Author Note's: An enormous thanks to my beta reader Jacqueline, thanks so much for making the necessary changes and sorry for taking so long with this chapter. Enjoy!
Her initial reaction was of utter shock. Her mind was confounded with questions. One minute she had been in her castle, the next...by the look of it, somewhere in the jungle. Dressed in the most outlandish attire she had ever seen, a look of disgust crept up her latest victim's features. Smoothing the creases out of her skirt, gleefully she looked at her newfound body. "Yes, this will have to do." A wicked smile formed on her face. Most likely Prospero's spell had gone completely wrong. Instead of the castle being transported to a safe place, her spirit had been transported into someone else's body.
"Where am I?" she questioned as she looked around her. She noticed that she was gripping her precious bag of valuables. Slowly she took out the gold band from the felt bag. "Dejon's ring." Her voice was barely audible even to her own ears. Peering through the opening she could see familiar items. However, the most important piece was missing. No, no, she had to have the locket! It was the source of her powers! Just then something clicked in her mind. Lifting her hand towards her neck, she breathed a sigh in relief as she felt the smooth metal underneath her fingertips. An iniquitous expression marred the usually lovely features. Completely absorbed with her own thoughts she failed to notice Veronica creeping up on her.
"Marguerite!" Her had gently touched the older woman's shoulder.
Caught unawares, Arienne jumped slightly. She slowly turned around to be faced by the strangest woman she ever seen. While undeniably a lovely woman, her attire was most unproper, far too revealing.
Veronica didn't seem to notice the disapproving look Marguerite was giving her. "We'd better get going. It looks like a storm is coming, and we don't want to be caught out in it." Veronica started walking back to the treehouse. Nestled safely in her rucksack was Challenger's precious orchid.
Countess Arienne stared at her new acquaintance. She seemed familiar, but Arienne couldn't quite place where she had seen her. After hiding the bag safely inside her rucksack, she buttoned her blouse all the way up with the locket safe and out of view. With a small grimace at the idea of trekking through the jungle, she pushed herself forward.
Upon hearing Marguerite approaching, the golden hair jungle beauty spurred on forward. The treehouse was about an hour away. They did not want to get caught in this storm.
Inside the treehouse, the three male explorers waited impatiently for the two women to return. The sky had all of the sudden turned the darkest shade of grey, and the overhanging clouds rushed past them at an alarming rate. The imminent storm could come down any second. Carefully examining the fruits of their hard labour, Malone made sure that they were fastened hard enough to sustain the strong gale. They had worked on the Louvre doors for months, and now today for the first time they would serve their purpose by sealing the treehouse against the cold hard wind and water torrents.
The creaking sound of the floorboards made the two other house members impatient. A high-strung John Roxton paced the worn hardwood floor, his anxious steps doing nothing to release his tension. If they didn't come back soon..." Thank God!" Relief echoed in his voice as he heard the lift ascending up the treehouse.
Ned Malone and George Challenger immediately rose from their seats, waiting for the lift to deliver the women safe and sound.
The whole way back had been strenuous; the winds were beating hard against the plateau greenery. They had actually had to lean forward to advance against the fierce gales. Luckily, showers had yet to start descending on them. Inside the lift Veronica gave a sight of relief as she heard the lashings of rain beginning to whip the plateau's soil. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed how frightened her older friend looked; her face was completely drained of colour. She had been so scared when that raptor had lunged at them. In fact, she had panicked! It was so uncharacteristic of the fiery brunette. Normally she would have immediately shot the creature, but instead she had frozen in fear at the sight of it.
"Marguerite, are you all right?" she said, concerned about her friend's welfare. Marguerite had not been acting herself ever since they had started back from the meadow.
Outside Marguerite's head nodded, while on the inside Arienne could only wonder what situation she had gotten herself into.
The lift slowly came unto a halt.
"We were beginning to worry," Challenger said, approaching the pair and handing each a blanket.
"Here." Malone set two steaming cups on the table. "Drink this."
"Thanks, Ned." Veronica made her way to the table and gratefully picked up the cup of hot tea. She left Marguerite's cup of coffee alone. Honestly, how the woman could drink it was beyond the grasp of the young woman.
Arienne observed her surroundings in awe. She had never seen something so magnificent. True, she was accustomed to the finer things in life, but this had a homely feeling to it. She couldn't explain it...she felt safe. She hasn't realised how tortuous those months locked up in that castle had been...
"Marguerite, are you alright?" She was brought back to reality by a deep voice that sent shivers down her spine.
The dark haired attractive man was standing in front of her. "Yes, " she responded, the sound of her own voice making her feel uncomfortable. Before he asked too many questions, she joined Veronica at the table.
Staring down at her cup, she noticed the strange dark liquid. Bringing the cup to her lips, she took a small sip. Her nose wrinkled in disgust; it was the vilest thing she had ever tasted! A repugnant expression was plastered on her face.
Malone and Roxton watched her with some confusion. It was rare for the heiress to refuse a cup of coffee, much less make such a face after drinking some. Like Malone, she adored the stuff.
"Is something the matter?" Malone asked. " I made it myself...I didn't put too much sugar did I?" He was a bit worried. Normally, she only took two spoons of sugar, but he wasn't sure if she took level spoonfuls or heaped it like he did, so he went with his way.
"No," she ground out. Then, for effect, she took a swallow and nearly choked; the taste was still strong. "It's fine, Ned!" She had made a mental note of the young man's name. Sensing that this Marguerite apparently enjoyed the bitter brew, it was best not to arouse any suspicion. "A bit too hot, that's all." She picked the cup up and took another sip; her face could hardly refrain from showing her utter disgust. Luckily, no one noticed this. Deceit was one of her specialities.
Challenger sat close to the fire. While most of the strong blasts of wind and the rain were kept out, the cold night air still got through the cracks and crannies of the new French doors.
The whipping and slashing sounds of tree branches unnerved everyone in the treehouse. Clinging to her blanket, Veronica joined the Professor, crossing her legs she sat down on top of the coconut matting. Weaving it had taken months, but she and Marguerite had finally finished it. Surprisingly enough the heiress was very good at it.
Malone and Roxton took seats next to them. Marguerite didn't move. Her eyes darted around the treehouse; anyone looking at her at that moment would have noted that she seemed to be searching for something. Much to her disappointment nothing of value was present...wait. Smiling appreciatively at what she saw, she headed to the end of the treehouse. There! Hanging on the wall far end wall was the item calling to her...a mirror. She had been in this body for an hour and she still hadn't seen the woman's face.
Approaching it slowly she got her first peek at her new appearance. Those big greyish-green eyes sparkled with delight as she caught sight of her new image. Very beautiful, indeed! Although... she could say a thing or two about the tanned complexion, not worthy of her stature at all; dark skin meant working class. Sweeping the thick dark hair away from her face, she examined her new body's delicate features.
From afar one of her greatest admirers held a steady gaze on her; the reflection in the mirror gave him away.
So the dark attractive man seems to have a crush on me, or rather, this…Marguerite. This could be very helpful,she thought, as her mind raced with possibilities.
Roxton muttered a curse under his breath as Marguerite's eyes darted to his in the reflection. Damn! He had not meant to allow her to catch his watching her. She turned away from the mirror and threw a glance at him from underneath her lashes. She gave him a tiny smile, and his heart skipped a beat as she sashayed her way towards him. Stopping inches away from him, she paused and gently bit her lower lip; Roxton's eyes were drawn irresistibly to her enticing mouth, and his heart gave another leap. He felt an almost physical pang as she opened her mouth as if to speak, then sat down in the most graceful manner he had ever seen. "Almost forgot..." Veronica said, rushing to the table. Her words abruptly ended the hunter's train of thought and released him from his contemplation of Marguerite.
"We didn't endanger our lives for nothing." She took the blue orchid out of her rucksack. In spite of the trouble they'd had getting back, the delicate flower had been cushioned so carefully that it was barely any worse for wear.
George Challenger stood up and took it gratefully." Better put this on water." He left for his laboratory.
Lighting struck then, the bright flash of light illuminating the treehouse for a few seconds. Startling everyone at the same time was thunder; the deep rumbling sound echoed throughout the treehouse. They all looked up at the ceiling; thunder that fast meant that the storm was nearly on top of their heads.
Veronica had never been so worried in her life; they had never had a storm this bad on the plateau before. Getting up out of her seat, she bid a good night to her fellow explorers. Perhaps, sleep would come soon, taking the edginess away from her. There was something else that was worrying her as she retreated to her room; Marguerite's eyes were fixed on her, and there was an unfathomable expression in their depths. Veronica knew from experience not to take anything for granted concerning Marguerite, and she didn't like what she saw in those eyes. I guess it's one more of her secrets, she thought, and soon shrugged it off. They had all been working hard on trusting the mysterious and evasive heiress, and Veronica didn't want to start backsliding now. Taking her boots off, she climbed underneath the covers. She couldn't be bothered with her clothes; closing her eyes, she waited for sleep to come soon.
In the living room Arienne waited impatiently for the others to retire to their rooms. She had observed the one called Veronica enter the far room to the right, that just left three more. She had been worried a bit about the perceptive blonde; it seemed that Veronica was Marguerite's friend, and she was sure that the younger woman had noticed something off, even with all of Arienne's efforts to appear normal. Her eyelids were getting heavier all the time; she shook her head; trying to shake sleep off. From her seat she could see the older man making his way up the stairs.
"The doors seemed to be holding on quite nicely," George Challenger commented as he approached the trio.
"Well, we'll see in the morning. This storm doesn't seem to have any intention of be letting up any time soon." Malone jerked his head around as another bout of thunder rumbled through the room.
"Indeed!" Challenger stopped still as he listened to the storm. "However, I don't see that there's anything we can do about it, so I'll see you all in the morning." He too bid his good nights and headed to his room.
"Isn't a bit early for your bedtime?" Roxton inquired.
"Yes, well, there's something I want to get done early tomorrow morning." Before leaving he stopped and turned back. "You may want to wake Marguerite, she seems to have dozed off."
"I'd better head off too," Malone whispered. He had seen how Marguerite was upon being woken from sleep, and he didn't want to be the one to who bore Marguerite's wrath.
Roxton nodded in acknowledgement.
Marguerite had nodded off, her head resting against the back of her chair.
"How strange that her blouse was buttoned all the way up," he noticed as he gently picked her up from her seat. Normally Marguerite kept the top few buttons open, as much for relief in the normal heat of the jungle as for the distraction she knew it gave Roxton. He guessed that the inclement weather had caused her to alter her style. The heiress didn't stir as he carried her to her room.
After gently placing Marguerite on her bed and smoothing a few wayward tendrils of hair from her face, Roxton retired to his room.
After a somewhat peaceful night of sleep, Veronica slowly made her way out of her room. Little rays of sunlight filtered through the slanted slats of the Louvre doors. Letting out a yawn she headed towards them. Still half asleep, she stepped inside a puddle of water that now covered a wide area of the living room. Slightly jumping at the feel of the wetness, she gave a sigh. Not a good thing to start with. She had hoped that the doors would help them through the harsh weather. But it seemed nature had other things in mind. The small gap between the doors and the floor were enough for the rain to leak through. The Professor had said that was likely to happen and he had suggested adding some of his rubber material to them. Fair enough, they had said. They were still waiting for them! No one had expected a storm of that magnitude to come on them so fast.
Carefully stepping to the drier area, she sat down on the hard cushion that served as a sofa. Reaching for the towel, she began drying her feet. As she hung the towel to dry, something caught her attention. Underneath all the water lay a small blue felt bag. "That's strange!" She got up of her seat and headed to retrieve the small wet bag. She had certainly not noticed anything like it in the treehouse before. Felt was not something that one came across normally in the jungle.
Dangling the wet bag in front of her eyes, Veronica's inquiring mind wondered about its contents. Emptying the bag on the table helped appease her curiosity. A small hair ornament, two rings and a pair of cufflinks fell out. Picking up each one of them and examining it, she came to the conclusion of whose bag it was. Only Marguerite would have something like it, and only she would put things such as those into it. The heiress was meticulous when it came to her jewellery, but what the hell; it wouldn't hurt her to try it on. She would put it back before the notoriously late-rising Marguerite ever stirred, and she would never know. There was something about the pretty hair ornament that drew her. It was indeed beautiful; her fingers lightly traced the platinum rose. Checking for any sign of any unwanted attention, she headed towards the mirror.
Gathering a fair amount of hair with one hand, she proceeded to fasten the ornament. Once the comb had been securely set into her blonde locks, she lowered her hands to examine herself in the mirror. Suddenly her face took a different expression. Her eyes opened to their fullest as if waking from a nightmare, and her hand grasped for support as she staggered a few steps back.
Regaining her balance, she looked around her in confusion. Her green eyes darted around with uncertainty. Slowly she approached the mirror for some reassurance that this wasn't a dream. As she gently touched her face, her whole demeanour changed; her face became alight with the brightest smile she could muster. True, she had been beautiful before, but not this beautiful. Swirling around, she let out giggles of joy.
Inside the heiress' bedroom, a half-asleep Countess Arienne lay still across the bed. She groaned in disgust at the sounds that drifted to her. What was wrong with these people? This was certainly not an hour to be happy about! Irritation was stamped on her tired features. Her dark curls hung in disarray around her face, the early morning sunshine bringing out glints of red and gold in the thick tresses. Her look was almost feral, her features arranged in a mask of annoyance. Pushing herself out of bed, she stormed through the curtains that acted as doors. Still wearing the same clothes from the night before, she got up to see what all the fuss was about.
As she stepped out of her bedroom, the blonde woman, the one who they called Veronica, greeted her. Almost instantly, her lips curled into a knowing smile. She could sense the difference immediately. Though the body was the same, this was definitely not the person who had looked so suspiciously at her last night. "Cousin Sophie!" she called to the bemused girl who stood with her back against the mirror.
Sophie whirled around. She knew those tones, that pose. A devious smile soon over took her lips; there was only one person who called her that in that way. It could only be..."Arienne! Where are we?"
"From what I have gathered, somewhere in the jungle." Her hands motioned eloquently to their surroundings.
"But how?" She asked, then she followed Arienne's eyes down to her outfit. Her face flushed with embarrassment. For the first time she noticed what she was wearing. She had been so engrossed with her new appearance that she had failed to notice the state of her clothes-or lack thereof. This was not how a proper young lady should be attired! She swiftly grabbed a blanket off the nearest chair and wrapped it around herself.
"Prospero must have miscalculated his co-ordinates…and what he took of us. Now, don't look so sad, my dear Cousin Sophie. I'm sure there will be other distractions we can amuse ourselves with." She smiled as the younger woman looked around her, taking in the surroundings.
"One thing to remember: if you are to remain in that body...the only thing that is keeping us within this world are out personal items..." Gently caressing her locket, she pointed to the ornament in Sophie's hair. She continued. "Remember, once you take it off, you'll lose your hold of the body." Sophie nodded, her eyes wide as she reached up to make sure that the comb was secure.
"Where is the bag?" Arienne asked in commanding tone.
Sophie regarded her cousin for a moment, toying with the idea of keeping it for herself. For now she would play along with whatever her cousin had planned, because for now Arienne had the upper hand. Soon it would be her turn! Handing her the blue felt bag, she turned to her cousin, "Meanwhile, what are we going to do about our attire?"
Arienne smiled and motioned for Sophie to follow her out of the room.
Inside Marguerite's bedroom, Arienne and Sophie headed over to the small chest where Marguerite kept her things.
Inside, they found just what they were looking for. There were two dresses, one a long, flowing silk peach gown with tiny cap sleeves, and a silver one with slightly longer sleeves and a tiny train. Lifting them up for admiration, Arienne nodded approvingly. She had much to do, starting with the male companions. However, as much as she desired the presence of Valoir and Dejon, she couldn't wait to get herself into proper attire. She handed the peach gown to Sophie, and then removed Marguerite's blouse and the unflatteringly functional skirt. She pulled the silver gown over her head and slipped her arms into the sleeves. Smoothing the silk over her flat stomach, she smiled, a decidedly unpleasant smile. Things were going to get very interesting, very soon.
To be continued...
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