Round 6 - Zakiyah
"Damn you!!" Roxton howled as soon as he realized Olmec was no longer in the room. "Olmec! OLMEC!! Get back here, you miserable coward, and face me!" He spun around, gun raised again, ready to batter down the walls of the temple with his bare hands if it came to that. "Face ME!"
Veronica ducked as Roxton's gun waved in her direction, thoroughly alarmed at the wild panic etched on the hunter's face. He no longer seemed entirely rational to her, and she was afraid of what might happen. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Malone and Challenger duck, too. As soon as the frantic man wasn't facing anyone, she sprang at him, seized his arm and wrestled it down. He fought her blindly, as frenzied as a wild animal, and she started shouting his name, trying to reach him. "Roxton! ROXTON! Stop it! This isn't helping Marguerite!!"
At the sound of Marguerite's name, Roxton abruptly stopped fighting and froze, sense returning to his eyes. He let his arms fall and took a deep, shuddering breath. "You're right," he acknowledged finally. "Thanks, Veronica. I'm all right now."
Veronica eyed him warily and kept her grip on his gun arm, not entirely convinced yet. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," Roxton replied, considerably subdued.
He met her gaze honestly, and it was that as much as the chagrin and resolve on his face that finally convinced her. She dropped his gun arm and squeezed his shoulder sympathetically. "We'll get her back, Roxton. We beat him before; we'll do it again."
Roxton nodded, not trusting his voice. He holstered his gun and started pacing in a tight circle, unsure of what to do next and unable to hold still.
"Wait a minute. This doesn't make sense," Malone suddenly said, coming back into the temple and approaching Challenger and the prone Marguerite.
Still barely in control of himself, Roxton couldn't help but turn and snap at the reporter. "What about this is supposed to make sense?!? We're dealing with an ancient god who can warp time and space to his will - "
Malone cut him off. "An ancient trickster god," he pointed out forcefully. "From what Veronica told me, a deity known for fooling mortals into doing exactly what he wants them to do, using their greatest desires - and fears - against them. Why would a trickster god just step out of the wall and tell us his plans?"
Roxton stopped dead in his tracks as the implications of Malone's words came home to him, but it was Veronica who voiced what they were all thinking. "A trick! He was trying to trick us!"
"Or at least distract us," Malone agreed, nodding. "That's my guess."
Abruptly Roxton strode hastily to Marguerite's side and crouched down next to her. "Distract us from what? From Marguerite?" He took her hand in his again, looking for any sign of change in her condition.
In the middle of his laugh, Sean froze just like her friends. Marguerite jumped, thoroughly started. "Sean?" she said uncertainly.
The American ghost of her past remained unnaturally still, frozen in the midst of his unholy laughter. Cautiously, Marguerite took a few steps toward his unmoving form.
"That's an interesting theory, Malone," Challenger mused. "Marguerite hasn't stirred, so if Olmec was trying to distract us, I don't think it was from her "
"What the hell?" Malone exclaimed, interrupting yet again. He stared at Marguerite, and then at Roxton. "That's odd."
"What's odd?" Veronica asked warily, coming closer to where the others clustered around Marguerite.
"Marguerite's eyes. They've stopped moving."
"What?" Challenger peered at Marguerite's face. Marguerite's eyes were no longer moving back and forth behind her eyelids.
"What does that mean?" Roxton asked, dropping Marguerite's hand with the intent of brushing her hair back away from her face. As soon as he let go of her hand, her eyes started moving again. "You're wrong, Malone. She's still doing it. Still reading that damned wall."
All at once Sean started laughing again, as if he'd never stopped. He looked right at where Marguerite had been, then jumped and turned to face her where she now stood. If a dead man could be disconcerted, Sean certainly was. "How did you do that?" he demanded, none of his trademark deceptive innocence apparent in his tone.
"Do what?" Marguerite snapped in reply. "Aren't you the one with all the answers?"
"She wasn't a second ago." Malone stooped to look at Marguerite more closely, making sure not to get in Roxton's way as the hunter reached out to touch Marguerite's face. "No, see, she's stopped." Once again, Marguerite's eyes were no longer moving frantically behind her eyelids.
Sean inhaled to reply, then froze once again, an outraged expression engraved across his handsome features as if carved in stone.
Malone's eyes widened with sudden realization. "Roxton, pull back your hand away from Marguerite's face for a second."
Frowning, Roxton did so. As soon as he stopped touching Marguerite, her eyelids showed the rapid movement of her eyes.
Before Marguerite could move again, Sean abruptly regained his animation. An expression of baffled rage suffused his features, followed almost instantly by a malevolent sneer that made him look like another person entirely. "On second thought, Maggie, you figure it out." He froze once again, then faded out entirely, lost from view, leaving Marguerite standing alone in the temple with her frozen friends.
Startled, Roxton immediately grabbed Marguerite's hand. The movement stopped.
"Oh, now that's very interesting!" Challenger exclaimed. "I wonder, does any touch stop the process, or just yours?"
"I don't know, and we're not going to find out," Roxton said stubbornly, tightening his grip on Marguerite's hand.
"But John, we need to find out as much as possible if we're going to figure out a way to help Marguerite," Challenger protested.
"Not if it means further endangering Marguerite!"
"We don't know that it would - " Challenger persisted.
"We don't know that it wouldn't," Veronica pointed out. "It started when she read the wall. It makes sense that anything that stops it is probably not what Olmec wants."
"But we don't even know what the eye movement means!" The red-haired scientist was almost sputtering in his frustration.
"The Zanga ritual!" When the others gave him blank looks, Malone hastened to explain. "You said my eyes moved just the same way when I went through the Zanga ritual. I dreamed all kinds of things then. Things that weren't true, but that the Zanga shaman helped me see. If the wall somehow helped Olmec put Marguerite in the same kind of state -"
"Then I'm sure as hell not letting go!" Roxton remembered the upside-down, dinosaur-ravaged London Malone had been trapped in, and that was under the relatively benign influence of the Zanga shaman. The thought of what Olmec might be subjecting Marguerite to under similar circumstances didn't bear thinking of.
Malone nodded emphatically in agreement. "Maybe the Zanga shaman can help us get Marguerite back, the same way he helped you all get me back. You keep holding on here, and Veronica and I will go get him," the reporter finished triumphantly.
Roxton looked at him with bemused respect. "It'll take at least a day for you to get there and back," he warned, "but I think you've got a plan."
"No," Veronica said, surprising them all.
"What do you mean?" Malone demanded, confused and not a little hurt by the apparent immediate rejection of his idea.
Veronica smiled apologetically at him. "It's a great plan, Ned, but you've got to stay here. I'll get the shaman."
"No, you shouldn't travel alone, and Challenger and I will be fine here," Roxton protested. "Take Malone."
She shook her head, her blonde hair gleaming in the torchlight. "I can't take Malone, or the shaman won't come. I'm going to have a hard enough time convincing him to come as it is."
"Oh." Roxton paused, nonplussed. Across from him, Malone's face was a study in crestfallen frustration, but both men knew Veronica was right. Ever since Malone's return from the spirit realm, the Zanga shaman adamantly refused to have anything to do with him. He wouldn't even come out of his hut when Malone visited the village. The two men exchanged glances, then looked over at Challenger.
Veronica followed the direction of their glance, and despite the seriousness of the situation she had to work to repress an exasperated smile. "I know the way, and I'll travel fastest alone. You just watch out for Olmec and any more tricks."
Malone's eyes were grave, but he gave Veronica a look full of confidence in her. "Be careful."
"You, too." With those two words, Veronica acknowledged both Malone's advice and all the things she saw in his face that he wasn't saying, and then headed out the temple entrance at a run.
Left behind in the sudden silence after her departure, the three men looked at each other. "Now what do we do?" Malone asked at last.
Roxton shifted, easing himself down to sit down on the ground beside Marguerite without ever letting go of his grip on her hand. "Make ourselves comfortable," he advised. "We're going to be here for a while."
"How DARE they!!!" Within the secret heart of his temple, Olmec raged, his eyes flashing literal fire. Bad enough that the jungle girl had stopped the hunter just as his hand was closing firmly upon him. Worse that the reporter had guided the hunter back to the heiress, and that the hunter was somehow blocking him - him, Olmec, a god! - from Marguerite's mind and the dream world he'd sent her to. But now they threatened to bring in a shaman, a descendant of those who had once banished him!
"Oh, no," Olmec snarled, watching the sacred pool and seeing the figures within it; the jungle girl racing down a forest path, the other explorers sitting inside his temple. "You don't escape me that easily. You may have stopped me for now, but one of you is already under my influence. I assure you, I won't rest until all of you are mine." He chuckled menacingly, the glow from the altar reflecting the mad glint in his eyes - a glint echoed in the hooded gaze of the red-headed scientist sitting next to Roxton and Malone. "I want Marguerite, but more than that. I want you all."
He bent closer to the altar and peered at the images within the heart of the pool. "Now, where to continue: with the hunter; the reporter; the jungle girl; or complete my hold on the scientist?"