Round 9 - DNash
Malone found he had great incentive for staying awake. While he was truly helpless, bound as he was, at least if he remained conscious he could try talking the amorous Amazon out of anything she might attempt to do. It wasn’t easy—the talking or the staying awake—but he was managing.
"I’m bored," whined Phoebe. "Are you sure you don’t want me to—?"
"No!" the reporter said quickly. It didn’t matter what she’d been about to say; he knew it wouldn’t be a good idea.
"But I’m bored!"
Malone thought hard. How could he distract her? "We could play a game."
Phoebe’s face lit up. "I like games," she said with a leer.
"Not that kind of game."
Her face fell into the pout that was becoming all too familiar to Malone. He sighed. "A word game or something," he clarified. "Unless you happen to have a deck of cards…"
This time her expression was blank.
"I didn’t think so. How about we play Geography?"
Still no inkling of recognition in the Amazon’s eyes.
"Right. Not a whole lot of choices when your entire world is the Plateau." He wracked his brain for inspiration, difficult though it was to think in his present circumstances. He was supremely grateful for the blankets that covered him—providing both warmth and decency—but he’d have given anything to be fully clothed. And untied, and a hundred miles away from here, his mind added.
An idea finally came to him. "How about we play Word Association? I’ll say a word, and you say the first thing that comes into your head, then I say the first thing that comes into my head after that, and so on," he explained.
"Hmm." The Amazon considered, her brow furrowed in concentration. Malone got the impression she wasn’t accustomed to thinking quite so hard. "All right," she said at last.
"Okay." Now that he had to begin, his mind was a blank. He glanced around the room as best he could from where he lay, looking for inspiration. "Umm…blanket."
"Bed," Phoebe promptly replied.
"No?" the reporter echoed, caught off guard by this response.
"Yes." Unaware of his confusion, the Amazon was still trying to play the game.
"Yes?" Phoebe’s eyes were wide and hopeful.
"Stop!" Already the game had backfired on him.
"No. Stop. Please."
Phoebe tilted her head to one side inquiringly, resembling nothing so much as Golden Retriever. "That’s three words. I don’t know which to answer."
Again, Malone sighed heavily. "Never mind." It was going to be a long twelve hours.
Carrying the lanterns left behind in the tunnel by the captive Amazons, it took Marguerite and Veronica several tense minutes to traverse the tunnel. Shortly before its end, it made one last turn. The women peered cautiously around the bend.
"The new village Psyche told us about," whispered Veronica.
She was obviously correct, so Marguerite saw no reason to comment. The pair scanned the scene, taking in the layout, defenses, population.
"There." Veronica pointed off to their left. "That building with the guard in front of it. That looks a lot like a jail to me. And that seems the most likely place they’d be holding Malone."
Marguerite nodded and blew out the lantern she held, setting it down on the tunnel floor. "All right. I’ll distract the guard so you can get inside." The heiress rose from her crouch and started forward.
Veronica put a hand on her arm to forestall her. "Hang on."
"Nope. Remember the last time we dealt with these women? I get to make the plans." Giving the younger woman no time to argue, she stepped out of the tunnel. Veronica took a moment to snarl a little in frustration before following several steps behind.
The blonde watched the reactions of the women at the sight of Marguerite. The heiress had been right; not wanting to be sucked into her vortex of bad luck, they gave her a wide berth. Veronica chuckled as the dark-haired woman intentionally stumbled, reinforcing the image that she was truly the awkward youth, Psyche.
Marguerite made her way across the open yard in the general direction of the village’s jail. Still no one approached her. She allowed herself the barest of ironic smiles, hidden by the fall of her long, dark curls. As she neared the jail, she dared not spare a glance to find Veronica; the heiress could only trust the blonde was in position and ready for her to make her move.
Timing it carefully, Marguerite continued forward until she was within easy reach of the guard. Then she struck. Tripping over an imagined impediment, she careened forward into the Amazon. Taken complete by surprise, the woman let go the spear she held and put out her arms, trying both to fend off the heiress and to keep her from falling. She was unsuccessful at both.
While the two women rolled over one another in a confused tangle of limbs, Veronica slipped in around them and entered the jail. She heard the woman curse, "Damn it, Psyche!" just as she pulled the door shut behind her. Veronica had to stifle a chuckle.
She looked around as her eyes adjusted to the gloom of the building. There was little in it—and no cells. Great, she thought angrily. Then she saw the open trap door. She crossed the room to it and peered down. Stairs. Good. She drew her knife and began her descent.
There was one guard at the bottom. As quickly and quietly as she could, Veronica crept up behind her. Using the hilt of her knife and both hands, she struck the woman in the head. The Amazon crumpled to the ground, senseless.
Veronica searched the woman and soon found what she was looking for. Knife in one hand, key in the other, she moved quickly along the torch-lit corridor. "Malone?" she called in a harsh whisper. She reached the first cell door and squinted into the darkness inside. "Malone?"
There was no response and she could make out no sign of any occupants. She moved on. The next cell was just as empty as the first, but in the last one Veronica saw movement.
"Malone?" she hissed. Then a little louder, "Malone?"
It wasn’t Ned’s voice, but the blonde woman recognized it. She peered intently into the cell. "Kai? Is that you?"
"Veronica!" was the Zanga man’s joyful, though subdued, reply.
Veronica used the key she’d taken from the guard and opened the cell door. It was difficult to tell in the dim light, but she thought Kai was looking a bit worse for wear. "Are you all right?" she asked, extending a hand to guide him out of the cell.
He took the hand gratefully. "Well enough, although I’ve known more pleasant days."
"How did you get here?"
"Ardo and I took shelter from the storm late last night. We found your friend Malone and brought him with us to a cave we thought was safe. Clearly, we were wrong." He shook his head in regret.
"Where are Malone and Ardo?" Veronica asked. She glanced over his shoulder into the cell but could see no one.
"I don’t know. We were separated by the guards, and Malone was hurt."
"By one of the Amazons?" Her eyes flashed in anticipation of revenge for any harm the women had done to the reporter.
But Kai shook his head again, dark hair falling over his eyes. He used one graceful hand to brush it back. "No. He was hurt when Ardo and I found him."
It was small consolation, but Veronica was willing to take any she could get. "We have to find them. Do you have any idea where they might have been taken?"
"No," the Zanga said with remorse. "I think one of the Amazons meant to tend Malone, but I can’t be certain. And I can’t even guess what they’ve done with Ardo. I suspected to find him here when they brought me back, but…" There was worry and strain in Kai’s voice.
Veronica was about to reassure him when they heard footsteps on the stairs. She stepped in front of Kai, her knife ready to defend against attack.
"Raptors!" shouted Roxton unnecessarily. He aimed and fired, slowing the beast. Another shot took it down, but there were more behind. "Challenger!"
The inventor was ahead of him. Rifle at the ready, he shot twice in rapid succession, killing the second raptor. "Come on!" he shouted, drawing his pistol and continuing to fire.
The men ran. They were only a few short strides ahead of the prehistoric creatures. An abrupt dart to the left and they were able to avoid the onrushing animals for a moment behind a stand of rocks and thick-trunked trees. Roxton reloaded his rifle and fired, killing another raptor as it ran. The ones behind screeched in reaction, but didn’t slow down.
"Where the hell are they coming from?" It was a rhetorical question on the hunter’s part, and Challenger took it as such. Roxton drew his pistol and was about to fire again when he felt the inventor’s hand on his arm.
"Wait," said Challenger.
"Are you crazy?!"
"They’re not after us. Wait!"
The inventor was right. The remaining few raptors showed no interest in the men as they charged past, intent only on wherever they were going.
Roxton’s eyes widened in realization, and he shoved the sidearm back in its holster. "They’re not after anything," he said, reloading the rifle one more time. He took a deep breath and stepped out from the limited cover.
"John, what are you doing?!" shouted Challenger.
But there wasn’t time to respond. Roxton aimed high and back the way they had come. Two shots rang out followed immediately by an angry roar. Then time seemed frozen briefly before the huge T-Rex swayed on its clawed feet and fell heavily to one side.
Roxton slowly lowered his weapon.
"Nice shot," said Challenger, coming to stand beside him.
"Thank you, George," Roxton answered with a nonchalant smile. Both men’s hearts were racing, and the casual exchange gave each a moment to collect himself. They took a second to admire the kill as if it were nothing more than a prize on an African safari. "Time to go. Scavengers will be here in minutes with all this fresh meat around."
"You’re right." They shouldered their weapons and moved off.