A/N - Okay, I'm so, so sorry for the length of time between updates on this story but unfortunately a healthy dose of writer's block and a serious amount of things going on in R/L just conspired against me. I DO plan on finishing this story but I can't guarantee how quick I'll get the chapter's out I'm afraid - but I WILL get them out eventually! My thanks to those of you that have written to me to encourage a continuation - I hope you like the next installment.
Malone tugged at his backpack trying to get it into a more comfortable position on his shoulders. They'd been walking for over an hour now but every time he looked up, the mountain they were headed towards just didn't seem to be getting any nearer.
He was about to comment on the fact when Challenger suddenly spoke, obviously having also noticed. "Are we going around in circles or is that mountain further away than I first thought?"
Jodrell looked back at him over her shoulder. "It is an illusion, Professor. A defence mechanism if you will, so that no one attempts to gain access."
"And a zillion mile high mountain with no visible signs of entry isn't enough of a deterrent already?" Malone commented in a sardonic aside to Veronica.
The blonde flashed him a grin then turned her attention back to Challenger who was speaking again.
"What causes this illusion?" the professor asked with interest. "Atmospheric pressure? The path of the sun?"
Jodrell slowed her pace so that he could walk alongside her and shot him a puzzled look. "Magic," she replied simply.
Challenger snorted. "With all due respect, Your Majesty, I do not believe in the existence of magic. Everything has an explanation, you just have to know how to go about looking for the answers."
The Queen smiled. "I am amazed that a highly educated man such as yourself could be so…blinkered," she gently chastised. "In my world, my people and I would not exist if there were no such thing as magic. It is all around us, all of the time."
Challenger smiled back at her and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Your Highness, but…" he began, only to be cut off by Roxton who could see that the Professor was about to launch into another of his lectures. The last thing he needed was Jodrell to be offended by Challenger's views and have her leave them, and Marguerite, without any assistance.
"Uh…just where is your world, Your Majesty?" the hunter asked, shooting the older man a warning look as he appeared to want to interrupt. Challenger gave the Roxton a slightly offended look in return but remained silent.
Hearing the hunter's question, Malone's ears pricked up and he increased his pace, wanting to hear everything she had to say so that he could record it in his journal.
"Our world is down…beyond the water," Jodrell replied.
"Like an underwater cavern of some kind?" Roxton asked, puzzled.
The Queen's brow creased slightly as if trying to find the right words that would explain her world. "Yes and no. My palace is what you call a cavern. It stands guard by the entrance to the water, protecting my people from outsiders and housing the precious stones that bring peace to the land." She paused and gestured to the foliage surrounding them. "In appearance, the rest of Elfrey is not unlike your world. It is filled with many rich colours and my people live in peaceful co-existence with everything around."
"Do you think we could see it?" Malone asked eagerly. At Roxton's frown, he hastily added, "I mean, after we find Marguerite…naturally."
Jodrell looked regretful. "I'm sorry but if you enter Elfrey, you will not be allowed to return. Mortals cannot withstand the journey back to their own world. You would die."
The disappointment was evident on the young reporter's face but he nodded his acceptance of what she was saying. "Before you go back though, maybe you could tell me more in detail?" he then suggested hopefully. "I really would like the opportunity to write everything down, even if I can't actually see it." His reply was a slight dip of Jodrell's head and a small smile. Happy with the prospect of an interview, Malone slowed up and fell back in step with Veronica.
"My Queen," came Alban's soft voice in her ear. "Do you think that is wise? They are humans and you know how headstrong that race can be. They might try to find Elfrey in spite of your warning."
Jodrell turned to her subject and her smile widened. Dear, sweet Alban. He could be such a worrier. Looking back at the rest of the travellers, she took ahold of Alban's arm and urged him to pick up his pace a little. When they were a sufficient distance away from the rest of the group not to be overheard, she said, "Do not concern yourself with them, Alban. I do not think they will attempt to find us. They are only interested in finding their friend."
"Yes, but what happens after that?" he insisted with a frown. "When they no longer have the worry of locating Marguerite, they will turn their attention to us, it is inevitable. The inquisitiveness of these mortals has long been their downfall."
Jodrell sighed. "You are right, Alban, and when I speak to that young man, I shall make certain that I do not tell him anything of substance. Does that make you easier?"
Turning his head, Alban caught sight of her troubled features and swallowed hard, feeling his anger slip away. "Yes, Your Majesty, it does indeed make me easier. I thank you for your patience and apologise for my inappropriate behaviour. I should never have spoken to you in such a way."
The Queen gazed at his contrite, downcast face and sighed heavily again. "Oh, Alban, you know you do not need to ask my forgiveness. We are not in Elfrey now and as far as I'm concerned, protocol need not be observed…especially where you and I are concerned." She reached out and tentatively took his hand in hers then smiled. "Are we in agreement?"
The sprite looked back at her in amazement then down at their joined hands before returning his gaze to her eyes once more. Slowly, a soft smile tugged at his lips and he squeezed her hand lightly before nodding his head curtly. "We are in agreement."
Tribune let out a snort of laughter at Marguerite's greeting and shook his head. "Your wit always was the most attractive thing about you," he commented, mockingly.
"What a shame I can't return the compliment," she retorted sarcastically.
"You see?" he pointed out with another chuckle. "That brain of yours was the main reason I decided not to eat you the first time we met. Would have been a terrible waste."
"Not to mention mess," she muttered disgustedly.
Tribune smiled, then turned away from her to look out of the cave's exit as if deciding what to say next. Seeing her chance, Marguerite swiftly unfolded her arms and cracked the whip she'd taken from her guard towards the seemingly oblivious reptile.
Tribune turned almost immediately and grabbed the vicious strap before it made proper contact. He let out a loud hiss then yanked the whip towards him, dragging the heiress, who was determinedly holding onto the other end, along with it. He pulled the lash from her hand and dropped it on the ground, then grabbed her wrists and shoved her hands behind her back forcing her flush against his body. "Now, is that really the way to treat an old friend?" he asked mockingly, his face scant inches away from her own.
"Most of my 'old friends' don't want to eat me," she replied dryly, refusing to be intimidated.
"Hmm, except Lord Roxton of course," he remarked lightly, relinquishing his grip and stepping back.
Marguerite felt her face grow hot at his astuteness, but remained silent.
"Where is he, by the way?" the reptile continued, looking around as though he expected to see the hunter emerge from the shadows at any moment. When she, again, didn't reply, Tribune looked back at her sharply and then let out a frustrated hiss. "Oh, don't tell me; you've got yourself captured and he's going to be along with the rest of your little friends and try and rescue you, is he?" He gave a snort of derision. "He'll fail you know. No-one gets out of here. There's no escape."
"Well, we'll just have to see about that, won't we?" she challenged, her temper flaring at his arrogance.
"Marguerite, trust me, it's useless," he replied with a shake of his head.
"Trust you!" she repeated on a short laugh. "After your track record, just tell me why the hell I should do that?"
"Because I've been here six months and I haven't found a way out yet!" the reptile snapped.
Marguerite looked at him wide-eyed. "What?! You mean you're not in charge of this place?" she asked, dreading the answer.
"No, I'm a prisoner too," he confirmed angrily. "Just as you are."
END CHAPTER SIX