Round 3 - Ryalin
So that's what Sean was talking about, was the first coherent thought to enter Marguerite's mind. The second coherent thought was how annoying her first coherent thought had been. Marguerite hadn't thought of Sean Fletcher in years, mainly due to self-preservation rather than any blatant hatred of nostalgia. Memories of the vivacious American redhead and their missions during the war tended to open up a can of worms better left closed. However, when the bottom had dropped out of her stomach, the only explanation her confused mind could latch onto was one of her former lover's animated tales about riding the roller coaster at Coney Island. One moment she had been studying Challenger's intricate hieroglyphs and the next, the world had been swept out from under her.
Slowly, senses began returning. She could feel the hardness of the stone floor beneath her back and a particularly sensitive spot underneath her right shoulder blade where she appeared to be laying on a pebble. She could sense brightness behind her closed eyes, almost as if she were stretched out underneath a noonday, summer sun. There was a distant hum in her ears, so slight, she wasn't even certain she was hearing it. Other than that, there was complete silence.
Marguerite slowly opened her eyes, and then thought better of it as the intense brightness sent a shaft of pain reverberating through her skull. I guess I had better make myself comfortable since it appears that I'm going to be down here for a while, Marguerite thought with annoyance. She focused on her breathing, letting her mind follow the patterns of rhythmic inhaling and exhaling, silently willing herself to stay calm.
The erstwhile thought of patterns took Marguerite back to the moments before her collapse. She had been staring at Challenger's walls, studying the patterns that captivated her on so many different levels. There was no doubt as to their beauty. It was impossible to stare at the two dimensional myriad of figures, symbols, and colors and not be impressed with the time, effort, and unbelievable skill involved in their creation. Most would admire the walls as artwork, a painter's palate of immeasurable splendor. A few, perhaps, would see the pictures as an artistic testament to historical documentation. But when Marguerite looked at the walls, she saw patterns. More importantly, patterns that followed rules, and, in the end, was language really anything more then patterns following a strict set of rules?
Immediately, she had been captivated, to the point that her friends' voices had become a distant buzz on the periphery of her awareness. Her eyes had scanned the designs, her mind registering rhythms, patterns, consistencies, and inconsistencies, attempting to put order to what appeared, at first glance, to be chaos. The more she stared, the more vivid the images became, the harder she struggled to follow the mental pathway that seemed to be so clearly etched in front of her. It was as if she were reaching out for something that she could not quite touch, something that eluded her grasp the closer she came to it. Suddenly, she was certain that she was just one step away from understanding, just one short rung from Nirvana, only to find herself tumbling over some great abyss and into a world of deepest black.
Marguerite had no idea how long she had been unconscious; it could have been seconds, it could have been years. Confusion was met with a sudden and overwhelming concern. Why was it so quiet? Had her friends been rendered unconscious as well? Was Roxton lying somewhere close by; dazed, confused, or possibly worse? Her anxiety at the mere thought gave her the much-needed strength to finally open her eyes and cautiously sit up, fighting pain and dizziness to appraise her surroundings. The light in the room was still intensely bright, making her eyes water furiously. Somehow, she had ended up on the opposite side of the room, facing the wall directly across from the one she had been originally studying. Slowly, she eased her sore body around, mentally preparing herself for what was to come. Blind hope lulled her into a vision of her friends sitting quietly, waiting for her to wake up, as Challenger continued studying his walls. The man could be horribly self-absorbed when he set his mind to it. Pragmatism prepared for the worst, an image of those she cared for lying in four unconscious heaps amongst the rubble. But the image that filled her vision was neither hoped for nor expected, and as her brain continued to try to make sense of what she could not have possibly been seeing with her own eyes, it was all she could do to keep from passing out again.
Marguerite's friends were held in what appeared to be a captured moment of sheer torment. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. Each of them, even Challenger, wore matching expressions of fear and concern. Ned had one arm around Veronica's shoulders, and Marguerite could swear she saw tears frozen halfway down Veronica's cheeks. Challenger was caught mid-kneel, mouth open, conversation silenced. It was when Marguerite looked past Challenger to the man he had been speaking to that her resolve seriously faltered.
If the others looked fearful, then the expression on John Roxton's face could only be described as sheer terror. Marguerite's heart beat wildly in her chest, the steady rhythm almost deafening in the silence. She wanted to run to the man, throw her arms around him and comfort him. She wanted to take the pain away and see the beautiful green eyes light up with his smile. Seeing the agony on his face was almost like a blow to the gut, a physical pain she could barely endure. She bit down on her tongue to keep from screaming. Struggling frantically to get her weakened and aching body upright, Marguerite came face to face with the object of everybody's concern. It was then, looking at her own body lying prone and unmoving on the stone floor, that she could no longer contain her screams.
Marguerite sat huddled in one corner of the still brightly illuminated building, her arms wrapped tightly around her knees as she rocked slowly back and forth. Every once in a while she would look fearfully at the still forms of her friends, but she carefully avoided glancing at the woman lying motionless on the floor, the woman who wore her own face.
It can't be, she thought helplessly. How can that be me when I'm sitting right here? What the hell is happening to me? What has happened to the others?
She had struggled with the decision to stay. Her first instinct had been to run to the Zanga village for help. However, she feared leaving Roxton and the others in their current predicament. What if whatever has happened to them stops? I have to be here. I can't let Roxton think I'm that person on the ground. I can't let him believe that I am dead, she thought with despair.
A slight noise, the echo of a faint chuckle, caused her body to go rigid. The brilliant light illuminated all corners of the room she was in. With the exception of her unmoving friends, there was nobody else around. She carefully stood, walked to the open doorway and peered outside. She again heard a strange sound, a vaguely familiar laughter.
"Hello? Is anybody there?" Marguerite's voice was raspy and quiet, her previous bout of screaming having taken its toll. Nobody answered her query. The surrounding jungle was strangely silent, no sounds of birds or animals. The air felt still and heavy without any sign of a breeze. There was such a sense of the surreal that the pain of fingernails dug into the palm of her clenched hands was a welcome reassurance that she was still amongst the living.
Marguerite wheeled around as faint noises came from behind her, from further inside the building she had just exited. Almost in exasperation, she marched past the still forms of her friends, grabbing one of the lit torches occupying a wall slot. The moment she pulled the torch free of the slot, the room suddenly dimmed. After the steady, harsh intensity, the diffuse glow was a relief to her sensitive eyes.
Marguerite waved the torch around the room, investigating every square inch for signs of another living soul. She was examining the wall she had been originally studying, looking for some sort of clue that would explain what had happened to all of them, when another faint snicker caused her to turn around in fright. The soft glow of the torch in her hand illuminated the now-upright stone chair in the center of the room in shades of yellow and orange as she was simultaneously hit by an overpowering and somehow familiar odor.
Just when she thought she had endured more then one person could possibly expect to handle in one day, life proved that it could be even more perverse than expected. She recognized the distinctly male scent at the same time that her torch illuminated the dim apparition of a man seated in the previously empty stone chair. The complete and utter silence served to only intensify the sound of Marguerite's breath catching in surprise and shock.
"No, it can't be!" Marguerite cried as the torch slowly slipped out of a suddenly nerveless hand, falling to the floor with a harsh thud.
"Hello, my sweet," came the smooth, deep voice tinged with an ever so slight Boston accent; a voice as recognizable to her as the scent of the expensive men's aftershave she had once given him as a Christmas present.
Marguerite stared at the image of Sean Fletcher; the Boston-born redhead with the na´ve, boyish smile and the all-American good looks. Many people had known they were lovers during the war. Few had known that her "American as apple pie" soldier was selling secrets to the Germans.
Yes, Sean had been many things in their time together. Sean had been her first 'real' assignment, her first opportunity to prove herself to her superiors as a double agent. He had been a skilled and passionate lover, teaching a girl with little experience much about the power of sex.
It was his last lesson that had forever changed her, the actions of their final day together permanently etched onto her soul. She still remembered every second in vivid detail: the look of genuine hurt and surprise in his eyes as she pointed the gun at him; the sound of the bullet; the coppery smell of the blood pouring out of the gaping wound in his chest; the lifeless eyes staring up at the hotel ceiling; and the sound of her own sobs as the blood froze in her veins and she tasted death for the first time.