Round 7 - Lucky Seven, Ryalin and Zakiyah together!
Roxton stiffened and sat up straight. "Did you hear another laugh?"
Malone tensed and looked around. "No "
Challenger shook his head. "I didn't."
Roxton warily subsided back to a half-reclined position, still maintaining his hold on Marguerite's hand. "All this waiting must be making me imagine things," he grumbled.
Several hours had passed since Veronica's departure, and twilight had fallen on the Plateau. Malone had made several scouting trips, foraging for supplies and checking for any sign of predators or hostile natives. Challenger had improvised extra containers for water, and spent a great deal of time further examining the walls, looking for anything that might help Marguerite. Roxton couldn't be sure, but he suspected that the scientist might be feeling guilty for his inadvertent role in Marguerite's current predicament.
Roxton himself, forced into unaccustomed inactivity by the necessity of maintaining physical contact with Marguerite, had tried a number of things to keep himself occupied. He'd shifted Marguerite's right hand into his left one, but there still wasn't much for him to do even with his best hand free. He'd counted Marguerite's eyelashes. He'd reminisced about every kiss they'd shared, every flirtation they'd started - but that had only led him to frustrated reminders of all the opportunities he'd missed. He'd even tried mentally cataloguing every weapon he'd ever owned, but to no avail. He couldn't help worrying about Marguerite, what might be happening to her; and on a more pragmatic level, what might happen to her when he was eventually confronted with an unavoidable call to nature. He just wasn't going to be able to sit in one position for the day or more it would take Veronica to return. His bladder was already feeling full, and he didn't want to imagine Challenger and Malone holding Marguerite upright while he tried to manage necessary business with his one free hand. He shifted uncomfortably.
The movement caught Malone's eye, and he gave Roxton a sympathetic glance. "There must be something more we could do," he burst out.
"Like what?" Roxton eyed the reporter grumpily. "I'm open to suggestions."
"Actually, I think I might have an idea," Challenger said slowly.
"What is it?" Roxton couldn't keep the hope out of his voice. Challenger's ideas had saved them so many times; he had every confidence that he might just come up with an answer for this, too.
"Hypnosis." When his pronouncement was met with blank looks from the other two men, he elaborated on his thought. "If we hypothesize that Marguerite is in a dream state or hypnotic trance similar to the one induced in Malone by the Zanga ritual, and we further speculate that others can enter the same dream state - "
"Which we know, because you did it for me," Malone interjected, then winced when Challenger glared at him for interrupting. "Sorry."
Challenger harrumphed before continuing. "Now that required the assistance of the Zanga shaman to create the link. But Roxton appears to already have a link to Marguerite, at least so far as to interrupt the trance state Olmec sent her into. And I have some skill in hypnosis. If we combine that with what we observed of the Zanga ritual, both with what Malone saw in the initial stages and what we witnessed when the shaman sent Veronica to join him - "
"Then perhaps I can reach her directly, without having to wait for the shaman!" This time it was Roxton who was guilty of interrupting the scientist.
"That is the theory," Challenger huffed. "But it's only a theory, and we don't know what the effect might be."
"Could Roxton be harmed?" Malone wanted to know.
"By hypnosis alone? Of course not." He stroked his beard thoughtfully for a moment before continuing. "Well, probably not; it really depends on the dream world, and what he encounters there. As we saw with your and Veronica's experiences in your dream world, when either of you believed you were hurt in that world, those wounds appeared in this world. What I'm not sure of is what the added effects of Olmec's influence on the trance state might be. There might be some additional risk in that, but so far Marguerite hasn't shown any sign of physical injury. If we put Roxton under using standard hypnosis techniques, I'm sure I could bring him out of it in the time it takes to snap my fingers, if we see any sign of things going wrong."
"Then I say let's do it," Roxton determined. "It's a hell of a lot better than just sitting around waiting."
Not to be outdone in preferring action to waiting, Malone hastened to agree. "I'm with you. Challenger, what will you need?"
"I have my pocket watch. That's all the hypnosis should require; that, and a willing subject." He fished the gold watch out of his waistcoat as he spoke and twirled it at the end of its chain. "We might want a small light source, however. A candle if we had one, or a small torch."
"I have a candle lantern in my pack. I use it sometimes at night out on the trail, so I can write in my journal without disturbing anyone," Malone offered. "And some of the ash from one of the burned-out torches should work as pigment."
"Pigment? What would that be for?" Challenger wanted to know.
"To draw the protective symbols on Roxton and Marguerite. I remember the shaman drawing them on me. He said they were vital." The blond reporter was surprisingly serious.
"Superstitious poppycock," Challenger scoffed.
"It can't hurt," Malone reminded him. "And it's not like we're in a normal situation here."
"Malone's right. The worst that happens is that I get some soot on my clothes. I can live with that," Roxton agreed.
"Yes, but can you live with what Marguerite will do to you if we get soot on her clothes?" Malone couldn't help but joke, trying to lighten the mood.
"Yes," Roxton said bluntly, not amused.
"Very well, let's get started," Challenger said, also failing to find the humor in Malone's comment.
Getting Roxton's shirt off proved difficult, given that the hunter only had one hand free. Malone had to help him with the buttons, and one sleeve remained on, as Roxton refused to remove his left hand from Marguerite's right even long enough to switch his grip. However, seeing the dangling cloth gave him an idea. "Tie our hands together."
"What?" Malone was startled.
"Just in case something goes wrong. I don't want to accidentally break contact."
"Good thinking," Challenger approved.
Malone did as he was asked, then looked down at Marguerite. "We're going to need to take her blouse off, too," he said with some trepidation.
"So do it," Roxton said.
"Uh maybe you should do it," Malone hesitated. Even without imagining Marguerite's reaction to his unbuttoning her blouse, Malone had absolutely no desire to do so with Roxton watching from just a few feet away.
"Malone, I've only got one hand!" Roxton pointed out.
Malone eyed him knowingly. "Are you saying you can't unbutton Marguerite's blouse one-handed?" he whispered quietly enough so Challenger wouldn't hear.
"You do it," Malone insisted.
In the end, Malone did have to help, but less than he feared. Once the blouse had been removed as much as possible, Malone had Roxton lie down next to Marguerite in order to draw the symbols on them both. Roxton found the experience surprisingly ticklish, but refused to flinch.
"Are you about done?" Challenger demanded impatiently a few minutes later.
"Almost," Malone answered. He racked his mind, trying to remember the symbols he'd seen the shaman paint, both on himself and those he'd seen when he'd woken up next to Veronica. There was the triangle one, with the line and the eye in the middle, and All at once another symbol popped into his mind. It was a circle, with squiggles like snakes, and a half-circle, too. For some reason he also remembered two green glowing spots in the lower part of it, but that must be wrong, because the pigment the Zanga shaman used was brown. But he was suddenly sure that circle-and-squiggle symbol was needed. He quickly sketched it as well as he could on both of their chests, opposite the triangle symbols he'd drawn earlier. "Okay, that should do it."
"Good," Roxton grunted.
"Yes, very good," Challenger echoed. "Now Roxton, you should sit up for this."
"Why?" Roxton wanted to know, sitting up with an effort.
"I've never tried hypnotizing a subject that was lying down."
"That doesn't exactly inspire me with confidence, George. Just how many people have you hypnotized?"
"Many," Challenger chided. "I just never used a couch."
"Fair enough," Roxton admitted after a moment. "So I'm sitting up. Now what do I do?"
Challenger's voice deepened slightly, becoming even more rich than usual. "Focus your eyes on the pocket watch. See how it gleams in the candlelight?"
"Yes," Roxton answered, trying not to be impatient.
"Good. Now keep your eyes on it as it moves back and forth back and forth back and forth "
Roxton said nothing, his eyes fixed obediently on the gleaming gold watch. Malone too was silent, but he kept his eyes on Roxton, hoping for any signs that this might work.
Challenger continued to speak for a few minutes more, alternating his "back and forth" with comments on how Roxton's body was feeling lighter but his eyelids heavier, and how he should count his breaths. Gradually Roxton's tense expression relaxed until he appeared half-asleep.
"Can you still hear me, Roxton?" Challenger asked.
"Yes," came the subdued reply from the sleepy-eyed hunter.
"Good. Now I want you to envision a stairway leading downwards. There are ten stairs on this stairway. There's a door at the bottom of the stairs that will open to where you need to go."
"To Marguerite." Roxton's voice was very soft.
"Yes, to Marguerite. As I count, I want you to walk down the stairs, one stair for each number. Ready?"
"Then let's begin. One two three "
Olmec's laugh filled the secret heart of his temple as he watched the three men in the waters of his sacred pool. "Excellent," he chortled. "Once you enter the dream world, you will be mine, and through you, the lovely Marguerite as well." He leaned forward in anticipation as the scientist finished his count.
"You are standing in front of the door. Once you open it, you will be where Marguerite is. If at any time you feel in danger, all you have to do is close the door, and you will be safe, back here with us. Do you understand?" Challenger's voice was almost frightening in its intensity.
"Yes," Roxton replied dreamily.
"Additionally, if I should snap my fingers, you will immediately return outside the door. You will awaken from the trance. Do you understand?"
"Yes," Roxton said again.
"Excellent. Then on the count of three, I want you to open the door. One, two, three!"
Roxton's eyes immediately widened, and every muscle in his body went rigid.
"Yes!" Olmec exulted, reaching into the water towards the image of the hunter. "Now you are mi- What???"
As he reached to snare Roxton into his dream world, the pool abruptly turned green and bubbled furiously, nearly sloshing over the edges. A symbol rose from the roiling waters, that of the sun, the moon, and two serpents. Olmec flinched away from the sight, and the moment was lost. The water returned to normal, but Roxton was out of his reach.
"NO!" the god raged. "How did this happen? Where did he go???"
"Whoooaaaah-umph!" Roxton's startled shout ended in a grunt of pain as he fell on the ground. After a stunned moment, he gingerly sat up and looked around. "That wasn't exactly what I was expecting," he grumbled, rubbing his hip. He hadn't been sure what being hypnotized would be like, but suddenly finding himself falling onto the jungle ground wouldn't have been his first guess. "What am I doing here?" he wondered. "And come to think of it, where is here, anyway?" All he could see from his sprawled position was jungle foliage.
"NO!" The tortured scream brought him bolt upright. He knew that voice!
"Marguerite!" he shouted in reply. A second, muffled cry and the sound of splashing reached his ears, and he started running towards it. Within moments, he was sure he recognized his surroundings. Olmec's ruined temple! But how did I get here?
Another incoherent cry reached his ears, and he stopped short in disbelief as he recognized that voice, too. But that's He started forward again, more carefully this time, unsure as to what was happening. He reached the edge of the temple just in time to see himself send Olmec sprawling to the ground. He stood in stunned disbelief as he watched himself drag a limp, sodden Marguerite out of Olmec's temple pool. This is when we first encountered Olmec - when he tried to drown Marguerite! But why am I here? Caution kept him crouched down and silent as he watched the well-remembered events unfold.
"Breathe," he heard himself plead to Marguerite. "Breathe!"
"You're wasting your time," Olmec taunted. "This woman deserted you for gold."
Bemused, he watched himself immediately desert the helpless Marguerite and instead take up the fight with Olmec. He paid no attention to the fight, already knowing how it would come out. Instead he focused all his attention on the unmoving body of the woman he loved. I can't believe I fell for his taunting, he berated himself. I'm just lucky Marguerite was okay without my help.
As the sounds of his fight with Olmec faded into the distance, Roxton kept staring at Marguerite, expecting her to start stirring. After all, he knew she saved him, driving Olmec back with a well-timed shot. But moments passed, and Marguerite still didn't move.
"Come on, Marguerite. Wake up. You have to wake up."
Marguerite remained still. Her lips started to turn blue. Unable to help himself, Roxton broke from the cover of the temple ruins and hastened to her side. "Marguerite?" He placed a hand over her chest, hoping to feel her breathe.
No movement. In rising terror, Roxton realized he couldn't feel her breathing. "Marguerite!"
There was no response. Marguerite's lips turned bluer, and Roxton suddenly understood that Marguerite would not wake up. Olmec had succeeded. Marguerite had drowned.
"No!" Roxton's protest was muffled by the horror that choked his throat. He wouldn't let this happen! He didn't think; he just acted, instinctively following the methods Summerlee had taught them all so long ago after the encounter with the Christecs. He flipped Marguerite over to lie on her stomach, grabbed her around her waist, abruptly jerked upwards, let her lie flat again, and pressed down on her back. It was only when he moved to raise Marguerite's arms over her head before starting the process over again that he realized her wrists were bound behind her back with a length of rawhide. Cursing wildly, he cut her bonds. "Come on, Marguerite, don't you dare let that bastard win! Breathe, damn you!" Grabbing her waist again, he froze as he felt a quiver pass through her frame and his ears were filled with an unexpected sound.
"What the hell?" Malone stared at Roxton's rigid form. The hunter's eyes were open but unseeing, his teeth were bared in a horrifying grimace, and his entire body was locked in some kind of spasm. The worried reporter couldn't even see him blink, much less breathe. "Challenger! Is he supposed to be doing that?"
"No," Challenger answered immediately, extremely disconcerted. "Roxton! Roxton, can you hear us?" When Roxton didn't respond, Challenger shook his head. "He appears to be having some kind of seizure. Some kind of tetanic catatonia ?"
"We've got to bring him out of it," Malone urged when the older man trailed off into silence.
Challenger blinked and nodded. "Right you are." The scientist placed his hand in front of the rigid lord's face and snapped his fingers.
The sound of a snap thundered through him, drowning out all else. Abruptly Roxton felt lightheaded, and he could no longer feel Marguerite in his arms. "Marguerite?" he called uncertainly.
A series of wracking, horrible coughs answered him, sounds that left Roxton grinning in joy even as he grew increasingly dizzy. He looked down to see Marguerite weakly pushing herself up, eyes half-closed, still coughing up water. He reached out one unsteady hand to help her - and cried out as his hand passed right through her. "Marguerite!"
A second snapping sound rattled him to his very bones, and Roxton abruptly realized that he wasn't here, not physically at any rate. His mind flashed back to an extraordinary monk he had met in Tibet, one whom the other monks claimed could travel anywhere he wished while meditating peacefully in the monastery. He'd been entirely skeptical, openly deriding the idea as impossible, and eventually confronting the fellow. The monk had just smiled, gestured at the mountain outside the monastery window, and sank down to meditate. Within minutes the monk had opened his eyes again and showed Roxton the fresh, unmelted snow he held in his hands. It had been that miracle as much as anything that had convinced Roxton to stay and study, in hopes of finding an even greater miracle that might allow him to come to terms with his brother's death.
Unfortunately for Roxton, he had no idea how he'd managed to manifest himself, or how to fight the inexorable pull of the snapping sounds that were breaking his hypnotic trance. Like it or not, he was being irresistibly drawn back to his body.
" Marguerite! " he tried to call, desperate to know that she was going to be all right. Everything was growing indistinct.
He couldn't hear any sound emerge from his throat, but Marguerite's head abruptly jerked upwards and turned in his direction. "Rox-Roxton?" she choked.
His heart beat wildly. If she could hear him now, maybe she was also hearing him in whatever trance she was locked in! " Wake up! " he shouted. " I need you - come back! "
Marguerite's eyes widened, and she looked around frantically. "Roxton?" She could have sworn that Roxton had just been here. She'd heard his voice, she knew she had. He'd said he needed her, but where was he?
A glint of sunlight on metal caught her gaze, and her breath faltered as she recognized Roxton's rifle lying on the ground an arms-length away from her. Even as she grabbed the gun, her water-clogged ears cleared, and she heard the sounds of male voices and the distinctive clamor of a fight. Olmec! Roxton's in danger! Stumbling to her feet, Marguerite hurried as fast as she could in the direction of the commotion.
Roxton tried to reach out to her as she stood up, but once again his hand passed right through her. Unable to move, he saw her stagger away through the increasing distortion that was darkening his vision of this time and place. I guess she's going to save me after all, he thought fuzzily, and then the world dissolved away.