Judgment of the Dark Hunter

Chapter 5
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Chapter 2
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Chapter 7
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Chapter 9
Epilogue

“He’s not getting better.” Veronica announced, gently wiping her slender fingers with a damp cloth as she walked from Roxton’s quarters into the common room. She watched as a somber Malone and Challenger sat at the dining table, slowly and silently drinking consoling spirits. “If you ask me,” she continued at their answering stillness, “the wound is worse. He’s torn stitches and aggravated the gash. He bled right through the bandages. I can see infection starting.”

“What’s he doing now?” Malone asked, quietly.

“Asleep.” Veronica half smiled at the memory, “I told him to lay on the bed while I bound his side again. Once I finally convinced Roxton to reclined he told me he was only going to rest his eyes. He then dropped off to sleep thirty seconds later.” With a sigh, Veronica tossed her cloth into a disposal can near the kitchen counter.

Challenger lamented over the brim of his glass. “I’m sure our little excursions into the jungle isn’t helping his condition.”

Nodding, Veronica pulled a chair and sat beside Malone, “He’s determined to go out again tonight. I’m really worried. Roxton’s always been strong and heals so quickly. But now …”

Malone stared pensively at his own glass, “You didn’t see how that triceratops gored then threw him. Anyone else would have died on the spot.”

“Ned,” Veronica touched his arm, recognizing the self-reproach in his expression. “Don’t blame yourself. It could have happened to any of us.”

He acquiesced, appreciating her reassurance but didn’t verbally respond.

“I just wish there was something we could do.” Veronica again sighed, removing her hand from Malone’s shoulder, “The only thing I know for certain is if we don’t keep Roxton still … he could die.”

Malone shook his head in a negative motion and placed his glass on the table top. He then leaned back in his chair and groan quietly but deeply. “Keeping Roxton in bed is not going to happen as long as he has it in his head that Marguerite …” Ned noted how Challenger’s eyes shifted to him at the mention of her name, “ … is still alive.”

“She could be.” Challenger commented but with little gusto.

“Do you really believe that, George?” Veronica asked, briefly closing her eyes, picturing the laughing brunette the afternoon before Roxton was brought home wounded. They were doing everyday household chores and Marguerite, less critical than usual, appeared in a genuine good mood. Veronica had wondered if she and Roxton, the evening before he and Ned’s departure on the hunting expedition, had indulged in intimate romance. The couple thought they were hiding it well but none of them were fooled.

Challenger paused and averted his eyes in both anguish and admission. “No. I don’t think she’s alive. Maybe at first but it’s been nearly a week. And there was so much blood ...”

“We have to concentrate on Roxton now.” Malone stated with a determined sound in his voice.

“And keep him from doing damage to himself.” Challenger agreed.

“Well, the only way to do that is drug him or tie him down.” Veronica spoke in a tone that suggested they shouldn’t take her words in earnest. However, to the jungle beauty’s surprise, Malone and Challenger had met each other’s eyes. This suddenly clued her into the fact that the men may have been discussing this very subject just before she walked into the common room. “You’re not serious.” Veronica whispered, unsure.

“I don’t want to be.” Challenger commented, his expression depicting a inward emotional battle.

“It may be the only thing we can do.” Malone replied, “If he goes out again,” The journalist turned to Veronica who was staring at her companions with wide unbelieving eyes, “we could lose him.”

Veronica was silent but riddled with apprehension. She wanted to say they had already lost Roxton. They lost him when he came to understand, whether he’d admit it or not, that Marguerite was gone, never to return. She had heard stories from the Zanga about how some of the native men and women would lose their mates and, shortly thereafter, the other would pass away. ‘A love so deep,’ Assai had said, ‘that one soul cannot survive without the other.’

“God.” Veronica breathed deeply, “He’s going to hate us.”

“Better Roxton hate us than die.” Challenger offered, looking down at the tabletop and running anxious hands through his ginger hair. He reflected on Summerlee and Finn. Lost to them.

Now Marguerite, who brought such great humor, skill and spirit to their family. And Roxton. His death, so soon after his beloved Marguerite, would be just too much for any of them to endure.

From the Personal Journal of Marguerite Krux

He tore Roxton’s pants.

I know that seems a truly idiotic reason to react as I did but I was still shaken and confused by the nightmare, seeing the man I love melt into nothing before my very eyes. So, when I saw Hunter come into the cave, only seconds after I had awakened, and glimpsed the damage to his trousers, with a jagged rip across the right knee, my brain snapped. I exaggerated the damage as a personal affront to myself and all I loved. I seethed silently and would have struck out at that very moment if I had the chance.

Either he didn’t notice my fury or he chose to ignore it. I watched Hunter from where I sat on the large bed pelt. He merely dropped his kill, a couple of small creatures, out of the way and walked over to the spring. He picked up the heavy stone hewn cup then dipped in. He drank deeply then gave what was left to the wall-vine. Pouring the water gently over it’s protruding roots, where it sprang from the ground to cover the entirety of the cave wall, he reached upward and stroked a few of the leaves. I could almost swear I heard the vine purr. It was accepting a loving gesture from its master or perhaps the vine saw Hunter as more. I was finally convinced the wall-vine was more than mere vegetation (with a grasping fetish) when, inexplicably, the pressure wrapped around my wrist lessoned. The vine had been distracted.

I couldn’t believe my eyes but was not so overwhelmed that I didn’t recognize an opportunity when it was presented to me … I was free! But instead of doing the obvious and smart thing, slipping from the cave while Hunter was preoccupied, his back to me, I stood and reached for the first thing I could get my hands on. It was a length of wood from a small pile kept in a corner for the fire. I then ran at Hunter, screaming, and started beating him …

You see, he had ripped Roxton’s pants …

****

Marguerite landed two good wallops but neither were on the mark. If she seriously had wanted to do some damage she would have tried to slam him on the back of his head first. But she could not. He still looked too much like Lord Roxton to strike a fatal blow. Nevertheless, that would not stop her from trying to render the creature unconscious.

Unfortunately, her ineffectual strikes were to his broad back and, although they hurt, Dark Hunter was quickly able to knock the wooden club from her hands.

Nonplussed, Marguerite then preceded to pummel him with her fists which, under different circumstances, may have been effective but - in this case and with this individual - were hardly glancing blows.

“How could you!? You tore them, you bastard! He’s going to need them … and you ruined them!” Marguerite wailed.

Dark Hunter had both of the woman’s wrists tight under his fingers, holding her still and pushing her away as her booted feet attempted to kick out at him, briefly connecting with his knees and nearly another important part of Dark Hunter’s physical anatomy. He did not understand what Marguerite was talking about but the female’s cries were furious and uncontrolled.

He pushed her back against the wall closest to the spring and moved in close, attempting to still her movements, his body pressing close to hers …feeling the gentle ruffles of her delicate camisole against the thicker material of his stolen shirt.

There faces were mere inches apart when the struggling ceased. They stared at one another. Hunter looked into her eyes and saw something there he hadn’t witnessed before. Confusion, yes. But more. He then leaned forward, ever so slowly, and sniffed. First her hair, then lower and closer to her neck. Carefully, he did the same on the opposite side. He felt her stiffen in fear and recognition beneath his hands and body.

Marguerite gulped, her back hard against the cave wall. She was breathing heavily, both from their struggle and from a feeling she would never verbally admit to experiencing. She could sense his fingers loosening slightly. His hands were slowly sliding down her arms, his powerful body never losing position, pressing against her, not allowing her to move.

An odd reminiscence unexpectedly came to Marguerite. She recalled a time, almost three years ago, when she had talked with Roxton about his upbringing. He was an English gentleman despite what he tried to tell her when they first met and, in some ways, that disappointed her.

There were moments, particularly during the early months of their stay on the plateau, when Marguerite dreamed that he had come to her, in the dark cloak of night, and had just taken her with his passion. No asking. No preamble. Only the barest amount of gentleness involved. He wanted her. Needed her. Her body craved his touch … and in these fantasies their desire was sweet, hot and incredibly satisfying …

Yes, a guilty fancy and intoxicating dream, but one that had caused her to awaken flushed with pleasure and dripping with perspiration. When Marguerite had these dreams she frequently found herself barely able to look at him the following morning at the breakfast table, for fear he might see something in her eyes, a reaction to …

She felt one of Hunter’s hands on her upper chest, reaching to caress her throat, stroking her skin, feeling her flesh. He was curious and enraptured and Marguerite could feel panic well up within her. She almost cried out when he leaned forward once again but this time it was to allow his lips, soft like Roxton’s, brush her ear, the tip of his tongue softly caressing a spot right underneath her lobe …

‘He knows! Dear God, he knows …' because Roxton knows about that spot … and how it affected Marguerite, made her feel sexy and weak in the knees and nearly wicked. Aroused but also deeply afraid, Marguerite turned her head away from his curious probing and looked to the spring, at what lay there. Her left arm, now released by Hunter, move out and her fingers grasped at what was offered, the stone cup that rested on the apron.

Dark Hunter was too mesmerized by new discoveries to realize what was happening. When the stone cup came crashing down against his skull he was stunned. The pain, of course, was a factor but the very idea that his rapture was being so rudely interrupted was nearly unthinkable. He felt the woman place both of her hands on his chest and push him backward - hard. Blinking and unsteady on his feet, Hunter collapsed, falling into the vine covered wall.

He felt the vine suddenly embrace him, the leaves caressing his skin, enfolding him, holding him close.

Marguerite watched him for a scant few seconds, curious despite herself. The vine was like a lover, embracing and jealous, not allowing Hunter to break free from her overly concerned grip.

Then, jolted back to reality when she saw Hunter tearing the vine away, Marguerite grabbed Roxton’s rifle and ran from the cave.

***

He saw her running, terrified. A monster was in close pursuit. “Run, Marguerite! Run!” Roxton cried in his troubled sleep. “He’s coming after you …” Roxton felt a tight constriction across his chest and his eyes opened wide when the words: “Get away …” spilled from his lips.

Puzzled, Roxton became conscious he was still in bed and night had fallen. He had been having a nightmare … but he didn’t understand why he couldn’t move. He was quite literally trapped in his bed. Then Roxton saw the rope. It crisscrossed his upper body. More bound his legs.

“What …?” he wondered then became aware another person was in the room with him. “Veronica, what have you done?” he asked, his voice deep and deceptively calm.

“I’m sorry, John. We are all truly sorry.” Her tone was gently firm but could not disguise guilt.

“You’ve betrayed me. All of you.” he whispered.

Veronica turned away and closed her eyes.

From the Personal Journal of Marguerite Krux.

I must have been a sight, running as I was in my bloomers and camisole, holding frantically onto the rifle, and trying desperately to figure out where it was I must go. I kept thinking about the nightmare. Roxton told me to go to the graveyard. If I followed what I assumed was the Summerlee River down through the rain forest it would eventually take me to the Inland Sea. Once there I could easily hike to the beach where the dinosaur bones lay. Yet, what was I going to do once I got there? I had no idea what to expect. If I could just find my way back to the treehouse, to the others, we could all go. Strength in numbers. And, no doubt, there would be obstacles in the way. Roxton’s dark spirited twin to name one. And if my love … Well, that is, if Roxton was well enough to travel he could go with us ...

But a horrid thought kept pulling at my brain as I ran. What if it was too late? What if John was already dead? I scolded myself. It was merely a dream for heaven sake! But it had to mean something. After all, I hadn’t dreamt of Roxton since his injury but now, out of the blue, I had -- and it was so clear and disturbing. I’ve lived on the plateau long enough to know a sign, as convoluted as it was, when it’s tossed in my direction.

***

He was angry. The female was a demon. Cruel. He would never trust her again. She was made of lies. Once he got his hands on her …

Dark Hunter, holding Marguerite’s pistol, followed the undisguised trail she carelessly left. She was flustered and clumsy. In her panic she was not covering her tracks. That was fortunate.

For him.

***

“How could you do this to me, Challenger?” Roxton spoke lowly, in pain, but also - and probably more meaningfully - with disappointment. “I thought you were my friend.”

“I am, John. We all are. That’s why we don’t want you out in the jungle. You’re not well. You’re not healing …”

Roxton’s hands clenched into fists as he lay on his bed, bound by the rope, unable to move. Both Challenger and Veronica stood before him, at the foot of the bed. “Meanwhile, we’ll just forget all about Marguerite.” His teeth clenched as he looked away from those he once considered family. “She could be in the jungle right now, hurt or running for her life,” Roxton recalled his dream, “and thinking we don’t care.”

“No.” Veronica said quickly, with sympathy. She respected Roxton too much to have him believe they had given up. “Ned is out right now still searching. Roxton, if she’s alive …”

She is.” Roxton assured, closing his eyes and blocking out whatever else was being said to him. ‘She has to be.’

***

“God, I need a compass.” Marguerite murmured a plea as she raced, keeping pace with the river she was following, praying it might take her home. She looked about, trying to see if anything was memorable. If only she could distinguish a familiar landmark, any small sign, but all Marguerite could see was the rigid jungle. Everything looked the same. It sounded the same as well. She could hear mosquitoes buzzing, monkeys chattering, the river water lapping and dinosaurs, in the distance, growling.

The only saving grace, as anxious as she felt, was the cool air bouncing off waves of water on a particularly hot day.

Slowing her pace, feeling enough distances had been made between she and that accursed cave and its ungentlemanly master, Marguerite allowed the butt of her rifle (‘Roxton’s rifle’) rest on the soft, giving ground around her booted feet. Her eyes closed and she brought a trembling fore-finger to her hard pressed lips.

“Have to keep my head.” she whispered after a moment. Yes, the situation did not look good right now but she at least had made the first step to liberate herself from the monster; that creature that had somehow, for a scant few seconds, made her long for a wild fantasy she had always kept well hidden. Marguerite gulped. Was she so low that a man’s dark, evil and lustful side was enough to bring out the harlot in her?

Marguerite suddenly looked up when she heard a strange rustling from the jungle. Footfall. She backed up slightly, unaware of just how close she was to the river’s edge. She lifted the rifle, breathing heavily, then poised herself, focusing on what must be done to the intruder if she should be attacked.

“Marguerite?” came a voice. Familiar. Feminine. “Why are you dressed like that? Why are you here?”

She lowered her rifle when the figure came into view. “Assai?” Marguerite cried out her relief. But with the joy, and temporary respite, came a involuntary motion.

Marguerite stepped back half a pace and the ground gave away beneath her boots. With a loud, startled shriek, Marguerite dropped the rifle and fell backward into the river, hitting her head against something hard. She was then carried away by the current.

Stunned, her dark eyes wide with fear, knowing there was nothing she could do on her own in this instance, the daughter of Jacoba turned about and ran into the jungle, “Jarl!” she screamed for her husband.

***

Roxton saw her. She was falling. The rock struck her head. “Marguerite …” With his imagination he reached out a hand. He would save her, as he had always done in the past …

Veronica, who had been reading while remaining at his bedside, looked up from her book. ‘He will never get over her.’ she thought, staring at the fitfully sleeping hunter. With a despondent sigh, Veronica returned to her book.

***

“Lord Roxton! Thank Atumi we found you!” Assai called, running to him. Jarl and a few other warriors, who passed them and journeyed ahead, were present. “Marguerite, was swept down river. We must rescue her!” Assai lifted the rifle to show him.Roxton looked from the native woman to her spouse then nodded, accepting what she said.

Assai lead the two men swiftly through the jungle to the river. There wasn’t an occasion to ask Lord Roxton why his clothes were so tattered, why he was not wearing his hat or vest, and holding Marguerite’s pistol while not wearing a holster. Why were his feet covered with fur? Where were Roxton’s boots? There was also no time to notice that the man spoke not a word to them. The situation was frantic. They could ask their questions and he would answer later.

Dark Hunter followed them, his expression passive but determined, as they darted to where they had seen the woman. The river. Yes, he should have thought about that. That was where he had found her in the first place. Only natural she should go back and try to retrace their steps. He admired her forethought but that would not save her from his wrath.

If the female was alive he would punish her. If she had gone under and died … Hunter blinked, unnerved by the picture developing in his mind. He would not think of that now.

“Here! She’s here!” They heard one of the warriors shout and saw them pointing in an area where the rapids were treacherous.

Moving quickly and halting only an instant, Hunter spotted the female’s body bobbing up and down, in the middle of the rushing water. She had somehow managed to capture a floating bit of wood that served as a raft, lifting her body partially out of the torrents. She was, however, obviously unconscious as she made no move to paddle or rescue herself. The woman was limp, dangling from the raft that would soon overturn and allow her to drown if someone didn’t reach her in time.

“Lord Roxton, you can’t!” Assai called, frightfully aware of what he was going to do next, “The rapids are deadly here. You will drown …”

He would not listen. Hunter bound into the water, in an area where even the bravest warriors would not proceed. His strokes were strong and he just managed to get to Marguerite, reaching to grasp an arm as her limp and battered body slipped from the raft. But then a wave hit and both man and woman went under the rushing water to surface again as two small dots in the distance.

Assai, Jarl and the warriors watched as Marguerite and the man they knew as Lord John Roxton were carried away to what they could only assume would be their deaths.

***

“Here.” Malone called to Challenger. He had discovered the disturbed mound of dirt earlier in the day. It was close enough to the treehouse to make Malone believe one of them had dug a large hole and buried something of significance underneath. Yet nothing out of the ordinary had happened in the last few months to make such a grave necessary.

“It’s not very old.” Challenger crouched and felt the soil, catching onto Malone’s train of thought. “What do you think is beneath?”

“I’m not sure I want to know.” Malone answered, honestly.

Both men had the same idea. Marguerite. If cannibals had gotten to her … Well, they weren’t known to bury their kill but the inhabitance of the plateau sometimes did the extraordinary.

“We have to know. For Roxton’s sake if not our own.”

With a deep sigh, Malone nodded. “I’ll go get shovels.”

***

Exhausted, he carried her from the water and lay the female none too gently on the river’s apron. He then collapsed beside her, attempting to catch his breath. He looked over at Marguerite. Too much trouble, he decided, and thought for a moment to end her life right here and now.

But then, as if some teaser god had heard his contemplation, Hunter noted her stillness.

He leaned in close. She was not breathing.

An emotion, born of dread and something more he could not comprehend, gripped him. Hunter quickly flipped Marguerite over onto her stomach and pressed hard on her back several times. Soon he heard her cough and gag and take in deep gulps of air. He pulled her back once again, her head laying now on his lap, her dark hair wet and spread over his legs. He touched the ugly bruise at her temple with uncommon tenderness.

Conscious, the woman’s eyes flickered open at his touch. She looked up at him, not quite focusing, but knew who he was. “Oh ... John,” she whispered in a weak voice, a beatific smile radiating from her expression. “I knew you would come for me …” But then a flush of confusion overcame the vulnerable expression and she murmured even lower: “John … who am I?”

****