Judgment of the Dark Hunter

Chapter 3
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Chapter 7
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Chapter 9
Epilogue

From the Personal Journal of Marguerite Krux.

We watched him all night, packed in the ice and blankets. He was so still and pale and, at times, it did not even appear that Lord Roxton was breathing.

Challenger was a rock, going through all the right motions, checking John’s pupils, taking his temperature every half hour, then finally announcing the fever had broken in the early morning hours.

Oddly, what should have been joyful news was not met by any of us with enthusiasm. Roxton’s life was still in peril. You only had to look at him to know he was not recovered.

I recall Veronica placing her hands on her hips and nodding her understanding. Malone told Challenger he had another block of ice freezing “just in case we need it”. Then they started to remove the sodden blankets and slippery ice.

Me? What did I do? Marguerite Krux: adventuress, triple agent, thrill seeker, woman of unsurpassed ingenuity and keen instincts, the poker faced lady who confronted death more time than she could count? I sat in a chair, away from everyone, chewing my thumbnail. I was waiting for someone to tell me what to do. They never did. Perhaps my friends thought it best to leave me alone in my desolation, not to push me for fear I’d get flustered and do more harm than good.

Maybe they were right.

I know now that I was not in my right mind. My later actions confirmed it. I was terrified and ineffectual. I was disoriented and … cowardly. My strength of mind had left me. I can say that now. What would I do if I lost him? Never in my life had I felt so helpless.

But one thing I do remember … no one in that room made eye contact with me. They didn’t want me to know what it was they were all thinking.

John Roxton was going to die and there was nothing we could do about it.

****

“His clothes. I forgot John’s clothes. They’re by the lake.” Marguerite murmured, in a daze, and stood. “I better go get them.”

“I’ll go with you.” Veronica offered, concerned for far more than Roxton‘s garments. Neither she or Marguerite would be needed for awhile. The men were going to have to lift Roxton, who was already unclothed under the sheets and blankets, to change his bedding and wrap him in dry materials.

Roxton, once alert and being a rather modest man, would probably feel more than embarrassed if he knew that both women were there, while he was unconscious, observing his naked body.

Veronica amended with a mild smile. ‘Well, maybe not so much a certain brunette …’ she thought.

“Don’t take long.” Challenger advised, glancing at Marguerite, “If Roxton … when Roxton wakes you’ll be the first person he’ll want to see.”

“We’ll be right back.” Veronica assured.

On their way to the elevator Marguerite silently picked up her hat and Roxton’s rifle.

Veronica silently observed her friend as they rode down. If she had ever doubted Roxton and Marguerite’s devotion and love for one another in the past she was now fully convinced these two were meant to be together. Marguerite appeared so vulnerable right now. In time, if Roxton were to breathe his last breath, she would manage to get by. She was a survivor. But she would never be quite the same woman, filled with determination and spirit, that they had all grown to know, love and admire.

Both ladies were immersed in their own thoughts as they walked the path to the river. If they hadn’t been in such deep thought one or the other might have sensed they were being stalked. A furtive figure darted from behind one tree then another.

“Where are they?” At the river’s edge Marguerite stooped down and touched the ground where she had laid Roxton’s shirt and pants.

“Are you sure we’re in the right spot?” Veronica asked, standing behind Marguerite and looking up and down the bank.

“Yes. Maybe they fell in the water and the current took them down river.”

“Or a dinosaur smelled the blood and carried them off.”

“Oh.” Marguerite looked down at the spot once again and felt something in her chest tighten.

“Whatever the case I’m afraid they’re gone.” Veronica sighed, “Let’s go back to the treehouse.” She almost about-faced when Veronica suddenly saw the struggle in her companion’s expression. “Marguerite?”

“I need to find them.”

“Marguerite, Roxton has other clothes.”

“I know but …” How to explain to her that Roxton’s clothes disappearing meant far more than what Veronica or any of the others could ever understand. It was as if he - Marguerite’s hero, lover and anchor - was disappearing piece by piece. Getting his shirt and pants back might not seem that important for someone on the outside looking in but when you were in love and grasping at hope, lost in a haze of denial, grief and unbearable fear, little things like clothing to hold onto were like a gift from God.

Marguerite could not let any part of Roxton get away because if she did - and he never awakened - she would feel as if she had given up. She would be responsible for his mental and physical deterioration.

Yes, it was crazy. It made no sense. Later, Marguerite would realize how absurd her thoughts were but, here and now, finding Roxton’s clothes was the only thing she had to hang onto. It was her mission.

“Veronica, I’m going down river a little way. Why don’t you return to the treehouse. The men may need you.”

“You want me to leave you out here alone?”

“I’ll be all right.” Marguerite lifted the rifle, applying a small, self-assured smile to demonstrate that she was thinking on her feet. “I won’t go far but if Roxton were to wake while I’m gone … you’re the fastest. You can come out here and let me know.”

“You’re sure, Marguerite?” Veronica asked, uncertain.

“Honestly, I’m not helpless. Go.” Marguerite gently touched her friend’s arm, “Please.”

'She needs to be alone.’ Veronica realized and nodded. Reluctantly but understanding, Veronica turned and retraced her steps back home.

***

He watched the blond jungle girl depart and something like triumph infused his mind. There would be no more a perfect time than now to take what he wanted.

Dark Hunter trailed Marguerite, watching her every move as she held her rifle, looking into the water, following the path further down stream and glancing into the jungle when she heard the roar of a raptor.

She was as he remembered. Beautiful. Searching. Resolute. Having her as his would be his greatest accomplishment. Having her … would be his greatest pleasure.

“Who is there?”

He heard her call and watched as she lifted the rifle. He must have stepped on a twig as he walked, unaware. He cursed himself for being careless. On the other hand, Hunter was never one to back down from a challenge. He circled her as the female looked about, attempting to ascertain what it was she had heard or if she had heard anything at all. Finally, he watched as she lowered the rifle, convinced she had been mistaken.

The game was almost as pleasurable as the capture.

***

“Get a hold of yourself, Marguerite.” She lowered the rifle, feeling beads of perspiration trickle down the back of her neck. No one was there. It was simply an overactive imagination getting the better of her.

Marguerite turned from the jungle to stare once again at the river, watching a combat as small waves of water fought one another for dominance. What was she doing? Risking life and limb to find what was now probably nothing more than tattered bits of fabric? Veronica was right. A dinosaur had probably sniffed out the shirt and pants. They were now inside its already bloated stomach. “Hope you get indigestion.” Marguerite mumbled, aggravated.

Still, she followed the riverbank further down, just to be certain. Roxton was very fond of that shirt. “I look good in blue,” he once boasted, “and it gives in all the right places.” He then chuckled when she returned the comment with a saucy quip (“I might say the same about your trousers, Lord Roxton.”). The reminiscence, only one of so many made that lovely, romantic day at the Inland Sea, made Marguerite smile ...

Then she froze, hearing the crunch of dry leaves beneath someone’s feet. She wasn’t alone. Someone or something was out there, watching her, possibly ready to spring on its prey at any moment. With a dreadful notion about cannibals, Marguerite hiked slowly, keeping her eyes and ears open, wondering if now might be the right moment to turn and race frantically back to the treehouse.

Marguerite paused on the riverbank and stepped casually back a few paces. She cracked open the rifle as if to check ammunition, her eyes darting from side to side, then snapped it closed, giving the impression she was merely being a careful huntress. Then, with a wild swing of the rifle, she took aim at a clump of bushes and discharged her weapon.

Prehistoric birds screamed and small animals scattered but she had hit nothing of consequence. Taking no chances, Marguerite let loose onto the path and began a anxious dash back to the treehouse. She stole a fleeting moment, looking over her shoulder, and felt an iota of relief when she saw nothing coming after her.

That was when she slammed into her worst nightmare.

Impact made her skip backwards a few meters and, with a startled cry, Marguerite dropped her rifle. She then fell rearward into an awkward sitting position.

It stood in front of her and Marguerite was paralyzed. She could only stare at her stalker’s animal skin covered feet. Her eyes traveled slowly upward, noting the familiar trousers, the slight stains at the knees, then the shirt, a bit tattered but otherwise in good condition. She had nearly gotten all the blood out and the rip wasn’t too bad … Finally, Marguerite looked up at his face, at the passive expression looking down at her, and except for a gasp she could not speak for a solid ten seconds.

“Can’t be.” Marguerite finally managed to utter, “John …” ‘I’ve gone mad.’ It was the only explanation. Roxton was in his bed, wounded and dying. He could not be here. Then slowly, getting to her shaky feet, never losing eye contact with the creature before her, Marguerite began to understand.

The dinosaur graveyard.

“No.” she breathed in a defiant panic. “You don’t belong here!”

He moved forward.

Marguerite stumbled in reverse and cried, “You can’t have him this time. He’s done no wrong! You leave right now!”

His cold, curious eyes merely stared into hers.

“Only,” Marguerite murmured, a new realization unexpectedly striking her, “it’s not Roxton you want this time, is it?”

The last was said just before his right hand closed over Marguerite’s smooth throat, the pads of his fingers expertly connecting with her pressure points, rendering the woman unconscious.

Dark Hunter had not lost any of his uncanny strength, survival skills or resolve during rebirth.

***

He pulled her limp body from the path, into an area scouted-out earlier in the morning, and lay Marguerite next to a woven pad held sturdy by two cut tree limbs. He checked the ties, making certain the makeshift stretcher was well built for their journey.

With a wary look about the jungle, expecting her friends to come calling soon - after all they had to have heard the rifle shot - he produced a bone carved dagger from a pouch strapped to his hip. Hunter used it to cut Marguerite’s blouse and skirt from her body.

When finished he paused, admiring her figure and pale skin. For a brief moment one of his hands hovered above the soft flesh of her bare neck and upper chest, wanting to feel the velvet smoothness beneath his fingers. He recalled the warmth of her cheek, the softness of her brunette curls and the promise coming from those rose petal lips …

But then, knowing there was no time for such indulgences, Hunter ripped into each garment several times with the tool. He then produced three cupped leaves containing the blood of the wild boar he slaughtered last night. He poured the blood onto her clothing and ground it into the dirt, lobbing her blouse one way and the skirt the other. He picked up her hat and smeared the sticky fluid onto its brim.

With that job completed, he then rolled Marguerite onto the pad and tied a heavy duty vine all over her body, blinding her hands and legs firmly. If she should wake before he got her back to the cave he had to make certain she could not escape.

Lastly, he was about to lob Roxton’s rifle away, as well as Marguerite’s gun belt when he thought better of it. Hunter could use the rifle and her belt no doubt held ammunition and a small pistol.

Satisfied, looking once again about the area, he grasped the ends of the stretcher pad and dragged Marguerite home, a sash of palm leaves dragging the ground, disguising whatever tracks left behind during their journey.

***

“Marguerite!” Delirious, Lord Roxton sat straight up in bed, not feeling the pain in his side, the stitches Veronica had sewn pulling, threatening to break.

Stunned, Challenger came up to his friend’s bedside and eased him down again. “John it’s all right.” he assured the semi conscious man. “Malone and Veronica are looking for her now. She’s fine and will be very pleased, my friend, to see you …”

“In danger.” Roxton murmured, his eyes closing, once again drifting into unconsciousness. “She needs me …”

***