Decline
Chapter 8
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Chapter 8
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Her reaction was instinctive and instantaneous. Marguerite, while not completely over the effects of her earlier infirmity, easily saw what was coming. She could either be a victim of this woman’s evil or triumph over adversity. Marguerite was a survivor. She had always come away from perilous situations unbroken. Now would be no different.

The moment Ennie exhaled, intending to spray a huge cloud of off-white powder in Marguerite’s direction, drugging her yet again and - more than likely - killing her with this lethal mega dose, Marguerite jumped forward and slapped the woman’s hands upward. Ennie’s fingers bowed and the powder did as she calculated but not in the direction intended. The poison slapped the shaman directly in the face then drifted to cover her shoulders and chest.

Stunned and horrified, Ennie screamed and shook her head back and forth. In a panic, clawed hands raked at her hair and upper chest, trying desperately to get as much of the substance off of her body as possible. While it was true Ennie had shown immunity to the powder she *never* was subjected to so much at one time. The shaman did not know how she would react and, judging from past sufferers, didn’t want to know.

“How dare you!” Ennie cried, spitting and coughing. “I was trying to make it easy for you. You *could* have died during a pleasant dream! I would have allowed you that … but now you force me to use my powers, those taught to me by the mountain priests!”

“I’ve been threatened before by more dangerous people than you.” Marguerite commented, nervously holding the colorful robe around her body but looking assured despite the new wave of fear growing inside.

“Your blood will boil, your skin will rot and you will lay in agony for days!”

Marguerite backed up and stared at the white-faced woman who fell to her knees, breathing deeply. She pulled beads from a tan sack at her side and, bringing them to her mouth, the shaman chanted. Marguerite didn’t entirely comprehend the slurred words, possibly spoken in a tongue only Ennie herself understood, but she felt her skin prickle when Ennie’s head gradually fell back and her mouth opened, her tongue lolling from side to side as if she were possessed. Ennie truly did appear to be in a trance and Marguerite felt fear. She had lived here on the plateau for over three years now and if there was one thing they all could be certain of, it was not to take supernatural intimidation lightly.

“Damn it.” Marguerite exhaled in frustration then with a mighty kick, forgetting her bruised and battered feet, she connected with the woman’s chest and knocked her backward, evaporating the trance and whatever black magic Ennie was producing. For show or not, Marguerite was not going to take any chances.

“Marguerite!”

Both Ennie and Marguerite could hear the call off in a distance. It was Roxton and he sounded worried. This, the fact that he was safe and searching, brought joy to one face and anger to the other.

“John! I’m here!” Marguerite called with relief, losing sight of Ennie for a moment.

“No!” Crazed, the shaman attacked Marguerite from behind. She threw her on the ground and began to slap at her head and pull her dark hair. Not even those foolish mountain shamans had been as much trouble when she had her revenge on them. This wearisome woman …. She was ruining everything! So much trouble. Marguerite should have been easy to dispose of but her friends were always there … and she had an inner strength that kept her going long after the walls of reality began to splinter. It wasn’t fair! And Marguerite also had … she had … Ennie heard his voice once again calling his beloved’s name. “He’s mine! He … Everything is all MINE!”

Struggling, managing to turn over onto the damp grass despite her weakness and the weight pressing on her spine, Marguerite looked up into the face of her assailant as she straddled her. Ennie’s eyes were black. Her pupils had dilated beyond reason and her teeth were gnashing together like that of a wild animal. “Stop!” Marguerite shouted, trying to throw Ennie’s weight off but having little success. Her arms felt brittle and her whole body was battered and weak.

“Marguerite!” came the call once more but this time it wasn’t Roxton but a female voice.

Veronica … “I’m here!” Marguerite screamed, still struggling with Ennie whose strength had increased ten fold do you her infection. The powder was getting to her, altering her thoughts, heightening her resolve and making her vicious. “Hurry!!”

A fist abruptly impacted hard against Marguerite’s cheek, dazing her. She could taste blood. Bewildered, Marguerite felt the body above her give away slightly only to return, holding something new. It glinted in the late afternoon sun. A dagger with a curved edge. She recalled seeing it attached to Ennie’s sarong belt and thought it odd. Only Zanga warriors carried such daggers …

Ennie placed the tip underneath Marguerite’s chin, “You’re going to die now.” she murmured.

Marguerite, trying to shake off the affect of the blow, whispered: “Don’t do this. It’s all over now. You need help, Ennie. Killing me will not get you Roxton.”

“But killing you,” her voice raised and Ennie’s once lovely rosebud lips twisted into a snarl, “will give me such satisfaction!” She lift up the dagger in a high arch, laughing maniacally, and brought it down.

“NO!” Roxton shouted, spotting Marguerite and the shaman. Frantic, he bolted down the path.

The body of the woman above Marguerite jerked suddenly and the dagger, in mid strike, was stilled.

Ennie heard a scream which did not come from her victim but from a voice behind her, and she all of a sudden felt a horrible, searing pain in her back. Astonished by inexplicable agony, Ennie released the dagger, dropping it beside Marguerite, then fell off her.

With a gasp and frightened sobs, Marguerite attempted to crawl away but soon felt a familiar, comfortable warmth by her side.

“Marguerite,” Roxton breathed lightly, close to he ear, kneeling beside her. His tender arms clasped her in a gentle, loving embrace as the two looked at the Zanga woman who lay in dying pain before them. “Thank God …”

Challenger stood behind Roxton and both acknowledged Veronica and Malone who had shown up only seconds after them.

Marguerite, in tears of relief and affection, reached up to touch Roxton’s chin as she gazed up at him. “You came for me … you all came for me. I thought …” but she couldn’t continue. Marguerite merely melted in Roxton’s arms and allowed him to stroke her hair.

Now they all looked at Ennie and at the dagger that protruded from her back. Gasping, she lifted her head, her eyes searching. Finally, they fell on John Roxton and a bizarre smile upturned her bloodied mouth. Ennie’s hands reached out to him. “I knew it.” she croaked, “I knew you would come. No one can resist me. No one …” then her smile faded and the reaching hand stilled, falling to the ground and going limp with her passing.

Roxton hugged a shaking Marguerite tighter in his embraced and, feeling one of her hands reach up to rest on his chest, he kissed her tenderly on the top of her head.

Challenger approached the body and, crouching, touched the dagger’s hilt. He examined the carvings. It did not belong to Veronica as he had at first thought. The weapon was definitely Zanga. “Who …?” he began to ask then, all at once, realized the answer to his question was obvious.

Assai stood, staring in stunned horror at her cousin’s dead body. Beside her was Jarl, the Zanga princess’ adored husband. He held his sobbing wife affectionately from behind, comforting her. The warrior’s sheath did not now hold a dagger. It had been taken by his spouse when she did what she had to do.

***

As the day drew to a close so did feelings of fear and grief.

With a contented smile, Marguerite lay back on the sofa, her head laying against a pink pillow, and she allowed herself to be fussed over. The sofa had been placed on the balcony, just to the right of their common room. She had just enough sunshine and shade to make it cozy.

Veronica, delicately bandaging Marguerite’s swollen feet, was putting the final touches on her tidy wrapping. She produced a clean pair of men’s size eleven socks, obviously provided by a certain hunter they all knew and loved, and gently pulled them over the bandages. “It’s not a perfect solution, Marguerite, but it should keep you comfortable for the next couple of days. “We want those lacerations to heal before any strenuous activity. Just keep off your feet and take it easy. ”

“Oh, and you know how much I love running about the jungle. Well, I guess I’ll manage somehow.” Marguerite teased and smiled when Veronica chuckled, “Thank you.” She watched as her friend packed up the medical kit. “I heard you and Malone are going to the Zanga village tomorrow morning.”

“I want to see Assai. She needs moral support. Not only did she lose her cousin but she’s feeling guilty, not telling us of her suspicions earlier. The whole situation has been hard on her.”

“I bet.” Marguerite’s expression turn grim for a moment then, with a small smile, her brow arched, “You *and* Malone?”

Veronica permitted a small, shy smile. “We’ve decided to spend a little time together. A couple days alone and … talk. We’re going to work some things out between us.”

“About time. I’m glad to hear it.”

With a enlightened look in her blue eyes Veronica stood and, staring at Marguerite, cocked her head slightly to one side, “You really are, aren’t you? You‘d like to see Malone and myself happy together.”

“Does that surprise you? I always thought you and Ned were a nauseatingly sweet couple.”

Veronica chuckled. That was more like the Marguerite she knew. “Speaking of nausea, anymore ill effects from the powder?”

“No, not at all. I’m beginning to think it was a combination of that poison and the shaman’s black magic. When Ennie died her influence departed as well. It was like having a wet, unpleasant blanket peeled off my body. Now I can’t even believe how I fell for some of the hallucinations I was having.” Marguerite sat up slightly, speaking low and confidentially, “You know, I even thought you and Roxton were …”

“What?” John Roxton joined the ladies, carrying a silver tray. On top of it rested a pot of coffee and mugs.

Marguerite’s stiffened slightly at the sight of him and suddenly felt uncomfortable with what she was going to reveal. She watched as Roxton placed the tray on a small table beside the sofa. “Oh, nothing, really.” she averted her eyes, “Just silliness from a mind invaded by demons for awhile.”

Veronica, knowing when three was a crowd, moved away from the couple and carried the First Aid kit inside the common room. “I’m going to prepare dinner.” she called, leaving Marguerite and Roxton to privacy.

“Coffee?” Roxton asked, indicating the pot.

“No, not right now.” Marguerite said. She looked at him and was unexpectedly immersed in an inexplicable melancholy.

Roxton saw the sadness and thoughtfully rounded the sofa. He gently picked up Marguerite’s feet and sat on the sofa where they had rested. Her injured heels were now in his lap. Very carefully he rubbed his hands against her sore, sock covered toes, giving them a gentle message. He smiled when he saw Marguerite‘s eyes flutter closed. She was enjoying his tender ministrations. “Penny for your thoughts.” he said, quietly.

Opening her eyes Marguerite almost waved his concern away then, thinking better of it and the man, she said: “Ennie. Such a waste. She could have did so much with the powers she had.”

“Agreed. But didn’t a wise man once say: ‘Power corrupts but absolute power corrupts absolutely’? Maybe mere mortals were not meant to have such abilities. It’s our simplicity which makes us who we are.” He then glanced at Marguerite, recalling that she may still be a reincarnation of a druid priestess, with as yet untapped powers of her own. “Present company excluded.”

Both sniggered at his humor.

When they quieted Marguerite’s expression grew serious once more, “Sometimes I wonder if I hadn’t changed, if I had remained like I was before I met you and the others if I could have ended up like Ennie. Drunk with power and willing to hurt those who loved me because …”

“No.” Roxton stated, straightforward.

“But I …”

“No Marguerite.’ Roxton was firm and looked her straight in the eye, “You are and were many things but you could never be a woman without a conscience. Now, I know very little about your past, only what you’ve allowed me to know, but I’ll wager you’ve done nothing close to what Ennie has and even if you had come close you’ve managed to save more lives, over and over again here on the plateau, then those you may have been willing to sacrifice back in England.”

There was silence for a few moments.

“You know, you really are too good for me.” Marguerite whispered with a gentle smile. She had never known a man like him. Devoted and so willing to forgive her so many evils. “Sometimes I wonder why you’re so tolerant with me.”

“I once made you a promise and I intend to keep it.”

“Promise?” Marguerite asked, puzzled.

“I told you I would always be here to set you straight.”

Marguerite smiled. That was so long ago. How did he remember that? “And I think you always have been.”

“Have been what?”

“Hunh?”

“You said you think I have always been here to set you straight? Considering we’ve only known each other for a little over three years … What do you mean?”

Marguerite’s brow furrowed as she thought about the remark, “Honestly, I’m not sure. I just feel like you‘ve *always* been here for me. It makes no sense, I know.”

Roxton continued the foot massaged when he realized that was all he was going to get from Marguerite on the subject. He’d always felt a deep, unfulfilled loneliness until he spotted Marguerite Krux for the first time. He always felt it was good luck that brought them together. Now, he wondered if it wasn’t a little bit more than mere chance. It was destiny.

“Oh Roxton, that feels so good.”

Brought out of his meditation, he chuckled and tried not to look at her.

“What?” Marguerite asked, curious.

“You said the same thing last night when we were … umh ...”

Marguerite’s mouth opened in fiend affront, “Lord Roxton!” she raised her tone in a mock offended pitch, “I evidently was out of my mind and in a drug induced stupor. As a matter of fact I hardly recall *any part* of last night.”

“Too bad. I guess I’ll just have to remind you of it again some day when you‘re feeling better.”

“Well,” Marguerite‘s tone dropped to a seductive whisper, “I *am* a fast healer, John.” she reminded with a rather wicked grin.

“I’ve noticed.” Roxton, cleared his throat and found himself a bit worried where this conversation was going to take them. Marguerite still had some mending to do and he didn’t want them to start anything they could not finish. Gently but regretfully, Roxton lifted Marguerite’s feet and stood, laying them again on the cushion. He then leaned over and gently kissed her cheek. Roxton whispered in her ear, “I’ll be ready when you are, my queen.”

Marguerite giggled slightly, amused by Roxton’s impulsive urge to take flight, then watched as he walked quickly away from her, into the common room then down the stairs to Challenger’s lab. With a satisfied shrug she looked out over the railing to the jungle beyond. ‘You have it all, Marguerite.’ a voice whispered in her head and she was pleased this time to know it was her own voice. No shaman or hallucination.

One day, Marguerite swore, she would reveal something to Roxton and the others that they would never have guessed if she didn’t make the revelation herself. Regardless of everything that had happened, despite the constant toil and unexplained, Marguerite felt strangely at home here on the plateau. It was almost as if she was *supposed* to be here, with Roxton by her side; with Challenger, Veronica and Malone as her companions, and the jungle before them.

Smiling, Marguerite lay her head back against the pillow and closed her eyes. She would take advantage of the peace and quiet while she had the chance.

After all, in The Lost World one just never knew what was going to happen next.


THE END.
November 2002.