Round 5 - Zakiyah
Roxton lay quietly, eyes closed, listening to Challenger's breathing as the scientist drifted towards sleep. He had no way of measuring time accurately in this place, but he guessed it had been at least an hour since his failed attempt to rise and find Marguerite. The uncomfortable silence had eventually been broken by the return of the two silent young men, this time bearing gruel. George had deluged them with questions again - with the same lack of result - and then sputtered indignantly when he was spoon-fed like a baby. At least this time Roxton had been able to feed himself, although the memory of his last meal made him eye the gruel askance when it was first presented to him. It too might be drugged. He was fairly certain that was why he'd passed out so quickly after drinking the buttered-tea-like concoction. Still, he had to take the risk - he knew he needed the food for strength. He'd eaten stoically, not saying anything. Thus far the only ill results he could feel from his meal were a few cereal grains stuck between his teeth. Challenger, on the other hand, had quickly become drowsy after eating, particularly once Roxton started feigning sleepiness himself.
Challenger began to snore softly, and Roxton cautiously opened his eyes, looking around carefully. Aside from the now-sleeping scientist, he was alone and unobserved - at least as far as he could tell. Of course, I thought we were alone the last time I tried to get up, too, but those two young men certainly showed up in a hurry when I fell. He frowned thoughtfully. They might have simply been alerted by George's shouts, I suppose; I wasn't in much condition to notice. If not, though - well, I guess I'll find out soon en-
Roxton's musings came to an abrupt halt as Challenger roused slightly, muttered something, and shifted in the bed. The somnolent scientist rolled over on his side, flung one arm out and across Roxton's chest, and sighed. Roxton froze, but Challenger subsided again into quiet repose.
After a few minutes of careful waiting, Roxton ever so gingerly removed Challenger's arm from across his chest, bringing it to rest by the scientist's side. Challenger snorted once, but did not awaken, and Roxton sighed with relief. I never would have figured George Edward Challenger for a snuggler, the hunter thought, somewhat bemused. Thank God he didn't wake up. I'm not sure either one of us could have handled that. Still, that just gives me one more reason to get out of this bed! He looked back down at the sleeping scientist, unable to keep a smile from his lips as he recognized the inherent absurdity of the situation. Sorry, old boy, but you're not the expedition member I'd choose to snuggle up with. The realization led him inevitably to thoughts of Marguerite, and his smile disappeared.
The effort was a little easier this time, even with the added caution of trying not to wake George. Slowly Roxton levered himself upright, got his legs over the side of the bed, and finally stood. He felt no dizziness, and his confidence increased as he once again reached for a fur to wrap around himself. Remembering how easily the last one had come loose, Roxton made sure to tie the fur securely around his waist with the tanned skin of what must have been its legs before venturing away from the bed.
He couldn't move very fast, but Roxton quickly learned that he could in fact walk. He made it across the room without incident and paused before the door, breathing heavily. So far, so good; no sign that anyone has noticed I'm up and about at last. Now if only those two young men aren't just outside this door, maybe I can find that older fellow and get some answers out of him. At least he speaks. And I've got to find Marguerite. Ignoring the fear for her knotting his insides with a discipline learned in the hunt and perfected on the battlefields of Europe, Roxton concentrated on opening the door as silently as possible.
A dimly-lit, empty corridor met his eyes, and Roxton nodded to himself in satisfaction. He paused in the doorway, listening, observing everything he could. The passageway was vacant, but by straining his ears, Roxton thought he could dimly make out the sound of running water and voices. Eyes narrowed in concentration, the hunter silently crept down the corridor, hunting for those voices, and for answers.
"It's starting to get colder," Finn observed, shivering slightly as a chill breeze brushed across her arms.
"Yes," Veronica agreed. "We should reach the snow line in another hour or so." She glanced up at the sky and frowned. "In fact, we'd better hurry. I'd like to get there with enough time to do a little searching before we have to set up camp for the night."
"It's awfully quiet," Finn noted, looking around suspiciously.
"Most of the animals on the Plateau don't like temperatures this cool," Veronica explained. "There are other animals that live here though - ones you'll never see in the jungle."
"As long as the critters up here don't have humans on their lunch menu, that would be an improvement," Finn muttered.
Veronica laughed. "Most of them are quite harmless. And even the predators aren't as dangerous as a T-Rex or a full pack of raptors."
"That's cool," Finn nodded, then looked at Veronica quizzically. "But if that's true, Vee, why don't you live here, instead of back in the middle of dino central?"
Veronica looked at Finn incredulously before shaking her head. "Because my home is there," she explained. "My friends are all there - the Zanga, the Am Well, let's just say I probably wouldn't have made it early on without lots of help. Now it's the place I know best; my survival skills are honed for the jungle." She drew a deep breath, seeing some remaining skepticism on Finn's face. "More to the point, it's where my parents built their home. All our things are there. It's where they it's where I know we'll all be together again, someday." She shivered slightly. "Besides which, I don't like the cold."
Finn rubbed her arms briskly. "I hear that." Part of her wanted to continue to ask Veronica about her home and her parents, but she could tell it was a painful topic, and it really wasn't any of her business. She wasn't sure if she'd like Veronica asking her about her parents, after all. However, there was something else she could ask about - something she was very curious about, and something she very well might need to know. She gave Veronica a serious look. "That's the second time you've mentioned Amazons - or almost mentioned them. I remember stories about Amazons from when I was a kid, but somehow I don't think they're the same people you're talking about. I get the idea you've got a history with them. Care to tell me about it?" Her tone was light, but did not entirely mask her uncertainty in asking, or her fear that Veronica might become upset.
After a moment, Veronica nodded. "Yes. You should know about them." She sighed, then scowled in mock-threat at her younger companion. "But I'll only tell you if we keep moving. Come on, we've still got quite a way to go."
Marguerite had no idea how much time had passed since Yemanjá had left her. It felt like hours, an eternity - but in the absolute blackness of wherever this was, she knew it could have been just minutes ago. However long it had been, Marguerite abruptly decided that it had been long enough.
"I'm never going to learn anything by just sitting here," she muttered to herself, annoyed and deliberately fueling that annoyance in order to help keep other emotions at bay. Taking a deep breath, she shoved her dislike of the blinding dark, her anxiety at being left stranded, and her fear for John and Challenger to the back of her mind. "First, let's see if I missed those matches." She carefully rummaged through her pack again, pulling out each item she encountered individually and thoroughly feeling each one until she was certain she knew what it was and that it did not somehow hide the missing matches. Spare blouse blanket a-ha! My heavy knife! She'd left her boot knife back at the Treehouse, and she'd already determined her belt holster was empty of its gun. Working blindly, she slowly unbuckled her belt, threaded the knife-sheath's loops onto it, and re-fastened the belt around her waist. Slightly cheered at being armed, she continued her careful, unseeing search through the contents of the pack. Unfortunately, she eventually had to admit that the box of matches was indeed missing.
Maybe it fell out of the pack when Yemanjá handed it to me? she speculated while she stuffed everything back into her pack. She decided to try and search for it, more out of a need to keep busy than out of any real hope that she might actually find the small box. Guess it's time for me to do a little exploring and figure out what kind of place this is. Come on, Marguerite, just because it's dark - well all right, pitch black - doesn't mean you can't learn something more about your surroundings.
Setting the pack aside on the bed, Marguerite cautiously straightened up, keeping one hand over her head until she made contact with the low ceiling. The surface felt rough and cool to her fingertips, and she nodded to herself. Stone. It figures - I'm in yet another damned cave. Keeping one hand on the low ceiling, she reached out her other arm, waving it in a slow arc until she felt more stone against her fingers. There's a wall, at any rate. If I follow it, I can't get lost, no matter how dark it is.
Half-stooped, one hand on the ceiling and another on the wall, Marguerite slowly made her way away from the bed. To her relief, the ceiling rose somewhat after she took about ten shuffling steps. The change allowed her to stand upright, yet still keep a hand on the ceiling for guidance. She reflexively resisted the urge to stretch, not wanting to lose contact with the wall. Marguerite realized she was very stiff, although she couldn't decide if it was because of tension, from lying on the lumpy straw-and-pine pallet, or from her fall during the avalanche. Probably a little bit of all of those reasons, she mused. I bet I look a fright. She chuckled briefly. One advantage of this dark; I can't see how bad I undoubtedly look, and neither can anyone else. However, this stiffness might just slow me down at the wrong moment, so I'd better try to relax a little.
Marguerite paused long enough to roll her head from side to side, loosening up the neck muscles, and to shake out each hand and arm in turn, keeping careful contact with the wall with the other hand while she did so. Feeling a little better, she placed both hands back against the stone and started forward again. With any luck, this wall will lead me to whatever door or exit Yemanjá left through. Maybe there's light somewhere else in this cave. I mean, there'd almost have to be - she can't just live in the dark, can she? Even those weird people we met when we were trapped underground in the volcano needed light.
Scowling at the memory of that time - and particularly at the remembered visage of the deceitful blind "oracle" boy, Marguerite took yet another step - and her foot came down on nothing solid. Unprepared, unable to stop herself from falling, she pitched forward with a scream. Her cry was cut off as her mouth filled with water. After a moment of utter incomprehension, she realized she was entirely submerged in warm water. She could feel nothing around her, hear nothing, except the gentle pressure of the skin-warm liquid surrounding her completely and the vague swishing noises of her flailing movements. Unable to see, unable to touch anything solid, and completely disoriented, Marguerite struggled in panic, holding what little breath she had while frantically searching for the surface.