that time now was it ?:)



I hope those cabins are sufficiently soundproofed, Tara sure had a lot of fun there : -->>: . I suppose they'll sleep soundly... eventually.



Btw. I don't Willow is going to bring the book back to the vault herself, but just to the main Zan Esu group back at Duncraig. I do wonder if Willow will have to back for a full debriefing. She'll have to go back at least once to introduce Tara anyway, might as well combine it :)



Did I mention I like Ember yet ?? Gooood.



Grimmy

--
"You hurt Tara," Willow said too calmly. "The last one who tried that was a god. I made her regret it." -- Unexpected Consequences by Lisa of Nine

Edited by: Grimlock72 at: 6/6/04 3:11 pm


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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Mon Jun 07, 2004 6:21 pm 
Chris,

Ok, so well done and all that. But...



I was surprised that Ember wasn't more effusive in her praise (hmm... more effusive? Was she effusive at all?). The thing is that if I understand, Shaidai was a major demon, not one of these goat men or zombies or whatever, but a major demon. From the Book of Foes thing. And Tara & Willow - an apprentice sorcererous (sp) and an untried Amazon warrior killed her skanky ass back to hell by themselves! They fought a few hundred or thousand demons, deciphered a mystery, and killed a major demon! And Ember is going to present the information in a report? How about a ticker tape parade? How about a phone call from the president (that's what happens in America when someone wins a sporting event)? How about songs and garlands and whatever else we bestow on heros?



I get that the girls aren't in trouble but I just expected that Ember would have told them how well they did and that they completely kicked ass! Maybe that's just not necessary because of the closeness between Ember & Willow but it's always nice to hear anyway.



Maybe it's coming when they get back to Duncraig or to the Zann Esu. Of course Ember did say that Willow could present Moac's journal so maybe that's the big deal...



Anyway. The other day our neighbors were hanging out at our house while their house was being packed up to move. And I looked at his laptop and he was playing Diablo II. So I got a quick look at the verse.



Ok, gotta go. Making dinner. Debra

Oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 08, 2004 8:57 am 
Howdy:bigwave

I haven't come anywhere close to finishing reading all the updates but hopefully I'll be there soon so i can give you a beter reply then this. I just wanted to say from what I've read so far, this is ready good. 65 chapters? Whoa, thats alot. Well, I'm gonna go to extra flamey where there isn't the replies to read tho, so I can just read the story. I promise to read the updates and give you a good reply. Keep at it.

-Shy Southern Temptress:kitty



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Tue Jun 08, 2004 8:15 pm 
I've been reading this story since the beginning and just caught up on some chapters I missed. I've never left feedback - frankly because I couldn't express what everyone else on the board was already eloquently saying to you. However, since you have given us so much I felt that I owed and wanted to return the favor. Thanks for a beautiful story. It gets better and better with every part and I adore the realm you have made for W&T to play in. They are amazing! And holy god, the sex is outstanding! Please keep sharing your gift, you make the kitties so happy!! :clap

-pipsberg



"We live our lives, do whatever we do, and then we sleep - it's as simple and ordinary as that."

Michael Cunningham, The Hours



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Wed Jun 09, 2004 10:38 am 
Hi Chris!



I'm with Pipsberg. I've been reading and loving it, but knew my words couldn't do it justice. The pictures you paint, the intricate details are mind blowing. And yes, the sex is mind blowing too. I'm glad I listened to Debra and got on the Hellebore train! What a ride.



Your words are magic.



Keep up the great work!



Wimpy



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 Post subject: Re: FIC: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Sun Jun 13, 2004 8:12 am 
Hello Kittens, and thank you all :) It's been a busy week, so the latest chapter is still a day or two away (hopefully only a day, it's looking like it might get finished tomorrow, but there's a couple of delicate bits so I don't want to promise anything). Darn movies - three evenings in a row, which otherwise would have been writing-time, got taken up by Azkaban, Chance, and Dawn of the Dead (good, unbelievably good, and unbelievably average, respectively). All is on track now, so hopefully I'll be able to post the next chapter for the start of the week.



Tinna Karen: Thanks :) As is probably obvious the story is wrapping up in these few chapters, so I did want to get in some worthwhile snuggle-time for Willow and Tara - they deserve it, after all that :) I'm not quite finished in that vein yet, either.



What's ahead for Willow and Tara, in terms of their travel plans and Willow's academic schedule, will be addressed soon, as will Ember's immediate plans. She won't be staying long though - she's a busy sorceress, always lots to do.



Justin: Thank you. As Grimlock notes, Willow is just presenting the journal to the delegation in Duncraig, they'll take it the rest of the way back to their city in Kehjistan. But for all intents and purposes, when a delegation travels it's considered to have the full powers of the Council back home, so in those terms Willow is presenting the book to them directly - it'll be a nice feather in her cap with them :)



Arwen: Thanks for taking a moment to leave feedback, it's always appreciated, no matter how brief. In fact, if you're in a hurry, it's even more appreciated you took the time for a few words :)



Grimlock: Yep, Ember's a hell of a girl :) I've been looking forward to this, since the only time she showed up until now, she was being all serious - I wanted a chance to show her relaxed side. Though their histories aren't exactly the same, Ember here was inspired by the Ember whose Diablo exploits are documented (with considerable style, for a video game run-through) here: sirian.warpcore.org/diablo2/diablo2.html



Some of the questions you ask are going to be answered, so I'll leave them for now - there's a particular scene coming up that'll explain a lot of the odd things that have happened. As well as hopefully raise a couple of other interesting questions :)



Ember's assurance that Shadai couldn't now inhabit Willow is a solid one. Normally in a case of possession, the possessee has to invite the demon in, in one way or another - he/she may do it for power, by way of being deranged, even be forced or tricked into it, but it has to happen. A demon can just propel itself into any host it chooses, but it will fail - and be banished in the attempt - if the host is truly unwilling. Lucky for demons that humans are so often conflicted, or just dumb :) In Willow's case though, the spell she did allowed Shadai to sidestep the actual possession - she inhabited Willow without ever possessing her. Had she attempted it, she would have failed - no matter how powerful a demon is, a human is always stronger in such a battle, simply because the battle is being fought in the human's own psyche - home ground advantage. Shadai was in the doubly precarious position of having to subtly manipulate Willow, by influencing demon-friendly minds around her, to do what she wanted, while at the same time not allow her to suspect that she'd been inhabited. If Willow had ever seriously taken that notion to heart, Shadai would've been forced out of her.



No need to worry about guarding the book, anything trying to get to it still would have had to go through Willow - even naked and having a bath, she's still got magic comparable to a large siege weapon. Besides, only she, Tara and Ember know that Willow still has the book - if anything were suicidal enough to attack a ship with Willow *and* Ember on board, they'd go for Ember first. Ember's decision to leave Willow with the book, though good for Willow's prestige in the eyes of the Council when she presents it, isn't exactly standard procedure :)



As for soundproofing the cabin... well, no. Probably, a couple of junior officers in the adjacent cabins heard something during the night that certainly wasn't snoring - but with a sorceress and an Amazon, they wouldn't be inclined to make lewd comments the next morning :)



Debra: Thanks :) Yep, it was an amazing achievement - but also spectacularly dangerous, and it's foremost in the minds of the Zann Esu Council (who are cautious, as a rule) to find out just what happened and whether it's in any danger of happening some more, before they start handing out medals. Ember knows that, and I think she also knows that it'll be a little while before Willow starts thinking in broader terms again - right now, she's happy to be alive and with Tara, the rest will come later :) But rest assured, our girls' heroics won't be going unrecognised.



ShyTemptress: Hi there, and thanks :) I haven't actually gotten around to posting this on Extra Flamey yet - the database posting system kind of irks me, so I like to have a story finished so I can post it all at once, and get it out of the way. But if you'd like to read Hellebore in chapters, rather than in a thread, it's online at my site Through the Looking-glass: alia.customer.netspace.net.au/glass.htm 65 chapters, I know, it seems like I've been writing this for ages - in fact, it's now two days short of a year. Time flies :) I'm going to miss it when it's done.



Pipsberg: Thank you :) I'm glad you're enjoying everything, it means a lot to me. Oh, and I've just started reading The Rosenberg Institute, so expect some very positive feedback (and a request to host it on Looking-glass) soon :)



Wimpy: Thanks :) And I owe Debra another thanks then :) I love details - I'm just making most of it up completely, but I know in the stories I read, when there's attention to inconsequential details it always makes me feel like it's very much more real.



Well, look out for a new chapter in a day or two, and until then, keep safe and be well :)



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 Post subject: What an amazing story!
PostPosted: Sun Jun 13, 2004 8:32 am 
Dear Chris,



I found this story on the recommendation thread (what a concept!) and quickly fell in love with it. It's been my bedtime reading (gotta love wireless networks) for over a month now. It took me so long to get through it partly because it *is* long but mostly because when Tara and Willow left to go back to the monastery I knew the story was drawing to a close and I didn't want it to--so I just stopped reading it so the story wouldn't end. I have an odd psyche, I admit, but trust me, it's high praise coming from me. Last week I finally broke down and started reading again in dribbles and drabbles; last night I read for two solid hours because at what point do you stop? When Willow realizes she's been carrying Shadai? When Tara realizes Shadai can't hurt her but can hurt Willow?

When Tara and Willow defeat Shadai and the tower starts collapsing? When they finally get to the campsite and can collapse into each other's arms? (Yeah right. No one in their right mind would, could, stop there.) When Ember arrives on scene? Anyway, you see my problem....



I just wanted to say that this has been a terrific story. I love the characters, I love the plot, I love the balance between action and calm and between description and dialogue, I love the sense of emotional intimacy you create between Tara and Willow as well as the eroticism. In short, I love it all. It's unusual to find a story that so deftly manages the all the elements of good fiction. To use a chess analogy, lots of writers have good opening moves but weak endgames or vice-versa. And lots of writers focus on character to the detriment of plot, or vice-versa. You do a phenomenal job of integrating all the elements into one hell (hellebore?) of a good story, and I can't wait to read every single other thing you've ever written.



--babyblue



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 Post subject: Re: Hellebore (chapter 65)
PostPosted: Mon Jun 14, 2004 6:42 am 
Hi Artemis :wave



I meant to reply to your last couple of chapters sooner but my computer decided to break down... again. Considering that it broke down twice in one month I have to say that it probably never got fixed in the first place. Grrrr... :crash Maybe I should give up on trying to fix that old thing and buy a new one.



You have been getting e-mails about the artifact? :grin

I have finished writing a new chapter so I'm hoping to post it some time soon. It has definitely been too long since I last posted a new chapter of my story.:kgeek



But now let's talk about your fic.

I loved these last chapters of Hellebore :applause

I was surprised to know that Shadai traveled in Willow since the beginning of the story but it explained why trouble kept following W/T wherever they went.

I wasn't sure if you were going to have W/T meet with Ember in this story but I'm really happy that you did. I was curious to "meet" Willow's teacher and mentor. I would like to read about W/T meeting Solari too but I wonder if that is asking too much :hmm



I'm looking forward to read the next chapter :bounce



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