Round 12 - Ryalin
Roxton opened his eyes to find himself, once again, in a new location. His sense of touch told him that he was lying on soft carpet with a thick wool pile. The air he was breathing carried the combined scents of male aftershave and old blood. His ears picked up the muffled hum of busy city streets interspersed with the unmistakable sound of a woman's quiet sobs. Sitting up and quickly taking stock of his surroundings, Roxton identified his surroundings as an expensive-looking hotel room. The sobs were coming from the pale woman sitting on the floor directly across from him. A dead body with a gaping chest wound stained the white carpet between them.
Wanting desperately to understand, Roxton broke the silence. "Who is he, Marguerite?"
It was with no small bit of satisfaction that Veronica noticed the word sounding more like a gurgle then a scream. Already, the man's features were taking on an ashen hue. She honestly didn't know if it was possible to kill a god, but it was becoming obvious to the one on the pointed end of her knife that, once again, his sinister efforts had been foiled.
"Who is he, Marguerite?"
Marguerite glanced briefly toward Roxton, seeming to notice for the first time that she was no longer the only living being in the room. Her red, puffy eyes wore confusion, intense sadness, and guilt. He had seen that particular combination of emotions only one other time, a time he had hurled vicious, painful accusations at her outward betrayal with the ouroboros. This is Olmec's hold over her, Roxton realized with sudden clarity. He's using her guilt as a weapon.
Roxton rose and crossed the room in seven long strides, careful to avoid the inert figure continuing to seep his lifeblood into snowy white wool. With deliberate care, he lowered himself back down to the floor next to the woman he loved. Her eyes stayed fixed on the body in front of her until Roxton took both her hands in his. As she slowly turned her face, he gently placed a soft kiss on the skin above her left eyebrow. The faint touch was like snapping a wire, and, almost instantly, Marguerite was in his arms, her body trembling against his.
"Marguerite, speak to me. Please," he implored as he tenderly lifted her chin to gaze into eyes that looked older than he remembered. "This nightmare is Olmec's doing." He pointed emphatically at the dead body. "As long as this continues to haunt you, you give him power over your dreams." Roxton was gambling on Marguerite's strength and downright stubbornness. He knew that the mere mention of the evil god who had nearly killed the both of them would somehow trickle through the wall she had built around herself. It nearly made him smile to see the sudden flash of irritation in her grey eyes.
The abrupt cessation of the shaman's chants brought thundering silence to the temple. Malone hadn't realized his eyes were closed until it dawned on him that the sudden darkness was of his own making. He opened his eyes not knowing what to expect. The cause of the silence became immediately apparent as Malone realized the shaman was gone. The old man had completely disappeared, only the wood staff remaining as a testament to his earlier presence. Taking a quick look around the room, Malone saw that Roxton and Marguerite remained unconscious. Challenger, his wrists still bound together, stared up at him in glassy-eyed confusion.
After a cursory check to make sure the heiress and hunter had pulses, Malone bounded through the temple opening, hoping against all hope that he hadn't betrayed one to save the life of another. He stopped short as the sight before him made his blood run cold. Olmec and Veronica stood facing one another, the jungle beauty's hand pressed between them. Their two bodies were frozen as if in a sensual dance; eyes fixed, each staring into the unflinching gaze of the other; silence except for twin pants of exhaustion. Malone didn't realize he was holding his breath until he watched Olmec topple backward, away from Veronica's still form, the end of her knife protruding from his chest. Malone only remembered to breathe when he noticed the blood running down both sides of Veronica's body. By that time, he was already sprinting toward her.
Marguerite took a deep breath, using the extra time to choose words she didn't want to utter. The feel of Roxton's warm body against hers gave her the strength she was desperately searching for.
"I was twenty-two years old when I killed him. A child, really. Oh, I thought I was jaded and worldly because of where I'd come from and the things I'd been forced to do to survive. It seemed so black and white back then. He was responsible for the deaths of hundreds, and I would be the one to deliver justice. My superiors instructed me to get close. Any means necessary." The last was said with a sarcastic laugh. "I was too lost in my own pride, in the confidence they all seemed to have in me, to realize that they had made me nothing but a government sanctioned whore."
Roxton sat and waited. Like the red hot poker that Marguerite had reluctantly applied to his bullet wound, Roxton asked the question that he knew would be almost as difficult for him to ask as it would be for her to answer.
"Did you love him?"
As Marguerite wrapped her arms around him tightly and started to cry, Roxton got his answer. He held her body to his, rocking her gently, as the expensive hotel room became a ghostly apparition and faded from view.
Challenger hated to be confused, and confused was most definitely what he was. The last several hours were a haze of strange memories involving thoughts and actions that certainly couldn't have been of his own design. He had come to his senses, his body sore, his hands bound, lying on the floor of the bloody temple he was now wishing he'd had the sense to ignore. Roxton and Marguerite appeared to be in an unconscious heap, and Malone and Veronica were nowhere to be found. He harrumphed in frustration, uncomfortable with the 'not knowing' of it all as much as his bound and helpless state. It was with profound relief that he saw Malone walking back into the temple, an alive but injured Veronica tucked under his arm for support.
Malone gently lowered her to the floor with the intention of rummaging through their packs to search for the medical supplies he would need to tend her wounds. He was sidetracked by a noise coming from the other end of the large room. Looking up, he met the calm stare of John Roxton as he gently rocked Marguerite Krux in his arms. No words were exchanged but his eyes spoke volumes. In that instant, Malone knew the worst was over. Looking at Veronica and subtly nodding his head in the direction of the now conscious couple, he noted her sigh of relief that Roxton and Marguerite appeared to be out of harm's way. They shared a brief smile as Malone continued looking for first-aid supplies.
Even Marguerite could not contain the slightest grin as the air of calm was broken by a very peevish scientist with bound wrists. "Would somebody please tell me what the hell is going on?!"