Round 3 - DNash
There was pounding. Malone couldn’t determine if it was in his head or coming from somewhere outside himself. His senses were returning bit by bit. He could tell he was lying on his side. He could tell his hands were tied behind him. He could tell his cheek was pressing into the ground. The good news was the ground was dry.
He tried to piece together what had happened to bring him here. He and Veronica had seen the storm coming and had turned for home, hoping to outrun the lowering clouds. They’d been at least two miles from the treehouse when the deluge hit. In seconds, they were soaked. In minutes, their vision was so obscured he’d come inches from walking into a tree.
Veronica had said something—shouted something; he didn’t know what. It was nearly impossible to hear her over the noise the rain was making. It had been like standing under a waterfall, he remembered thinking. Then she’d disappeared.
He’d called and called, but there was no response. He stepped away from the tree and nothing.
Slowly, painfully, he opened his eyes. It did him little good. Wherever he was it was dark. Very dark.
Great. Another cave.
At Veronica’s shout, Roxton’s first instinct was to bound out of his room and see what the hell was going on. He fought the instinct and first pulled on a pair of pants. He draped his damp towel over his neck to catch any drips from his still damp hair and hurried out into the main living area.
"What’s wrong?" he asked before he’d really caught sight of the blonde woman.
"M-Malone’s m-missing," she replied through chattering teeth. "Marguerite went to scout the p-perimeter."
"By herself? In this rain?" demanded Roxton. Immediately, he glanced out into the jungle, but the storm shades blocked his view. "Damn fool woman," he muttered. He grabbed his wet boots and began to pull them back on. He fought his way into one, but it was a struggle as the soaked leather stuck to his pant leg, bunching it uncomfortably. Ignoring the discomfort, he forced his foot into the other boot.
So much for being sensible, thought Veronica. She wrapped the towel tighter around herself, her shivering starting to decrease in the relative warmth of the treehouse. "She said she’d be right back. You don’t have to go back out there. You’re not even dry from your last time." Finally she managed to catch the hunter’s full attention.
It was the first time Roxton actually registered the young woman’s state. "Nor are you." He knelt next to her. He pulled the towel from his neck and placed it over the young woman’s straggling curls, gently wringing some of the water from them into the cloth. "You need to get warm and dry. Challenger?" he called out.
It was only a moment before the inventor was with them. Unlike Roxton, he’d managed to get completely dressed first. He’d even managed to run a comb through his wet hair. "What is it?"
"Malone’s missing. Marguerite’s looking for him. I’m going after them both," the hunter stated succinctly.
"Ah. Another routine day on the Plateau." It was said dryly and without mirth.
Despite the gravity of the situation, Veronica laughed. It was a brief outburst, absurd and only a few steps short of hysterical. She cleared her throat and was quickly serious once again. As clearly and calmly as she could she said, "Ned and I got separated by the storm. I couldn’t find any trace of him. Why can’t he listen to me and do what I tell him?" The looks from the men made her eyes widen. "Oops. That last bit was out loud, wasn’t it?"
"It’s all right," Challenger assured her with a gently teasing smile. "We’ll ascribe it to distress and exhaustion. And we won’t tell a soul."
While the inventor was seeing to Veronica, Roxton finished adjusting his boots. Not bothering to put on a fresh shirt—it would only have gotten wet and dirty and added to the week’s laundry—he grabbed his hat and was reaching for his gun belt when they heard the squeal and groan of the lift. The three paused in hopeful anticipation.
Marguerite stepped from the lift just as drenched as the others had been. She set her rifle aside and stood dripping on the floor. "Well? Isn’t anyone going to offer me a towel?"
"You didn’t find him?" Veronica tried to sound strong and matter-of-fact, but inside she was shaking—and not with cold.
"I couldn’t see two feet in front of me," the heiress admitted angrily. She wasn’t angry with the blonde; she was angry with herself. That’s what I get for trying to be noble. "Thank you, Challenger," she added as the ginger-haired man handed her yet another towel, which she used to wring out her long dark curls. "We’re going to have to do laundry earlier than scheduled, I think. We’ll be out of towels before sundown at this rate."
"We won’t even know when sundown is. It’s so dark from the storm already," Veronica said flatly.
Challenger gave her a concerned look. It was rare for her to sound so gloomy, and she was looking more worn out by the second. "Why don’t you go to your room and get cleaned up, my dear?" he suggested gently. He offered a hand, which she gratefully took, and helped her to her feet.
All three of them were taken by surprise.
"I’m already soaked through," the blonde pointed out. "I might as well go back out there to look for Malone. I can’t get any wetter."
"Absolutely not," said Marguerite with authority. "If you go out there, someone will have to go with you. I’m the logical choice at the moment," she added with a wry look at her sodden state, "and I’m not going anywhere. You said yourself we won’t be able to tell when night’s coming on, and I’ve already said you can’t see your hand in front of your face in that downpour. It’s not safe."
Veronica wanted to argue. It was pointless, and she knew Marguerite was right, but she didn’t want to accept that she was helpless.
Seeing the crestfallen look the younger woman tried unsuccessfully to hide, Marguerite’s expression softened. "We’ll find him. As soon as it’s light and the rain lets up. Don’t worry. Malone has proved himself to be pretty indestructible. He’s come through all sorts of trouble." Of course, if he wasn’t such an idiot he wouldn’t have gotten into all sorts of trouble in the first place, she added to herself, for once not sharing her biting sentiments with the room in general.
"Why don’t you ladies get cleaned up?" suggested Roxton. "There’s nothing more to be done tonight."
Sitting up wasn’t an option, Malone decided. He probably could have managed it by leaning against the cave wall and using his feet to push himself up, but he chose not to. Just looking around from where he lay was making his head throb, which in turn caused his stomach to roil unpleasantly. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, hoping the sensations would pass.
The nausea subsided; the pounding in his skull did not. That was when he realized the pounding was coming from within and without.