The Varos Triad
By Rebelgirl

Part 17

For Tara, it felt like time stood still as she watched the demons close in on her and Faith. Her mind raced with the options she had available to her. There was no way that Faith could fight them all off. From the size of some of them and with some of the weaponry they were holding, it would be unlikely that Faith could deal with more than one of the attackers before she and Tara were overpowered and presented to Varos. The only thing the blonde witch knew for certain was that she would not die. Not yet at least. All the time she was useful to Varos, she would remain alive. Whether she was harmed or not was a different story.

Tara had no idea how the massive demon would deal with Faith. Certainly, he would use her as a lever to manipulate her into helping him, but what would he do if she agreed? Faith would no longer be needed whether Tara chose to help Varos or not. She had to find another way to deal with the problem. Unfortunately, the only other way of dealing with the problem would be to unleash her powers on her attackers, something she had already told Faith she was reluctant to do.

Tara's indecision continued to rage through her mind as the demons crept infinitesimally closer. With alarming clarity, she noticed the brunette slayer tense and prepare herself for conflict, the muscles in her arms rippling as she moved into a defensive stance seemingly as slowly as the demons were moving. The older girl noticed gratefully that Faith had positioned herself in front of her slightly, prepared to defend her despite at this moment being the less powerful of the two of them.

Tara's vision of slow-motion came to an abrupt and very noisy end as soon as the first demon got within swinging distance of the Southie slayer.

Faith floored the hulking blue creature with a high kick to the throat and followed it up with almost supernatural speed by flashing her knife across the demon's windpipe, taking it out of the fight instantaneously.

The dark fighter's actions brought Tara back into real time and she watched the fight with a morbid detachment as she continued her internal debate over whether she should use her powers.

Faith wasn't so lucky with the next onslaught. Two demons attacked simultaneously and despite landing strikes on both of them, she was also on the receiving end of several vicious blows.

As the momentum of a punch to her face span her round, Faith locked eyes with Tara. "You made a decision yet?" she gasped, not waiting for an answer as she ducked a swinging arm from her attackers.

Faith's words bored into Tara's mind and she glanced nervously between her friend and the tall hulking form of Varos who was standing to one side, watching the fight with an amused grin on his face.

The blonde witch swallowed and then flinched as Faith took another blow to the head. The brunette girl was staggering now, yet her own attacks continued. Luck favoured her again and she managed to dispose of another demon with a stab to its chest after he left himself open.

Even as Faith withdrew her knife, she received another blow, this time between the shoulder blades and she was sent flying across the clearing. It took her a moment to get her breath and even longer to drag herself onto her hands and knees.

She wasn't like that for long though. A fresh demon took an opportunity to kick the slayer in the abdomen, flipping her over onto her back and winding her again. Faith rolled quickly, avoiding another crushing blow to her body and swept her leg round, introducing her attacker to the ground abruptly before she elbowed it in the throat.

Faith rolled and stood in one fluid movement, her chest heaving as she desperately tried to draw oxygen in. She could feel sweat rolling down her face and she wiped her eyes quickly in an effort to stop the salty liquid stinging her eyes. The rogue slayer knew that she couldn't keep this rate of attack up for long. She could feel herself tiring rapidly and there were still demons watching and waiting to join in the fight.

Instinctively the brunette ducked and avoided an axe swung by a demon standing behind her. As the axe reached the zenith of its arc, Faith judged that her attacker was at its most vulnerable and she whipped a leg up behind her to kick it squarely in the chest.

Off balance herself, she could do nothing but collapse as a second attacker kicked her other leg solidly. As she flipped over onto her back, she was stopped from getting up as the axe she had avoided seconds ago was held across her throat.

"You have an appointment with our master," the vile creature hissed, inching the blade slowly into the slayer's flesh.

Faith didn't even dare swallow, knowing that the movement would probably disturb the weapon enough to cut her. She held her hands out to the side, palm side up in supplication, hoping that the gesture was enough to indicate her submission.

The demon standing over her paused before flicking a tad more pressure on the axe. It was enough to draw blood and Faith's eyes blazed with both anger and fear, her fists clenching automatically as she prepared to fight once again.

She felt a great pressure on her shoulders and realised that she had been pinned down by other demons but was relieved to feel the blade withdrawn from her neck.

"Make any sudden moves and the axe goes straight through next time," the demon warned. It nodded at its companions and they hauled the renegade slayer to her feet roughly.

Faith obeyed and remained still. Her eyes sought out Tara and she was relieved to see that the girl remained unharmed. The blonde wicca was being held by another demon and together, they were marched to where Varos stood, his arms crossed over his chest in an aggressively dominant stance.

"I should kill you where you stand," he told the brunette coldly. Varos glanced towards Tara. "But then I would lose my bargaining power with the witch." He looked at Faith again before nodding at the demons holding her.

Faith felt an immense pressure on her shoulders as they tried to force her to the ground. The Bostonian resisted instinctively, but a blow to the back of her knees made her legs collapse and she found herself kneeling on the ground with her face jammed into the dirt. She struggled to move her face to one side in order to facilitate breathing but could do no more as she felt her arms yanked back, almost to the point of dislocating her shoulders.

"Now then," Varos continued conversationally. "I need you to open the portal for me, witch."

"I've already told you I can't do that," Tara returned, her eyes fixed firmly on Faith.

"Perhaps I can change your mind," suggested the huge demon mildly before gesturing to another demon. It came forward brandishing a large, serrated knife and approached Faith carefully.

"Are you sure you can't help?" Varos asked mockingly.

"If you think slicing and dicing me up is gonna change Blondie's mind, you're sadly mistaken," Faith spat at the tall demon.

"Oh the knife isn't for you," Varos retorted. "Well, not directly anyway."

Both Faith and Tara frowned at the demon's comment as Varos' minion closed the gap between himself and Faith. Once standing over the slayer, it flicked the knife out and cut through her jacket and top.

Faith willed herself to remain still and in spite of herself, marvelled at the skill of the demon. She could feel the cool blade as it travelled down her spine but not once did it break her skin.

Once the cut had been made, the demon yanked the garments apart, exposing Faith's back. Tara noticed a large number of scars that patterned the brunette's back and could only wonder at how those previous wounds had been inflicted.

Varos' soldier leant down and then held its arm over Faith's back. It slowly drew the blade across its own skin, forcing the knife to cut deeply as it sliced into its musculature. The demon clenched and relaxed its fist repeatedly, encouraging the blood to pump freely from the large self-inflicted wound. Satisfied that it had drawn enough of the dark, viscous fluid, the demon turned its arm over and allowed a couple of droplets to fall and splash onto Faith's back.

At first, the Bostonian only felt a cold, wet sensation from whatever the demon had put on her back. As the substance reacted with her skin however, she could feel it begin to burn and she instinctively arched her back in an effort to get away from the feeling. She was unable to move much more than that by the demons that kept her shoulders firmly pinned on the ground. Faith grunted from both the pain of the liquid and the pressure Varos' minions subjected her shoulders and arms with.

The liquid hissed and bubbled as it melted the slayer's skin and then spread itself deeper into the tissues of Faith's back. She resisted making any noise as it melted away her epidermis, but as the foul black substance met the nerve endings located in the deeper tissues, Faith could no longer keep silent and an agonised scream was wrenched from her throat.

Varos turned to Tara and smiled coldly. "Have I changed your mind yet?" He enquired.

It was dark by the time Buffy and the others entered the cemetery. The blonde slayer had performed an early patrol to eliminate any unwanted guests before their arrival and now circled the area cautiously, watching for any other vampires or other undesirables. Every so often, Buffy returned her gaze to where Willow was preparing to repeat the incantation. Her best friend appeared nervous and on edge. There were dark circles under her eyes, indicating how tired she was and yet she approached each task with determination.

Buffy had been surprised at how patient both Willow and Cordelia had been with Anya that afternoon. The two girls had taken it in turns to go through the incantation with the ex-vengeance demon and between them had got Anya up to scratch. Unfortunately, there had been more than a few heated arguments between the red-haired wiccan and the Seer over what would happen and how soon they could perform the ritual. Cordelia had harangued and badgered Willow until the witch had finally agreed that they would carry out the recitation that evening, despite Willow being uncertain as to how ready Anya was.

However, once the decision was made, the others had jobs to do and sprang into action. They would be down one slayer and a witch initially, so Buffy, Angel and Gunn armed themselves with as many weapons they could carry. Xander went on a shopping spree and collected not only the ingredients necessary to burn during the ritual, but a number of additional weapons, including a grenade gun.

Giles decided not to ask him how he had managed to acquire his armaments and busied himself with the preparation of the ingredients.

Finally ready, the odd assortment of friends and associates made their way to the graveyard discretely, avoiding the residents of Sunnydale as much as possible.

Giles looked steadily at Willow. "I'm ready to ignite the ingredients," he told her. "Are you sure you're capable of doing this?"

Willow swallowed and then looked at Cordelia briefly before returning her gaze to the ex-Watcher. "I can do this. With their help," she acknowledged Cordelia and Anya with a nod.

Giles looked up and sent a signal to Buffy. When she returned an agreed gesture meaning that it was relatively safe for them to proceed, Giles nodded at Willow and then withdrew from the three girls after using a lit match to set light to the contents of the cauldron.

Willow looked at Cordelia and Anya, waiting for them to acknowledge that they were ready.

Cordelia closed her eyes for a second and unconsciously rubbed the wound dressing that still covered her abdomen. It was uncomfortable but not too painful. For reasons that escaped the Seer, it comforted her to touch the site, perhaps reminding her that it was Faith that had stopped the attack from being more serious. This was, as far as Cordelia could tell, the only route left to try and rescue Faith and Tara. They had one opportunity to get it right, and the ex-cheerleader was beginning to get nervous over their chances of success. However, she could not afford to reveal any of her reservations. She had bullied and cajoled Willow into performing the incantation sooner rather than later. Although it was the red-haired witch who held the magical power, it was Cordelia's responsibility for the timing.

Deciding that there would be no further point in waiting, Cordelia nodded firmly towards Willow and then looked at Anya, hoping that her confidence would rub onto Xander's girlfriend.

The money-obsessed girl felt the gaze of the others firmly on her but was unconcerned by the pressure. She had memorised her part in the ritual and was just waiting for the go-ahead. They would either be successful or they would fail. Anya knew that she would miss Tara but she never really knew Faith and had no feelings for the rogue slayer whatsoever, other than wanting to keep her as far away from Xander as possible. She indicated her readiness and the three women then positioned themselves diametrically opposite each other.

Willow took the lead and gestured to the others to begin the recitation, allowing the power to flow through her as the incantation continued and drawing on all her magickal strength. As she continued the spell, her eyes grew dark, a reflection of the black magick she was invoking alongside the incantation in order to manipulate the energy harnessed by the incantation.

She could feel the energy radiating from Anya and Cordelia. The auburn wiccan was slightly surprised at how powerful the energy was from Cordelia and wondered at the woman's hidden power. Willow began to shake slightly under the strain of holding onto all the energy and knew that it wouldn't be long before she created the gateway to bring Tara home.

Tara's eyes widened as Faith screamed again, a hoarse, pitiful wail as the slayer began to lose consciousness from the pain. Her back was a seething, bubbling mass and sweat was pouring from the brunette's face.

Tara looked back at Varos and opened her mouth in order to capitulate, but something caught her attention before she uttered a word. Behind the tall demon, a bright shimmering light wavered, deepening in colour as it grew in size. Tara immediately knew what it was and from the look on Varos' face, he knew what it was too.

"It seems I underestimated the powers of witchcraft on the Earth," Varos commented. "I don't need your assistance after all." With that, he signalled over to where a number of his minions were assembled. Instantly, the lesser demons formed up and prepared to pass through the rift.

"Kill them both," Varos instructed coldly to the remaining demons. He stalked over to where his troops waited.

What happened next appeared to happen simultaneously, though Tara performed the magick sequentially. First, she sent a simple protection and healing spell to encircle Faith. As soon as the final words to the spell left her lips, the dark slayer was enshrouded by a glowing aqua globe. The demons holding her and torturing her were repelled instantly, flung away from the Bostonian with great force and landing in a dazed heap some distance away from the now protected girl. They did not get up.

Satisfied that Faith would remain protected for the time being, Tara turned her attention to where the rift was growing rapidly. Recalling how her simple fireball was so effective, she cast the spell again, sending it straight towards the rift in the hope that its magickal content would disrupt the rift enough to collapse it.

There was a distinct crackle as the fireball made contact with the rift and then it suddenly disappeared.

For a moment, Tara thought that she had failed, seeing that the rift was continuing to expand. She began to rack her brains for a more suitable spell when suddenly the rift began to collapse on itself, the ugly tear in the skyline diminishing slowly as it appeared to run out of energy to sustain itself.

It was then that Tara realised that the only thing she had failed to do, was protect herself. As Varos turned to face her, his eyes blazing with anger, Tara knew she was in trouble.

Cordelia opened her eyes slowly. Her face and arms felt hot and tight, as if she'd been sunbathing for far too long without any protection. The hairs on the back of her arms felt brittle and dry. Hesitantly, she reached up to check if she still had any eyebrows or hair.

Relieved to find everything still in place, the tall Seer sat up gingerly. Across from her, she saw Anya, held in Xander's arms and she felt a small pang of envy, wanting to be in the arms of the woman she loved. Cordelia noticed Anya's face was bright red and there was a distinct lack of eyebrows. The ex-vegeance demon had obviously been less fortunate than her.

Cordelia frowned, noticing how tight her face felt as it moved. There was something wrong. Xander was not looking at his girlfriend at all. The dark-haired man was staring in horror at something else, his hands clutching Anya convulsively.

The Seer followed Xander's gaze and gasped at what she saw. Buffy, a look of grief-stricken horror etched on her features, was being physically restrained by both Angel and Giles from moving any closer to what Xander was looking at.

In the middle of the cemetery, lying on brown, scorched grass was Willow Rosenburg's blackened, twisted body.

For a moment, Cordelia didn't know why Buffy was being held back but as she looked more closely at the grisly scene, she noticed sporadic flames bursting to life around the witch's body as the heat continued to burn any material that was still combustible. It was obviously far too hot for anyone else to approach safely.

She stared at the nightmarish scene for a few moments longer before turning her gaze to where Willow had placed the portal opening. She had seen it grow steadily in size as their recitation continued, and her heart leapt at the thought of being reunited with Faith. The more cautious side of her had dampened her soaring spirits and she instead concentrated fully on completing the incantation and studying the rift. Suddenly, a fireball had burst through the opening, headed directly to where Cordelia was standing with Anya and Willow. It had blown her off her feet, the intensity of its heat burning her as it passed her.

Now the rift was shrinking and the Seer had no idea how to prevent it from closing altogether. As Cordelia forced herself to look once more upon Willow's body, smoke rising from the centre of her chest, she realised that they now had no way at all of rescuing Tara and Faith. Her anger, frustration, grief and despair at the situation emanated itself in just one word.


Part 18

Tara stared at Varos, her eyes wide with horror and she realised that her mind had gone completely blank. She could not think of a single spell that might give her some defence against the massive demon and stood frozen, as Varos closed the distance between them rapidly. She stared at the demon's eyes, his anger burning through them and she knew that he had taken on the role of her executioner.

At the last second, the blonde witch closed her eyes and waited for a blow to strike her body. It came from an unusual angle and Tara frowned as she felt herself get propelled laterally, held in someone's or something's arms. She grunted as she landed but realised that whoever it was that had grabbed her had twisted their bodies so that she landed on top of them and then they rolled along the ground together, minimising the shock of hitting the floor.

She opened her eyes as soon as they came to a halt and saw Faith quickly scrabbling to get off of her and rise to her feet. She locked eyes with the slayer and wordlessly indicated that she was unharmed for the moment. Faith's shirt hung round her shoulders but had somehow remained on her body, affording her some cover for her front at least. Tara noticed that the brunette's back was pink and shiny, as if it was made of new skin and showed no sign of the torturous wounds that had been inflicted on her only moments ago. The blonde witch frowned slightly as she realised that every scar on the younger girl's back had also disappeared and wondered at the power of the healing spell she had cast.

Faith looked back to see Varos charging towards them, his army swarming behind him. "We're gonna die," she muttered fatalistically before turning back to her friend and yanking her to her feet. "Come on Blondie, time to test out your sprinting skills." Her voice was hoarse and raw, an after-effect of the strain she had put her throat under as she had screamed in agony when the demon blood had reacted so violently with the skin of her back. Tara winced at the sound, knowing that it was her fault that Faith had suffered so appallingly.

Faith kept hold of Tara's hand, squeezing it reassuringly after reading the blonde girl's face accurately and then set off for the trees, hoping that in amongst all the forestry, they might stand a chance of hiding for a while at least. Faith's back was still burning with pain, but her skin felt like it was intact again and she no longer felt the searing agony she had endured whilst the demon had dripped its blood on her. She knew that Tara would be immersed in guilt but they didn't have the luxury of time to allow her to wallow in it. She needed Tara to be focused so that they could stay alive for as long as possible.

Faith didn't expect Tara to resist her pull and stumbled slightly as the wiccan yanked her back. She turned round quickly. "Get a move on Tar. If we stay here, we're dead."

"No." Tara shook her head emphatically.

"No? What the fuck are you talking about?"

Tara's eyes widened slightly and she used her hands animatedly to explain herself. "We've been looking at this all wrong. We have to get that portal open," she began.

"You're joking, right?" Faith looked at her incredulously.

"No I'm not. We have to get Varos through the rift and back into Sunnydale." Tara turned round and began to walk back towards the demon and hoard.

She was stopped by Faith grabbing her shoulder and pulling her round roughly. "Are you mad? He'll kill you. And if he doesn't, he'll rampage through Sunnydale."

"No he won't," Tara insisted. "Faith, trust me on this."

"I'm not good on trust," the brunette pointed out.

Tara switched glances between the slayer and Varos quickly, trying to judge how much time she had to explain. Realising that there wasn't much, she spoke rapidly, secretly relieved that for some reason, she did not waste precious seconds stuttering over her words. "Faith, I know how to defeat Varos. I need your help but the only way we can do this is to get him back to Sunnydale."

"I wish you'd thought of this before I started getting frazzled." Faith couldn't help but point out her experience. She instantly regretted the words as she saw the blonde woman's face react to the comment.

"So do I Faith, I really do. If I had just thought things through clearly..."

"Don't beat yourself up about it Tar," Faith interrupted. "It's just one of those things. I'm an idiot for bringing it up." She gave the girl a lop-sided grin of encouragement. "But it's not me we have to worry about." She looked at Varos as he stormed towards them. "You're gonna have to do a lot of fancy talking Blondie, cos he's totally pissed at us."

"I just hope he doesn't lose patience with my s-stuttering," the blue-eyed girl returned.

Faith raised her eyebrows in surprise that Tara could find the courage to be self-depreciating. She licked her lips nervously and then turned towards Varos, holding her hands up in surrender. "Stop, stop," she called out. "We're not going anywhere."

Varos halted his pursuit and stared at the two humans in confusion. Behind him, the lesser demons took their cue from their master and slowed their approach. They spread out cautiously and encircled their prey to ensure that any further attempt at escape was impossible.

"You disappoint me," Varos commented, crossing large arms over his chest. "The least you could have done after destroying my doorway was provide a decent chase before I kill you."

"I've changed my mind," Tara called out, moving to stand next to Faith. "I will open the p-portal but I need to act quickly b-before the rift collapses." She gestured to where the shimmering light that indicated an opening between the worlds continued to shrink steadily.

"You lie. It's a trick," Varos retorted dismissively.

Tara shook her head firmly. "No, it isn't. You'll have to trust me on that. If you spend too long pondering my honesty, the portal will disappear completely and then I really won't be able to help you. I have no way of knowing where any portal I created would open. You and I both know that the rift created over there leads to Earth. So, do you want my help or not?"

Faith looked at Tara in amazement. She had never imagined the blonde witch would be so forthright or confident. She was bluffing with style and barely concealed arrogance. She knew before Tara did that Varos would be unable to refuse.

"Fine. Open the portal. But please allow me a modicum of security. I shall hold the slayer here until I can confirm that you have opened the rift correctly and that it isn't a trap." Varos knew the nature of the witch. There was something wrong with what she was doing but he couldn't work out what it was. He needed some hold on her, and he had already seen how the blonde girl had reacted to the torture of her friend.

"No chance," Tara retorted quickly. "I need to draw on Faith's physical power to expand the portal and then keep it open. I have the arcane ability but my body doesn't have the physical strength to perform the casting. I need to do a binding spell to borrow Faith's strength so that I can remain conscious long enough to create a stable portal." Tara's mind was racing. Her idea certainly sounded plausible but she didn't know if Varos would believe her. She added some more information as she saw the tall demon hesitate. "Remember that the casting on Earth took the power of three witches. I have their magickal ability here, but not the physical attributes of three people." She looked out of the corner of her eye towards Faith. Inwardly she sighed with relief as she noticed that the Bostonian kept her face a mask of neutrality.

"Then use one of my minions to draw strength from," Varos suggested, not wanting to relinquish the dark-haired girl.

"I can't do that. I need a strength that's compatible to mine. I need human strength," Tara demurred. She glanced over to where the rift continued to shrink. "I suggest you make up your mind quickly or you'll lose your chance."

"Why help now?" Varos could not shake the feeling that there was something more to this than he was aware of.

For the first time, Tara hesitated. She hadn't anticipated that question. To her immense relief, Faith stepped into the breach.

"We'd rather die at home than here," she supplied. "And if we get you back to Sunnydale, the others might be waiting to kick your ass," she added, crossing her arms to copy his arrogant stance. Faith didn't know what Tara was planning or what was going to happen on their return, but she knew that if she added enough believable facts in their story, Varos would take the bait.

Her words seemed to convince the massive demon and he swept his arm back towards the portal, gesturing for the two women to make their way back to the clearing.

Tara walked confidently towards the portal, keenly aware of Faith's presence just behind her, shielding her from Varos and his army. The witch knew that the younger girl couldn't help but want to protect her, despite the fact that Tara was by far the stronger of the two here.

They stopped in front of the diminishing light that indicated the rift. Tara turned towards Varos and spoke again. "It's up to you of course, but I suggest you go through first. We'll be right behind you."

"You're not going through the portal until all my troops are through," Varos corrected her.

Tara looked steadily at him. "I can maintain the portal from either side. I want to go home and so does Faith. We will follow you through," she repeated firmly.

"No you won't. You'll do as I say or you'll die right now," Varos snarled, angry at her manipulation.

The blonde woman remained silent for a few moments as she considered her options. She had no intention of allowing the massive army of demons through the rift but she had no idea how to convince Varos to let them through before the others.

Once again, it was Faith who came up with a solution. "Then you're not going anywhere. Come on Blondie." She tugged Tara's arm to move away from the shrinking rift.

Varos looked at the two women and the portal quickly and made his decision. "Stop," he ordered. He waited until Tara and Faith turned back to face him. "You'll follow me through," he agreed through gritted teeth. "But you'll be accompanied." He tossed his head towards his army.

Tara did some quick calculating. Even should she be able to open the portal completely, she doubted it would be wide enough to accommodate more than four people walking through simultaneously. It was asking a lot of Faith to deal with Varos and the two demon escorts but she hoped fervently that Willow and the others would still be waiting and be able to help take them out. She knew without a shadow of a doubt that she could collapse the rift the moment they were through. It would then be a question of how many more of Varos' army managed to get through before it disintegrated completely.

"Agreed," she complied, nodding reassuringly at Faith, who looked at her in surprise.

Satisfied that he had at least some control over what was going on, Varos stood back and beckoned the two women forward once again. Tara looked at Faith and smiled, a wave of uncertainty flooding through her seemingly from nowhere.

The brunette slayer returned the smile and nodded encouragingly at the witch. "Go for it, Blondie," she told her supportively.

The older woman looked at the rift that by now was no more than a dazzling white spot that was beginning to lose its brightness. She had to act quickly and she took a deep steadying breath before she raised her arms.

Tara began the spell and decided to worry about how she knew the incantation after it was all over. She could feel power ripple through her and then shoot out from her fingers towards the tiny spot that remained of the portal. Immediately, the portal stopped shrinking. As Tara continued to feed power to the rift, it began to grow again, the light it emitted getting stronger as the portal got larger and larger. Although she had been bluffing when she told Varos that she needed Faith's strength, Tara began to feel herself weakening as more and more power flowed through her. She forced her voice to become louder in the hope that she could grow stronger with it, but was careful not to take any energy from the incantation. To do that would be to use magick for her own personal gain and the blonde witch was determined not to fall into that trap.

Faith noticed Tara pale slightly as she continued the spell. The brunette's eyes darted everywhere, assessing where Varos and his army were in relation to where she stood with Tara. She knew instinctively that she would have to act quickly when the time came but the rogue slayer was not sure exactly what she was waiting for. Faith saw Tara sway slightly and put a supporting arm round her waist. She knew that whatever else she had to do, Tara had to be protected until the portal could be closed permanently.

Tara felt a strong arm wrap round her body and leant into Faith. No longer having to worry about remaining upright, the wiccan concentrated on the completion of the incantation and her eyes widened as the portal expanded completely, radiating an almost blinding light.

Satisfied that the rift had been opened and was stable, she looked over to where Varos was standing impatiently. "Time to go through," she told him, her voice shaking slightly, reflecting the effort it had taken for the girl to perform the spell.

Varos nodded but looked at the portal suspiciously. After staring at the opening for a few moments he returned his gaze to where the two humans stood. "Change of plan," he snarled suddenly, stalking towards them quickly.

Faith tensed immediately and crouched into a defensive stance. Her slayer enhanced hearing picked up the whispered "Wait," instruction from an exhausted Tara and the Bostonian held back.

"Just in case you've manipulated anything, I think we'll go through together," Varos told the two girls and he reached out to grab their arms. Once again, Faith tensed automatically and was about to lash out when she saw the look in Tara's eyes. The brunette gritted her teeth and forced herself to remain passive as the tall demon lead them to the portal entrance.

"If you've set a trap, you're about to be the ones to set it off," Varos told them and strode through the rift, yanking the two girls with him.

Part 19

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