Title: Nothing Else Matters

By: Liz

Rating: PG

Disclaimers: I own no one Lost World.

Author's Notes: This is my entry for Carolyn's fic challenge. Thanks so much to Carolyn for coming up with this idea and to Kate for betaing and letting me bounce ideas off of her.

***

Nothing Else Matters

"Roxton, slow down! What is your hurry?" Marguerite Krux demanded as she struggled to keep up with the man in front of her.

Lord John Roxton didn't slow down, nor did he turn around. "We're supposed to meet the others in a little less than an hour," he said. "And so far, we have nothing to show for it."

Marguerite rolled her eyes in frustration. "Well, maybe they had better luck in finding something for dinner," she said. "You do know that you don't always have to be the one to kill our food, right? Besides, we've been walking for hours now and it's hot and I'm exhausted and I think I have a rock in my boot."

Roxton sighed. Though he cared very deeply for the woman behind him, sometimes her complaining would try the patience of a saint, which he definitely was not. "All right, Marguerite, we'll take a break," he told her. "There's a clearing right up ahead and we can stop there for a few minutes, all right?"

"Well, I guess it will have to do," Marguerite sniffed, picking up her pace to move past Roxton and into the small clearing. When she reached the clearing she settled herself down on a fallen tree trunk and proceeded to pull off both of her boots. "I knew I felt something!" she exclaimed triumphantly, pulling a small pebble from her right boot. She tossed the offending object over her shoulder and stretched her stocking feet out in front of her. "Much better," she said, sighing contentedly as she closed her eyes.

Roxton took the opportunity to observe her unseen, letting his gaze travel slowly over the form and face of the woman in front of him. "Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to stare?" Marguerite said without opening her eyes.

"What are you talking about? I was, um, looking for any nearby predators," Roxton sputtered, completely caught off guard.

"Mm-hmm," Marguerite said, her lips curving into a smile as she opened her eyes and stood up. "And do you see any?" she asked as she walked slowly towards him.

"Well, now that you mention it," Roxton began teasingly.

Marguerite raised an eyebrow as she stopped in front of him. "There seems to be a rather dangerous beast in front of me right now," she said.

"Matched only by the gorgeous predator in front of it," Roxton said in a low voice.

"You really think it's a match?" Marguerite questioned.

"In more ways than one," Roxton murmured, leaning forward to kiss her softly.

The sound of a branch snapping caused them to break their embrace quickly. "What was that?" Marguerite asked, looking around as she reached for her pistol. A monkey hopped onto a branch in a tree in front of them and they both lowered their weapons, laughing in relief. "I'm going to go fill our canteens in the river up there. It's just through those trees there," he added, gesturing with his arm. "Will you be all right here while I do that?"

Marguerite smiled at his concern. "I promise you, I will be more than all right," she assured him. "It'll give me a chance to be off my feet a little longer, I'm definitely not going to contest you on this."

"All right," Roxton said, reaching out for Marguerite's canteen. "I'll be right back. Try to stay out of trouble," he added with a smile.

"I could say the same thing to you," Marguerite shot back, but she was smiling as well.

Roxton chuckled and walked of to the river, leaving Marguerite sitting in the clearing. When he reached the river he quickly bent down to fill up both canteens. He was just twisting the tops back onto them when he heard a sound from the bushes to his right. "Probably another monkey," he muttered to himself, but he set down the canteens and drew one of his pistols. "Who's there?" he said in a loud voice. "Show yourself."

There was no answer, but Roxton saw the bushes move again and he moved cautiously towards them. He held his breath as he crept closer to the bush, moving as silently as he could. Suddenly, the sound of a scream ripped through the still air. "Marguerite!" Roxton turned back in the direction of the clearing, prepared to make his way back to the heiress. Before he could move, however, he sensed a presence behind him. There was a sharp pain at the back of his head, and then only darkness.

****

Roxton could hear voices calling his name and he struggled to open his eyes. He forced his eyes open and saw Challenger, Malone, and Veronica's faces above him. "Oh, Roxton, you're awake," Veronica said. "Are you all right?"

There was a dull, painful throbbing at the base of his skull and he groaned as he pulled himself to a sitting position. "What happened?" he asked, placing a hand on the back of his head.

"We were kind of hoping you could tell us," Malone replied. "You and Marguerite were supposed to meet us about a half an hour ago. When you didn't show up, we came looking for you. Where is Marguerite?" he questioned.

"She's not with you?" Roxton asked, feeling a flutter of panic in his chest.

"No." Challenger shook his head. "We only came across you, lying unconscious right here by the river. Can you remember anything that happened?"

"Marguerite wanted to take a rest," Roxton said, "so we stopped at a clearing a little past those trees over there. I left her there to rest while I came here to refill the canteens. I thought I heard something in the bushes, but there was nothing there. Then Marguerite screamed and something hit me from behind and knocked me out."

"Marguerite!" He jumped to his feet, wincing as the movement caused a fresh wave of pain to slice through his throbbing head. He clenched his jaw trying to ignore the pain and come to terms with what had just happened. Damn it! I should have been more aware of the situation! *Calm down,* he told himself, *you have more important things to worry about now.*

"Woah, take it easy," Veronica said, putting out a hand to steady Roxton as he swayed slightly on his head. "You've got a pretty nasty bump on the back of your head."

"I'm fine," Roxton said impatiently as he pulled away from Veronica. "Right now we need to find Marguerite."

"Maybe she's still in the clearing?" Malone suggested hopefully.

Roxton shot him a look that clearly showed his doubt, but said nothing, instead picking up his pistol and adjusting his hat. Without another word, he turned and headed to the clearing where he had left Marguerite, the others following closely behind him.

Roxton stepped into the clearing, praying to see Marguerite's familiar face, but the scene that met his eyes caused his heart to constrict as his fears were realized. "She's gone," he stated flatly.

There were signs of a struggle by the tree trunk where Marguerite had been sitting, with several pairs of footprints by the tree and scuffed dirt around it. Most alarming were the presence of both Marguerite's hat and boots. "And wherever she went, she didn't go willingly," Malone said as he picked up her hat.

Veronica knelt down by the tree trunk to examine the footprints. "There are five sets of footprints here," she said. "None of them are Marguerite's, though. They're bigger and their wearers are heavier. Probably five men. Wherever they've taken Marguerite, she wasn't walking."

"Slave traders?" Roxton asked, dreading the answer.

Veronica shook her head. "I don't think so. I can't be sure, but it looks like they dropped this," she told the men as she pulled a half hidden dagger from beneath the tree trunk. "This looks a little upscale for slave traders."

"Unless they stole it, of course," Challenger said as Veronica stood and handed the dagger to him. The blade was sharp and its handle was one of silver with intricately carved designs on it. "This almost looks like a royal seal," he added, pointing out the crest in the middle of the handle.

"Well now that we've determined that we don't know who has Marguerite or what's happened to her, let's follow these footprints and get her back," Roxton said tightly.

He snatched up Marguerite's boots and stuffed them into his pack. Then he turned his attention to the footprints and began following the trail Marguerite's captors had left behind. Veronica silently followed alongside Roxton, tracking the trail as well. Malone put Marguerite's hat into his pack while Challenger stuck the strange knife into his belt before they, too, joined their friends.

****

With Roxton and Veronica leading the way, the four explorers were able to follow the trail of Marguerite's captors with relatively little difficulty and the explorers were surprised when they realized that the tracks were leading them toward the inland sea. Darkness soon overtook them, though, and they were forced to stop and make camp. Roxton was extremely reluctant, but the others were adamant that they should stop for the night, and he finally had to agree.

As soon as the first glimpses of dawn were visible on the horizon, Roxton woke his companions and urged them to break camp as quickly as they could so they could continue with their search. After a quick breakfast of dried fruits and Raptor meat, they were ready to continue on their way.

****

It was mid-afternoon when the explorers reached the shores of the inland sea. There, they were stunned by the presence of a settlement surrounded by four large stone walls, built right on the edge of the water. "Where the hell did this come from?" Roxton muttered.

Veronica shook her head. "I don't remember my parents ever mentioning anything about a castle by the sea."

"Well now what?" Malone asked. "Do we just walk in there and ask these people if they've seen Marguerite?"

"Sounds like a plan to me," Roxton replied, shouldering his rifle as he headed toward the open gate in one of the walls.

"But we don't know anything about these people," Malone said. "They may not like visitors."

"We're not going to learn anything about them by standing around out here," Roxton called back impatiently. "Now are you coming or not? Marguerite could be in there, I'm not going to wait around for an invitation."

"He's right," Challenger said. "We'll just have to be on our guard." Malone and Veronica agreed and the three quickly caught up with Roxton.

"All right, let's split up and start asking around," Roxton said once they were inside the gates. "Maybe someone here can tell us something," he added, gesturing to the marketplace of stalls in front of them. The explorers split into groups of two, Malone and Veronica going one way and Challenger and Roxton the other, agreeing to meet back by the entrance in fifteen minutes.

Fifteen minutes later an extremely frustrated Roxton walked back to meet with Ned and Veronica, Challenger trailing behind him. "Nothing," Roxton said in agitation. "None of these people seem to know anything. All they would tell us is that it's a time of great mourning in their village because of the sea monster. Did you find out anything?"

"They told us about the sea monster, too," Ned said. "Apparently they believe their god has been angered somehow and has sent the sea monster to destroy their village until they make an offering to appease it. They told us that the king and queen's only daughter, Thalia, must be sacrificed to the creature tomorrow, or it will continue attacking them until it destroys the village."

"How absolutely barbaric!" Challenger said, aghast. "These people really believe that killing an innocent woman is going to stop some sea serpent from attacking them? Why, they're mad!"

"That may be true, George, but it still doesn't help us any," Roxton said. "Did any of the people you spoke to know anything about Marguerite?"

Veronica shook her head. "They seemed to have one focus - the sea monster and tomorrow's ceremony. They didn't talk about anything else."

"Excuse me." The explorers turned to find a man standing behind them. He was carrying a spear and dressed much like a guard or soldier, but he didn't seem threatening. "I couldn't help overhearing your inquiries to the townspeople," the man said. "I heard you are looking for a missing companion."

"That's right," Roxton said, stepping forward. "A woman. Dark hair, lavender blouse, sharp tongue. Have you seen her?"

The man shook his head. "But the king's vizier may have some information for you. He said he would like to speak with you. I can take you to him right now."

The four looked at each other and an expression of agreement passed among them. "We would be most grateful for any information he could give us," Challenger said to the man. "Please, lead the way."

The man nodded and began walking towards a large, almost palatial structure located near one of the walls of the village. Praying that they weren't walking into a trap, the explorers followed closely behind.

The man led them into the large structure and then down a long corridor to a small room. "Khyrus will be with you in a moment," the man said to them as he exited the room.

"Do you think he really knows anything?" Veronica asked as she surveyed the room. Though it was small it was lavishly decorated with rich tapestries on the wall and the type of furniture one might expect to find at the Roxton estate, rather than in a mysterious kingdom on a lost plateau.

"I certainly hope he will be of some help," Challenger said, glancing over at Roxton. The hunter was tensely pacing the room, never taking his eyes from the floor.

What felt like an eternity later to Roxton, the door to the room entered and a handsome dark haired man entered the room. "Greetings, visitors," he said grandly. "I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting, but you have visited us in the time of a most unfortunate tragedy. I've been with the king and queen and the prince, trying to comfort them over the impending loss of their only daughter and sister, Princess Thalia."

"Yes, we were told," Ned said. "We're so sorry to hear this."

The man inclined his head in acknowledgement. "But where are my manners? Forgive me, my name is Khyrus, the royal advisor and overseer for King Lucan and Queen Treya."

"I am Professor George Challenger and these are my companions - Veronica, Ned Malone, and Lord John Roxton," Challenger said, gesturing to each in turn.

"A pleasure to meet you," Khyrus said. "I was told you were looking for a companion of yours and that I might be able to be of some help."

"That's what the man who brought us here said," Veronica replied.

"We're looking for a woman named Marguerite Krux," Roxton spoke up. "We were separated yesterday, we believe she was kidnapped. She's about this tall," he said, holding up a hand at Marguerite's approximate height. "She has long dark hair and was wearing a lavender blouse when we last saw her."

Khyrus's expression was solemn when Roxton finished speaking. "Excuse me one moment," he said. "I believe I know a man who knows something about this woman."

He exited the room and returned moments later with a smaller fair-haired man behind him. This man was dressed similarly to the first, and the explorers figured he was most likely a palace guard or soldier for the king. "This is Myson, one of the king's guards," Khyrus said. "Now, Myson, tell them what you told me about the woman you came across yesterday."

"Have you seen Marguerite?" Roxton demanded. "Where is she? Is she all right?"

Myson's countenance was grave as he looked at the explorers. "Yesterday when I was returning to the village I heard the terrible screams of those beastly lizards. By the time I reached the area they were gone and there were several dead bodies on the ground. I could tell from their clothing that they were probably slave traders and I figured they had gotten what they deserved. I was about to leave when I noticed a slight movement and went over to investigate. There was a beautiful dark haired woman lying there, her blouse soaked with her own blood, one arm terribly mangled. I told her I would bring her back here where they could help her, but she told me not to bother, she knew it was too late for her." Roxton took a staggering step backwards, unable to process Myson's words. Malone and Challenger stood stock still, expressions of shock on their face. Veronica stared at Myson, a strange expression on her face.

"She instructed me to take the locket from around her neck and give it to her friends when they came looking for her," Myson said. "She seemed quite certain you would. Which one of you is Roxton?" Mutely, Roxton raised his hand, unable to speak around the lump in his throat. Myson stepped forward to him, pulling something from his pocket and pressing it into Roxton's hand. "She wanted you to have this," Myson said quietly. Roxton swallowed hard as he looked down at Marguerite's locket in his hand. "She wasn't alone in her last moments," Myson continued. "I held her for the short time she had left before she expired."

"Can, can we see her?" Malone asked, his eyes bright with unshed tears.

Myson shook his head. "I brought her back to the village and gave her a proper burial at sea."

"You what?!" Roxton raged, grabbing the man by his shirt and pushing him up against the wall. "You did what with her body?"

"Roxton!" Veronica pulled Roxton off of Myson and dragged him a safe distance away from the other man.

"I'm sorry," Myson apologized. "If I had known you would be here this quickly, I most certainly would have waited for you. However, it is a custom in our village to bury our dead at sea."

"But Marguerite wasn't yours," Roxton growled.

"You have my deepest apologies and sympathies," Myson said, bowing his head. "I am so very sorry." He excused himself and left the room, leaving the explorers in shocked silence.

"I'm so sorry for your loss," Khyrus said. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

The men were silent and Veronica spoke up. "No, but thank you so much for your kindness, Khyrus," she said. "Right now we should probably be getting back to our home. We wish you the best of luck in the hard times facing your village as well."

Khyrus nodded. "Thank you. Let me call a guard to lead you out. I must get back to my king and queen."

The four explorers were silent as they followed a guard out of the palace and back into the square. Veronica thanked him and then led the men out the main gate of the village. Once she was certain they were no longer within anyone's hearing distance, she put up a hand to stop the men in their tracks. "They're lying," she stated flatly. "They know something."

"What are you talking about, Veronica?" Malone asked. "You heard what Myson said. And he had Marguerite's necklace."

"Much as we don't want to believe it, I'm afraid it's true, Veronica," Challenger said quietly. "I know it's hard to accept, but-"

"Isn't anyone listening here?" Veronica cut in. "They were lying to us. Think about it. Myson said he came across Marguerite lying in the middle of a field after Raptors had attacked and left her for dead. How many Raptors do you know that go to the trouble of killing a meal and then leave it behind? Especially when Marguerite was near death like Myson said."

"Something could have scared them off," Malone offered.

Veronica shook her head. "I sincerely doubt it. Plus, he said Marguerite had been taken by slave traders."

"Yes, we had thought that might be a possibility as well," Challenger said. "You don't agree?"

Veronica shook her head vehemently. "Don't you remember the knife we found where Marguerite was taken?" she asked. Challenger nodded and pulled out the knife, handing it over to Veronica. "Remember yesterday, Challenger, you said this almost looked like a royal seal?" Challenger nodded again. "Well when we were waiting for Khyrus to come speak with us I looked around that room we were waiting in. This seal was carved into the back of the chair I was standing by, and I noticed it in one of the tapestries as well."

"The same design? Then that means they know more than they were saying," Ned said excitedly. "It means they lied to us-"

"It means they took Marguerite and they know where she really is," Roxton cut in, a dangerous gleam in his eye. "I'll teach those bastards a thing or two about burial at sea," he growled, walking towards the gate.

Veronica grabbed his arm. "Hold it," she said. "We can't just go storming in there without a plan. Especially right now. We don't want them to know that we suspect anything. Right now, we need to make them think we've left for good. It'll be a lot easier to sneak around undetected in there when it's dark. Then we'll find out what's really happened to Marguerite."

Roxton reluctantly agreed and they traveled a little ways from the village where they would be hidden from the sight of anyone inside of the walls. They quickly set up a makeshift camp and worked out a plan for exploring the village. Then they settled back and waited for darkness to fall.

****

Finally, night fell and the explorers decided it was time to re-enter the village and try to find out what they could about Marguerite's whereabouts. "We should split up," Roxton said to the others once they were back inside the gates. Veronica opened her mouth to protest, but Roxton cut her off. "We don't know how much time we'll have to search and this way we'll be able to cover more ground."

Veronica sighed but had to agree with Roxton's logic. "All right, but as soon as someone finds out something or the second things don't feel right, get out. We'll meet at dawn back in the forest where we camped today." The other three agreed and then set off in separate directions to search.

Roxton made his way back to the castle where they had met with Khyrus earlier. He was still seething with anger at the thought that the advisor and guard had lied to them about finding Marguerite and burying her at sea. *If either one of them has harmed her, I will spend the rest of my life making them sorry,* Roxton silently vowed as he stealthily crept through the palace halls, thankful that security seemed non-existent at the moment.

He quietly entered the room where the explorers had met with Khryus earlier that day. A quick search of the room shed no light on Marguerite's disappearance, and he soon left the room to continue his search of the castle. Half an hour later Roxton had searched a great deal of the castle but still had found nothing that would lead him to Marguerite. "There's got to be something here," he muttered to himself. "Some sign, proof that they lied to us."

He came to a door at the end of the hallway he was currently searching and cautiously opened it, pistol at the ready. Instead of finding a room, however, he saw before him a set of curving stone steps leading down to an unknown location, the passageway dimly lit by torches on the wall. Straining his ears for the faintest sound, he carefully made his way down the steps, tensed for whatever he might encounter at the bottom.

He reached the bottom of the stairs without incident and found himself in a poorly lit corridor with prison cells on either side of the passageway. Roxton made his way down the hall, checking each cell for an occupant, but the cells all appeared to be empty. When he reached the end of the corridor, however, he saw a form huddled on the small cot in the corner of the last cell on his right.

"Hello," he called in a loud whisper. "Can you hear me in there? Hello?"

The figure on the bedding jerked and then rose unsteadily to its feet. It was then that Roxton saw that the huddled mass was actually a small figure clothed in a long cloak, his face partially hidden by its hood, his hands chained before him. The person hurried to the bars as fast as he could with his hands bound before him, making a panicked whimpering sound as he came.

Then the figure reached the bars and Roxton gasped as his eyes met the familiar ones that had haunted his dreams for so long. "Marguerite!"

Marguerite's eyes widened and she tried to reply, but the gag in her mouth made her frantic cries unintelligible. Roxton reached a hand out to her through the bars, not understanding the agitated sounds coming from her mouth until it was too late. The last thing Roxton saw was Marguerite's terrified face before he felt something strike him in the back of the head. For the second time in as many days, darkness overtook him and he slumped to the floor.

****

"Roxton! Roxton, can you hear me?" Roxton slowly opened his eyes and found Ned, Veronica, and Challenger gathered around him once more. "This is becoming a habit with you," Veronica teased, worry evident in her eyes despite her light tone.

Roxton sat up, moaning softly as he felt the back of his head throb at the motion. "I'm beginning to understand how you feel, Neddy boy," he joked weakly, gently touching the back of his skull.

The reporter smiled. "How did you wind up here?" Ned asked.

Roxton glanced around and it was only then that he realized he was sitting on the floor inside the cell he had seen Marguerite in earlier. "Where's Marguerite?" he asked, looking around anxiously.

"What do you mean? Did you find her?" Veronica asked.

Roxton nodded, wincing as the movement caused the throbbing in his head to intensify. "She was here," he told the others. "I found her in this cell. Her hands were chained and she was gagged, but before I could do anything someone got the drop on me from behind." He scowled, furious with himself for letting this happen and being unable to rescue Marguerite. He looked at his companions. "You didn't see her?"

Challenger shook his head. "We came into the palace looking for you when you didn't meet us in our designated spot in the forest this morning."

"This morning!?" Roxton exclaimed. "I've been out that long?" He rose to his feet, forcing himself to focus on something other than the pain in his head. "We've got to get moving, we've already wasted enough time as it is. We know Marguerite is here, but now they know that we know and they've moved her again."

"But why? And where?" Veronica questioned.

Roxton shook his head in frustration. "I don't know," he admitted.

"Well, we should have an easier time searching for her today," Ned spoke up. "Most everyone in the village is gathered down by the water for the sacrifice of the princess."

They were silent a moment, then looked up at each other as the same thought struck all of them at once.

"You don't think?" Veronica began.

"Marguerite?" Ned said uneasily.

"It's certainly a possibility," Challenger admitted.

"Well what are we waiting for?" Roxton cried. "We've got to get to that ceremony!" The others needed no further urging, and they hurried out of the palace and towards the location of the sacrificial rites.

The four were able to find the location of the ceremony without any difficulty. As Ned had already said, most of the village had gathered together for the ceremony in an area down by the water's edge. The explorers quickly made their way through the crowd to the water's edge, searching desperately for any sign of Marguerite.

Several feet away from the beach where the villagers stood there was a ledge that jutted out from a wall of rock. A narrow path led from the beach to the outcropping and waves pounded against the rock below. Roxton recognized Myson on the ledge. He and another man were tying a woman to a post on the ledge. The woman wore a long flowing robe of burgundy, and when the men stepped away Roxton felt his breath catch as he recognized the woman on the ledge. "Marguerite! It's Marguerite," he told the others. She was too far away for the villagers to see her clearly and the gag in her mouth made it impossible for her to cry out and tell everyone who she really was. The wind whipped her dark hair wildly around her face, making it even more difficult to positively identify her. But Roxton would know her anywhere.

Myson and the other man began to walk back to the other villagers, leaving Marguerite alone on the ledge. "Fellow villagers, today is truly a sorrowful day for us," Khyrus boomed, stepping forward in front of the villagers. Behind him sat a regally dressed couple, their faces lined with grief. A dark haired young man stood to one side, his countenance equally miserable. The explorers could only assume they were the king and queen of the village and their son. "Our god, Aesychus, has demanded the sacrifice of our Princess Thalia, daughter of our beloved king and queen. We must come together in this time and focus on the positive. Princess Thalia will not die in vain. Her death will save her village and the lives of all our villagers. She is truly the hero of the people!"

The townspeople tried to smile through their tears, a few even managing to cheer, but the atmosphere remained somber. Suddenly, the water began churning and as the four watched in horror, a Plesiosaur's monstrous head rose from the waves. "Marguerite!" Without waiting for the others, Roxton took off at a dead run for the path to the ledge.

"Stop him!" Khyrus screamed to Myson and the other guard on the ledge. "He's trying to prevent the sacrifice!"

The first guard charged at Roxton with his sword up. Roxton dodged to the side, avoiding the thrust of the sword, and saw Veronica behind him. "Go on," she told Roxton. "I'll take care of him."

Roxton didn't hesitate, and continued on the path. Suddenly, Myson stood before him, blocking his way. "You cannot interfere with the sacrifice," he told Roxton.

Roxton's eyes narrowed in fury at the man who had lied to him about Marguerite's death. He sent Myson staggering to the side with a powerful left hook then kicked him solidly in the stomach, sending him into the crashing waves below. "How's that for interference?" Roxton growled, continuing on his way to Marguerite.

"I think it's time for us to be leaving," Roxton said to Marguerite when he reached her side.

"Roxton!" Marguerite cried, tears of relief filling her eyes.

He stepped behind her and pulled out his knife to cut away the ropes that bound her. He had almost cut through her bonds when she screamed his name again. He looked up and saw the Plesiosaur's head rising before them. He shot at it a few times but the creature seemed unaffected by the bullets. Roxton finished cutting Marguerite's ropes just as the Plesiosaur's head lurched towards them. He grabbed Marguerite and threw her to the ground, pressing them both as closely to the rock wall as he could, his body shielding hers from the beast.

Roxton clenched his eyes shut, waiting for the dinosaur to snatch him up, but suddenly it moved its head away and turned in another direction. Myson's thrashing around in the water had caught its attention, and while Roxton watched, the Plesiosaur scooped Myson up in its mouth, dragging him underwater as it headed back to the open sea with its meal.

Roxton stood and pulled Marguerite to her feet. "Come on, let's get out of her," he said to her. Marguerite nodded wordlessly and the two quickly made their way down the path and back onto solid ground.

Malone, Veronica, and Challenger were still battling the guards, but as soon as the villagers saw Marguerite clearly, the king stepped forward. "Stop at once," he commanded his guards. They immediately fell back and Roxton and Marguerite joined their friends. "This woman is not my daughter, Thalia. She is a stranger. Khyrus, what is the meaning of this?" King Lucan demanded.

"I believe I can answer that." A young woman stepped through the crowd, her size and stature very similar to that of Marguerite, her long dark hair pulled back from her hair in a thick braid.

"Thalia!" Queen Treya gasped.

"I don't understand," the young man standing with the king and queen said. "What's going on?"

Thalia smiled gently at the young man. "Of course you don't understand, dear brother," she said. "You would never take part in something as treacherous as what I have been a part of."

"What are you talking about?" Lucan asked, puzzled.

Khyrus glared at her. "I don't think the princess knows her own mind right now, your grace," he said to the king. "The events of the past few days have been too hard on her."

Thalia stared Khyrus in the eye, unflinching under his angry gaze. "I know exactly what I'm talking about," she said in a strong voice. "As much as it shames me to admit it, I have taken part in a deadly plot."

"You don't know what you're doing, my dear," Khyrus hissed at her.

"Oh yes I do. For the first time in a long time, I know exactly what I'm doing," Thalia said. "A few months ago I realized that I was in love with Khyrus. Or at least, I thought it was love. And he seemed to return my feelings. After we had professed our love to each other, Khyrus came to me with a plan. He said that he would manufacture a sign from Aesychus that would tell you I had to be sacrificed in order to save the village. He said no harm would come to me and he would create a hologram to fool the villagers."

She turned to Marguerite. "I'm so sorry," she said, taking Marguerite's hands in her own. "I swear to you I had no idea he was going to use another in my place."

Roxton's face was unforgiving as he stood with his arm wrapped tightly around Marguerite's waist, but Marguerite nodded in acknowledgement. "I know," she whispered, seeing the truth of Thalia's words reflected in her eyes.

Thalia smiled briefly and continued her tale. "Khyrus said that then I could return to the village that night, resurrected as it were. He said he would interpret this as a sign from the gods that I had been returned to the village after my death and that this meant I was supposed to rule the village instead of Haedon. I'm sorry, brother," she added quietly. Haedon only stared back at her, shocked into silence.

She sighed and continued. "Then Khyrus and I would be married and he and I would rule the village together. I was too blinded by what I thought was love to see anything wrong with this plan, and I agreed with him completely on it. I realize now what a fool I was and how wrong it was for me to go along with this ruse.

"I am truly sorry for all the pain and hurt I have caused," Thalia said, looking from the villagers to her family. "And it grieves me to think how many have been hurt by my actions," she said, looking at Marguerite and her companions. She turned her attention back to her parents. "I accept the responsibility for my actions, and I will accept any and all punishment that you deem appropriate for what I have done," she said, her head held high. "I only hope that in time you will be able to forgive me these sins."

King Lucan's face was stern. "Your punishment shall be decided by committee, just as the punishment of any member of the village's fate would be. Guards, take Khyrus into custody. I want him brought to the palace prison."

Khyrus's eyes glowed with malice. "You may have betrayed me, dearest," he hissed at Thalia, "but I can still carry out my plan to shorten the royal line." He raised his hands towards Lucan, Treya, and Haedon, electricity crackling at his fingertips.

"No!" Thalia threw herself in front of her family members, the bolt of energy from Khyrus catching her squarely in the chest and knocking her several feet into the air before she landed hard on the ground.

Khyrus raised his hands again, but before he could send out another blast of energy Veronica's knife caught him cleanly in the chest. He screamed once in agony before his body fell to the ground, lifeless.

Lucan, Treya, and Haedon gathered around Thalia's body where it lay on the ground. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "Please forgive me."

"Of course we forgive you, darling," Treya said, tears streaming down her face.

"We love you," Lucan said softly.

Thalia managed a weak smile. "I love you all. Haedon, I know you will rule well."

Haedon nodded, swallowing past the lump in his throat. "I will, in your name," he promised. Thalia smiled as she closed her eyes for the final time, her countenance peaceful, her soul freed by her final loving act of self-sacrifice.

****

Later that evening the explorers had returned to the treehouse. King Lucan and Queen Treya had asked them to stay until at least the following morning, but Marguerite had been anxious to leave the village and return to the treehouse and the others had shared her sentiments.

After dinner Challenger had excused himself to his lab while Veronica and Ned had each gone to their respective bedrooms. Roxton was sitting in the main room, pretending to read a book, but in actuality he was keeping an eye on an unusually quiet Marguerite. She had not said much since they had left the village, and had withdrawn to the balcony when she had finished dinner. When Roxton realized that he had been reading the same paragraph for ten minutes and still didn't know what it said, he decided to give up on his book and join Marguerite on the balcony.

"Marguerite?" he said quietly as he walked out onto the balcony. "Are you all right?"

Marguerite stood by the balcony railing looking out at the night sky. The plateau was relatively quiet that night and she found it soothing as she stared out at the starry sky above. She hadn't heard Roxton approach and started at his question.

She looked over at him as he joined her at the railing. "I'm fine," she assured him. "Once again, you were there to save me from imminent death." She tried to make a joke out of it, but Roxton could see by the expression in her eyes just how shaken she still was.

"I'll always be there for you," he told her honestly. "You know that. Don't forget, I've promised to always be there to set you straight."

He smiled at her and Marguerite felt an answering smile spread across her face. "And of course, Lord Roxton always keeps his word."

"That's right," he said with a grin, his eyes sparkling mischievously.

The two stared at each other for a few moments before Marguerite was finally able to pull her gaze away. "What are you still doing up?" she asked him, her eyes once again focused on the night sky.

"Well, I have something of yours," Roxton told her. "And I thought I should return it."

"Really? And what is that?" Marguerite asked.

Roxton pulled something from the pocket of his pants. "Your locket," he told her, his face grave as he displayed the locket on his hand. "Myson gave it to me when he told us you were dead."

Marguerite's countenance was equally solemn and she swallowed hard as Roxton placed the locket in her open hand. "Thank you, John," she whispered.

"You're welcome," he said. He saw the pain in her eyes once more. "Marguerite, are you all right? You know you can tell me when something is wrong."

Marguerite tried to smile. "I know. It's just everything that we've seen in the past two days. That poor girl. I know she was originally part of it," Marguerite said when she saw Roxton opening his mouth to protest, "but she realized that she was wrong before it was too late. She didn't want anyone else to be hurt. And she honestly didn't know what kind of a man Khyrus really was. She thought he loved her, and she went along with the plan because she loved him so much."

"Well, love can make a person do crazy things," Roxton said. "I guess because in the end, it's the only thing that truly matters."

Marguerite looked up at Roxton, meeting his gaze head on. "I'm really starting to believe that," she said softly. She leaned up and gently brushed her lips across his. "Goodnight, John."

She walked into her bedroom, leaving Roxton staring after her from the balcony. "So am I, Marguerite," he whispered to himself. "So am I."