Round 6 - DNash
Suddenly, strong hands were under her arms, lifting her. At least she hoped they were lifting her; she was so disoriented that up and down were hopelessly confused. When she didn't break the surface right away, Marguerite began to struggle. Her lungs burned, desperate to replenish themselves with fresh air. Through her panicked haze, she felt herself released, although the unfamiliar hands never once completely left her body. She tried to get away but consciousness was quickly fading and her head buzzed from the lack of oxygen. Unable to hold her breath any longer, she exhaled and inhaled again reflexively, choking as the warm water filled her lungs.
The hands on her gripped firmly once again, holding her upper arms securely. Soft lips pressed against Marguerite's, shocking her almost as much as her fall had. When she was released from the kiss, everything around her changed. The water was no longer silent or dark. She could hear undercurrents deep below, and the light lapping of the water against stone above. Her eyes cleared and she stared at the face before her.
It was ancient and beautiful. Lines creased the honey-brown skin of an old woman with long silver hair. The woman met Marguerite's gaze and inexplicably smiled.
A single word sounded inside Marguerite's head, and with it she realized she was no longer drowning. She exhaled the lungful of water and took in another, thoroughly confused but also relieved. Am I dead? she wondered, looking around her.
Marguerite's eyes narrowed on the old woman. Yemanjá?
Yemanjá nodded, her smile widening. Very good. Then her face grew stern. I told you not to go, but young people never listen. At least you are lucky, if not always smart.
What the hell is going on? demanded Marguerite.
And always impatient. Yemanjá shook her head mockingly, her silver hair flowing around her. I have found your friends. They are safe, although one is almost as impatient as you.
The former heiress instantly knew whom she meant. Roxton.
Is that his name? I didn't ask. He's very worried about you.
Can you take me to him? Marguerite asked urgently, her puzzlement over her odd situation overwhelmed by her need to find Roxton and Challenger.
Yemanjá cocked her head and considered. You will be in my debt, she said. Do you accept this?
Not needing even a moment to consider, Marguerite nodded. After all, I'm already in her debt. What harm can it do? she thought, forgetting the old woman would hear her.
You were not, but now you are. With those parting words, Yemanjá vanished.
The world around Marguerite shimmered briefly and went dark. She choked, the liquid in her lungs suddenly heavy and painful. Falling to her knees, she retched violently. Her body shook as she coughed up water onto the hard-packed earth. It was minutes before she could breathe normally again. When she could, her conscious mind finally recognized that she was on land once more. She was happy to see there was light this time, but unhappy to see she was in yet another cave.
A lump next to her caught her attention. It was her pack--dry as a bone and looking none the worse for wear. Wish I could say the same about me, Marguerite thought sardonically. She was drenched from head to foot, her dark curls sodden and heavy. Even the discovery that her gun had mysteriously reappeared in its holster wasn't quite enough to cheer her bitter mood--after all, it was as wet as she. Picking up the pack, she rose shakily to her feet. There was a brief moment when she feared she would collapse again as the world spun and her vision darkened, but it passed.
She took a deep breath and let it out. It felt good to have air back in her lungs. Much better. While she knew Yemanjá had undoubtedly saved her life through whatever magic she had performed, Marguerite preferred plain old air to breathing liquid any day.
She looked around. The light in the cave came from several torches set in sconces along the stone walls. Marguerite took a tentative step towards one. Gaining confidence that her legs would indeed hold her, she walked to the nearest sconce and removed its torch. There were two passages branching off from the cave, but nothing gave her a clue as to which would lead her to her missing companions. She held very still, listening.
Pick a path and go. John and George must be nearby, she figured logically. Yemanjá wouldn't have dropped me here otherwise. She ached in every muscle, but this thought steeled her resolve. Pack in one hand and torch in the other, she turned to the passage on her right and began to follow it, leaving a trail of wet footprints in her wake.
"So the Amazons taught you how to survive in the jungle?" Finn asked. It was difficult for her to fathom based on the Amazons of her own time. She suspected the ones on the Plateau now would be disappointed in their descendants.
"Partly. I'd learned a lot from my parents before they disappeared. I'd been on my own for about two months when I was trapped up a tree by a raptor. An Amazon saved me. It was a lucky introduction," Veronica added wryly. "We'd heard of their tribe, but never met any of them before. It was like meeting a myth face-to-face." As was her increasing habit, she reached up and idly fingered the Trion that hung at her neck as she remembered the meeting. A shiver passed through her. The metal was ice-cold to the touch, chilling her. The sensation made the memory seem strange all of a sudden, almost as if it hadn't happened to her at all, but rather was a story she'd been told once upon a time. Startled, she frowned and scratched her forehead, unsure what had just happened. The strange sensation passed almost as quickly as it had come, and Veronica let it go, focusing on the task at hand.
The pair had been walking a long time and were already into the foothills of the mountains. They topped a small rise, and Veronica shivered as a chill breeze blew over on them. She hated to stop yet again, but it was time to put back on the layers she and her companion had shed earlier in the day. She could see the beginning of the snow line not far ahead.
"Time to change," she said, coming to a halt. Finn stopped beside her and the two women quickly donned their extra gear.
"That's better!" exclaimed Finn. She hadn't wanted to say anything, but she'd been feeling cold for a while now. Only their constant movement had kept her from becoming completely chilled. "It's butt-cold here," she declared. She once more shouldered her pack and shoved her hands deep into the pockets of Challenger's truncated trousers.
Veronica raised an eyebrow at the unfamiliar and unusually crass description of the temperature. Rather than comment, she simply said, "It's about to get much colder." She pointed ahead and upward. "There's the snow line."
Abruptly, Finn's discomfort was forgotten. Her eyes widened. "That's snow?" she asked excitedly.
Veronica nodded. "That's snow," she answered flatly. She wasn't looking forward to reaching it, but it was necessary if they were to find their friends. "Come on."
"Woo-hoo!" cried Finn, startling the older woman. "Last one there's a rotten raptor egg!" With that, Finn took off running toward the snow.
"Finn!" Veronica shouted after her. But the young woman didn't hear her. "Now I understand what Challenger meant," muttered the huntress. She hurried after her exuberant companion.
Challenger woke slowly to find himself alone. He guessed Roxton had finally mustered up the energy to go searching for Marguerite. At least I hope that's what's transpired, he thought. He had no idea how long he'd been asleep. The brazier and candles all burned with an unnerving regularity, and there was no external light source to tell him how much time had passed. Cautiously he turned his head on the pillows, pleased to discover he had that much strength at least. Unfortunately this new view told him nothing more about his surroundings than he'd already surmised. Bracing himself to face the effort, he tried to push himself up into a sitting position.
"Remain still," said a voice to his left.
Immediately the scientist ceased his struggle and turned his head the other way. He was met by a fur-robed man with silvering brown hair. He couldn't know, but it was the same man who had first spoken to Roxton. "Who are you?"
"Is that your name or your tribe?" the scientist persisted. Physical helplessness couldn't stop his insatiable quest for knowledge.
"Yes," was the only reply the man gave him. Without ceremony, Domblé began peeling back the layers of blankets and furs covering Challenger.
The ginger-haired man tried to protest, hands grasping weakly at the diminishing concealment. Domblé simply moved his hands away as if he were a fussy infant. "I say--" began George, but it was too late. The covers were off and the full length of his lanky form was exposed. It was the first opportunity Challenger had had to see the extent of his injuries, and when he did, his next protest died on his lips.
Silently, Domblé checked the dressings on Challenger's various cuts and abrasions, replacing bandages wherever necessary. Still far from comfortable with the situation but knowing the strange man's ministrations were to his own benefit, Challenger did his best to ignore what was being done to his naked body and focused on questioning the man tending him.
"Where are we?" he asked, hoping for a more helpful answer than the one he'd gotten moments ago.
"Within the mountain."
Considering what he might have said, George felt himself fortunate in this response. He considered asking which mountain, but any name the man gave him would undoubtedly mean nothing to the European. "How did we come here?"
"Through the snow."
Challenger tried narrowing the parameters of his query. "By what means of transport?"
Now Domblé surprised him by smiling wryly. "Gravity," he said.
George's eyes widened in surprise. "You're familiar with Newton's Gravitational Theory?"
Now Challenger was so intrigued he forgot all about the unusually intimate circumstances of the conversation. "What other aspects of Newtonian physics are you acquainted with, and how did you learn of him?"
Instead of answering, Domblé startled the supine scientist by placing a cloth-wrapped bundle against his leg. Despite the fabric covering, George gasped at the icy shock of its touch on his skin. "This bruise on your thigh is very bad," Domblé explained, wrapping a length of cloth around the limb and tying the bundle in place. "The ice will reduce the swelling."
"Yes," agreed Challenger as he regained his breath. He was supremely grateful that Domblé chose that moment to once again cover him in blankets and furs; the strange medic had come uncomfortably close to a part of Challenger's anatomy that he preferred to keep to himself in the absence of his wife.
Domblé gathered his medicines and stood.
"Wait, you haven't answered my questions!" called George to the rapidly departing figure. Using every bit of will, he pushed himself up on one elbow, eyes following the fur-clad man to the door.
"No, I haven't. An acolyte will bring you food, and your friend will be back soon. Rest well." It was the first indication Domblé had given that he was aware of Roxton's absence.
"You've seen Roxton? Has he found Marguerite?" But it was no good. The man was gone, leaving Challenger alone and helpless once more. He fell back heavily onto the pillows. "Blast!"
Finn whooped with glee, stomping into the thin snow with her boots. A small bit of it slipped into one boot, melting against her flesh. "Whoa! Cold!" she exclaimed, trying uselessly with one finger to remove the offending slush.
Finn took a joy in new discoveries and experiences that Veronica had lost when her parents disappeared. Watching her reminded Veronica of her own sense of wonder, and despite herself she smiled at the younger woman's playfulness. "We have to keep moving, Finn," she reminded her, a hint of regret coloring her tones.
"I know." Finn stood up straight, doing her best to ignore the slight chill still tingling her foot. "What were they doing up here, anyway?" she asked. "I mean, I know Challenger wanted to take samples, but samples of what? And why?"
"The ice and snow. And you can ask him why when we find him." The elder blonde knew essentially what the scientist had been hoping to gain, but she wasn't up to trying to explain it at the moment. "It'll be dark soon. Let's scout around and see if we can find some sign of them and somewhere we can camp. But don't go out of sight!" she cautioned. "We'll be into much deeper snow soon, and it isn't always stable."
"Gotcha!" agreed Finn readily.
Veronica wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing rapidly chilling hands along her sleeves. "I hate the cold," she muttered. More loudly, she said, "Shout if you find anything, and keep your eyes peeled for predators."
"I thought you said there weren't any predators here," protested Finn.
"I said they weren't as dangerous as a T-Rex or a pack of raptors. I didn't say there weren't any predators."
The younger woman put a hand on her crossbow. "Thanks for the warning."
They began to search the area, but the light was fading quickly. It was less than an hour later when Veronica finally had to admit defeat for the night. "I saw a tight stand of trees a little ways back," she said. "I think the ground was fairly dry. We'll set up camp there."
They found the place without difficulty and Finn set about gathering wood for a fire. There was plenty to be found, and soon Veronica had a small but wonderfully warming blaze going on a cleared patch of earth. She unrolled their blankets while Finn unpacked rations for dinner. A rumbling in the distance caused both women to freeze in their activities, listening intently.
"What was that?" whispered Finn when the sound abated.
"Avalanche," answered Veronica shortly, and continued laying out the blankets. The noise had been an unpleasant reminder of another danger posed by the deep snow they would be heading into at first light. I just hope the others weren't caught in one, she thought anxiously. She straightened up and put her back to the fire, staring at the looming form of the mountain still visible against the darkening sky. Hang on. We're coming.