Decline
Chapter 7
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Marguerite ran directly from the elevator to the front gate of the electric fence. She swung it open with one mighty push, trotted to the outer yard, then looked about with wide, searching eyes. “Mother?” she called in a low childlike voice, “Where are you?” Upset, disoriented and a bit afraid, Marguerite pulled the colorful robe snugly around her body and hugged herself as she visually searched the perimeter. An early afternoon fog was present and the heavy atmosphere about the woman did nothing to relieve the pressure in her head. ‘This is madness.’ a small section of her mind warned. Yet another part, the portion which ruled Marguerite’s heart, told her she had to find the truth at any cost. She was living on the plateau, a land of many mysteries, and anything could happen here. *Anything.*

“Marguerite …” a feminine echo called to her from the jungle, “I’m here. Come and find me. Follow the trail, my darling …Come now.”

“But I can’t go out there alone.” Marguerite whispered, disoriented but clasping onto a familiar shred of self preservation. “I’ll need a weapon.” She looked down at her bare feet, “And boots.”

“I have to leave you now. I’m so sorry we missed each other, love ...” the voice started to fade away.

“NO!” Marguerite cried and darted to the path. She paused only briefly then, with nearly a will of their own, her exposed feet made tracks covering those of Veronica and Malone, as they had traveled this same pathway before Marguerite only a few hours before.

***

Ennie extinguished her fire the moment she heard the couple’s approach. She then hid behind a large tree and watched as, preoccupied, they ran by her on their way to the Zanga village. It was that female, the pale jungle orphan - Assai’s friend - and a young man, the one who wrote stories. The native girls had thought him so attractive. The couple appeared desperate or on some kind of vital quest. Perhaps Lord Roxton’s friends had clued together a few facts and were now hoping for help from the Zanga? Didn’t they understand she had Jacoba wrapped around her little finger? He would do nothing to her if he thought it might endanger the conjuring of a potential grandson.

The shaman watched the couple's backs as they continued down the trail then, as Malone and Veronica faded from sight, she smirked and looked up the opposite end of the pathway. Ennie began to move in that direction.

Destiny, in the figure of a fair skinned, gray eyed, dark haired woman awaited her. Once Roxton’s woman was gone Ennie would take what she wanted, enjoy him for awhile, then discard him. She smiled rapturously at the thought. Ennie loved having power over men and women. One day, when she honed it well, her gifts would pay off in unimaginable ways.

Soon the Zanga would be hers … and she would rule the entire plateau!

***

Roxton lifted his head off the floor only to have it fall back again with a painful impact.

“Wake up, Roxton. Marguerite is missing!”

His hazel eyes opened and Roxton looked up into the concerned face of George Challenger. “Marguerite?” he asked and, struggling, sat up with the professor’s help.

“Doesn’t look like there was a mle but she’s gone.” Challenger told him, blinking and shuddering, attempting to shake off the last effects of the green smoke. “I checked on her the moment I woke up. Marguerite‘s not in her bed.”

Roxton looked at the desk where the beaker he and Challenger were working over, not more than a half hour before, exploded and both where overcome, “What the devil happened, George?” he ask, standing as Challenger gave him a hand up.

“I don’t know. That reaction should not have happened with the chemicals we were working with.”

“More deception from a certain Zanga shaman, I'll wager.” Roxton declared and rubbed the back of his head where it had hit the hard floor.

“I still don’t understand why she’s doing this.” Challenger commented and thought he spotted, for the briefest moment, a touch of self-reproach in Roxton’s expression. “What could Marguerite have done to her?”

“Marguerite did nothing.” Roxton answered, heading up the stairs from Challenger’s laboratory, “But we’ll talk about it later. Right now we have to find her.”

***

They hastened because it was important. A member of their family’s life was at stake. Yet, they talked as they ran. They spoke of worries and possibilities, of Roxton’s chivalry and Marguerite’s temper, of Challenger’s sometimes one-sided scientific detachment and of the future. She was Protector of the Plateau and he was an American journalist. Some things changed and some remained exactly the way they were three years ago, when they first met. But not quite.

“If there’s one thing I learned on my journey,” Malone said, puffing slightly as he kept up with the athletic blond, “It’s to never take anything at face value.” When she did not respond he added, “That’s just *one* of the things I learned …”

“It took a six month excursion to make you finally see that?” Veronica asked blandly, hardly hiding the disappointment in her voice. “Ned, if you had talked with me I could have told you anything you wanted to know about ‘what you see is not always what you get’ on the plateau.”

She had tried to talk with him when Malone finally returned to them a month ago but the words didn’t come. All Veronica could do was thank him for the letter, for the kind words inside, and he smiled. A genuine, warm smile but he said nothing more. Of course, he told them all stories about the people he had met and the adventures he had experienced but Malone never approached her, one on one, about his mind-set. He missed her, he said, but that wasn’t exactly what Veronica had been hoping to hear. She wasn’t really certain what she should have expected.

“But you weren’t here and I was in crisis.” Malone called beside her, continuing the jog. “If you had been around things may have been different. But I needed … I needed to find my way.”

Their pace slowed and Veronica, offended, looked at him. “Are you saying it’s my *fault* that you had to go away, leaving the treehouse, leaving your friends and leaving *me*? Did you forget I was trying to save my own life while stuck in the bottomless basket of a hot air balloon? Did you think I was going to be gone forever, Ned? Is that why you …?”

“No, of course not.” Malone exclaimed, pulling at her arm, stopping their sprint. “Veronica, I looked for you everyday I was gone. I really did.” He saw the defensiveness melt from her expression. She, at first, looked down at her hands then met his returning gaze, favoring Ned with vieled, apologetic eyes. “You know, when I came back and you were the first to greet me … it was one of the happiest days of my life. I should have known you would make it back home before I did.”

“Home?” she asked.

“Home to our treehouse. Home to our family. The best people on Earth.” He lifted a hand to touch her tanned cheek, “There wasn’t a day that went by when I didn’t think of you. It’s funny. You just don’t realize what you’re missing until it’s gone from your life. I … I …”

Veronica’s eyes searched his. How often had she said that to herself and the others. She and Ned shared so much but right now it was this moment. Tenderness. Appreciation. Did she dare think it love? Veronica wanted so much to tell him, right here and now, how she pined for him during his absence, how her life had been so miserable. Her lips parted and she almost nearly said the words -- when a noise was heard.

Voices. The stomp of feet …

“Veronica!?” Assai called.

“Assai, what are you doing here?” Veronica separated from Malone. She observed as her agitated friend rushed up and took her hands. She also watched as Jarl and three other warriors followed. “What’s this?”

“My people have learned some things about my cousin, Ennie.” she said quickly and desperately. “Marguerite is in terrible danger!”

“The white powder?” Malone questioned, cluing she and Jarl in on what they knew.

“Not just that.” Jarl said beside him, “Terrible, evil black magic. Ennie became more powerful than the shamans who were instructing her. She became obsessed with power. Eventually they banished her. Ennie left them and studied elsewhere; with the mountain witch doctors. Evil men and women who only want to possess and conquer.”

“We’ve had experiences with dark witches and practitioners of voodoo.” Malone commented.

“But it’s worse. Ennie is possessed and drunk with malevolent desire!” Assai cried, clasping Veronica's hand all the harder. “And she will kill anyone who gets in her way!”

“How can you know this?” Veronica asked, touching Assai’s shoulder with her free fingers, trying to calm her.

“Because we found … It was revealed ….” Assai looked into her friend’s eyes, embarrassed and fearful -- “Warriors returned to our village this morning from a post celebration hunt. They talked with other villagers, those who had been living closer to the mountains at the time when Ennie was living there. They told us the shaman’s had banished Ennie from the mountain because of her wickedness. Exiled, knowing she could not return to us in shame, she moved in with the witch doctors ... She … she … came back.”

“Came back?” Malone asked, confused.

“She returned to the mountain shamans less than a month ago to avenge her banishment.” Jarl said, “*She killed them all!*”

***

The tender flesh of her feet could take no more. They were raw and bleeding from the stones and sharp twigs she had been walking on during her trek of the last three miles. Marguerite, however, was oblivious to this. She looked about the jungle, stumbling, hearing its typical sounds -- birds, monkeys and the roar of a far off carnivore sniffing about for its daily meal -- and from her eyes tears fell, splashing onto her cheeks and the collar of her robe. “Answer me, damn it!” Marguerite shouted, less dazed than she had been but still holding onto hope. “I need to talk to you! Why did you abandon me?!” *Then and now,* she thought through her grief. “Just tell me!”

“Marguerite.”

Startled, hearing the voice behind her, Miss Krux turned quickly about and looked not at the woman who had been standing below the treehouse, lifting the heart shaped pendant and claiming to be her mother, but a Zanga woman. She was Marguerite’s own height with long black hair and if it wasn’t for the cruel and confident smirk on her face she might have been considered very beautiful. “Ennie?” Marguerite asked, bewildered. It was the Zanga shaman. Surely it was. But what was she doing out here in the middle of the jungle?

“How is your headache?” Ennie asked with a humorous edge to her callous tone. She reached for the small purse resting at her hip, “I think I have something that can help you.” She pulled the tie and lifted the pouch up in her hands, “Yes, one more application should do the job. Then there will be no more pain and regret, Marguerite. And no more sadness and fear. *Ever*.”

***

“Challenger!” Roxton called, “This way!” He spotted Marguerite’s footprints and became conscious of where she was traveling. “Dear God, what is going on in your head, Marguerite.” he murmured, terrified but keeping calm. Why was she here, in bare feet, taking a path that could well lead her to an unspeakable death? No weapons, no gear -- She wasn’t even wearing her hat. *She’s alone.* Roxton fought the panic welling up inside of him. What if she were to meet another allosaur or T-Rex? “Hang on, Marguerite.” Roxton started down the trail at a rapid trot, hearing Challenger behind him, but not waiting for him to catch up. “We’re coming for you.”

***

“No,” Marguerite took a few paces back as she watched the shaman draw open the small bag. She recalled something. “Challenger says it’s what’s making me sick. It‘s making me …” she thought hard, comprehension dawning as the affects of the powder and something more waned. “ … hallucinate.”

“It makes you do things you never thought you could do.” Ennie corrected, “You slew a dinosaur entirely on your own, Marguerite. Could you have done that without its aid?”

Marguerite stared at Ennie. How could she have known about that? “I could have been killed.”

“But you weren’t. Do you recall that feeling of fulfillment? The exquisite rapture?”

“I recall my friends being furious with me.” Marguerite whispered, then flustered, added: “But that was *wrong*. I mean, yes, they might have been a little shocked and, yes, a little angry at my recklessness but they would have been proud too and … and they *were* eventually. When we got back to the treehouse they told me ...”

“All lies. They were jealous of you. They wanted to lull you into a false sense of contentment -- then they would reveal an ugly betrayal. They were going to force you out, leave you on your own in the jungle, discard you like a piece of unwanted rubbish.” She smiled, “For all you knew Lord Roxton and that jungle girl were having an affair …”

Marguerite jumped at the vivid image that flashed in her head. The balcony. The soft laughter. The kissing. But it wasn’t true. It *couldn’t* be!

“And who were you looking for out here, Marguerite?” Ennie asked, too sweetly.

Dazed, she looked up at the woman. “My mother …” As she said it Marguerite heard a sound behind her, a murmur, and she swirled quickly. There the woman stood, looking exactly as she thought she might. She had seen her before. In a cave. She had saved her dolls … “Mama?” Marguerite asked, feeling her chest tighten.

“Yes, it’s me.” the woman spoke, standing still, unsmiling. “Do you want to know why we abandoned you, my daughter?”

There was a pause and Marguerite gave a short nod.

“Because even as a baby we saw where you were going. You’re heartless, cruel, greedy and empty. You cannot love. You’re a *thing* the druids created, an evil soul that destroys all it sees. Any people who ever followed you, who ever care for you, will regret it for the rest of their lives. You cannot give. You cannot love. You cannot share secrets. You are destined to destroy any man who falls in love with you. Your father and I gave you up because you are evil and …”

“Stop it.” Marguerite straightened and looked the image squarely in the eye. “I have been here before.” she said in a clear voice, “And no hallucination or trickery done with mirrors, the sun or whatever other little device you have up your sleeve is going to sucker me in again.” With a slow, seething turn Marguerite dragged her attention away from the image and looked at Ennie, who’s expression was a combination of disappointed shock, guarded fury and awe. “What? Did you think I was going to try and kill myself? That’s been tried too.” Bunching her fingers into fists, Marguerite proceeded forward a few paces. She was angry and torn. How dare *anyone* make her relive a torment she always had hidden in the back of her mind. First that terrible cave and now this. Her jaw clentched as reality washed over Marguerite -- “What is this all about? Power? Over me? Why?”

Ennie cleared her throat slightly, “You are a great deal stronger than what I thought. I seem to have underestimated you, Miss Krux.

“You’re not the first.” Marguerite stared at the shaman, unmoving. Waiting.

“You have something I want.” Ennie finally said, “And to get him I thought to remove you. Of course, I couldn’t just kill you. That would be too obvious. But if you were acting strangely, behaving like a person who might have lost her mind, it could seem like an accident …”

“YOU were responsible for that insanity last night? When I thought I had to …”

“… fix the treehouse roof in a ranging thunderstorm. It might have worked if the journalist hadn’t been awake.”

“And the allosaur?”

“That was mostly you.” Ennie confessed, “But the will and energy was from my magic ... and the powder." she tapped the pouch in her hand and paused. Ennie smiled, almost kindly. "And didn’t it feel good?”

Marguerite lifted a hand, “Don’t.” That moment of irresponsibility could not only have gotten her slaughtered but also might have cost Marguerite the respect of her friends, if they were of lesser character. Their opinion might not have bothered Marguerite two years ago but now it did.

“Yes," Ennie repeated: "You have strength. Of mind and disposition.” She approached Marguerite, bouncing the pouch, tossing it from one hand then the other. “But I have powers you cannot even imagine.”

“And you want Roxton.” Marguerite caught on, shaking her head back and forth, nearly chuckling at the reiteration of circumstance. What was it about that man? Why was it beautiful, supernatural vixens drew to Roxton like flies to honey? Marguerite sighed and looked, once again, into Ennie‘s confident expression. “Did you think Roxton would just run to you once I’m gone?”

“He’ll be lonely.”

“Lonely, yes. Stupid, no.” Marguerite could feel a wave of satisfaction over-come her when Ennie stopped fingering the powder pouch, looking at her, stung by the truth.

“The man has *needs*.”

“The man is British.” Marguerite hadn’t intended a dry joke and the look of confusion on Ennie’s face would normally have made her snigger if the situation wasn‘t so serious. She explained, “Lord John Roxton loves deeply and forever. If something were to happen to the woman he loves he would go on and maybe, one day, he’d even find love again. But he has wounds so deep and profound that it would take more than a pretty plateau native, a piece of fluff he could easily see through, to get him to open his heart again. Especially if he ever suspected she had something to do with *my* death. He could never love you.”

“I don’t care if he loves me. I want to possess him. I want to control his body and mind. When I become bored with him he will be gone -- *just like you*. Do you really think I care how he *feels*?”

“How terribly sad for you.” Marguerite whispered, unable to imagine a woman so barren of emotion that she could merely remove someone so kind, humane, deep and irritatingly perfect as John Roxton. "If you could only know ..."

“Spare me, Miss Krux.” Ennie dug her fingers into the pouch, feeling the powder sift through her fingers, a drug that worked so well with her black magic, a contaminate she had become immune to after so many months of working so close to its influence, “And spare yourself. Soon Lord John Roxton will be the least of your worries.” With that, the wicked shaman pulled out her hand, a mound of white powder resting on her palm - enough to destroy ten men.

She drew in a mighty breath and watched Marguerite step back a pace in fear. “Prepare to die!” Ennie screamed and exhaled.

***