Chapter 2
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Her cries were enough to make his heart break.

"I hope we've done the right thing." Roxton murmured to himself, trying to block her agony from his mind. He leaned against a tree just outside of the cave where Marguerite had been imprisoned, his rifle leaning absently against his right leg. He twirled a long blade of grass between his fingers. "God, please tell me we did the right thing."

"We have." came the unexpected answer. "John please, let Malone take over. You need sleep."

Roxton felt his friend's firm hand on his shoulder from behind, the pressure bringing him back to a reality he wasn't certain he was prepared to revisit. "I'm fine. I can't leave her, George."

"But she'll really need you when this entire business is over, John. She won't let you leave her side."

"Have you heard the name she keep screaming in terror. I'm the one causing her pain. I know it's me. She may never want to see me again."

"She will. I know she will." Veronica replied from Roxton's opposite side.

It had been a nightmare. One moment they were beside the river, laughing and enjoying themselves. The next moment Marguerite was shrieking, having been bitten or stung by something in the water where she was washing clothes. The venom had an instantaneous affect on the woman, causing her to pitch forward into the water, unconscious. The next thing Roxton knew he was there at her side, picking her up and rushing Marguerite to the tree house, begging Challenger to save her.

Marguerite was feverish and convulsing, crying in her sleep. She was also having nightmarish hallucinations.

Zausi, a jungle friend of Veronica's, knew the cause and brought them an antidote. She had been infected by a small swimming creature that dispensed a quick acting poison into her bloodstream.
They caught it just in time to save her life. However, he told them, the antidote was almost as bad as the poison for it would cause madness for a short period of time. Marguerite had to be constrained and placed somewhere, an area where she could not do harm to herself or anyone around her.

They tried to keep her in the tree house but the chemicals and perhaps her own amplified inner energy had caused the woman's strength to increase ten fold. Once conscious, she had broken free from her bonds and ran through the tree house, destroying anything she could get her hands on. She was terrified and it took all three of the men to hold her down.
She screamed and curse and cried in mad horror. She scratched Roxton's face and he was finally forced to hit her, knocking Marguerite unconscious yet again. Then he held her in deep regret, as the others fell away, and just rocked the woman in his arms for a few moments.

Unfortunately, Zausi told them the serum had to run its course. She would never get better unless they allowed her to go through the madness. She was going to experience forty eight hours of mental torture.

It was Veronica who suggested they place Marguerite into one of the shallow caves for safe keeping. She helped the men pad the walls of a cave they had already explored and knew was safe. They then lay Marguerite gently inside. Veronica had smiled mildly when she witnessed Roxton lean over Marguerite's unaware form and kiss her very gently on the forehead. "Get better." she heard him whisper, "I'm sorry I hit you."

They then rolled a bolder in front of the exit.


Startled, both Challenger and Roxton turned to the cave when they heard her cry his name.

"Please let me out of here! I'll do anything you want! I'm afraid ... please! I don't want to be alone in the dark. I'll submit!" Then she screamed again in anguish. "No! I won't!"

Roxton lifted a hand to his chest and once again closed his eyes. He could picture the dark haired beauty pressing herself against the boulder and pleading with them through one of the fissures. She was so frightened and childlike. He was a strong man, used to hardship and suffering. Yet, hearing this woman's misery was nearly more than he could take. Roxton wanted nothing more than to roll that stone away. He would take her in his arms and make the woman of his dreams better just by kissing her and talking with her. He would rescue Marguerite from this groundless hell she had been cast into.

"Only eight more hours to go." Challenger spoke beside his friend, "She's strong and when this is all over ..."

"What?" Roxton barked, "She'll never forgive us for this."

"Of course she will. Sometimes I think you underestimate Marguerite. She'll know we did what we had to do." Veronica replied.

Roxton bit his lower lip, preventing an expletive. He hoped his friends were right.


... and then she hid in the jungle, hearing their feet breaking branches, knowing they were near. They had come for her. Roxton was a hunter. There wasn't much in the world he couldn't track. He was coming after her to trap and possibly kill what he felt was a threat.

"Marguerite!" she heard Malone call. She spotted him, that which had once been a handsome young reporter but now a monster, as she hid behind a thick tree.

She then backed up slowly ... into the arms of her greatest fear.

"Did you think it would be that easy?" he whispered ruthlessly, holding a hand over her mouth. "We'll put you in a nice quiet place, love, where you'll do none of us any harm." Roxton then kissed the side of her head and laughed low and cruelly. "We will put you in a dark place, cut off from all humanity, and soon you will pray for death ..."


Kicking the covers off, Marguerite sat up in her bed and looked wildly about. Her friends were all there beside her, using deceptively calming voices, reaching for her to assure and soothe. She shrank back. Marguerite knew it was all a trick. They had become monstrous beasts. All of them. They wanted her dead or ... or ... no. It had been a nightmare. Or no, not a nightmare but ... a sickness.

"Marguerite," Malone, on his knees, lifted a gentle hand and stroked her warm cheek, "You're fine. It's all gone now. Your fever's broke and the venom is out of your system."

"You beat it." Challenger announced, "Oh you'll be weak and nervous for awhile but give it a few days, Marguerite, and you'll be walking about the jungle as if you were never infected in the first place."

"Me? Infected?" She looked down at Malone, questioning.

Veronica, who had been sitting on the edge of her bed took one of Marguerite's hands and smiled warmly. "You had us worried. If it had been anyone else I don't think they would have come out of it as well. They say that a single sting from a saphtor is enough to fell five grown men and yet here you are now. You made it back into the light Marguerite. Some never do. Congratulations."

Marguerite pulled her hand from Veronica's soft touch and looked at the bandage wrapped around her fingers and thumb. The flesh underneath was numb. "It was me. I was sick. I was infected." she finally surmised, confused but becoming more lucid by the minute. "You put me in a cave to ride it out?"

Veronica nodded, "I wish there had been another way."

With a nod, Marguerite smiled mildly. "It's okay. I understand."

Challenger paced before Marguerite's bed, his fingers lifting to his beard in thought. "It's the saphtor that confuses me. I don't know what it was doing in that river. They usually go for a colder environment. They stick to the lakes of the higher elevations. Just one of those odd on-going plateau abnormalities that we have to be careful of, I suppose."

Marguerite had only been half listening. Her focus, still slightly blurry, sought out the one person who had yet to make his presence known.

Roxton stood to the back of the room, behind his friends, watching but not approaching. He hadn't slept since Marguerite's affliction and was so relieved when she finally awakened that he nearly wept. A giant weight removed itself from his chest. Yet, Roxton was also afraid. He almost didn't want to face her.

"John," Marguerite lifted a hand to him.

Veronica stood to make room then motioned for Malone and Challenger to follow her from the bedroom, "We'll go make you some tea."

When Roxton kneeled beside her, Marguerite's soft fingers lifted to trace the scratch marks on his face. "I did that, didn't I?"

He nodded, gulping slightly. "You were afraid."

"I thought you ..." she started. Why him? She had been afraid of everyone in her madness but Marguerite remembered being especially frightened of Roxton. Why had her nightmares made him the main aggressor, the person who wanted to do her the most harm?

Then the answer came to her very simply. He was the one person she trust most when all was abnormal and insane in this world. Roxton was her rock. He was the assailant of her hallucination because if she were to really be frightened by anything that happened in her life from now on it would only be because Roxton hated her, or worse, didn't care what happened to her. She would feel truly abandoned if she ever lost him.

Then her brow furrowed, "Did you hit me?" she asked, moving her fingers from his scratches to her sore jaw.

He said nothing. Roxton just closed his eyes in pain and nodded. He waited.

"Wow." she whispered, "You're strong."

And when he opened his eyes again she was smiling. The fear and confusion had left her and she was Marguerite yet again. Never in his life had John Roxton felt the ease of mind he was experiencing right now.

"But Lord Roxton," she added as only Marguerite would, "I am expecting you to lavish me with expensive get well gifts from now until we leave the plateau."

"One day when we get back to England, dearest Marguerite, you will be treated like a queen! Anything you ask for will be yours."

"Only fitting." she added with a wry smile and they chuckled together.

Then slowly, leaning in ever so carefully, not rushing the moment, taking into account Marguerite might still be frail, Roxton placed his lips very gently and lovingly on hers.

Marguerite felt his devotion and care but even more than that ... she felt safe. And loved.

She was home.

Feb. 10, 2002.

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