Author's Notes: OHMYGOD!!!! I cannot believe I've been away for such a long time. You see, I had a problem with my Internet connection at home, plus I've been very busy doing my so-called thesis and my application for my internship that I had absolutely no time to do some internet surfing. I've missed you, guys! Hope you still remember this evil, weird and absolutely nutty author! :)
Anyways, yes, this is my first come-back offering to all of you. I've realized that I've yet to add Neddy-boy to my fics, so… here he is. Hope you find this story entertaining. And, um, also… this is my entry to Caroline's Special Challenge up at TLWFIX. It's my first time to enter such a contest, so please be kind!
You know the drill. Those of you who are kind enough to review are entitled to an all-expense paid trip to the Philippines, my home country. Ha. I'm doing my town a favor this way! Hehehehe.
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to the show.
A chilling cry tore through the stillness that cloaked the dense forest. It was a pure, animalistic howl… one that foretold of great anger… or of great pain. It was a cry that sent shivers of fright running down their spines; because they knew that voice… they recognize it. It was from one of their own.
And that made the situation far worse than it already is, because they knew, deep down… they might be too late… too late to save her now.
"No," he whispered, eyes widened with emotions in far inner turmoil to even recognize what precisely it contained. He straightened himself, forgetting for an instant his pained state, his wounded leg. "Come on!" he said to his companions, who are in total disarray themselves. "We have to hurry, damn it, she's in danger!" he then moved on forward, unsteady feet making unsteady steps and yet all these are unheeded, and ultimately ignored.
"Wait!" The jungle beauty said, her tone—
"Wait." Veronica said, the expression on her face unreadable. "Jungle beauty?"
Malone lowered his notebook to look at her. "Yeah." He said. "What's wrong with that?"
They were all seated around the table, with Malone on one end and Challenger on the other, with Finn and Veronica on one side and Marguerite on the opposite. Only Roxton was missing from the table – for he was by the window, busily cleaning his Webleys. They were all listening to Malone's first draft of his story; the one that he hoped will be published once they get out of the plateau. But before that, he had to get the opinion of his friends – and accordingly, the characters in his story – so that whatever comment they might have will be received and, perhaps, taken into consideration by the writer. As of now, he was only at the middle of reading his story, and he had already received quite a number of feedbacks. Arduous task indeed, because some of the comments he received were downright… inappropriate.
In his story, he had Marguerite being taken by the Amazons during one of her solo trips to the bathing lake. Malone had yet to reveal why, as he had intended to tell them when the confrontation scene comes. And yet…
"And why am I the one being abducted?" Marguerite had demanded at the earliest part. She sent daggers at him through her eyes. "Don't you think I would have at least defended myself before I was taken by these women?"
"There's just too many of them, Marguerite. You were simply outnumbered." He answered.
Marguerite still didn't look convinced enough. "And why am I taking a solo trip to the lake, anyway?" She asked again. "I know well enough to not take such a stupid chance! Three years, Malone. Think you that I would endanger myself by going on a trip that could—"
Malone heaved a sigh. "It's the plot, Marguerite." He told her, his voice full on patience that he himself was beginning to lack. "Look at it this way – at least the story revolves around you."
"Yeah, Marguerite." Veronica told her friend, her tone half-serious, half-mocking. "And we'll spend the rest of the time trying to rescue you."
The sides of her mouth quirked up as she considered that angle. "Well alright." Marguerite finally muttered. "At least you're not feeding me to the raptors or have me hanging by the edge of a cliff."
"Well if that's what you really want…"
"No, NO!" Marguerite waved her hand. "I like the kidnapping thing. It's quite… safe. Please do continue."
Malone felt very relieved when she allowed him to read the rest without any further interruptions. And now… it seemed as though there's another problem.
Veronica bit her lip, and then shrugged. "Nothing, really. It's just—" she looked at him. "It feels weird to refer to me as 'jungle beauty'. I mean, jungle I could understand—"
"Oh, for crying out loud." Marguerite exclaimed as she threw her arms for emphasis. "It's just something he used so that he won't keep using 'she' to refer to you. Right, Malone?"
"Right." He then cleared his throat. "And, um… I really think 'jungle beauty' suits you perfectly." A light blush tinted his face as he said this.
"Oh, Malone." Veronica said, cheeks flushing quickly. "That's so sweet of you."
Finn shook her head with a wry smile. "Smooth, Malone. Real, real smooth."
"Oh, Malone." Marguerite mimicked Veronica's tone. She rolled her eyes. "Can we get to the next part already?"
"Impatience won't get you anywhere, my dear." Challenger reminded her as he took a small sip of his wine.
"And so will this story if these two won't stop with the gooey eyes." Marguerite replied with a glare to both Veronica and Malone, which the two returned abruptly.
"Why, Marguerite, I do think you're just jealous." Roxton teased. He looked up from his task of cleaning his gun. "Come here, and I'll be happy to exchange gooey eyes with you." He patted the empty space beside him invitingly.
"And I'll be happy to wring all your necks if I don't hear the next part." Marguerite fixed her stare at Malone. "Starting with yours, Ned. Better start reading."
Malone raised his hands in mock surrender. "Okay, okay, Marguerite!" he said. "Anything to keep you from killing us." He cleared his throat again and began reading:
"Wait!" VERONICA said—
"That's more like it." Veronica interrupted.
"Wait!" Veronica said, her tone barely concealing the pain she was experiencing. She clutched at her bleeding arm as she continued to apply pressure over the wound. "We have to stop for a moment. Challenger needs some help!"
"Roxton!" Malone called out. He had Challenger's arm over his shoulders as he was helping the unconscious scientist to walk. "Please—"
"I beg your pardon." Challenger said indignantly. "I never knew I was going to be the first to become unconscious in this story! When did that happen?"
"You weren't listening, old man." Roxton told him as he stood up to get his second gun. "You were rendered unconscious when that woman hit you over the head with her club."
"Which was why Malone had to half-carry/half-drag you to be able to travel. I mean we can't just leave you alone in the tree-house." Veronica added helpfully.
Challenger took note and finally acknowledged the need for the act. "But still, it would take more than ONE hit over the head to render me unconscious, you know." He commented haughtily. "You need to take note of that if you want your novel to be in tie with reality, boy."
Malone grabbed his pen and made some notes on his notebook. After a few scribbles he said, "Okay, how does this sound:
"Roxton!" Malone called out. He had Challenger's arm over his shoulders as he was helping the scientist to walk. "Please listen to us! We all need to rest—"
"No," A mumbled protest came from the older man's lips. "We… have… to… go… to… Marg—"
"Happy, George? Apparently you're conscious now." Marguerite told him.
"Conscious, yes." Challenger observed. "But I seem to have developed incoherency as a result of several blows to the head—"
"Just be happy you didn't get killed at the earliest part." Finn chimed in. She frowned at Malone. "Can't I be… I don't know, mystically revived or something?"
Malone looked at her fondly. "We'll see."
The hunter looked at them impatiently. "I don't need to rest." He said roughly. "You all stay here. I have to go and save her."
"There ya' go." Marguerite muttered. "That's the part where Roxton's going to get killed trying to save me."
"I am not going to get killed." Roxton told her as he looked up. He smiled proudly. "That's the part where I get to play the hero."
"The wounded hero, remember? You had that knife wound on your arm. Not to mention an arrow wound on your chest. And I think you also have a snake bite on your—"
"Nope, that's mine." Finn corrected her. "The snake thing was mine. My cause of death, remember?"
Marguerite ignored her as she continued with her point. "How on earth are you going to save me if you're literally bathing in your own blood?"
"Adrenaline's part of that." Challenger offered an explanation. "With all the adrenaline pumping through his body, his pain is temporarily forgotten and displaced by a different emotion altogether."
"Actually, to be honest I'm surprised that Roxton's able to get up in the first place." Veronica said, as she looked from Marguerite to Malone. "I mean, his wounds were pretty deep, based from your descriptions, Malone. And I think Marguerite's right. How will Roxton beat the enemies if he's wounded that seriously?"
"Exactly!" Marguerite said triumphantly. "There's courage and then there's stupidity. Charging to war without the capacity to fight is undeniably stupid, given his circumstances."
Malone took her comments to heart. "I'll remember that." He said as he wrote 'don't let Roxton charge to war when he is wounded' on top of his work. He placed the underline beneath the words deliberately.
"So you're saying that I'm stupid to be actually trying to save you?" Roxton queried, sounding both irritated and hurt.
Marguerite glanced idly at him. "No. I'm saying it's more stupid if you also get yourself caught and then killed, which is very likely to happen. Then who's left to save me?"
His face lightened up with a dry smile. "And here I was thinking that you're actually worried about me." Roxton sarcastically remarked.
"Always, Roxton." Marguerite said, giving him a bright smile. "Always."
"Ready to listen now?" Malone asked. When everybody nodded, he continued:
"You won't be any use to Marguerite if you drop dead trying to save her, Roxton!" Veronica furiously threw at him. "You won't be of any use to any of us if you die!"
Malone lifted Challenger's hand off his shoulders and allowed him to sit beside a tree, his head cushioned against the bark. "Roxton," he said, trying to make his tone reasonable. "You know Veronica's right. We have to at least try and stop the bleeding of your wounds. If we don't, you're most likely going to die given the temperature of—"
"You know Malone, that line sounded like it came from Challenger." Finn said. "I mean, 'you're most likely to die given the temperature'? Challenger's line, alright."
Malone gazed critically at his work. "Hmm… and to think I made a mistake about my character…"
"You know Veronica's right, Roxton. You're bleeding badly. At least let us try and stop that before we allow you to charge off and save Marguerite."
"That's better." Veronica told him with a smile. She placed her hand on Malone's arm and the writer noticeably brightened.
Roxton idly glanced at his wounds. "I'm fine." He insisted stubbornly. "I don't need to rest."
"Look at yourself." Veronica almost pleaded. "You're almost half-dead, Roxton. You can't save her like that. You'll only end up endangering yourself, as well as Marguerite."
"We all need to rest." Malone told him. "With all our injuries it would take only a miracle to get us to their lair."
"So what are you saying, Malone?" Roxton asked acidly. "That we sit here and rest while who knows what they're doing to Marguerite?"
At that point, Marguerite glanced at Roxton and found him staring at her intently. She could clearly see the truth in his face – that whenever an incident like that in Malone's story would ever arise, he will risk everything to save her. He was about to say something when Challenger spoke and ruined the moment.
"Ahem. Don't I get to say anything about the matter?" Challenger piped up. "I mean, I am conscious. Just… disoriented."
"Just think that you've already fallen asleep when you sat on that tree, Challenger." Finn told him, exasperated at having to make him understand. "I know I did."
"Oh, alright." Challenger said. "Just so you know, Malone… I am not pleased with the way my character is being handled."
The rest of them chuckled at that.
"We'll only lose their tracks if we stop." He said, ignoring what Malone might have to say. "The footsteps are becoming harder and harder to read. By tomorrow it could all be gone."
"There's still the broken foliage." Veronica insisted. "This time, the Amazons moved in a very large group. No matter how careful they could be, they still left some broken shrubs." She pointed forward. "Even if the footsteps are gone, I could still find them."
"What about raptors? T-rex? Or any other dinosaur for that matter?" He asked again. "We're all wounded, and bloodied. The smell of all the blood here are like homing devices to those animals. If we stop now then we might as well have died earlier!"
"The river's cutting us off the other side of the jungle." Malone said. "They can't reach us. We're safe here."
Roxton's jaw clenched. "We're safe." He said bitterly. "But Marguerite is not."
John Roxton could barely believe his ears. How could Malone describe his reactions so accurately, so vividly? He could see himself say those things if, God forbid and not if he could allow it, Marguerite was taken away from him. He stared at the writer intently. It was truly stunning on how well Ned Malone know him.
"Were the Amazons dragging Marguerite when they took her?" Veronica suddenly asked, her fine brows creased.
"Me, dragged across an entire jungle?!" Marguerite said as she crossed her arms in front of her. "Are you insane?"
Veronica shook her head. "No, I mean about the 'broken shrubs' or, as you say, Malone, the 'broken foliage' part. You can't really leave a trail like that, unless you're dragging something heavy behind."
Marguerite's frown increased. "First you want me to be dragged across the forest, and now you're implying that I'm fat?!"
"Okay, ladies!" Roxton intervened as he sensed that Marguerite was becoming too… well, too sensitive about the issue. He went closer to the table and placed a restraining hand at Marguerite's shoulder when he thought she was preparing to attack Veronica. "Let's just have Malone read the rest of his story and forget the tiny tidbit about tracks and foliages, shall we?"
Malone gave Roxton a thankful glance, which the hunter returned with a nod.
Silence reigned upon them. Malone met Veronica's eyes and clearly read the anguish there. They all wanted to save Marguerite, but they have to rest. And Roxton… if he doesn't want to cooperate then… they just have to make him.
"Malone," Veronica whispered as she picked up what he was thinking. "You can't—"
"I have to, Veronica." He said, his tone low. "It's the only way."
When John Roxton wasn't looking, Ned Malone hit him over the head with his gun, rendering the desperate man unconscious and giving the others the only time they have to tend to his wounds.
"Welcome to the world of the unconscious, old man." Challenger told him with a wry grin.
Marguerite grinned at Malone. "Very nice, Malone." She said. "I would've paid you my finest diamond to see you do it."
Roxton grunted as he sat next to her. "Very nice? Try very underhanded." He muttered.
"Sneaky yet effective." Finn said, clearly impressed with the tactic. "I like it."
"We have to remember to do that." Veronica said as she purposely stared at Roxton. "It might come very handy someday."
"Don't look at me," Roxton was quick to say.
It was already the dawn of the next day when the hunter finally regained his senses. He was disoriented at first, and his vision was constantly swirling from the first moment he opened his eyes. He had to blink rapidly to try and maintain his focus.
The minute his clarity came, so did his rage.
"Malone!" He thundered as he stood up despite the lump on the back of his head and the unsteady feeling on his legs. He couldn't believe the nerve of the boy – how could he hit him over the head like that? "Malone!!!" He shouted as he charged to where the sleeping man was. He ignored the fact that Veronica was sleeping on Malone's lap; his anger had blinded him temporarily to even see anything but Malone. He grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to stand up. The man blinked at him owlishly; confusion then fear registering on his eyes. "How dare you!!!" Roxton hollered. He let go of Malone's shoulder so he could deliver a blow.
"Roxton, NO!!!" Veronica cried as she tried to stop him from hitting Malone. "Stop!"
"Roxton," Challenger said as he rose from his position. "Let him go. He just did what he had to to keep you from killing yourself!"
He ignored them all, his fury intensifying as he thought of all the time he had spent sleeping when he could have used that to save Marguerite. "You insolent—"
The four of them stopped as they recognized the voice. It was from one of their own.
And then Roxton took off in a dead run.
Finn visibly shivered. "Remind me not to be the one to hit Roxton on the head when we have to," she said to Veronica. "He's scaring me."
"Don't worry about it, Finn." Roxton told her. "I will never hit you."
"Best believe it, Finn." Marguerite said with a smile. "Roxton here is like a sheep in a wolf's clothing."
"A sheep in a wolf's clothing?" he repeated with a surprised look on his face. "Is that how you think of me?"
She waved a dismissive hand at him. "I think of you as a lot of things, Lord Roxton." She drawled, a dark glimmer dancing in her eyes. "But I do think it's inappropriate to tell those things to you here…"
"Why, Marguerite Krux." Roxton said as a grin formed on his face. "You are such the devil—"
"Ahem." Challenger cleared his throat, which abruptly reminded the two that they were not alone in the room and that they were being intently watched. "I do think it's time to finish Malone's story."
"Um, yes." Malone told them. "We're nearing the last part, anyway."
"Malone," Veronica said as she helped him stand up. "Are you alright?"
He nodded, despite the different aches and pains he was feeling when Roxton threw him effortlessly. "I'm fine," he told her. When he was still met with the deep concern on Veronica's face, he feigned a smile on his face. "At least his strength is back." He looked at the direction where the older man ran. "We have to follow him. Marguerite—"
"Let's go," Challenger stated as he walked in front of them. The rest had done him good; the throb on his head caused by the blows was monumentally decreased to a mere annoying slight swirling of his vision.
"Let me repair that slight error in syntax – use 'an annoying slight swirl in his vision'." Challenger said.
"Let's go," Challenger stated as he walked in front of them. The rest had done him good; the throb on his head caused by the blows was monumentally decreased to an annoying slight swirl in his vision.
"Are you sure you're alright?" Veronica asked again.
Malone smiled at her. "I'm fine. Really."
She gave him a brief smile and then the two of them started to walk behind Challenger.
They were only walking for a few minutes when they started to smell smoke. They broke off into a run, and after a few more miles they suddenly came to a clearing.
"Marguerite," Veronica whispered, tears filling her eyes almost instantly as she saw what had happened.
"Good Mother of God," Challenger muttered.
"Oh, my God." Malone blanched at what he saw. "Oh my God… oh my God…"
The clearing in the jungle was an unnatural one; trees were savagely cut, shrubs were carelessly uprooted. The leaves from all of these beheaded plants were offered at the center, where a pole stood, proud and firm. Smoke still rose from the circle of burned plants that surrounded the pole.
They don't have to guess what the pole was for, because they could clearly see that John Roxton was holding her now.
The man was tenderly rocking her unconscious figure, his hands on her waist and on her face. The hem of the skirt she wore was severely burned. Her feet were covered with blackened blisters. Her face was covered with soot and dirt, her hands with blood and earth.
Veronica gasped and clutched at Malone for support. They both turned away.
Only Challenger was brave enough to walk into Roxton's territory. His steps were small and unsure, yet he continued. He stared at the two of them; his conscious mind suddenly envisioning the La Pieta, the statue of the Virgin Mary holding her dead son against her bosom. But Marguerite… was she…?
Suddenly, Roxton's ragged whispers filled his ears, then his words filled his eyes with tears.
"I'm sorry… I'm so sorry… we shouldn't have rested… we should have come to save you… oh, God, Marguerite… Marguerite can you hear me? I'm sorry… I'm so sorry…I know I shouldn't have… but they tricked me, you see? I wasn't going to… but—"
"John," Challenger croaked out despite tears in his throat. "John, is she…?"
Roxton stopped his almost incoherent mumbling and then looked up at him, his eyes like daggers, sharp and uncannily exposed. "You," he whispered. "You killed her. Murderer!" But he made no attempt to attack him; he simply held Marguerite against him as he stared at Challenger. "Murderer! We are all her killers! We killed her!"
"Roxton," Challenger said. He attempted to place a hand on his shoulder when the man suddenly drew out his gun. Challenger stilled as the gun was pointed at his midsection.
"Go away." Roxton muttered, eyes still glittering with undisguised fury. "Take your friends with you. Leave. NOW."
A single shot vibrated through the air.
"Challenger! Roxton!" Veronica screamed.
Challenger took a step back as Roxton fired right beside his head. "Go away. Leave." The other man said.
He had no other choice but to oblige.
"Challenger!" Veronica cried as she rushed to him. "What—"
"Is she dead?" Malone dared to ask, and he dared to hope that the answer was what he wanted to hear.
Challenger placed his hands on each of their shoulders. "We have to go." He stated simply. "We have to leave him in his grief."
"Oh, God…" Veronica covered her face.
"She's dead…?" Malone whispered disbelievingly.
"We have to go."
They were only a few steps from the clearing whey heard a single shot echo in the silent forest.
Malone closed his notebook and waited expectantly for their comments.
"Oh, My God." Finn muttered, eyes widened in disbelief. "That's it?! IS THAT IT?"
Marguerite slammed her palms on the table as she stood up. "How could you do that, Malone? You killed me?! You had me burned at the stake?!" She demanded, gray eyes flashing with indignation and pride.
"You still never showed why the Amazons took her in the first place," Veronica added as she rubbed her chin with her finger. "And why would they burn Marguerite? Not that I don't want them to—" She stopped her smile from showing itself when Marguerite glared at her.
"But that's just part of the story!" Malone explained. "I mean, the story won't end there. I will be writing a sequel to that, another story to tie up all the loose ends." His eyes bore through each of his friends. "So what do you think of that first one?"
Roxton patted him at the shoulder. "An excellent story, Malone." He said with a grin.
Veronica smiled at him. "Indeed." She said. "I loved every minute of it."
"Way to go, Malone!" Finn exclaimed, as she exchanged high-fives with him. "I can't wait for the sequel!"
"Your imagination is to be commended, boy." Challenger said with a toast of his wine. He cleared his throat. "Now if you will excuse me, I have to tend to my beetle." He rose from the table and hurried to his lab.
"Beetle-schmeetle." Finn said, rolling her eyes for emphasis, just as soon as Challenger disappeared. "I bet Challenger's just upset that he didn't get the chance to save the day."
"Well, I think I just have to remedy that in the next one, just so he won't be upset anymore." Malone then turned to Marguerite. "Well?" he prompted her.
"Well?" Marguerite mimicked. She crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Well?! You killed me! You had me burned at the stake! What else do you want me to say?!" When she received glares from Roxton, Finn and Veronica, she amended. "Oh, alright. It was good. There, satisfied?"
Malone grinned at her. "Very."
"You just have to write the sequel to that, like right now." Finn told him. "Please?"
"Well he can't write a sequel with us bothering him like this." Veronica winked at Malone before she took Finn and Marguerite's arms and led them to the elevator. "Why don't we occupy ourselves in the garden and leave him to write more."
"And I'll just busy myself with my guns." Roxton said as he threw a quick smile at Malone, then left the table to do just what he said.
"Well if it means being excused from work then why don't I write a bloody story myself?" Marguerite argued as Veronica firmly held on to her hand.
"You do that, Marguerite. It's your chance to kill Malone this time!" Finn told her.
"Yes. I'll have him thrown at the mouth of an erupting volcano. Or maybe trap him with jungle beauty here in a cave. Or better yet— Ow! Ow! VERONICA, stop pinching me!"
They continued well until the elevator brought them down.
Malone sighed as he opened his notebook again. "Well at least they liked it." He said, deeply satisfied with himself and his work. The kind words his friends gave him were all the encouragement he needed. Then he closed his notebook and walked to his room, determined to pen down the sequel to his story.