NO NEED FOR WORDS
|The inland sea.
Lord John Roxton stashed the neatly rolled blankets atop the folded beach chairs and the tent,
closed the hatch on the storage chest and engaged the lock. His attention drifted back toward the beach to see Marguerite
standing among their packs and weapons, gazing out across the water.
He checked the lock once more and made sure that
the chest would remain well hidden until the next time any of the explorers returned to the Inland Sea. The beach had become
a sort of vacation spot for the members of the Challenger Expedition; so much so that they'd decided to store a tent, crude
but comfortable canvas beach chairs, blankets and other 'necessities of life', as Marguerite called them, right there rather
than carry them back and forth to the Treehouse. They had built the large box well back of the high water line, partially
hidden among low bushes, to keep it safe from marauding apemen or other plateau-dwellers. Roxton gave the lid two sturdy slaps
before wandering back across the sand.
"Penny for your thoughts," he said with a smile as he stopped beside the pensive
The beautiful heiress raised her gaze to him and sighed, doing her best to put the memory of the morning's
tussle with a small group of apemen out of her mind. She'd just enjoyed a romantic day alone with John, flirting, relaxing,
swimming - to Roxton's chagrin, she'd remembered to pack a bathing costume this time - and just talking. There was no sense
in letting thoughts of those ugly creatures spoil a wonderful day.
|"Anywhere with you is perfect..."
"Sometimes, when we're here like this," she mused, "I wonder if there could be anywhere more
"Anywhere with you is perfect," Lord Roxton replied, the light in his eyes echoing the affection in his voice.
He smoothed away the errant strands of hair that had blown across her cheek, following his fingers with his lips before he
bent to retrieve their backpacks and weapons from the sand at Marguerite's feet.
She adjusted the pack slightly on
her shoulders as she watched the strong hunter pull his own backpack into position. The straps tugged his shirt more tightly
across his broad chest and defined the muscular breadth of his shoulders. If only, she thought, they didn't have to be back
at the Treehouse tonight to prepare for tomorrow's trading trip to the Zanga village; if only they'd been able to make use
of the tent; if only she were able to find the words to tell him; if only...
But enough of regrets, she admonished
herself; you'll have another chance. John had said 'always' and, so far, he'd lived up to that promise. She realized he was
looking at her, and flashed him a brief smile to show she'd returned from her reverie. Ever the gentleman, Roxton motioned,
with a bow, for his companion to lead the way toward the jungle path, and home.
Marguerite strode on, but as they approached
the trees, she couldn't put that feeling of foreboding aside. She had killed one of the smaller apemen that morning - it had
almost had it's hands around her neck - what else was she supposed to do? The largest of the group rounded on her with such
a look of hatred, the memory was still enough to shake her hours later. She was sure the only thing that had saved her from
being attacked was the anguished cry of one of its companions as the pack ran from the humans and their guns.
|"He froze, both feet planted firmly, rifle raised to firing position..."
They'd been following the now-familiar jungle passage for over an hour, when something suddenly
caught Roxton's attention. He froze, both feet planted firmly, rifle raised to firing position, without a word to Marguerite.
She barely kept herself from running into him once she realized that he'd sensed some kind of danger.
"What is it?"
she asked, as quietly as she could, swiftly pulling a gun from her waist holster. Her first thought was of those apemen. She
and John had been ambushed in much the same way in the morning. He answered her with a shake of his head. No point in unnecessarily
alerting an enemy to their whereabouts. Her green eyes traveled around the jungle, looking for signs of impending peril. Just
in case it was a new foe they might be facing, she focused her glance on the forest floor, hidden for the most part by bushes
and large ferns, and the intermediate level of the tree canopy. She'd learned from Veronica to look for signs in the trunks
and branches that would alert her to traps - immediately the unnerving reminder of the spiked snare set by Roxton's dark side
sprang to mind. At least it wasn't that, she thought, relieved. But Roxton was still concentrating on the forest around him,
his guard unrelenting. What has he seen? Or heard? Or felt? She could feel her own nervousness manifesting itself - her hand
felt sticky as it wrapped around her pistol grip. If it were the apemen, she had a funny feeling that one in particular was
after her - and it would be up to her, and not Roxton, to deal with it.
His hunter's instinct on full alert, Lord Roxton
peered carefully into the jungle around them, searching for the slightest movement. There was something out there, he could
feel it, but it was still beyond identification. Raptors? Definitely not - far too quiet. Cannibals? Maybe, but they weren't
in cannibal territory and they'd been tracking migration patterns ever since Challenger and Summerlee realized that their
movements followed some kind of a plan. Apemen? Just like this morning?
|"Marguerite?...Ready whenever you are, Roxton!"
All of a sudden the hairy creatures surrounded them. "Marguerite?!" he called over his shoulder,
asking with just one word if she was prepared to fight.
"Ready whenever you are, Roxton!" she shouted back. She swiveled,
pistol pointed, set to defend them from an attack from behind.
The jungle natives were closing in, narrowing the circle
step by step. Some carried spears; others were armed with what looked like sharpened stones. The pair of explorers hunched
tightly together, their backpacks often bouncing off of each other. One burly apeman made the initial surge; Roxton fired
once and it was on its back, unmoving. The others retreated, but only by a pace or two.
That retreat gave Marguerite
the confidence to go on the attack. "All right! Who's next?" she threatened, pointing her pistol from one to the other as
the primitive beings moved in once again. It was too hard to tell the beasts apart. She couldn't see if her nemesis was among
them this time. "Don't you even think of coming any closer," she sneered at one particularly aggressive opponent. It
did, reaching toward her with a feral growl. Its arms flailed briefly as her shot hit home, laying the savage flat on the
In the blink of an eye, as if they'd planned their attack, the remaining apemen converged. There must have
been, in Roxton's estimation, nearly a dozen of the beasts; he and Marguerite would barely have enough loaded ammunition to
deal with them all, even without any wasted shots, and there would be no time to reload.
Two large and determined
apemen leapt forward. The hunter aimed his rifle at the first of them, letting off a shot that propelled it backward into
the air, to land unconscious among its fellow creatures. Its compatriot was treated to a heavy and well-placed smack across
the throat with the barrel of the muscular lord's weapon. Winded for a moment, the huge beast staggered back, but charged
again with renewed purpose when it saw the human's attention was taken by another member of his tribe.
forced to shift her attention between two attackers, coming at her from either side. From the sounds behind her, she was aware
that she'd get no help from Roxton. Choosing the more ferocious of the two, she aimed and fired, directly into its chest.
At least at this range we won't be wasting bullets, she thought, unknowingly echoing Roxton's assessment of the situation.
She spun back quickly to face her other adversary, but the apeman had been quicker still. It was close enough to knock the
gun out of her grasp with one swing of its hairy arm.
Without any weapon left to use in her defense, Marguerite gritted
her teeth, putting all of her effort into the kick she aimed at the beast's midsection. She didn't stop to see how effective
her attack was; as soon as she heard the pained howl, she scrambled for her pistol, turning back to the group of would-be
assailants, ready to fire. She took her first shot at the one closest to her, now even more enraged at the pain she had caused.
It dropped like a stone. Marguerite used the body as a barrier between herself and the remaining apemen. One after another,
she pointed her small but deadly weapon at them. Some stood their ground; Marguerite wasted no time, and no ammunition, in
shooting them; the others ran from the skirmish, hopefully not to return.
It wasn't until she had a moment to regain
her breath that Marguerite realized that more than just her arm was aching. She glanced down in shock to see that a long sharp
rip marred her blouse across her ribcage, and that the edges of that tear were stained with a brilliant red. Gingerly pressing
her fingers against the sore skin, she pulled them back to see the tips stained with blood. She raised her arms to examine
them and found a slash on the inside of her right forearm, now oozing as well. "Oh, God," she whispered, swallowing hard against
the increasing pain as she looked to see how Roxton was faring against the remaining apemen. All thought of first aid for
herself fled her mind when she saw what was happening. Almost without her realizing it, her hand reached to her belt for more
|"Roxton was fighting what he felt to be a losing battle..."
Roxton was fighting what he felt to be a losing battle; opponents seemed to be coming at him
in pairs, daring him to choose between them with each new wave of attack. He'd managed to fell three of the beasts with deadly
accurate shots, but their fellow combatants, making use of their own weapons, had taken their toll on his strength. His shirt
already showed the signs of a multitude of jabs and slashes; his fists were sore from punching and grasping his opponents
as he did his best to deter those he could not wound or kill. He had to keep fighting until the last one fell or ran off,
for Marguerite's safety as well as his own. His only consolation was that he, at least, was still standing. The area was strewn
with the bodies of apemen that had not survived the battle.
He faced another attacker, this one armed with a spear.
He'd just used the last of the shells in his rifle, so he tossed it on the ground behind him, hoping that Marguerite would
find it there. Preparing himself for the coming thrusts, Roxton maintained eye contact with his opponent, shifting positions
to draw it further away from where she was still engaged in her own battle. The rough spearhead jabbed toward him once, then
again, the determined apeman putting all of its force behind each lunge. The brawny hunter deflected each blow, but each time
his enraged foe seemed to get a little closer. Trying to back away, Roxton stumbled over the outstretched arm of a fallen
beast and the primitive warrior took its opportunity.
Roxton felt the pain sear through his leg as the spear made contact;
he hadn't rolled away quite fast enough to completely elude the sharpened stone. Grasping along the ground around him, he
found nothing that he could use against his persistent adversary. He fought his way back to his feet, just in time to divert
a blow to his chest; instead the sharp point of the weapon slashed through his shirtsleeve and into his upper arm. Another
jolt of pain attacked him - he could barely focus on the apeman in front of him - then Marguerite's scream rang loud in his
ears. He just couldn't move fast enough to react to it.
|"...another hairy figure rose up...and brought both fists crashing toward John's head..."
"Roxton!!" she cried as she watched the scene unfold. It almost seemed to be in slow motion -
John standing unsteadily on his feet, blood staining his arm and his leg, the apeman pulling its arm back for another vicious
lunge. As if it realized it was being watched, the huge beast turned to glare at her, baring its teeth and emitting a threatening
growl, all literally in the blink of an eye.
"No!" Marguerite screamed, recognizing the monster as her earlier enemy.
That seemed to be all the impetus needed as it turned its attention back to Roxton, who was now struggling to keep the weight
off his injured leg.
Suddenly another hairy figure rose up behind the explorer, took two deliberate steps forward,
and brought both fists crashing toward John's head and shoulders. "Roxton!!" she screamed again in sheer panic as the nobleman
crumpled to the ground, unconscious. Her pistol ready in her hand, she fired an angry shot into the nearer attacker's back.
The beast yowled in pain and stumbled to fall a few feet away, but it had already let the spear fly. Marguerite watched in
horror as the weapon found its target for a third time, knifing into Roxton's midsection before falling to the ground from
the weight of the shaft.
|"...ignoring her own pain as she fell to her knees beside him..."
She glared furiously at the single remaining apeman. It fled as soon as she pointed the pistol
at it. She fired at the retreating figure anyway, to be sure it wouldn't return. She glanced nervously around the clearing,
making sure there were no new threats, before she scrambled for Roxton's rifle, and raced toward his fallen figure.
she cried in a strangled voice, ignoring her own pain as she fell to her knees beside him. "Oh, God, John, be all right! Please
be all right!" She continued to whisper silently as she fought the trembling of her hands to feel for his heartbeat. "I'll
never forgive myself if -," It was only when she saw the gentle rise and fall of his chest that she ended her frantic search
for his pulse, sitting back to let the relief wash over her, squeezing her eyes shut against the threatening tears. There
was no time for that now.
She leaned over him again, more calmly this time, gingerly running her fingers over his muscled
shoulders and around the back of his head, trying to assess the seriousness of the blow that had knocked him out. Her fingertips
encountered a tender lump, but no blood. "Thank God!" she whispered. "I knew that hard head of yours would be good for something,"
she joked on a tremulous smile, wishing she could see his face break into the cheeky perceptive grin he always saved for her
more cutting remarks. This form of flirtation had come to mean a lot to both of them; it was an essential part of their relationship
that Marguerite depended on more than she'd ever admit.
Roxton's backpack, still strapped to his shoulders, carried
their first aid supplies. She'd have to get it off of him before she could deal with any of their various cuts and gashes.
Carefully, she pulled his unconscious form towards her, gasping at the stabs of pain the effort was costing her, hoping her
wounds were not as bad as they felt. "Okay, Roxton, you can wake up any time now," she ordered as she fought to pull the straps
off of his shoulders. His head just continued to droop against her. Finally freeing the pack, she carefully lowered his body
back to the ground, grimacing. Then she set herself to the task of treating their injuries.
Marguerite disliked the
sight of blood, especially her own and Roxton's, but she'd become used to tending to his injuries during the two and a half
years they'd already spent on the plateau. She swiftly examined the gash on his left arm and the deeper wound to his right
thigh before turning her attention to the injury he'd received from the apeman's final attack. It was still bleeding quite
heavily; she grabbed a wad of cloth from their first aid pack and did her best to staunch the flow. Roxton's body moved involuntarily
at the pressure.
"John?" She pulled back, hoping that he'd finally awakened. No response. But what she did hear
frightened her. T-rex roars, still far away, but it was inevitable that they'd find the remnants of the couple's fight with
the apemen. "All right! Change of plan," she said to the empty jungle. "The sooner we're out of here the better." Spilling
the contents of the bundle to the ground beside her, she set to work binding their wounds as best she could. She looked back
at Roxton's expressionless face. "You're not being much help either." And she rose to her feet, the pistol back in her hand,
looking for something, anything she could use to fashion a litter capable of dragging John's unconscious figure out of danger.
short while later, Marguerite didn't notice the eyes open or the slight movement as the apeman fought the pain. She was too
busy making her slow way along the woodland path, Roxton's helpless weight safely in tow, to notice it carefully testing its
limbs. And she most certainly didn't see it rise unsteadily to its feet, glaring speculatively at her retreating figure.
Veronica leaned over the Treehouse balcony for the third time in as many minutes. Twilight had
already settled over the jungle. The noisy sounds of day had all but disappeared; the silent dangers of nighttime were on
the verge of awakening.
"Where are they?" she demanded again, as she turned back toward Ned Malone and George
Challenger, who had each come back from their assigned rounds of the Treehouse balconies and the compound. "They should have
been back at least an hour ago."
"I wouldn't worry too much, Veronica," Challenger soothed. "Those two are quite capable
of taking care of themselves if anything untoward has happened."
"I know, but..."
Malone joined her, peering
as far as he could through the trees, along the path that led back from the Inland Sea. "You're thinking of the last time
they went there, aren't you? When they ran into that inspector from Scotland Yard." They were all still a little nervous about
being out at night, now that the plateau's natural predators were not all they had to deal with. Veronica nodded, her trepidation
evident in the way she held the railing in a tight grip as she leaned out once again.
The young journalist still felt
shivers down his spine when he recalled the vivid reactions he'd experienced whenever he held Jack the Ripper's knife. Discovering
how closely tied to the horrific murders the Inspector and the Doctor had been had affected all of the explorers.
they'd disposed of the knife in a lava river where, by now, there was nothing left of it but drops of molten steel, the horrors
he'd seen with his heightened psychic senses would take much longer to disappear. But even Doctor Gull's threats against Veronica
seemed to pale when they found out that Inspector Anderson had poisoned Roxton with curare and left him to drown by inches
in the Inland Sea. All in all, Malone marveled at the hunter's courage to return to the place where he'd almost lost his life
in such a frightening fashion. And he could only hope that the couple was safely on their way home.
up a rifle from the rack and checked it for ammunition. "It's already too dark for us to search," he stated, glancing back
at his companions, "and the Inland Sea is two hours from here. I suggest that we trust in their abilities and start looking
first thing in the morning if they're not back." He felt uncomfortable making the proposal; even to him it felt as though
they were abandoning their friends to the dangerous jungle, but he truly could see no viable option. "What other choice do
we have?" he asked.
Veronica and Malone shared a concerned glance and nodded silently at the scientist. Ned strode
toward the kitchen to set out their dinner, needing a release for the nervous energy that was building up within him; Veronica
took one last look at the plateau beyond the Treehouse and followed, lines of worry creasing her forehead.
Marguerite dropped a load of sticks into her makeshift firepit, glancing up into the trees and
the darkening sky beyond. After yet another look around the clearing she'd chosen for their campsite, she dropped to her knees
and rummaged through her backpack, looking for the matches (thank Heaven for George) and the dried fruit and nuts that served
as 'emergency rations'. Locating them quickly in the deepening gloom, she lit her small fire, hoping that it would be enough
to keep predators away, and keep herself and Roxton warm for the night.
The exhaustion she'd determinedly pushed aside
since their battle with the apemen was finally beginning to take its toll. It had been a struggle to assemble a makeshift
litter, ironically enough using two of the jungle dwellers' spears. She had twined whatever vines she could find between them,
solidly enough to bear John's weight. The hardest part of the job had been rolling, pushing and pulling his muscular body
onto the stretcher. Every time she moved him, his wounds seemed to start bleeding all over again, causing her to worry over
more than just him. The loaded rifle and her pistol were never far from her hand, just in case.
Dragging her cherished
burden along the jungle path had almost taken the last of her energy. Marguerite could only manage to get them another half-mile
or so closer to the Treehouse across the uneven ground before the strength in her legs began to give out and the pain in her
wounded arm flared with every step. She knew about this clearing from previous journeys ... she prayed it would be a safe
place to spend the night.
Taking another look around, she felt an eerily uncomfortable shiver radiate through her
body. It was almost as if something were watching her, quietly, patiently, like a hunter. Her finger a little tighter on the
rifle's trigger, she forced down her nervousness and stared into the trees once more. She had more than only herself to worry
about this time. Only when she was satisfied there was no imminent danger did she turn her attention back to the man she silently
vowed to protect, as he had done so many times for her.
She'd set up the fire near a convenient log. Now she hauled
a rolled up blanket from the bottom of John's backpack. "Always the optimist, aren't you, Lord Roxton?" she asked wryly as
she realized they only had the one between them. "We'll have to depend on 'body heat' again, huh?" The memory of the first
time he'd made that suggestion rushed through her, warming her enough to ward off the growing chill of the evening air. Two
years had gone by since that trip into the snowy mountains. She let her thoughts drift through the memory...
|"...she let her thoughts drift through the menory..."
I went with him because I wanted to know if what I had felt when I kissed him the first
time, in that false Paradise, could have been real. Maybe the wine was more potent than I thought, but, for some reason, I
needed to be sure. 'If you're looking for warmth, Marguerite, you should have gone with Challenger and Summerlee in the balloon,'
he had said, as we'd huddled in our separate blankets, as far from each other as we could get. I was sure then that I'd been
mistaken. I didn't realize that just a few words could make me feel so alone. But I couldn't make the first move; it would
have been too much like begging ... and Marguerite Krux NEVER begged, for anything. I looked over at him when I heard him
move. And when he offered to share his blanket and his 'body heat' I could feel that frosty grip on my heart start to melt.
The closer we moved, the more I looked into his deep, dark eyes, the more I realized that it hadn't been a fleeting feeling
... he'd felt something, too. And when we finally kissed, all my doubts disappeared. It wasn't just lust or the hunter's thrill
in capturing a prize; it was already more than that. It was the passion that rose between two people who cared about each
other, unwilling as we were to admit it. And then, even after everything else that happened that day, I had to hear John say
'I'll always be around' before my heart and my mind were prepared to understand the fact that he truly did care ... enough
to sell his soul. I don't know why I couldn't tell him then that I felt the same; I wish I knew what keeps me from telling
"Oh, John," she whispered as she knelt beside his still unmoving form, brushing the hair away
from his forehead, "why won't you wake up?" Stilling her hand, she felt for the rising temperature that indicated infection.
Nothing. Or nothing yet. "And it had just better stay that way!" She checked the makeshift dressings on his wounds once more,
assuring herself that the worst of the bleeding had stopped. She frowned as she finished, the fear and worry she'd been holding
firmly inside finally escaping. Taking the blanket, she gently covered his battered body and dropped a tender kiss on his
She didn't spend any more time on her own wounds; she'd given up on the slash across her ribs, treating it with
some of the salve Summerlee had developed and wrapping the linen bandage all the way around her body over her damaged camisole
before replacing her ruined blouse. Her arm was bound as well, as tightly as she could with one hand. At least her sleeve
provided some protection. Sitting back, she let her eyes adjust to the darkness around her, away from the firelight.
sounds of the jungle night seemed louder than normal to Marguerite's sensitive ears. You never really appreciate the comforts
of living in a Treehouse with an electric fence until you don't have them around, she noted. Suddenly every bird's call sounded
like a scream, every rustle on the ground sounded like a T-rex, or at the very least a pack of raptors. And the worst of it
was that everything seemed to echo around her small clearing. Glancing back at Roxton, she hoped she'd be ready and able to
defend them both if the need arose.
She reached for her canteen and the food, staying close to the hunter. Even though
he was unconscious, Marguerite was aware of feeling safe just by being near him. It reminded her of another excursion they'd
made alone, when they'd innocently tried to return stolen booty to a small town, only to be accused of stealing it in the
|"I thought the world had stopped...I looked into his eyes, I could barely breathe..."
It was a typical Roxton-style escape - take out as much of the opposition as you can
on your way. At least he'd found a gun. But he'd forgotten that Edgar Grey still had a prisoner ... me. I wasn't surprised
when he surrendered to keep Grey from shooting me, but I thought the world had stopped when John dropped to the ground from
Grey's blast! John was barely conscious when they threw us back into that cell, but he knew what needed to be done. Good thing,
because I certainly didn't! Did I say that Marguerite Krux never begged? She did then ... with all that was in me, I begged
for someone to keep him from bleeding to death. It was a struggle not to say anything at Grey's comments about a 'worthless
scoundrel', but I managed. It got me everything I needed - except a doctor.
As I stared at the poker, waiting for
the end to glow red-hot, I told him I couldn't do it ... I knew it would hurt abominably, and suddenly I realized that his
pain was my pain. 'It'll hurt me more than it hurts you.' He was almost smiling when he said that ... was he reading my mind?
I knew I had to do it. I had to force myself to look at his raw and bloody wound; the agonized scream he tried to hold in
for my sake was almost more than I could handle. I was so relieved when he passed out - at least he was beyond the pain for
a while - I practically threw that poker back into the coals. I couldn't bear to hold it any more. All I remember after that
was being near John, touching him, hearing him breathe, and praying that he'd be okay.
When he did wake up, the first
thing he said was so nonsensical I would have laughed, but he'd surprised me out of a daydream that was so similar that I
said the first thing that came into my head, never mind how far from my carefully cultivated reputation it was. Then, when
he touched my cheek and l looked into his eyes, I could barely breathe. 'You saved my life', he'd said to me. No, I had saved
my own life as well. And not just because I needed his help to escape the hangman, as I'd told him. But he knew anyway. When
he asked, 'Is that the only reason?', I couldn't lie. I didn't have the words, but I didn't need them. The kiss was inevitable;
once it began, I wished it would never end. I had never felt such tenderness, and relief, and love, mingled into one touch
as I did from John's lips on mine. I felt so safe that, even when we broke apart, I told him he'd be the one to get us out
of Grey's jail. Stupid thing to say under the circumstances, but if it brought a smile back to his face and that heart-stopping
look from his eyes...
"I could use that look right about now, you know, John," she muttered, looking at his face once
more, willing him to regain consciousness. She picked up the canteen and poured a little of the water into a tin cup. Carefully
sliding a hand under behind his head and under his shoulders, she raised his head enough to try to slip a little between his
lips. Heartened by the way they parted at the first touch of the cool liquid, Marguerite fed him a little more. Too much it
seemed, as he began to cough, choking on the water that had run down his windpipe. Distraught and concerned, she dropped the
cup beside her, concentrating on holding him up while he winced at the pain that accompanied each cough. Roxton's dark eyes
flickered open once, and again, before he subsided back into oblivion. "Oh, Roxton," she murmured solicitously, biting her
lip against her fear as she lay his head back on the ground.
Marguerite perched herself on the log, close to both Roxton
and the fire. The rifle lay ready across her lap as she prepared for a long night's watch.
Veronica rose from a troubled sleep and crept quietly out of her room. It was just past midnight,
she gauged, noticing the position of the moon. The light was almost bright enough to see by, she thought. Why she had this
feeling of foreboding, she had no idea. It wasn't as if Roxton and Marguerite hadn't been out on the plateau before, alone,
overnight. But on those occasions they'd been prepared and their absence was expected. Tonight, with just the few supplies
they carried between the Treehouse and the Inland Sea, she hoped they'd been able to find safe shelter before night fell.
was highly unlikely that they'd come back after she'd gone to bed. Years of recognizing the sound of the cables and the almost
imperceptible tremor that rumbled through the Treehouse as the elevator moved up and down had attuned her senses. But Veronica
felt compelled the check their bedrooms anyway.
Marguerite's bedroom looked just as it did every morning. The bed
was tidily made; clothing hung neatly on its appointed hooks. Only the lavender blouse draped over the chair gave evidence
of the older woman's indecision on her wardrobe for the day. Veronica allowed a smile to cross her face, wondering if Roxton
appreciated the care Marguerite took to look her best for him. Leaving the room, she tiptoed along the hallway.
Roxton's room, on the other hand, looked as though the maid hadn't yet been. He must have been in some hurry to leave this
morning, Veronica thought. He'd made his bed, after a fashion, but had left a pair of trousers, the red striped shirt (that
Marguerite either loved or hated, depending on her mood), and his jacket strewn across it. His weapons, though, were neatly
stored where they'd be close to hand in an emergency. It wasn't hard to see where the hunter's priorities lay, she mused.
to her own room, Veronica listened to the faint night sounds of the jungle, and sent out one last prayer for her friends'
safety before plumping up her pillow and dropping back into her own bed, resolved to get at least a few hours' sleep.
|"...he turned his head in search of her, ignoring the pain..."
Awareness returned bit by bit. First he noticed the pain, seemingly all over his body, but concentrated
in his head, his leg and his stomach. Then there was the uncomfortable feeling of something hard pressing against his shoulder
blades. He tried to shift and a shaft of pain shot through his arm. At that, his eyes flew open and the rest of his senses
were assaulted by the reality of where he was.
He could see a bright moon, partially hidden by the high trees, and
the dark velvety green of the night jungle around him; he could smell the dampness of the ground and the unmistakable scent
of a fire - he could hear the crackle of burning wood that told him it wasn't far away. Suddenly the events of the day pushed
themselves into his consciousness.
"Marguerite!" He tried to call for her, panic setting in at his inability to move.
The shout sounded more like a strangled croak coming from his parched throat. He turned his head to search for her, ignoring
the pain. His eyes finally lit on a figure, just off to his right, hunched on a log. He let his eyes focus for a moment. Marguerite's
elbows rested on her thighs, and her upturned hands held her face between them. He wasn't sure, but he thought her eyes might
be closed. He saw his rifle resting across her lap and smiled.
"Marguerite!" he called again, pleased that his voice
had picked up a bit of strength. At the same time he tested his limbs, surprised to find something that didn't ache. It seemed
that his right arm and his left leg had survived the fight relatively unscathed, although he had no clue where the radiating
pain in his middle had come from. Marguerite still didn't respond. "Come on, Sleeping Beauty! Time to wake up!" he teased,
raising his voice as much as he dared.
She thought vaguely that she heard someone call her name. 'Marguerite!' It sounded
just like Roxton, but he was still unconscious, or maybe just asleep. 'Come on, Sleeping Beauty!' Sleeping Beauty? Realizing,
to her chagrin, that she'd dozed off on watch, she popped her eyes open and grabbed for the rifle at the same time, raising
it jerkily as her muscles rebelled from the stiffness of her previous position.
"Don't shoot, Marguerite, it's only me!" The gravelly voice she had been waiting to hear rose
from the ground beside her.
"Roxton?" she cried, dropping the weapon at her feet and rushing to his side. "Thank Heaven,
you're awake! Are you okay?" She placed a hand gently across his forehead, silently checking his temperature, before letting
it run tenderly down the side of his face and across his chest. He grabbed the fingers before they could fall completely away.
He watched the anxiety slowly disappear from her dark gaze.
"Could be better," he replied. "What happened?" he asked,
grimacing as he tried to turn his head to get a better look at her. Her description of the last moments of their recent skirmish
explained the pains in his head and his body.
"And the apemen?"
"Probably raptor dinner by now."
how did we get here?"
She related to him how she'd made the litter and dragged his limp body away from the apemen,
deliberately omitting references to her own injuries and pain. She had to fight the blush that threatened at John's tender
"I always knew you were one incredible woman," he whispered once she'd finished.
don't you forget it!"
He grinned as he lifted her hand toward his lips. Then he noticed the tear in her sleeve, and
the stark whiteness of the bandage underneath. "You're hurt!" His eyes followed her other hand as it involuntarily moved to
cover the slash across her ribs. "What the-?" Those eyes turned back to hers, demanding an explanation. She tried to turn
away, but he tightened his grasp. "Marguerite!"
"It's nothing," she said, trying to brush his concern aside.
not 'nothing!'," he retorted, irked that she'd treat her wounds so cavalierly. "Marguerite, if you're injured ..."
I'm injured, what, Roxton?" She looked pointedly around their campsite before resting her gaze back on his face. "One of us
has to keep watch; one of us has to get us back to the Treehouse in the morning. And right now, you are in no condition to
do either." Marguerite allowed her own worry to escape in the form of a harsh voice. She knew it was the only way to deal
with Roxton's stubbornness.
"You did at least treat them against infection?" he asked calmly, more a demand than a
question. He had to be sure she was at least taking some care of herself. She was right about having to take charge; there
was no point in arguing. And besides, every ache in his body had flared up when his muscles tensed; he'd do neither of them
any favours by getting mad.
"I slathered myself with Arthur's wonderful salve," she responded, wrinkling her nose.
No one said the stuff had to smell good. "And you, too, for that matter."
"Too bad I missed it," he said, the teasing
grin back on his lips.
"There's always next time," she teased right back. They just grinned at each other without saying
a word. The nearby hoot of an owl startled them out of their absorption ... Marguerite jumped, grabbing for the rifle; Roxton
reached out with his good right arm, finding nothing close to hand that would serve as a weapon.
"Damn!" he cursed
under his breath.
Once her heart stopped pounding, and she was sure there was no danger, Marguerite slumped down on
the log, once more taking up her previous position.
"Since you've got my rifle, Marguerite, hand over a pistol, will
She turned to stare at him in disbelief. What on earth did he think he'd accomplish if there were an attack?
She'd barely gathered together the words and opened her mouth to say them when he was already interrupting her.
Shaking her head, she pulled her pistol from its holster and handed it to him. "Feel better now?" she asked, wryly.
he replied, with the twinkle of a smile.
"Good. Now go to sleep." And she turned her attention to the moon and the
trees, hoping that he'd fall into a healing slumber. The remainder of the journey to the Treehouse would be arduous enough
in his condition without adding the weakness that came from lack of rest.
Hearing Roxton's steady breathing a few
minutes later, she rose to check the clearing's perimeter. Feeling the nighttime chill in the air as she returned, she dropped
more wood on the fire and watched it crackle, preparing for a long wait until dawn.
She didn't know what it was that had first alerted her to danger, but that awareness of being
watched, toyed with like a defenseless mouse in a cat's claws, dragged her senses away from a pleasant little daydream. The
first thing she noticed was the stillness ... was the entire jungle waiting breathlessly to see what would happen next? Marguerite
could feel her heart beginning to pound louder and louder, hearing the echo in her ears. She rose slowly from her perch, keeping
the rifle high in front of her. Glancing quickly down at Roxton, she noticed that he was deeply asleep; her pistol lay on
the ground, not far from his hand.
She took only a few short steps away, intent on keeping any danger as far from the
injured man as possible. That must have been just far enough, because she suddenly found herself face to face with apemen,
for the third time since they'd left the Treehouse. They came toward her, one from each side, bared teeth glinting yellow
where they reflected the firelight.
Drawing on the lessons she'd learned from her valiant protector, she muttered Roxton-style
encouragements to herself as she took still another step away from the fire, hoping they hadn't seen him lying near the log.
Too much closer, and I won't be able to fight them off, she reasoned. "I only hope there aren't any more of you," she said
as she aimed squarely at the nearest one and pulled the trigger. Too close to miss, she'd already spun to point the rifle
at the other apeman before she heard the thud of her victim hitting the ground.
What she hadn't seen was two more dark
shapes looming out of the forest, silently making their way toward her.
|"She raised the rifle again and shot the beast straight through the heart..."
Roxton had been sharply awakened by the sound of the rifle. Immediately alert, he grabbed for
Marguerite's pistol. She'd fired that shot ... but where was she? Lifting his head to get a better look around, he barely
noticed the pain that raced through him at the movement. His eyes finally lit upon her beige skirt and blue blouse; and his
pulse raced as he recognized the form of an apeman, in menacing advance. "Shoot, Marguerite, damn you!" The demand escaped
as a harsh whisper as he saw just how close the creature was. But that fear was nothing compared to the realization that there
was another of the hairy beasts closing in on her back. Raising himself up on his sore arm, he took aim with the pistol. "Marguerite,
for your life, don't you move!" he warned in a low tone as he fired, visions of William running through his mind.
report from two simultaneous shots rang loudly through the nearby jungle. Marguerite whirled just in time to see Roxton's
victim stumble to the ground. The movement by the fire caught her attention. All she saw was the hunter roll back to the ground,
holding his head in pain, before her attention was taken up with another figure taking shape at the edge of the darkness.
didn't have to get any closer to know that her nemesis from their earlier confrontations had returned, intent on making the
kill she'd denied it earlier. Concentrating on the prone form by the fire, it raised both strong, hairy arms high in the air.
He must have sensed the threat, for Roxton was deliberately raising the pistol over his head. But was the apeman already too
"No!!" Marguerite yelled. She raised the rifle again and shot the beast straight through the heart, watching
it fly backwards from the force of the shot. "Roxton!" she cried, covering the short distance at a run.
called again when he didn't answer. On her knees once more, she took his shoulder in a firm grip born of fright and shook
until he opened his eyes to look into her anxious face.
"Good shot, Marguerite," he grinned. "But do me a favour and
don't wait so long next time."
She couldn't think of anything to say as she stared into his confident eyes. Trembling
reaction began to set in; her normally cool manner fled in a moment as Marguerite realized just how close they'd come this
time ... and she still hadn't told him how she felt. She stretched out a hand to his chest, trying to conjure up the courage
to just blurt the words out, when Roxton covered it with his own ... and his eyes widened in surprise.
You're shaking ... are you all right?" He felt so helpless lying there, unable to take her into a comforting embrace. He realized
that it was reaction that made her shiver. Fighting apemen in the dark was a good sight different than during the day, and
Marguerite had had to protect both of them. Would this magnificent woman never cease to amaze him?
single blanket still covered his legs, he reached down to offer it to her. Shaking her head at his questioning glance, Marguerite
slipped down to the ground beside him and, snuggling her body close, laid her head on his chest. "Just for a little while,"
she whispered. Roxton wrapped his good arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.
Marguerite yawned and stretched her cramped limbs, pushing away from the log she had propped
herself up against. The very faint first light of morning was finally coming through the trees, giving the forest more definition,
but still no colour. At least she'd managed to stay awake this time, she thought. Her gaze traveled around the clearing, resting
on the forms of the apemen that they'd killed during the night. They would have to be on their way early, she thought, otherwise
the raptors would be out, searching for an easy meal.
Picking up the canteen, wishing desperately that it were full
of coffee instead of water, she poured a cupful and sat back again, gazing idly at the still sleeping form of Lord Roxton.
|"I remember the last time he looked like this...it wasan't untilhe kissed me that I knew..."
I remember the last time he looked like this, not all that long ago, after fighting
the dark side of him that Oseena had pulled from his chest. Terrified didn't even begin to describe how I felt when I saw
him fall to the sand in that dinosaur graveyard.
I had thought we'd already encountered some fearsome beings on the
plateau, from this reality or any other, but they were nothing compared to a Roxton without compassion, the sole purpose of
his existence being the destruction of another person.
We were all aware that some part of Roxton was missing when
he and George came back from the hunt that day. I'd never seen him so tentative, so submissive to our suggestions, and I didn't
like it. I've often wondered what he'd be like without his arrogant streak ... and I found out that he'd only be half the
person he is: half as strong, half as brave and, to me, not even half as lovable. Lovable ... I remember so clearly explaining
the concept of love to John's evil twin, and seeing John, the complete John Roxton, behind every word, every feeling. I said
he'd taught me to find love within myself, and it was no less than the absolute truth. It wasn't the first time I recognized
what I felt for John as love, but it was the first time I'd put it into words ... and to the being that wanted nothing more
than to kill him.
I don't know why I was so ready to believe that the evil Roxton had already destroyed his good side;
I never would have offered myself to him otherwise. I was so desperate to keep some part of John alive; I'd have done anything
to be able to see him and to touch him. When I heard his voice call my name, I was sure it was some kind of a game, a morbid
trick my senses were playing on me. Even when he ran across the dune toward me, limping from his injuries, my mind still refused
to believe he was real. It wasn't until he kissed me that I knew MY John was back; the one who had already proven he'd lay
down his life for me, for whom I was ready to do the same.
I remember hearing the fight between John and his dark side;
every time I managed to twist around for a glimpse it looked worse and worse - the emotionless, powerful, almost invincible
dark Roxton never relented in his attack. Every time John stumbled, every time his evil twin aimed a blow at one of his injuries,
I screamed, begging him to stop. Even when I saw John standing over his defeated dark side, I could only urge him to kill
it, wanting the threat to disappear, once and for all. But noble, compassionate John Roxton resisted. I couldn't free myself
from my bonds fast enough; when I finally did, he'd collapsed on the sand.
It was only when I held him in my arms,
and he answered my frantic whispers with that truly ridiculous line ... 'what's a nice girl like you...?' - that I knew everything
would be all right. Then Oseena returned the dark part of Roxton to his body, and suddenly I regained the arrogant, brave,
compassionate, gentle man I'd grown so much to depend upon ... and to love.
"I do love you, John Roxton," she whispered,
letting the breath of morning air carry her admission up to the heavens. Draining the cup, she refilled it from the canteen
and went to wake the slumbering lord.
Challenger, Veronica and Malone set out after an early breakfast to search for their missing
companions. The young huntress had awakened both men at the crack of dawn, still worried that something had happened to the
"Veronica, there's barely light enough to see," Malone complained, but only mildly. He was aware that
her concern was not idle ... Veronica's premonitions were usually well founded, as they'd all come to realize over their years
together. He stalked on along the path, rifle in hand, behind Challenger.
"I think we should fan out a bit ... we'll
be able to cover more ground that way," Veronica suggested a little while later. There were many variations on the path between
the Inland Sea and the Treehouse; Marguerite and Roxton could be anywhere.
Her companions nodded their agreement and
the trio split up, promising to stay within shouting distance and call out if they found anything.
|"Roxton...you're in no condition to walk."
"I'll walk to the Treehouse, thank you, Marguerite; just give me a hand up," Roxton demanded
in a firm voice. He was feeling much better than when he'd awakened during the night; although the pain hadn't disappeared,
especially from his throbbing head, he was sure he could manage an hour's walk. He stretched his right arm towards his companion,
expecting her help.
Marguerite stood, fists on hips, ignoring both his hand and the determined arrogance on his face.
Did I say his arrogance made him lovable? I'll take that back, right now. "Roxton," she explained with as much patience
as she could muster, "you are in no condition to walk. You most probably have a concussion, and Goodness only knows what'll
happen to those wounds if you move too much - never mind the fact that we'd be attracting raptors from all sides if you started
"The faster we move, the sooner we get home." He was determined to reach the Treehouse under his own
steam. Truth be told, he didn't want to look as though he'd failed in his role as protector of the expedition. But there was
no way in Hell he'd say that to Marguerite.
"I'd much rather get there in one piece, if you don't mind," she retorted.
standoff. They glared at each other, Roxton feeling at a serious disadvantage since he was still lying on the ground. "Fine,"
he muttered, pushing himself up on his good right arm, trying to get his uninjured left leg under him without bending either
his weakened leg or his torso more than he had to. He fought to swallow the groans of pain as he twisted and turned, eventually
having to depend on his injured arm to balance himself.
Marguerite watched his resolute struggle in exasperation, but
only until she realized the wounds were beginning to ooze once again. "Dammit, Roxton, I'm running out of bandages!" she reproached
him as she reached out to help him up. "All right, have it your own way," she said, glowering as he finally stood on unsteady
Marguerite regarded the normally strong hunter as he swayed on his feet. How could he be so stubborn? He'd been
slashed, stabbed and knocked over the head, for Heaven's sake! Now he wanted to hike to the Treehouse. He'd have to discover
on his own that he just wasn't capable, she thought as he took a few tentative steps. When she saw him stumble, she made her
own determined way toward him.
|"He slid further behind the protecetive bushes, raising his rifle...Marguerite!"
Ned Malone trod carefully along the jungle path, his senses alerted to any nearby movement. Veronica's
nervousness had rubbed off, more on him than Challenger. Maybe there was no reason for concern; they'd just left the Inland
Sea too late to make it all the way back before night; but then again...
A sudden prickling sensation ran down his
spine. He had learned the hard way not to ignore that sixth sense. But there were no variations in the usual sounds that filled
the jungle - No, wait! Was that a flash of movement off to the left? Yes, there it was again, barely a glimpse visible through
the dense underbrush, but definitely moving closer. He waited guardedly, ready to dive for cover and defend himself if necessary.
But nothing could have prepared him for what emerged from the trees a dozen yards away.
He slid further behind the
protective bushes, raising his rifle just in case. As he crouched in disbelief, the vague shape took on more definition ...
a very recognizable definition. It was a long moment before Malone was able to get to his feet, leaving the cover of the jungle
to offer his help.
Malone could barely believe his eyes ... the normally elegant Marguerite Krux, who prided herself
on her appearance and cool demeanor, was traipsing through the jungle with obvious difficulty, her hair clinging to her sweat-shining
face, her blouse slashed in various places and her skirt splattered with bloodstains. She was hauling some unwieldy burden,
and muttering complaints with every second step. She hadn't looked up from the ground in front of her; her hat brim must have
been hiding his presence.
"Marguerite!" Ned called as he ran toward her. "Marguerite!"
"Malone?" she asked hesitantly, after her head shot up in surprise. "Thank God!" she continued
on a sigh as she let her tired shoulders droop. Her hands kept a firm grip on the wooden sticks that trailed behind her.
happened to you?" Ned asked as he found an unconscious Roxton lying on the litter, and glanced back in anxious confusion.
probably a concussion," she stated. "We got into a fight with a band of apemen, not once but three times. One of them managed
to knock him out cold while another one tried to turn him into shish kebab. He woke up a couple of times last night, but-,"
she turned her head as far as she could, trying to catch a glimpse of her rugged consort, but Malone didn't miss the deep
concern in her eyes and the way her teeth worried at her lower lip.
"Veronica! Challenger!" he called as he took the
rough wooden handles from her. The scientist and the jungle huntress weren't far away; they both appeared through the brush
a short moment later, running toward the disheveled Marguerite, each looking curiously for the missing Lord Roxton.
soon as the scientist-cum-physician caught a glimpse of the unconscious explorer, he made a swift examination of the rugged
lord's wounds. His fingers found the sizable bump under the short, dark hair ... he looked up in concerned inquiry. "Concussion?"
he asked. Malone nodded from his place at the head of the stretcher.
Veronica turned to Marguerite as soon as Challenger
approached Roxton's form, taking her by the arms to make sure she didn't fall. The usually feisty brunette looked about ready
to drop, she considered; never mind that it seemed they'd been through something of a battle, from the state of her clothing
and the number of bandages that covered the pair of them. "Are you okay?" she whispered. Marguerite nodded tiredly in response.
"I knew something had happened ..." She was interrupted by Challenger's call to help take care of their burden. "Everything
will be all right." She smiled comfortingly at the heiress as she let her hands fall.
Challenger and Veronica wasted
no time in taking up positions at the prone lord's feet, prepared to make short work of getting the tired and wounded pair
back to their lofty home. Marguerite, carrying nothing more than a rifle and their canteens, walked beside the unmoving figure,
unable to resist reaching out to touch his face or his hand, and trying her best to look nonchalant about it. Her companions
exchanged an understanding smile as they observed the solicitous, maternal side of Marguerite that she so rarely allowed to
Fortunately, Roxton awakened just before they reached the electric fence and the compound. Challenger
and Malone were already debating the alternative ways to get him into the elevator. Veronica and Marguerite shared a grin
as they listened to the indignant denials that he needed any help.
"Men!" the blonde head shook in resignation.
Veronica," Marguerite corrected, "THIS man in particular. You don't hear Ned go on like this every time he gets bonked over
the head, do you?" She led the way into the elevator and the safety of home.
It wasn't until later in the evening,
after a day of intermittent napping on Marguerite's part, for once completely uninterrupted, and Roxton's unwilling submission
to Challenger's medical pokings and proddings, that they finally had a few moments to themselves. The professor had treated
their various cuts, bruises and stab wounds, pronouncing himself satisfied that they'd make full uneventful recoveries. Then
he'd wandered off to help Veronica and Malone with the Treehouse chores.
|"I don't think I've said 'Thank you'..."
Marguerite sat down on the balcony settee beside Roxton, wincing slightly as she jostled her
bandaged ribs. The nobleman felt a jolt of pain himself at every tiny grimace that appeared on her beautiful face.
took one of her hands in his and raised it to his lips, gently caressing the scraped and bruised knuckles. She looked into
his eyes, confused.
"I don't think I've said 'Thank You'," he explained, eyes holding hers as he lowered their hands,
not letting go. The expression in those eyes conveyed much more than that, and Marguerite suddenly shied away, again, from
saying the words that lay locked in her heart.
"Oh, I did it just as much for my sake as yours, Lord Roxton," she replied
He merely looked inquiringly at her.
"I believe I've told you before: Without you here, my
life would be quite dull!"
John's eyes began to twinkle, and a satisfied grin broke over his face as his fingers tightened
around hers. His other arm snaked around her shoulders to draw her near to his heart.
Marguerite relaxed into his comforting
embrace, relishing the security of his grasp, and smiled contentedly back at him.
All was right with her world.
|"Marguerite relaaxed into his comforting embrace...all was right with her world..."