The Plateau’s East End
(Season 2. Takes place just before the events in “The Outlaw”)
It was a clear evening. Stars dotted the night sky and the moon was a large, round beacon lighting the blanket of dark with its powerful presence. The latter called to some but irritated others.
Marguerite turned over on her blanket, lifting a hand to shield her eyes from an annoying moonbeam. “Stupid plateau …” she murmured under her breath. Then slowly, attempting to focus her vision, she saw where Malone lay asleep, not moving a muscle. ‘That boy can sleep through anything.’ she thought.
She then glanced over to where Roxton should have been sleeping. His blanket was usually close to her own but these days, these last few months, he appeared to be moving further away from her the more of these jungle sleep-overs they took.
Marguerite was alarmed when she saw he was not there, but for only a moment. She saw him a little away from their camp, sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, looking up at the object that was the hub of her own annoyance. Roxton, from a side profile, seemed thoughtful and a little melancholy.
She struggled for a moment, wondering if she should just roll over and go back to sleep. Let him work out whatever was going through that handsome head of his by himself. After all, what did she care? But, if Marguerite were being honest with herself, she did care. Roxton seemed distant these past few weeks. She wasn’t sure why that bothered her but was afraid it might be a symptom of an even bigger problem.
Coming to a decision, the woman quietly got to her feet. She had better talk with him. If she didn’t he would probably be up all night. Not getting the sleep he needed would make for a poor protector during their travel the next day, she rationalized. Silently, Marguerite came up behind Roxton and, deciding a little fun might be had, she bent over and said a quick: “Boo!” into his ear and chuckled.
He started and gripped his rifle a bit more tightly. “Not smart, Marguerite. I might have shot you.” he said as she positioned herself to sit beside him.
“I doubt that.” she said, “Your mind is totally somewhere else.”
“No, not really. Just can’t sleep. Thought I’d stay up and keep watch.”
“We’ve been wandering the jungle all afternoon. You should be exhausted. Must be a reason you can‘t sleep. Are you worried about our exploration at the east end of the plateau?”
“No, Veronica said she was there before and her maps are usually pretty accurate.”
Again, Marguerite looked at his profile as Roxton looked up at the moon, “Or maybe your revisiting an old friend?”
“What do you mean?”
“You and Mr. Moon.” she said, now looking up with him, “I remember a time, when we first got here, when it seemed to mean a great deal to you. The moon.” Then she added, a bit regretfully. “Are you thinking of Callista and what she gave to you once upon a time?”
“Maybe.” he confessed.
Marguerite felt a little hurt by his admission, even though she had presented it to him on a silver platter. Still, her voice was purposely merry as she said, “Well, the moon can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For some it’s a reminder of where we live and for others it’s a memory of past regrets. And still, for others …” she added with a raised eye brow, “It a nice way to past time with a lover.”
“No worries about that.” Roxton spoke tersely and a little thoughtlessly, “Where on the plateau am I ever going to find a lover?”
Marguerite was struck silent for a moment. She was just blindsided with a sad reality. Their game had come to an end. One of the things Marguerite could always count on was Roxton’s pursuit of her. It was a small thing, his flirtations, but as much as she denied it, claiming his approach was nothing but an aggravation, Marguerite had been amused. Her ego was given a bit of a boost by the attention of the hunter, a rich and handsome Lord. The fact that he would keep trying to seduce her even though he would never get anywhere was something Marguerite could count on and took comfort in. But now, it seemed, that was all over. Perhaps it had been terminated for sometime but she had been too preoccupied to see it.
How long had it been since the two of them went off alone together? Always someone was with them during these explorations over the last six months; Veronica, Challenger or Malone. Always three together or she and Veronica or Roxton and Challenger or … No, Roxton really wasn’t shadowing her anymore was he? Hadn’t been since … since they had lost Summerlee over the falls. Yes, it started there. Then there were those Amazon women … then …
Danielle, the voodoo priestess they had inadvertently done away with over a month ago, had been a strong warning. Marguerite thought her a passing fancy on his part but she was actually the universe’s way of telling Marguerite that their own chapter, she and Roxton‘s, was now closed. He had moved on. At another time in her life Marguerite would have been relieved and grateful but now it struck her as a great disappointment.
Marguerite cleared her throat, which had tightened ever so slightly, and said: “Don’t be discouraged. I’m sure there is some beautiful young native girl out there for you, Lord Roxton. And she will be more than willing to share the moonlight with you.”
He nearly said something but Marguerite’s abrupt motion to stand stilled the thought.
“You better get some sleep, John.” She spoke abruptly. “Goodnight.”
Roxton watched Marguerite walk back to her blanket, slightly baffled, then he returned to his observation of the moon.
They awoke at dawn and by noon they had entered into an area of the jungle that was lush and promising but also well hidden. They stopped for a moment to get their bearings.
“I’m not seeing this area on Veronica’s map.” said Malone, folding the parchment over as they paused. “We may have gone a little too far.”
“Unexplored territory.” Marguerite said, a bit ironically, taking a sip from her canteen.
“Nothing ventured …” Roxton looked about the area, his rifle held in both hands, ready for any threat to their safety.
Marguerite gazed at Roxton. She could not help to compare the way he gripped his rifle to the way he held a woman. Strong, protective, almost tender, but undoubtedly his for the taking. Marguerite forced her focus back to their current state of affairs, “Where do we go from here?”
“I think we can cut through here,” Malone said, indicating an overgrown area no one had traveled through for quite sometime, “and it will take us back to the main path we were traveling on before the fork in the road brought us here”
They had supplied themselves with cutting armor for just such a development and a few minute later the trio were slashing their way through the thicket. They had gone nearly a half mile when Malone spotted something he felt they should explore.
“It’s a temple, I think.” Roxton surmised. “Challenger could tell us for sure.”
It had seemingly been placed in the middle of nowhere, a small building made of stone and dirt. Cautiously, they entered. Inside, there was a simple altar and the walls were imprinted with what looked like native drawings and oddly chiseled wording.
“Can you read what they say, Marguerite?” Malone asked, knowing her ability well.
Marguerite looked at the far wall, staring at it for a few moments, taking it in … “Caracte.” She said. “I think that’s the god or spirit this temple was erected for.” She squinted slightly and walked forward to brush some filth and hanging weed away from a stone block with more writing. She couldn’t help feeling something vaguely familiar about the place but, then again, this wasn’t the first abandoned temple the explorers had discovered on the plateau.
“One thing is for sure. No one has been here for a long time.” Roxton observed.
“I guess few prayers had been answered by its god.” Malone remarked.
Marguerite read. “It says there are scrolls written, hidden around here somewhere, that must not be found. If so, it might take Caracte’s people to the world beyond -- someplace inexplicable therefore evil, I take it.”
“In other words they are sacred scrolls and dangerous. A warning.” Roxton digested.
An idea formed in Malone‘s mind that registered on his good-looking face in the form of a smile, “You know that could be a threat, the priests trying to keep their people from stealing from this temple, but what if it‘s something else. What if …”
“… that world beyond is OUR world ..” Marguerite brightened, understanding. “Somewhere in here could be a map off the plateau!”
“What are we waiting for?” Malone was practically buoyant. “I bet there are hidden nooks all over in here …”
“Don’t you think that’s a little far fetched? It could mean anything.” Roxton asked but his logic fell on deaf ears as he watched his friends search.
“’Nothing ventured …’.” Marguerite quoted, and flashed a acerbic smile in Roxton’s direction.
A little less enthusiastic then the others Roxton also began to look haphazardly about. In his book a warning was just that. Despite his adventurous nature, he couldn’t help being cautious. There was something eerie about this place that went beyond its disrepair. Still, Roxton had been known to jump into such things head first himself and, he had to admit, he was now as curious as his companions. Who was he to be hopeless?
After hunting about for twenty minutes, Malone and Marguerite both found parchments behind panels made to look like mock stone. The trio gathered in the middle of the room to study their finds.
“What does yours say?” Malone asked, watching as Marguerite unrolled the length and read to herself.
“Hm.” Marguerite squinted, for the light was not very good in the structure. “Nothing good. Just something about a demon and his home, I think. Their scribe’s hand writing was terrible.”
“Nice.” Roxton commented and watched her drop the scroll to the floor and unceremoniously take Malone’s find.
“I think this is about the spirit itself …” she said, “Caracte emo Caracte. Lasine di caro. Kaf te le te et te, menoma laste.”
“What’s that?” Malone asked, “Latin?”
“Roughly translated they are honoring their god … spirit … or imp … and wishing it was there with them … and it has nothing to do with getting off the plateau.”
Roxton sighed both in resignation and relief, “Well, that was a pleasant waste of time.”
“We could keep looking.” Malone offered.
“No, I think Roxton is right. There is nothing here except the memory of a long dead entity that probably wasn’t worth the prayers its followers offered. If it even existed in the first place.” Discouraged, Marguerite took the scroll she had been reading from, rolled it up, and walked over to the eddy in the wall it had been hidden in. She pushed it back inside and turned to her friends. “Let’s go.” she said.
Roxton and Malone were way ahead of her and, closer to the opening, turned to leave first.
Malone was outside, surveying the forest about them, trying to figure out where the path had gone, when Roxton joined him. “I think if we head right it will hook us up to the main path. If we leave now we can be back at the treehouse just before dark.”
“Marguerite will like that.” Roxton remarked and turned about, expecting to see her behind him. She had yet to come out of the temple. “Now what’s she up to?” he wondered and called through the opening, “Come on, Marguerite. We don’t have all day.”
“Roxton … Malone …”
They heard her faintly. The men looked at one another, puzzled, and reentered the temple.
Marguerite stood close to the right wall in the room, in low light, her left arm elevated. She was still and her posture denoted fear.
“What is it?” Malone asked.
“Something has me.” she whispered with a gasp.
“What?” Roxton asked, unsure of what she was talking about. He came to her side and looked at her extended arm, “What’s wrong, Marguerite?” he asked.
“I told you. Something is holding me. It won’t let go of my arm. She tried to pull her arm away from the invisible force that held it up but was greeted with a rough tug.”
“Marguerite. There is nothing there.” Roxton waved his hand through the space before them.
Her breathing became deeper. “It hurts. It’s squeezing my …”
Malone was on her other side now and he saw it at the same time as the others. Finger prints were imbedding into Marguerites lower arm. The skin was indentured and, yes, it looked like it could be painful.
“What the hell …?” Malone started but his words were quickly cut off when a force slammed against his chest, sending the young journalist flying into the temple’s far wall.
Marguerite cried out and urgently tried to free herself from the grip of the unseen presence.
Torn, Roxton wasn’t sure if he should check on Malone or continue to help Marguerite but the hesitancy didn’t last as he felt Marguerite suddenly being dragged, the soles of her boots skidding on the dirt packed floor. One of the hunter’s arms circled her waist as another grasped the arm that was being pulled on. “Let go of her, you bastard!”
“Gensh! Gensh!” An unnatural voice boomed about them.
Malone, stunned but otherwise unharmed quickly rejoined his friends - “We need to get her outside!” he shouted through Marguerite’s fearful cries and the entity’s shouts.
Slowly, they did just that. It was a struggle, both men on either side of her, but slowly they forced Marguerite to the opening and with all the force they could muster, Roxton and Malone propelled her out the exit into daylight. They followed quickly and heard the screams of whatever was inside fade away.
Marguerite was on her knees on the ground when the men came to her side.
“Are you too hurt to move?” Malone asked her, hastily. “No? Then, I think we should leave here as quickly as possible.”
“When you‘re right, Neddy-boy, you are right.” Roxton concurred.
At her nod they helped Marguerite to her feet and the trio swiftly moved away. When they found the main path, nearly a quarter mile away from the temple, they decided it was a good time to rest. Dropping their packs and sitting on the ground, Roxton scooted closer to Marguerite and peeled back her sleeve.
He looked at the dark bruises on her arm and nodded. “No permanent damage, I think.” he tried to speak positively, not wanted to reveal just how frightened for her he had been. He offered her his canteen and watched her drink.
Marguerite then gave it back to him and huffed, “As if this plateau hasn’t done enough, now it has its creatures wanting to keep me holed up in their little rock buildings.”
“You can’t help that you’re irresistible, Marguerite.” Roxton chuckled.
“Only to some, apparently.” she murmured, unsmiling.
Roxton looked at her for a moment, not sure if he should comment further. It usually wasn’t a good idea when she was in this kind of foul mood.
“Whatever that thing is I’m perfectly happy leaving it where it lives.” Malone said, looking back over his shoulder.
“I’m not even sure what brought it out in the first place.” Marguerite groused, “If it wanted any of us why did it wait so long before claiming a prize.”
“Do you think that’s what it wanted, to claim you as a prize?” Roxton asked, seriously.
“Did you hear those last words?” she asked.
“It said ‘ginsh’ or ‘gensh’ or something like that.” Malone said.
Marguerite nodded, “It was shouting: ‘Mine! Mine!’, like I was some sort of toy. And from the looks of my arm I don‘t think its mother told it that toys can break.”
“I felt like something was watching us when we came in. It was probably curious as to what we wanted and sizing us up.” Roxton said, studying her arm. “Caracte or whatever it was is powerful. Best we stay away from the area all together from now on.”
“Agreed.” Malone and Marguerite answered in unison.
The three got to their feet and, adjusting their backpacks, headed home to the treehouse.
It wasn’t until they were settled in the common area, Challenger by the fire, telling of he and Veronica’s adventures on the west side of the plateau, that Marguerite asked Veronica to look at her bruises. They had been bothering her the whole last mile trekking to the treehouse and, looking at them now, they seemed to have changed. She lay back on the chaise as Veronica sat in a chair beside her, a small First Aid kit on her lap.
“It looks more like a burn.” Veronica commented, applying an ointment and carefully wrapping Marguerite’s injury with gauze. “How do you feel?” she asked, concerned.
“Fine. My arm hurts like the devil but I’m not sick.”
“Feel good enough to cook tonight?” Malone called, heading into their kitchen area.
Marguerite sighed and dramatically lifted the back of her hand to her forehead, “Well, maybe I am feeling a bit feverish. Battling a plateau fiend will do that to a girl.” she commented.
Veronica chuckled, “Don’t worry, Marguerite. During our exploration Challenger and I found a wonderful fruit grove. We have fresh vegetables in the larder and nuts are now toasting on the fire. I’ll be happy to cook tonight.”
“Lovely. Another vegetarian meal.” Marguerite lightly scoffed.
“It won’t kill us.” Challenger comment from his contemplation near the fireplace.
“Yes, but I don’t see you refusing when we bag a nice juicy raptor for supper.”
“Very true.” He then said, effectively changing the subject, “Interesting about that entity. Caracte, you call it? Did the wording on the walls seem native to you, Marguerite?”
“It was an odd combination. It seemed Latin and very old Gaelic, if you can believe it. Maybe something else in there too but I didn‘t have the time to analyze it properly.”
“Very interesting.” Challenger contemplated. “I’m sorry I missed it.”
Roxton sat at the common room table, quietly cleaning his rifle, listening to their conversation and keeping an eye on Marguerite as Veronica fussed over her. He cared for each member of their jungle family, as he had come to think of them, but Roxton always felt a bit more on alert when Marguerite showed any sign of injury or was in peril. He knew, during any typical situation, she could take care of herself, that she was an extraordinary woman with capabilities that often rivaled his own. But when she was like this, hiding her physical pain with a mask of acceptance, acting as if what had happened earlier today was just another simple annoyance on the plateau … it touched his heart.
Aware of an old emotion, one he had tried with some success to push away during the past few months, Roxton fought a tender urge to yet again woo Miss Krux. She had made it clear she was not interested in him and he should look elsewhere for female company. But maybe, Roxton thought, he had given up too easily. Some woman were worth that extra effort -- even if they did fight a man every step of the way. Sometimes Roxton felt as if he and Marguerite had been brought together on the plateau for a reason …
“You are as good as new.” Veronica stood.
Marguerite pulled her white sleeve down and buttoned the cuff. “Thank you, Florence Nightingale.“ She then sat up and stretched before she herself stood up. “I think I’ll go wash up before supper and maybe read …” Marguerite started to move in the direction of the stairs that would take her down to her room. But then, she suddenly stopped.
Attentive, Roxton stared at Marguerite. It appeared as if she had bumped up against something. But there was nothing there. Warning bells went off in his head when he saw her expression. It was very close to the same fear he saw on her face back at the temple.
“What is it, Marguerite?” Veronica asked, also alerted.
“I don’t …“ An invisible backhanded slap cut across her mouth and caught Marguerite totally by surprise. So much so she was also not prepared for the other powerful blow that cuffed her right cheek. By the time she was knocked forcefully backward, her head connecting with the hardwood floor, everyone in the treehoouse was moving -- and so was Marguerite. Her long hair had been caught in the grip of a tremendous force and she was recklessly being dragged across the treehouse floor toward the elevator. Her screams were not just frightened but agonized.
“Oh my God!” Veronica cried, grabbing one of Marguerite’s booted feet. Malone had the other just before she reached the elevator.
Marguerite was now lifted off the ground, being pulled by her friends on one end and the entity at the other. Roxton firmly held her shoulders from underneath with one arm and with his free hand tried to shake her hair free from whatever was pulling it in the opposite direction.
“Help me, damn it!” Marguerite cried, her tone taking on a nearly hysterical intonation.
“Gensh!” the invisible creature bellowed.
Roxton felt something pushing at his hands, attempting to shove him away but he stood his ground firmly.
“Halt!” Challenger suddenly approached, with a hand held mirror in front of him. If he hadn’t known what he was doing the man would have looked as if he had gone completely daft. The professor pointed the looking glass in the exact same direction where Marguerite’s assailant might be.
Unexpected, a frighten and very unnatural cry was heard and Marguerite was abandoned. Roxton caught her in his arms and carried her over to the chaise, Malone following.
A hard, warm wind swirled through the treehouse, leaving from the balcony.
Challenger and Veronica trailed the men to Marguerite’s side.
“It followed us, I can’t believe it followed us …” she was saying over and over again.
“It’s gone, Marguerite. I swear it’s gone.” Roxton very gently patted her hair, aware her scalp must be very tender, “Challenger managed to frighten it away.”
Her right cheek was inflamed where she had been cruelly slapped and a small amount of blood had formed at the corner of the woman’s mouth, the area only now discolored, the lip itself trembling. “Why is this happening?” she asked, “Why me?”
From behind the chaise Malone had the answer, “YOU read from the scroll at the temple, Marguerite. I think when you read it, you invited Caracte to come back into this world and …”
“… and now it wants you.” Challenger looked down at her wrapped arm. “It marked you and now, as far as it is concerned, you belong to it.” He looked over at the balcony where Caracte had made its exit,” Not one of the plateau‘s gentler entities I must say.”
Marguerite took a couple of deep breaths to control herself, “Well, it can’t have me.” She said, still very frightened but showing some of her usual rebelliousness.
Veronica could smile at that. She looked at Challenger, “How did you know how to use the mirror?”
“Wish I could say it was taught to me at university when I was young but, to be perfectly honest, I took a chance. I spoke with a Zanga elder several months ago, wanting to know more about the various mystical entities and creatures that are said to inhabit the mountains surrounding us. He was very enlightening and one of the pieces of information he imparted was that a demon does not like to look at itself. It’s one of the few weapons a Zanga warrior has to protect himself.”
“A demon?” Marguerite sat up a bit on the chaise, “I’m being molested by a demon?” She recalled something she read in the temple but it alluded her now.
“It appears so. Demon, god or supernatural mischief maker. Who knows for sure.” Challenger looked to Veronica, “I think we should visit the Zangas, prepare ourselves, then go to that temple and see if there is a way to reverse this. Perhaps we can send that entity back to where it came from.”
“We’ll all go.” Malone stood.
“No,” Challenger was firm, “Marguerite is in no condition to travel right now and if that creature is indeed following her we can’t risk it. It would be placing the Zangas in potential danger. Veronica and I will go then come back here. Hopefully we’ll have a solution.”
“But what if it comes back?” Marguerite asked, her voice shaking.
“I doubt it will but, if so, you’ll have the mirror.” Challenger assured.
In minutes the professor and Veronica were ready to leave. Roxton left Marguerite’s side, allowing Malone to keep watch on her for a bit. He approached them, “I should go with you.” he said, noticeable worry and duty pulling him in two different directions.
“No John. You need to stay here. If anything further happens, if the entity does return, she’ll need your strength.”
“Besides,” Veronica whispered, “You and Malone were with her when it happened. Maybe you can remember more if you’re all together. Any little thing might help.”
“I don’t like you going out there in the dark. It’s not safe.” Roxton pressed, although he knew they were right.
“Challenger has his rifle and I have my knives. We are protected.” Veronica assured.
“You three stay together,” Challenger said, “And be safe as well.”