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They entered the temple hesitantly.

It was warmer inside, the air was thick and seemed electrically charged in some manner.

“Fascinating.” Challenger murmured, examining the walls. “I can read very little of this. The writing is not only ancient but seems like it was written in code. Only certain people, even during the time of Caracte should have been able to read it.” He glanced at Marguerite who had entered slowly behind Veronica, “I’m stunned Marguerite that you were able to decipher it so easily.”

She did not comment. Her ability, which at times frightened her, was both a gift and a curse.

Veronica approached the altar. There seemed to be an area for followers to kneel and pray but she was half expecting a sacrificial table and was glad there was none to be seen.

Roxton turned to Marguerite. He hated to ask her, considering how she reacted last time, but he never the less felt compelled, “Are you all right?”

“I feel fine …” She hesitated, spotting the parchment she had dropped on the floor during their earlier visit. She retrieved it and spoke as she read, “ … but I also feel like there is more then one presence here.” She blinked, not able to explain what she meant well. She wasn’t entirely sure about the feeling herself.

“Caracte?”

“Yes, I think so. And another. Maybe more.”

Malone had heard and didn’t like the sound of it. “One demon at time, please.” he whispered.

Marguerite said, “This parchment here may be what we need. It’s a recipe of sorts on how a demon can be sent back to hell.”

“Let me see that.” Challenger came over to her and made a motion to take the parchment but never quite got it in his grasp.

“Gensh ….” the call was heard about the room, holding echoes.

Marguerite took in a deep breath as her friends surrounded her, their backs to her. She dropped the scroll, physically unable to keep it in her hands. She would later tell her friends it was probably Caracte’s doing but, honestly, Marguerite was so frightened it simply slipped from her grip.

“Get out your mirrors.” Challenger said.

They did, tossing their backpacks out of the way as they lifted the mirrors to fight off their assailant.

“Caracte, Marguerite does not belong to you.” Challenger announced. “She has never prayed to you or asked to be a part of your world. We demand you release her!”

“Esta ceco mis cala Morgihan di Caracte… gensh. Trechsi et ti se se.”

“What’s it saying Marguerite?” Veronica asked, lifting her signal mirror, awaiting an assault.

“Makes no sense.” Marguerite squinted slightly, a piercing headache coming between her eyes. “It said I or an ancestor had betrayed Caracte. The least I deserve is to be its loyal servant until the end of time.”

“You must remind it of the woman, the priestess perhaps, who had the demon exiled, locked away in this temple.” Challenger deduced.

“I guess after a thousand years all brunettes must look alike to it.” Marguerite commented as she looked up to the ceiling, feeling the electrical charge intensify, causing the pain in her head to amplify. “What is that?” she wondered aloud.

There was no time for an answer. Her friends were forcibly removed from her protection, the mirrors pulled from each of their hands and tossed to the wall closest to the open exit. The humans themselves were suddenly pushed and pinned against this same wall, unable to move.

A heavy wind now swirled around the inside of the temple.

Marguerite stood still alone in the middle of the room, unable to move as well, her arm - where she had been marked - suddenly felt like it was on fire. She cried out in agonized pain and lifted her arm, tearing at the sleeve with all her strength then pulling off the protective gauze. The spot where there had once been bruises, then burns, then a terrible infection was now pitch black with smoke rising from the pulsating wound.

“Marguerite!” Roxton shouted, his voice tortured. He had never felt so useless. If he could just breakaway and help her.

“Fight it, Marguerite!” Challenger called.

Marguerite was lifted off the ground by invisible hands and brought to the altar.

“Gensh ti setu esta vascer …” the entitiy’s voice echoed.

“Not on your life!” Marguerite shouted back in response to the order, defying Caracte with her last breath.

But then something astounding happened. Marguerite’s body was infused with light, a golden aura enveloped her, pulling her gently away from the altar.

“What’s happening?” Veronica shouted.

“I don’t think that’s Caracte!” Malone said.

“No,” Challenger agreed, “I don’t think so either.”

Marguerite began to speak not in her own voice but in a long dead language, her eyes wide and direct. She was verbally doing battle with the demon. She looked to the ground and saw the parchment. Now able to move, she picked it up and spoke words that Caracte obviously disliked. The entity screamed and cursed as the scroll was read, the spell the woman was reciting slowly sending it back where it belonged.

From the altar a pillar of fire appeared. It was a last ditch effort from the demon to remain on the plateau. What looked like hands sprouted from this fire and reached for Marguerite. She merely spoke louder and faster, practically screaming in the chaos that was exploding around her.

Her friends, still pinned, could see and feel nothing but fire and pandemonium.

“Morgihan! Est ichi callous di doostom!” was the last thing that was heard.

There was then blackness. There was not a conscious soul in the room for the next ten minutes.

The first to awaken was Veronica. She found herself laying on the temple floor with Malone laying across her strong, shapely legs. She awakened him with a little push then reached over to Roxton, jostling him awake.

Challenger awoke on his own and, disoriented, said the first thing that came to his mind: “Is the war over?”

Roxton was more concerned with what he saw before them, laying silent in the middle of the room. “No, Dear God, no …” he whispered. He crawled over to Marguerite and gently took her in his arms.

She was charred, most of her hair and clothes burned away, looking gutted as if all the fluids had been completely drained out or, in this case boiled away, from her body, leaving a mere husk of a human being.

He could feel tears sting his eyes. If only he could have moved … He had failed her.

“Roxton …” she croaked, still alive but barely.

“I’m so sorry.” he breathed, utterly beset by emotion. “Please forgive me …”

“Not your fault.” she murmured through dried, shriveled lips. Her eyes closed.

The others were now beside Roxton, taking in this horrible development. Marguerite was dying and there was nothing any of them could do about it. She had sacrificed herself to send that demon back, saving the plateau, and her friends.

Roxton stood, lifting Marguerite in his arms.

“What are you doing?” Malone asked.

“I’ll not have her die in this place.” Roxton vowed and moved to the exit.

Outside, the birds chirped and a gentle, cool breeze buffeted the air. It was a beautiful day, an ironic contrast to the tragic drama unfolding below the plateau’s gently tossing trees.

Roxton found a lovely, fresh patch of grass just outside the temple, and tenderly lay Marguerite on it, allowing the cool grass to act as a bed for her emaciated form. “Rest now, Marguerite. Rest.” he coaxed, kneeling beside her.

Her eyes opened, looking up at him, and a darkened shriveled hand raised, asking him to take it.

Somehow, in this light she looked so much better, he thought. Roxton took her hand and noted how soft it was -- when it should have been dry and rough.

“I don’t believe it.” Veronica, standing with Malone and Challenger on either side of her, was seeing what everyone else saw.

Marguerite was healing. Her lustrous, wavy hair was growing back and her skin was becoming supple and fair. Her lips were now full and rose colored, her neck unlined, and - with Roxton’s help - she sat up. Somehow, even her clothing had been repaired.

In minutes Marguerite was alive and well, no bruising or burns, and apparently completely confused as to why everyone was staring at her with big, joyful smiles. She lifted her arm and pulled up the sleeve. The mark was completely gone. That must be it.

“We did it.” she said with a beautiful laugh and showed everyone her arm.

She didn’t totally understand the nearly hysterical reply from her friends and she looked to Roxton for an explanation.

He could only say, “Welcome home, Marguerite Krux. You are a sight for sore eyes.” Then he too laughed but not before tenderly and very deliberately cupping her left cheek with his hand.

***

Upon their return, they celebrated both Marguerite’s recovery and her divorce from Caracte, as odd as the whole horrifying adventure had been, with Challenger’s home made red wine. After a short gala, including a speech from their honored, Marguerite announced that she was taking a nice, long, hot bath and did not want to be disturbed for the rest of the night.

After all she had been through they were all very willing to give her the rest she deserved. None of her friends quite understood what had happened at the temple, who it was that had possessed Marguerite, helping her to do battle with Caracte, but decided there was no sense in dwelling on the matter. It was simply another mystery of the plateau and one day it may or may not be answered. They had sealed up the temple, making sure no one else would ever do in error what the curious explorers had done.

Roxton watched Marguerite turn and descend the stairs. When she had returned, seemingly from the dead, he swore he would never let an opening escape them again. She had to know how he felt about her. She had to understand just what he was willing to do to give them both a chance at happiness.

Unfortunately, there was no rest for the weary. Challenger had plans for the following day. Another recon near the northern and southern mountains was needed. He had heard talk between a few plateau natives claiming high altitude caves and fissures were sighted. Some warriors claimed they could travel clear to the other side, catching sight of a world beyond their plateau. “We might still make it home by Christmas.” Challenger encouraged.

Malone and Veronica gave one another an “oh here he goes again” expression and listened to Challenger’s plan.

“Roxton why don’t you and Veronica take the northern mountains. Malone and I will go south. A couple of days should do it.”

“What about Marguerite?” Malone asked.

“Under the circumstances I thought we might give her the next couple of days off. She deserves the rest.”

“You know, I don't think that’s such a good idea.” Roxton said, “It will just give her time to dwell on the trauma of what happened.”

Veronica’s brow furrowed, trying to figure out what he was talking about, “I don’t think she’s that traumatized, Roxton. She remembers very little of what happened to her.”

“I’m not so sure. You know how private Marguerite can be. She’s not showing it outside but I think she is more upset than she would like us to know. A long walk and some good hard work will keep her focused.” He looked about at his companions, hoping they were buying all of this. “Yes, I think she should go with me instead. That way I can keep an eye on her. We’ll take the signal mirrors so we can keep in touch.”

Challenger shrugged, “Certainly, if you think so Roxton.”

“It’s for her own good.” Malone agree with a hidden smile. He knew exactly what Roxton was up to. He wanted time alone with Marguerite. Malone knew the moment he saw the two laying asleep together they had made a new connection. He just hoped Marguerite saw this as an opportunity for a lasting bond and she didn’t break the hunter’s heart.

He could hear his grandmother‘s voice: ‘You are a romantic, Neddy. A pure romantic..’

Malone glanced at Veronica. ‘Yeah, if only I could make sense of my own relationships.’

“All right. Roxton“.” Veronica said, her tone sounding somewhat like a warning. “But you tell her.”

Roxton hid a grin, masking it with the brim of his wineglass.

Later, he did tell Marguerite of their task. He approached her after her bath, knocking on the wood frame of her bedroom door and explaining their mission. Of course it was met with utter distain, Marguerite called he and Challenger unrelenting taskmasters. Roxton chuckled, watching her, wrapped in a robe, her hair wet, sitting on her bed, drying her bare feet with a towel. She had lovely toes.

“Anything else?” Marguerite asked.

“Just have a good night sleep, Marguerite.”

Later, in his own room, Roxton looked out the window at the moon and welcomed its glow. He did not feel like he was missing out on a thing tonight. The moon was his friend and very soon he hoped to share it with someone he cared for very deeply.

What he did not know was that Marguerite, in her bedroom and at that same moment, was also looking out at the moon. She was thinking it might be time for change -- but did not know exactly where to start. It would come to her, she was sure.

The following day Roxton and Marguerite would go on their journey together, find a promising cave, and a not so quaint English-type village on the other side of the mountain. The two would flirt and there would be laughter - almost like old times - but there would also be danger and fear -- and the start of something new.

A fresh understanding would be reached between the couple, and a feeling of love for one another they would never be able to totally disregard again. A whole new and much appreciate chapter opened for Roxton and Marguerite … and their friends … and for the rest of their lost world.


Written by Beckers

March 13-21, 2010.