Loss
Chapter 5
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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Epilogue
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Lord Roxton may have been the instigator of the outing, a simple quest to find food he had said - not to mention the opportunity to get Miss Krux alone for conversation and companionship - but it became very obvious that she also had an ulterior motive in accepting his gracious invitation to hunt.

“This way.” Marguerite called, turning right on the well traveled path, when he had prepared to make a left at the fork before them.

“Why *this* way?” Roxton asked, curious and also a little staggered by her ‘take charge’ manner. Miss Krux certainly wasn’t like any of the simpering and slightly too delicious heiresses he had been forced to acknowledge back in England. Roxton received no immediate answer to his question as she continued to veer away from him, so he followed. “Marguerite.” He eased up beside her and his voice held the frustration he felt, “Come on, what is this about?” Roxton insisted in a tone that was not to be disregarded.

She slowed her pace and, after some consideration, looked up at the hunter. “I want to find the temple, to look around before Challenger does whatever it is he has planned.”

“Why *now*?” Roxton asked as they proceeded. “When Challenger’s finished gathering his supplies and conducting an experiment or two we can *all* go and …”

“John, I don’t want to wait around.” She said simply, “I want to go there and see it for myself *now*. I’m trying to figure out why it transported me to the treehouse rather than just delivering me back at the temple where my problems began. There has to be a reason. And, since we have some time on our hands, I mean to find out.”

“Why didn’t you just tell us this? We would have understood. At least, *I* would have”

Marguerite’s pace slowed and she, once again, looked up at him. “Okay … I’m sorry.” And the response was genuine. “I just can’t be too sure about any of you yet. I’m suspicious by nature. You all seem legitimate here, just like my friends in my own reality, but there *are* peculiarities.”

“Such as?”

Considering just how much she would feel comfortable imparting Marguerite said, “Veronica is capable and jungle smart, just like she is in my world, but I sense a fear or apprehension in her I’ve never seen before. Challenger is what he is – brilliant - but something is missing. A warmth and understanding, I think. I’m just not sure.” Marguerite nearly grimaced, “Then there’s Malone: An angry and unaccountably moody young man. I’ve never seen him so suspicious. And Summerlee is …” She paused now, unsure how to continue … *He’s alive and well and with us.* just didn’t seem the right thing to say. Instead, Marguerite spoke a disguised truth, “behaving like a long lost grandfather.”

”And me?” Roxton asked with a touch of a smile tracing his lips as they continued their hike.

“You.” Marguerite hesitated and appeared to be thinking.

“Yeah, *me*?” He focused on her now.

Marguerite nodded, feeling slightly uneasy. “Well … The Lord John Roxton where I come from is very much his own man. He seldom gets ruffled unless there’s imminent danger to one of us and it’s out of his immediate control. But …” she added.

“But …?” he waited, anticipating her answer.

“Look, I’m sorry Roxton but you seem a little too … *needy*.”

“Needy?” he asked, half offended and partly amused. He had been called many things in his lifetime but ‘needy’ wasn’t one of them. “How so?”

“Maybe that’s not the right word,” Marguerite reconsidered quickly, not wanting to offend him. “But there is something just slightly off about you - all of you. It just makes me a little distrustful.”

Roxton, although still curious by what Marguerite meant when she said ‘needy’, acquiesced to the lady’s awkwardness. “You said yourself that this isn’t exactly your world. Things are bound to be a little different.”

“Or just different *enough*? How do I know you’re not some kind of evil plateau power that’s playing mind games with me?”

Now Roxton chuckled, “Yeah, you’ve obviously lived here for awhile. Who else but someone who has experienced what the plateau has to offer would ask such a question?” Gently, he licked his lips and yielded, “So, what you’re wanting to do is prepare a backup plan -- just incase we turn out to be something we’re not?” He couldn’t help but admire her forward way of thinking.

With a sigh, Marguerite rolled her eyes. “I suppose.” Damn him for looking and sounding so much like her Roxton. “But now I guess that’s gone by the wayside since I’ve told *you* how I feel.”

He grinned as they continued their walk. Roxton felt flattered although he would not reveal this. “No fear, Miss Krux. I won’t tell the others. All your secrets are safe with me.”

That final line, and the way it was said it, was enough to make Marguerite stop in her tracks.”

“Something wrong?” Roxton asked, alarmed by her reaction.

“No.” Marguerite said quickly and started walking again, attempting to hide her flustered expression. *All your secrets are safe with me.* How eerie, she thought, for him to say the one line that was the basis of any future she might have with the John Roxton in her own reality. A change of subject was needed. “Malone.” She said, “He does seem a very angry young man. Surly even. Since I arrived I don’t think he’s looked at me without scowling.”

Both Roxton and Marguerite kept their eyes open for game as they walked. It was a particularly beautiful day on the plateau; a great day for a walk, talk and to explore.

“What’s his story?” she asked.

Roxton balanced his rifle against a shoulder and, glancing at Marguerite, wondered where her thoughts were roaming. “Ned’s a decent enough man. Think he started out with an idealistic view of what it was we were going to find here in what he calls *The Lost World* but he was brought down to earth rather quickly when he lost a foot during a raptor attack.”

Marguerite suddenly gasped and clutched Roxton’s arm. She looked intently up at him, “Ned lost a foot?” she asked, her eyes wide.

“You didn’t notice?” Roxton asked, surprised. He then reconsidered. “Understandable I suppose. Malone does better now on the wooden prosthetic Challenger built for him then he did a year ago. If you saw him walking about in a larger space you might notice his limp.”

“How did it happen?” Marguerite attempted to hide her trepidation by bringing up a concealing mask, an old reaction to bad news, and felt Roxton fall in beside her.

Roxton brow furrowed. He was curious as to why she was so interested. But then, when he thought about it, Marguerite had reason. There was an Edward Malone in her world also and – from her expression – Roxton could only assume that Ned didn’t have the same accident as their own. He then began to wonder: ‘Just how close is Miss Krux to the Malone in her world? Are they lovers?’ Roxton couldn’t help the unexpected surge of jealousy brewing inside. Attempting to shake it off, he said, “I don’t think we were on the plateau for more than a few months when Challenger found himself in trouble. The tribe was called Manuins and they were led by a beautiful but cold hearted English Lady …”

“Lady Yorkton.” Marguerite recalled.

“So you *do* know the story.”

“Not entirely. What about Malone?”

Roxton hesitated, once again curious about the beautiful brunette and journalist. “He was attacked by a raptor. It came from out of nowhere. I eventually shot it but not before it made an entrée out of Malone’s foot. I’ll always feel badly that I couldn’t squeeze the shot off before it was too late.” Roxton shook his head, attempting to dispense with the memory. “Anyway, Veronica took him home to the treehouse while we continued on with a rescue mission. We brought Challenger home that evening and tried our best to take care of Ned. Summerlee was invaluable with his knowledge of plants and medicine but…”

Marguerite listened, noting that Roxton made no mention about the cave he was forced to enter, seemingly alone, to retrieve the bones of Alfred Laprand. The hallucinogenic fungus which caused him to see a vengeful William Roxton, who blamed his younger brother for his death, would always haunt this John Roxton … as it did the man in her own world. How often had she seen that expression on her Roxton’s face? Such an unsettled, preoccupied and deeply sad expression. It was at times like this that Marguerite merely wanted to take him in her arms and …

“Anyway,” Roxton continued, “he managed to get through it but not without emotional as well as physical changes.”

“His anger.” Marguerite assumed.

“That and I think Malone and Veronica were in love ...” Roxton then felt compelled to add when he noted Marguerite’s concentration, “… and probably still are. I know they were before the accident - but I’ve seen them grow apart day after day. She takes care of him, tries to keep Malone positive and anticipating a future either here on the plateau or back at home. However,” he continued, “Veronica seems guilty about something. Malone too. Whatever the problem is they won’t talk about it and the rest of us are considerate enough not to pry. It’s none of our business, after all.”

With a small, ironic smile Marguerite felt a strange form of satisfaction as well as sorrow. She and her gun hadn’t been here to shoot the raptor that attacked Malone, thus saving him from a seriously debilitating injury, but even if she hadn’t saved him she could not picture herself settling back, as the rest had done, and not telling Malone to knock off the ‘poor me’ attitude. She had little patience for self sorrow, which had gotten her into a few scrapes with her friends back in her world.

Yet, how sad was it that Malone could not see what a prize he had in Veronica? Certainly, Marguerite and the jungle princess had their differences but she always believed Veronica and Malone would eventually end up together. He had been in love with Veronica since the day he saw the jungle beauty swinging from the trees and, despite Veronica’s statements to the contrary, Marguerite knew she loved Malone too.

“How far do we have to go to get to this temple?” Roxton asked.

“It’s only another mile or two.” Marguerite assured and, with a suddenly challenging smirk, she started to trot. “Do you want to race?” she asked, feeling a playful surge of eagerness, despite the circumstances. She was going home soon. She could feel it.

“You want to play games, do you?” Roxton replied with a devilish grin.

“Life *is* a game, Lord Roxton!” and Marguerite ran, chuckling as she sensed Roxton rush up behind her.

The couple was so intent on their one-upmanship that they didn’t hear the threatening rustling in the jungle, which would normally caution them that something was afoot. Dark eyes gazed at them from behind the concealing trees and bushes. Whispers were exchanged, as were a series of signaling grunts.

*~~~~*

They were nearly in the location of where the temple should have stood when a cracking branch alerted the hunter of possible danger. “Did you hear that?” Roxton, out of breath from the playful race he and Marguerite had engaged in, swiveled suddenly on the path and his eyes narrowed.

“I didn’t hear anything.” However, recognizing the alarm in the hunter’s stance for what it was, Marguerite looked about. “Raptors?” she asked.

He turned in her direction and, eyes widening, he lifted the rifle, taking aim.

“Wha …” Marguerite’s breath caught in her throat as she saw the large barrels of Roxton’s firearm trained on herself. “Are you out of your mind?” She then watched him pull back the hammer on his rifle. Instinctively, Marguerite reached for the pistol at her side.

Roxton fired, the bullet bolting over and past Marguerite’s left shoulder and into the chest of the troglodyte which had stealthily, despite its size, snuck up behind the woman with a lifted and very dangerous stone axe. Soon others were racing toward the couple and Roxton, along with Marguerite, fired purposeful shots, some hitting their targets and others missing clean.

“What do we do?” Marguerite called to Roxton over the weapon report. They were quickly becoming aware that they were surrounded and shooting their way out might not be the answer.

“Follow me!” Roxton shouted, grasping Marguerite’s hand, and began to run with her down the path to an unknown, at least to her, destination.

The Trogs followed in close pursuit.

****