The Choice

by Leahna

Takes place immediately following "Ice Age". Lord Roxton finds that sometimes the easiest choices are the hardest.

The lush green of the jungle stood in complement and contrast to the vivid blue sky. Beneath the broad, fragrant fronds hid a world inhabited by diverse multitudes including: two monkeys playing tag – their shrieks echoing like laughter, bright blue and yellow parrots working frantically on their nest, and a score of blood-thirsty trogs ready to attack.

High above the jungle floor, the quiet tree house was filled with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. Marguerite Krux walked unhurriedly up the steps into the common room savouring the scent of her favourite beverage.

Both men had finished their breakfasts, but Lord John Roxton was quick to reassure her, "We've left you plenty of coffee and toast." As if to prove the validity of his statement, the handsome hunter retrieved the coffeepot and poured her a cup of the steaming liquid.

She smiled her thanks, her hands lingering against his as she took the full cup. Their eyes met briefly, and she moved away.

Noting that Professor George Challenger had donned his coat and hat and was even now taking up his rifle, the dark beauty blew across the liquid's surface and took a slow sip of the fragrant elixir before asking, "So, what have you boys planned for today?"

The red haired scientist glanced at Roxton before answering, "We're going to finish a few minor repairs out at the windmill."

"The electric fence isn't working yet?" Marguerite asked incredulously.

"The cold wreaked havoc with the internal components." He replied indignantly. "The extreme temperatures caused many of the wires to become brittle, thereby creating...

Holding up her hand to stop his long winded explanation, the heiress said, "all I really want to hear is the hum from that fence once it is fixed."

Biting back a laugh but unable to disguise his grin, Roxton said soothingly, "we should be back by lunch with everything running smoothly."

"Right," she said unconvinced. She blew absently across her coffee again, then stood quietly. She'd heard something. As she listened, she heard the faint crackle again. "Did you hear that?" she asked.

Above them, the roof creaked. Then, with a rustle and a loud crack, a large portion of thatch landed directly in front of Roxton and Marguerite. Amid the wreckage skulked a large ape-man brandishing a crude stone knife the size of a machete.

As it charged, Roxton moved in front of Marguerite and grabbed the only weapon close at hand: a chair. He swung the chair and caught the trog fully but ineffectually across the chest. The chair fell in pieces, but the trog continued. Following a loud bang, the creature crumpled to the floor.

Across the room, Challenger lowered his smoking rifle.

"I do hate it when guests drop in uninvited," Marguerite quipped.

Challenger grabbed up two more rifles and tossed them to Roxton. Before the hunter could pass one on to Marguerite, another ape-man lunged through the balcony at her. She spun around and threw the precious contents of her coffee cup and then the cup itself, at the approaching primate. It howled as the dark liquid scorched his skin. Hairy hands clutched to his injured face, he fell back, giving Marguerite the time she needed to snatch a rifle from Roxton.

Trogs now swarmed from every opening. They seemed to fill the room.

Despite his blistering face, the trog was determinedly reaching for the dark haired heiress. Quickly, Marguerite readied her rifle and pulled the trigger. The creature jerked backward and landed in a heap on the floor. A rough, hairy hand grasped the adventuress' throat from behind. She was pulled off her feet as another arm encircled her waist. She found it hard to breathe. The raven haired beauty lifted her weapon, and with all her strength, rammed the butt into the ape-man's face. Blood spurted from its broken nose. Howling in pain, it dropped its prize but almost immediately, it grabbed a large handful of her dark, curly hair and pulled her back. Arms trapped against her sides, she kicked her heels into its shins as it half carried, half dragged her toward the balcony.

Lord Roxton had just dispatched another of the ape-men when he saw Marguerite disappearing onto the balcony. He took aim and froze. The struggling beauty was directly behind and against the trog. The spectre of past horrors stopped him cold, sending a vision of his bullet passing through the primate and into his beloved. He couldn't take the chance. He could not kill her like he'd killed his brother. Not again. In one smooth movement, he pulled his knife from its sheath and threw it, catching the trog squarely between its shoulder blades.

Struggling from under the dead ape-man, Marguerite called a sincere, "Thanks."

"Anytime," Roxton replied, then he ducked as a club whistled through the air barely missing him. He leveled the rifle and shot the trog just as it began another swing of the heavy and quite lethal club. Even as the creature fell, another one jumped up and grabbed the rifle barrel. The hunter wrestled with him, each of them refusing to loosen his hold on the weapon. Roxton pushed the primate back, forcing him toward the table where his holstered pistols lay. Grappling one handed, and attempting to keep the trog unbalanced, his other hand fumbled with the holster. He pulled the pearl handled Webley free and fired.

Challenger's rifle was empty. Having no time to reload, he swung it like a club. He caught one trog across the chest. It fell backward and right into the fireplace. Screaming shrilly, it flailed around knocking the burning logs onto the floor. At last it rolled out and ran, trailing the stench of burning hair and scorched flesh.

The room was now filling with smoke, leaving each explorer effectively isolated from their companions. An ape-man knocked Challenger to the ground and threw the scientist over his shoulder.

Roxton pushed a dead trog away and jumped to his feet. As the smoke thinned, it became apparent that every trog left in the tree house was dead. The others had given up although they had taken a prize: Roxton got a last glimpse of the professor as he was carried away. Grabbing a platter, he scooped up the heavily smoking logs and deposited them back into the fireplace. With the pot of coffee, he extinguished the smouldering floor mats. Then, strapping on his holsters, he yelled, "They've got Challenger!" He reloaded his rifle and checked his ammunition. "Come on, Marguerite, no time to waste." He turned to where he'd last seen her. "Marguerite?" Horror filled him anew as he realized that she was no longer on the balcony. Dread grew as he checked for her among the fallen ape-men, calling her name all the while. Relief at not finding her among the dead was short-lived: she'd been taken as well.

Jamming his hat onto his head, Roxton jumped into the elevator, prepared to do whatever was necessary to get them both back.