Round 10 - Zakiyah
Veronica sighed in relief as Marguerite came into view, dragging the unconscious Amazon guard.
"There you are," the dark-haired woman said with some asperity. "Well, come on – give me a hand here!" She huffed with irritation as the blonde hurried to join her. Marguerite glanced at the inert form of the guard Veronica had taken down. "I see you were busy, too," she remarked wryly. "Any sign of Malone?"
"He was here, but taken away by one of the Amazons. Kai says he was hurt."
"By the Amazons?" Marguerite asked, startled. "I thought they usually had other things in mind when it came to men." She frowned, worried in spite of herself. I didn’t think Malone was in danger from the Amazons at least not immediately. Psyche made it sound like these were a really traditionalist bunch, and I certainly remember the first thing they wanted from the men the last time
"Kai said Malone was hurt when they found him. They were captured by these Amazons after that," Veronica clarified.
"Figures," Marguerite grunted, pulling the unconscious guard down another few steps. "What’d he do, hit his head again?"
Kai raised his eyebrows. "His head was hurt, yes," he answered, surprised. "How did you know?"
"Experience." Marguerite changed the subject. "Let’s put her in this cell here."
"Why’d you knock her out, anyway?" Veronica wanted to know. "The others might notice she’s not at her post."
Marguerite looked annoyed. She dumped the unconscious Amazon into the cell with unnecessary force. "Because she got a good look at me and realized I wasn’t Psyche, that’s why," she said in disgust. "I’m just lucky no one else noticed my ‘accident’; I was able to knock her out and drag her inside without being spotted. Unless of course you would have preferred I let her raise the alarm?" she added sarcastically. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow, glancing suggestively from Veronica to the second guard.
"Of course not," Veronica replied, somewhat annoyed herself by Marguerite’s continued attitude. "But that means someone is bound to notice something’s wrong sooner rather than later. We’ve got to find Malone." She bent down and dragged the other insensible Amazon into the cell with the first, using the key she’d taken from the woman to lock them both in.
Marguerite nodded. "We should split up and search, then – it’ll be fastest." She turned to look at Kai. "Um – Veronica and I should search, anyway. I’m afraid you’d stick out like a sore thumb, even if we put you in one of these Amazons’ skirts."
Kai looked distinctly unhappy. "You are right – but I must help Ardo."
"Ardo?" Marguerite shot Veronica a questioning look.
"Kai’s friend – another of the Zanga. They found Malone," Veronica explained hurriedly. "Kai, we’ll look for Ardo as well as Malone, but Marguerite’s right – you just don’t see men wandering around an Amazon village."
"But there is something you can do to help," Marguerite went on before Kai could object.
The tall Zanga looked at her. "What is it?"
"I’ll show you the way back to the tunnel that leads out to the rest of the Plateau. I want you to hide near the entrance and keep an eye out for any unusual activity in the village. If either Veronica or I are caught, I’m sure there will be quite a fuss. If you see that, do your best to escape."
"It is a good plan," Kai agreed after a moment.
Marguerite smiled wryly. "Oh, and keep an eye out for Roxton and Challenger. I’m sure they’ll be along any time now."
Veronica looked at the heiress, momentarily surprised, and then memory made her gasp. "Oh – the handkerchief!"
"The handkerchief, not that Roxton wouldn’t track us down anyway," Marguerite agreed. "And as much as I’m sure Lord Roxton would enjoy another little visit with the Amazons, getting him back out of here would be like trying to get the fox out of the henhouse – or the goat out of the "
"We get the idea, Marguerite. Time’s running short," Veronica interrupted, quite sure she didn’t want to hear the rest of Marguerite’s analogies. They must have had more of a fight than I’d thought, she mused. Underneath the signs of ill-temper, Marguerite looked distinctly unhappy. Either that, or she’s actually worried about them!
Marguerite started and flushed a bit, aware that in her anxiety she had probably said more than she should. "Yes, you’re right."
The two women and the Zanga quickly made their way back up the stairs and to the doorway of the prison building. Peeking out carefully, they saw no one immediately at hand.
"Looks clear. I’ll continue on this side of the village; you take the other after you get Kai to safety. Good luck," Veronica whispered.
"You too." Taking a deep breath, the three snuck out of the building and made their separate ways across the village.
"Their trail leads to that cave over there," Roxton said, crouched down to examine the ground. "And look!" He gestured towards the cave entrance. A white bit of fabric fluttered in the breeze, tied to a low branch near the cave entrance.
Challenger strode over and looked at it. "Marguerite’s handkerchief."
"Yes," Roxton agreed, examining it carefully before untying it and placing it in one of the pockets in his vest. "She must have left it here as a sign. And since their tracks go in there but don’t come out "
"They must still be in there," Challenger finished.
"Exactly. Either they found something, or something found them." Roxton set down his pack for a moment and fished out a torch. After so many expeditions into caves, he regularly packed at least one, as did most of the explorers. Beside him, Challenger moved to do the same, but Roxton waved him off. "No. Keep yours in reserve, in case we need it." Lighting the torch, he handed it to Challenger, shrugged back into his pack, and picked up his rifle. "Shall we see what little surprises this cave holds?"
The two men entered the cave cautiously, constantly scanning the ground and their surroundings. It was a larger cave than it had looked from the outside. Marguerite and Veronica’s tracks were clear and simple to follow until the light from the outside had mostly disappeared, leaving them with only torchlight for illumination. Then the tracks became wildly confused.
"There was some kind of fight here," Roxton said grimly, "and " His voice trailed off for a moment, and then he glanced up at Challenger, alarm written all over his face. " from the looks of it, at least one body was dragged off that way."
"You don’t think ?" Challenger didn’t want to say the rest of it, but his concern was obvious.
"As far as I can tell, both Marguerite’s and Veronica’s tracks end here," Roxton answered tersely. "I’d say they’re definitely in trouble." He hurried forward, following the long track of the dragged body, trusting Challenger to keep up. He tried not to think about what might have happened to the two women, to keep his mind focused on the trail and on spotting any danger that might arise, but he couldn’t fight down the fear that was eating at him. Damn! I should never have agreed to split up the search party! If something dire had happened, he’d never forgive himself.
They rounded a corner, and both men’s hearts dropped into their boots. In the flickering light of the torch, Marguerite’s pack was plainly visible, her boots propped neatly beside it. Just beyond, an expedition blanket was spread over something large and lumpy something that looked very much like two still human forms.
"Oh no," Challenger breathed. He felt rooted to the spot, unable to do anything but raise the torch higher and hope his eyes were playing tricks.
Roxton sprang forward, an incoherent exclamation bursting from his lips. He whipped back the blanket and for a moment his heart stopped entirely. Beneath the blanket, two women lay still, the dark-haired head of one pillowed on the shoulder of the blonde. They were bound, gagged, and nearly nude and he gasped in relief as he realized they were not Marguerite and Veronica. "It’s not them, George."
"Thank goodness," Challenger sighed in relief. "But if it’s not them, who on earth are they?" He looked at them again and blushed as their nearly naked state fully registered. The brunette was partially wrapped in a blanket, but the blonde He cleared his throat as Roxton turned from the unconscious women and stepped towards Marguerite’s abandoned pack. "Um, John, you might want to cover them up again," the scientist pointed out, his cheeks flushing.
"Huh? Oh, of course." Roxton said distractedly, turning back and gently pulling the blanket back up over their forms to just below their faces. He turned back to Marguerite’s pack and started rummaging through it, his jaw tightening as he found her clothes, empty gun belt, and ammo pouch. "I have no idea who they are," he said at last, answering Challenger’s question. "What I want to know is, where are Veronica and Marguerite – and what is Marguerite doing running around without her clothes?"