Round 4 - DNash
Marguerite blinked several times to confirm that her eyes were actually open. Wherever she was, it was pitch black. She'd been in some pretty dark places before, but never anything like this. The darkness felt like a weight on her eyes, and she eventually closed them. Wasn't doing me any good the other way, she thought sardonically. But just because she couldn't see anything didn't mean she couldn't make a few determinations about where she was.
She already knew she was lying down and she was warm. The warmth was surprising, but never being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Marguerite accepted the fact and moved on.
She ran her hands slowly along her body, searching for evidence of injury. Although she ached as though she'd spent the day turning Challenger's windmill by hand, she seemed to be in one piece. Her roaming fingers caught in something and she paused, feeling it. It didn't take her long to realize it was a tear in her coat--and quite a lengthy tear at that. That will take some sewing, she mused, displeased.
Next she sniffed the air and sifted through what her olfactory senses told her. First and foremost they told her she needed a bath. Once she'd gotten past her own scent, she detected other odors around her. Fresh earth. Straw and pine? Her hands felt the ground next to her. No, not the ground, she realized. I'm lying on a pallet of some sort. The scent was emanating from the rough mattress on which she lay. It crinkled as she pressed her open palm against it, and a rush of the scent wafted to her. It must be stuffed with hay and She considered. Is that really pine? That's ridiculous.
Of course, her mind answered back. It's not at all reasonable and rational the way, say, descendents of the Pharaohs, or an orphan girl from the future, or a British double-agent with a haul of stolen iridium ore in the middle of the jungle are. She snorted derisively at her musings and moved on in her exploration.
She lay very still and listened. The sound of gently lapping water came softly to her ears. An underground river? she mused. Then something else caught her attention out of the corner of her ear. It sounded like a soft sighing, as of air being moved slowly through a narrow space.
Or someone breathing. Marguerite's eyes flew open, and she tried to sit up. A strong hand on her back startled her, and she shied away from the touch. Much to her surprise, the hand stayed with her and helped support her until she was upright.
"Who " she began, but she found her throat so dry she couldn't get the next word out.
"Do not be afraid," a strong, feminine voice told her. Marguerite heard a rippling splash of sound. "Raise your hands before you." Uncertain what else to do, Marguerite followed the mysterious woman's instructions. She felt a hand trail down one of her arms, and then a rough bowl was placed in her outstretched palms. "Drink."
Marguerite was terribly thirsty, and the bowl contained fresh water. She drank greedily. When she finished, the bowl was taken from her. "Who are you? Where are we? How did I get here? And why is it so dark?" the heiress demanded.
The woman laughed and it was like the tinkling of water over tiny stones. "You found your voice quickly," she said mirthfully.
"Just answer me."
"I am Yemanjá. We are inside. I brought you here. And it is dark because we do not need the light."
"You might not need the light, but I like to see where I'm going," countered Marguerite impatiently. She felt none of her questions had been answered adequately.
Again the woman laughed, and this time there was an edge to it that Marguerite found subtly disturbing. "But you are not going anywhere," Yemanjá said. Her words were chilling despite her gentle tone.
"I will be shortly." Still in her seated position, the heiress turned to one side, intending to throw her legs over edge of the pallet and rise.
"Thanks, but it's time for me to go." Marguerite's feet found the dirt floor she'd smelled earlier, and she stood. Her head hit stone and she sat again abruptly, cursing.
"I did warn you," Yemanjá reminded her.
"You didn't say there was a rock over my head," spat Marguerite angrily, rubbing the growing bump on the crown of her head. Enough is enough, she thought. I have to get out of here and find Roxton and Challenger. The thought caused her to still in sudden memory. Roxton and Challenger. There was an avalanche. We were swept apart. She could feel the panic rising in her gut. Where are they? Where's John? She turned frantically from side to side, eyes blankly searching the blackness.
"What do you seek?"
"My friends," answered Marguerite, not stopping to wonder how the woman knew she was looking around. "There were two men with me. I have to find them."
"There are no men here. Only you and me."
"Well they have to be somewhere. If they're not here, then there's no reason for me to be here, either." She was trying very hard to maintain her composure, but the realization that her companions were missing combined with the impenetrable darkness around her put her more than a little on edge. "I had a pack with me when I fell." She felt around her, groping hands patting the straw-stuffed mattress.
"It is here," Yemanjá said, and pressed the bag into the heiress's hands. "But it will do you no good now."
Frantically, Marguerite searched the pack, but didn't find what she sought. "There were matches."
"Matches. You use them to make fire?" Getting nothing but silence from her strange companion, she gave up. "Never mind."
"You must stay and rest."
"I can't stay. My friends could be anywhere. They need my help." She didn't want to admit it, but the thought tugged unceasingly at her mind so she voiced it. "They could be hurt."
"You will not find them."
"You know," declared Marguerite, instinctively turning toward the sound of the strange woman's voice, "you keep telling me what I shouldn't do, what I can't do. It didn't work when Sister Dymphna tried it, and it's not working now. If you really want to be helpful, you can tell me where I am and how the hell to get out of here."
Yemanjá clucked her tongue, and Marguerite had the sudden absurd thought that it really was Sister Dymphna speaking to her. I bet she glares the same way that old bat did, too. Then she heard Yemanjá sigh.
"I will see what I can learn for you. Will this bring you comfort?"
Unwillingly, Marguerite admitted through clenched teeth, "Some." Then she added angrily, "It would bring me more comfort if you would just light a damned candle or something and answer my questions."
"Wait here. Rest. You are tired from your ordeal." There was a rustling that sounded almost like trickling water as, presumably, Yemanjá rose. "I will go, and then I will return."
"Wait! Where are you going?" Marguerite felt panic grip her once more. I will not be left alone again!
"I am going to learn. You wait here. Rest," she repeated.
"Stop! Please! I don't want to rest; I want to get out of here!" But there was utter silence, as heavy and oppressive as the darkness. She couldn't have gone that quickly. I would have heard her. She looked uselessly around. A wave of frustration washed over her and was replaced by doubt and fear. She hugged her pack to her chest and rocked back and forth on the pallet. Damn it, John, she thought. Where are you?
"Don't shoot!" Veronica cried, flinging out an arm in Finn's direction.
Startled, the younger woman removed her hand from her crossbow. She didn't recognize the man who emerged from the brush, but the smile on her companion's face indicated Veronica did.
"Kai!" exclaimed the jungle woman happily. "It's so good to see you! It's been too long." She stepped forward and embraced the man heartily. She smiled, saying, "Is Ardo with you?"
"It's good to see you, Veronica," the tall, dark-haired man replied. "Ardo is not far. We are tracking a group of wild pigs. Their trail is erratic, so we split up to follow two paths. Hopefully we will both come home with fresh meat."
"Good hunting to you."
"Hey, Vee," said Finn, speaking up for the first time. "Who's your friend?"
"Finn!" In her excitement Veronica had all but forgotten her young companion. "This is Kai. We haven't seen one another since we had to rescue him, Ardo, and Malone from the Amazons."
"Amazons?" The young woman looked at her friend dubiously. "You mean a gang of hot warrior chicks? Why would Malone want to be rescued from that?"
Veronica gave her a stern look. "Because they can be hazardous companions," she said tightly. Her memories of the explorers' encounters with the Amazons weren't fond ones. Her feelings towards the women were less than charitable despite her own early upbringing. Times change, she thought a little sadly. They were good people once. Aloud, she continued her introductions. "Kai, this is Finn." She looked at the girl and added, "Kai is from the Zanga village."
"Zanga? I've heard Challenger mention them, but I never got to meet any of 'em before." She looked appraisingly at the native Plateau dweller who topped her height by well over a foot. "Hey," she offered in greeting.
"Hello," said Kai. He looked them over, taking in Veronica's unusual attire and the large packs carried by both women. "Where are you going? You look ready for a long journey, and you are only recently returned, Veronica." There was a note of chiding in his voice.
"I know, but we do have a long way to go, and we need to keep moving," she answered. "The others are overdue coming home, and we need to find them. They're in the high mountains, above the snowline."
The man blanched at her words. "You should not go there," he said firmly.
"We have to, Kai. Anything could have happened to them."
"Spirits dwell in the cold heights of the mountains. It is not safe."
"Spirits dwell everywhere on the Plateau," replied Finn cynically. "You can't live your life hiding from them. Come on, Vee. Let's go."
"Finn!" Veronica turned an apologetic face to Kai, unconsciously fingering the pendant she wore. "I'm sorry. She may be rude " She shot her young companion an admonishing look, which Finn returned with a shrug. " but she has a point. We have to go there."
Kai looked at the women darkly, his face sad. "I am sorry to hear that, Veronica. You will be missed. Here." He reached into the pouch that hung on a leather thong around his neck. He pulled out something small and handed it to Veronica.
The huntress examined it closely. It was about the half the length of her thumb and slightly wider, and it was wrapped in soft leather. "What is it?" she asked.
"Inside the skin is a waterstone. It will protect you in the snow place."
Veronica put the gift into a pocket of Malone's pants. "I " She didn't know what to say.
Finn, on the other hand, piped up easily, "Yeah, well, thanks. It was great meeting you. C'mon, Vee." She took Veronica by the hand and tugged. Instinctively, Veronica began walking with her.
"Good-bye, Kai," she said as the petite woman pulled insistently on her arm.
"Good-bye, Veronica." Kai raised a hand in farewell, the sadness in his eyes disturbing in its intensity.
When the women were far enough from him that he could no longer be seen through the thick jungle foliage, Veronica pulled her hand from Finn's, but neither woman slowed her pace. "Why were you so rude to him?" demanded the older woman.
"I wasn't rude," protested Finn.
"Maybe where you come from manners have changed, but around here, that was rude."
"I'm from around here, remember? Besides, we need to keep moving. You said so yourself."
Veronica considered arguing, but Finn was right. They had a long way to go before nightfall, and they weren't going to find the others just standing around. I hope they're all right, she thought, fingers trailing once more to the trion.
There was something else that was bothering her, as well. Kai's expression as they departed stayed with her as she and Finn hiked on in silence. She was accustomed to the Zangas' warnings and found there was usually a very good reason for them. She wondered what it was that had so troubled Kai about their destination. There's no going back to find out now, she told herself firmly. She put the man's comments from her mind and found once more the determination with which she had set out that morning. In a burst of renewed energy, she strode past Finn, saying, "Come on, slowpoke. We've got a long way to go."