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Chapter Five
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He heard her gentle call. Marguerite had been beckoning to him since he'd left the treehouse, instructing him, telling him where it was he had to go and how far he had to travel. Roxton nearly chuckled. 'Silly, beautiful woman.' he thought. As if he didn't already know where The Summerlee River was. He, all of them, could walk there blindfolded. Yet, he loved hearing the sound of her voice, in his mind and in the air about him, and was so happy Marguerite was calling to him, only him, and wanting her beloved near.

That's what she was calling him, "My beloved hunter." So unlike Marguerite but, as Roxton once recalled his mother saying, "When soul-mates are parted and a heart is near its breaking point all manner of sweetness falls from the tongue ..."

Mother. Roxton mused with a distant smile. A poet. The woman had always been a wonder, ahead of her time in so many respects and intelligent. She would love Marguerite.

Finally, he reached the river and looked up and down the swiftly rushing current, "Marguerite!" Roxton called, disappointed. He thought she would be waiting, had counted on seeing her smile and feeling her warm embrace upon his approach.

"John."

He then turned and saw her standing there, only a few meters away. She wore the white lace nightgown, one of his favorites, from the night before, her dark hair down loose about her shoulders. She was incredibly beautiful. An angel. Marguerite seemed to radiate gold as she smiled at him. Her arms were outstretched for his hug. "I knew it ... " he whispered, "I knew you weren't gone." She was warm in his arms and Roxton nearly wept for joy, feeling her love surrounding him.

"John," she pulled back gently, her voice soft but with a nearly aerial echo, "I am so happy to see you. I thought you might not come."

"How could I not?"

Her fingers slid reflectively down his arms, finally resting in his hands. "I'm dead, John. This will be the last time we can meet like this."

Roxton suddenly felt as if he'd been struck in the chest, "No." He pulled her to him again. How could she be dead when she was standing here with him? Even in his dazed mind Roxton knew that couldn't be right. "Marguerite, I can't lose you again."

"I wish I could stay, dearest Lord Roxton." she whispered over his shoulder. Had Roxton seen her countenance, the coldness her face exhibited, he may not have been so quick to believe the words which were uttered so sweetly.

Yet, when she pulled back once more, looking into his eyes the expression was once again winsome but with a melancholy that spoke of many regrets. Marguerite looked away from him now, her hands slipping from his, "But you will go on, John, and find someone else."

"No. Never, Marguerite. I could never ..."

"But, my love, you will." She turned back to him, tears trailing down her cheeks, "After awhile I'll be a mere sweet memory of someone you once knew. No more."

"You have to know how I feel about you." he whispered, "Marguerite, I couldn't go on if I thought you ..."

"If only there were a way ..." Marguerite's fingers lifted to touch his chin then traveled downward ever so gently, over his chest and stomach to veer slightly to the left and rest on the heel of his hunting knife, "... for us to be together. If there was just something that could be done ..." She leaned forward touching his lips feather-light with her own, "... to lived out the rest of eternity together in blissful happiness."

Roxton closed his eyes, a rush of conflicting emotion over-coming his senses.

Marguerite took the hand closest to his knife, and placed it on the heel. Her own fingers covered Roxton's. "If there was only a way for you to stop my aching loneliness, beloved ..." she whispered, her free hand softly touching his cheek. Her expression, far more predatory than a few moments before, grinned with satisfaction as he appeared to be weakening.

Almost without a will of his own Roxton pulled the dagger from its holster and looked at the shining blade, how it reflected the afternoon sun.

"I love you, John." Her warm breath touched his face, "If you love me ..." she trailed off once again and looked down at the knife. Marguerite then stepped back, her expression no longer sweet but calculating, and watched as he lifted the blade, examining its surface, his thumb running meditatively over the sharp edge.

"John! No! It's a trick!"

A different apparition of Marguerite unexpectedly appeared before Roxton. She was identical to the woman standing to Roxton's left but her expression was tortured and desperate. "She's trying to get to to kill yourself! Don't do it! John ..."

"Marguerite ..." Roxton could feel his heart beat accelerate in turmoil.

But then the shadow was gone and Roxton stood motionless, staring at the other woman who was supposed to be his love. Her eyes were wide, stunned and furious. "Pay no attention, hunter! Do what you must." she nearly growled. Her voice sounded familiar but not like his Marguerite.

"I don't understand ..." he began.

"Roxton!" came from behind. A totally different voice.

He turned around, watching a very concerned Malone and Veronica approach.

"What are you doing?" Veronica asked, eyeing the dagger he was holding upward and a little too close to his own chest.

Roxton about faced but Marguerite, both of them, were gone.

As if snapping out of a trance Roxton looked down at the knife but this time, more lucid than he had been for hours, he pushed it into its leather holder and snapped the fastening. "Nothing." he answered Veronica. Once again Roxton turned to look at his two friends. Taking a deep breath, Roxton smiled very gently at their concern, "I'm fine. Really. Only hoping for something that's not there." he said sadly. "Let's go back to the treehouse."

Malone glanced once at Veronica then approached Roxton, placing a brotherly hand on his shoulder, "Are you all right?" he asked, uncertain of what he should ask but knowing he must show some form of empathy, both for Roxton's and his own sanity. Malone, no matter what Veronica had said earlier, still had a guilty conscience. One day he'd make it up to the hunter ... some how.

"Yeah," Roxton gulped ever so slightly, "I'm all right." Then, as he started out, Roxton whispered, "I'm just a little ... numb."

Again, Malone and Veronica looked at one another, uneasy, and walked behind Lord Roxton.

*****

Marguerite clasped her hands together in a small uncharacteristic prayer, thanking whoever it was that intervened, allowing her to warn John Roxton of treachery.

"I had him. You ruined everything!" the demon woman screeched, "He was in my grasp and you ..." She looked at Marguerite then up above, as if to the heavens, with red fire burning in her eyes to match her hair, "Why are you helping her?" the demon-woman screeched.

"I may be damned," Marguerite whispered, "but if you want Roxton you'll have to do better than that." Marguerite stared at the demon, her sarcastic expression unflinching, "He isn't meant for you. When his end comes ..." Marguerite gulped, not wanting to think about death or ending of any kind.

"He will be greeted with harps and angels, is that it?" The death demon focused back on Marguerite, "Such sweet words but don't fool yourself. One day I *will* have him, dear lady, don't you worry about that." she swore, "but for now I have *you* and it will do."

"You don't *have* me. You said yourself it's not my time. I won't be joining you soon either."

"Perhaps not ever." the demon unexpectedly revealed and did not seem pleased. "You are a special case. Eternity is different for the chosen one."

Marguerite blinked her confusion, unsure of what it was her captor was talking about.

"But," her eyes blazed once again, with a change of subject. "you will be punished for this act of shameless love, dear girl. This is a second offense. You managed to break through to him once before when I was ready to make him mine. If he would have shot you when I told him to last time we met ..." The demon trailed then, as if getting a wonderful idea, a cruel smile grew on her face, "I just have to figure what it is I *can* do to you. Something that will charming and ironic. Yet, might still drive Lord Roxton to madness and death if he knew ..."

Marguerite suddenly felt very nervous and chilled to the marrow.

****

"If there's any way I can make this up to you, Marguerite," Challenger whispered, sitting at the edge of her bed, staring down at the shrouded body, "tell me what to do."

While the others were gone Challenger had lit candles, pulled the covers from her bed, combed her hair, folded her hands and covered Marguerite's body with an array of sheer pastel colored scarfs from her own collection. Although her skin was deathly pale Marguerite's lips had yet to turn blue and dark circles did not yet grow beneath her closed eyes. It would eventually come, he knew, as well as decay but this was not something he could think about right now. She was still lovely and would remain that way in their memories forever.

Marguerite was a part of their family. They would never be the same without her, as they hadn't when Summerlee had left them three long years before. Challenger felt as if he had lost a brother and now a favorite niece. As hard as he tried not to cry, to keep himself under control, the tears spilled from the scientist's eyes. Only when he heard the elevator did Challenger dry his face with a sleeve and take a breath. It would not due to have an already fragile Lord Roxton see him so agitated.

A few moments later Roxton, Malone and Veronica came into Marguerite's room, saddened but also touched.

"It's beautiful, George." Veronica whispered, noting the candles and how respectfully Marguerite was laid out.

Challenger nodded his appreciation and crossed to Roxton, who hadn't taken his eyes from Marguerite since entering the bedroom, "John?" he asked, the question holding more than a greeting.

Roxton nodded, indicating he was recovering, but still stared at the shrouded body. 'Not alive.' his inner minded finally admitted. 'Gone, never to return.' But he had been so sure. He felt Marguerite was alive, despite what the body in front of them indicated. 'I was under a delusion.' his inner voice asserted, 'It's time to come back to reality, old boy.'

"What happens now?" Roxton asked, quietly.

"It depends, John. We don't truly know how she died. An autopsy ..." Challenger started but saw the tightening of Roxton's jaw and knew that wasn't going to be an option, even if Challenger wanted to appease his own curiosity.

"Promise me you won't cut her, George. Promise"

"No," Challenger immediately relented, "of course not." There was another time when he had been presented with the opportunity to autopsy Marguerite's double and the scientist couldn't do it then. What made him think he could do it now with the real woman? Challenger felt relief.

Veronica came up behind Roxton, placing both hands on his shoulders, speaking softly into his ear. "We'll bury her in the garden, inside the electric fence. I have an area I was saving for a flower garden. Marguerite would like that. To be laid to rest with beauty and lovely fragrances."

"Yes," Roxton agreed and closed his eyes for less than a moment. **How could this be happening**? "Thank you, Veronica."

There was only one thing they could do now and it would be the most difficult action Lord John Roxton ever undertook in his life.

***

The fog claimed Marguerite once more and, a little bored, she sighed her discontent. What now? Was Death going to propel her yet again into another fantasy world? Would it be she and Roxton's fiftieth anniversary this time?

"I think it's time for you to go home now, Marguerite. Say hello to Lord Roxton for me when you see him, won't you?"

There was an odd, sardonic edge to the woman's voice that worried Marguerite. What was she up to? It could not be *that* easy.

But then the layers of fog peeled away and Marguerite was greeted with darkness. Her eyes were opened - she knew that for a fact - but she couldn't move, her body wrapped tightly in a burlap cocoon. She could hear a sound that reminded her of an irregular scraping and she thought she could also hear a voice, tired and disillusioned.

One sentence: "I think we're almost done." he said, sounding a bit like Malone.

Marguerite sniffed the air and recognized an earthy odor...

'No.' her mind reeled. She could not open her mouth to cry out. But she knew what was happening ... 'No.No.No!'

Dear God, Marguerite's soul screamed, they're burying me alive!

****