Round 2 -- DNash
Spoilers: Tourist Season (mild)
At first Roxton was sure he must be hallucinating. It would certainly explain a number of things--like why he and Challenger were naked in bed together, to begin with. It would also explain why there was a bear walking towards him on its hind legs and carrying a bowl.
As the figure approached, the hunter realized the bear was in fact a person dressed in furs and a hooded cowl. He tried to push himself up to a sitting position once more, but failed. His strength was utterly sapped. He barely managed a stuttered, "Wh--who are you?" before the new arrival was at his side.
The man--Ah, progress, Roxton's befuddled brain said. A man, not a bear.--knelt by the low bed and set the bowl he carried carefully to one side. Unable to do anything else, Roxton watched him in fascination.
The silent figure pushed back his hood and gave the hunter a reassuring, almost beatific smile. For no good reason, Roxton was surprised to see how young the fellow was. Probably no more than sixteen or seventeen, his fuzzy mind guessed. The youth reached an unexpectedly strong arm around Roxton's broad shoulders, and helped him to sit up. Then he sat behind him, supporting him against his fur--clad chest, before carefully reclaiming the bowl and holding it to Roxton's lips.
John wanted to protest. The steaming contents of the bowl were a decidedly unnatural color, and the scent was far from appetizing. Like a fussy child, he turned his head away.
The young man who held him was patient, however. He blew a little on the thick broth to cool it, and took a drink himself to prove to his charge the liquid was safe. Reassured, but still not happy about it, Roxton took a tentative sip. He gagged at the oily texture of the liquid, but forced it down. Something in the flavor sparked a distant memory and, curious, he took another sip.
Buttered tea, he thought. The familiarity of the unmistakable taste of yak butter, remembered from the time he'd spent in Tibet, reassured him and he drank more readily.
As the silent man fed the hunter, the door across the room opened once again. Both turned to see the newest arrival.
It was a second fur--clad figure, this time carrying a wooden tray with several things on it. The still strangely silent man nodded at the newcomer and received a nod in return before the figure moved around to the opposite side of the bed. As he passed, Roxton could see the tray held a bowl of steaming hot water, a stack of clean, off--white cloths, and a pot of something he guessed to be medicine of some kind. This person was here to tend to Challenger.
When the bowl of tea was finally empty, the man holding Roxton slipped out from behind him and laid him back down on the bed. John felt better for the nourishment, but still couldn't muster the strength to hold himself upright. He did, however, manage to put together a fairly coherent sentence or two.
"Where is Marguerite? Where are we? How long have we been here?"
The man who had fed him cocked his head to one side then shook it apologetically. Either he didn't understand or he didn't know the answers. Either way, it was clear he wouldn't speak.
Frustrated, Roxton looked to his other side at the second figure. This man, too, had pushed back his hood, revealing thick brown hair and pale blue eyes set in another very youthful face. He concentrated on keeping his eyes on that face in order to better ignore the naked and now uncovered scientist beside him. "Can you tell me where we are?" John tried again.
This fellow gave him the same reaction as the first and returned to tending Challenger's wounds. From the corner of his eye, Roxton could see numerous abrasions and contusions on the inventor's ribcage and abdomen. He stopped himself from continuing his visual appraisal and returned his gaze to the medic.
Apparently the blow to his head wasn't the only injury George got in the avalanche. Avalanche! The word rang in Roxton's mind, and he felt suddenly galvanized. "Please," he tried again more urgently, forcing shaking arms to push himself up even a few inches. "There was a woman with us. Have you seen her?"
"They will not answer you."
Roxton turned back towards the door to find a third man standing behind the first. This man was much older, streaks of grey threading through his long hair. He looked at the young man beside him. "You may go."
The young man nodded deferentially, pulled his hood back up, and departed.
John's arms gave out, and he fell back on the bed, silently cursing his weakness. He realized then his vision was blurring. He fought the fuzziness at the edges of his sight. "What--?"
"Rest now," the older man said. "It will take time to rebuild your strength."
It was the last thing the hunter heard before oblivion claimed him again.
Veronica stood on the balcony, staring anxiously out into the jungle below. Her hands gripped the rail tightly in frustrated impotence. She started at the sound of Finn's voice next to her; she hadn't heard the girl approach.
"Still no sign?"
Veronica shook her head. "No," she answered, and immediately regretted her terse tone. "Sorry," she said contritely, giving the young blonde an apologetic look.
"Hey, it's okay," Finn reassured her, putting a comforting hand over the taller woman's where it rested on the balcony rail. "I know you're just worried about them. I am, too."
"Even with everything Challenger had been hoping to do, they should have been back by now."
"Maybe we should go look for them?" suggested Finn eagerly. She didn't like seeing Veronica so upset; it was her natural inclination to try to cheer her up. "Do you know where they were going exactly?"
"Near enough," the huntress said. She was eager for some action. She couldn't abide this waiting and worrying any longer, and Finn's words had roused her. She pulled away from the balcony's edge and headed back into the Treehouse proper, Finn close on her heels.
"What are you doing?" the girl asked.
"We need cold weather gear," Veronica explained. She opened a trunk that doubled as a low table, and searched inside it. "Here." She handed something over her shoulder without glancing up.
Finn took the item and held it up, recognition dawning. "Your fur cloak!" she exclaimed.
Veronica didn't respond as she dug through the trunk. "Ah! I knew there was another here," she exclaimed, pulling out a second cloak. She rose, letting the lid fall shut with a loud thud. She thrust the garment at Finn who took it reflexively.
"Now what are you doing?" demanded the petite blond, lugging the heavy cloaks with her as she followed Veronica into another room. "This is Malone's room," she said, surprised. She'd of course explored it thoroughly on her own on those rare occasions when she'd been left by herself in the Treehouse. She had a sudden moment of concern that she might have left something out of place in her explorations and Vee would notice.
But Veronica had a single goal in mind and only paused long enough to look wistfully at a photograph of herself and the reporter before heading to another trunk on the far side of the small room.
"The cloaks won't be enough. We need warmer clothes." Veronica looked down at her leathers then over her shoulder at Finn's equally scant attire. "These outfits just won't do where we're going. Ned's things should fit me well enough. And I'm sure Marguerite has a pair of trousers you could wear."
"Oh no!" protested Finn, to Veronica's surprise. "Marguerite'll kill me if I borrow her clothes."
"No she won't," argued Veronica, although she knew Finn was probably right. "She hardly ever wears those jodhpurs any more. Why would she mind if you did?"
"Because they're hers." She paused a moment. "What are jodhpurs?"
"Pants." Veronica rose, holding a pair of Malone's trousers. She tossed them onto his bed and fished out two shirts. The more layers the better, she thought.
Finn wondered if Vee's reply had been in answer to her question or a statement of what she'd found. She couldn't decide, but let the question drop. It was irrelevant anyway; there was no way she would borrow Marguerite's clothes. Then she remembered something that caused her to smile smugly. "It doesn't matter. Marguerite was wearing pants when she and the others left."
"She has more than one pair," the elder blonde pointed out.
"No. Forget it. I'll borrow Challenger's stuff," Finn declared.
"Finn, it'll be huge on you."
"So I'll wear a belt. Be right back." She dumped the cloaks onto the bed next to the clothing Veronica had put there and rushed out of the room.
"Hurry up," the huntress called after her. "We need to get going while it's still early."
In less than ten minutes, the women were changed and standing together in the common room. Veronica had tucked Malone's pants into her own boots, and the two shirts she wore were tucked into the waistband of the trousers. A belt held her smaller knives, while the largest blade rested in its usual place in her right boot.
"That's one way to get into Malone's pants," said Finn lightly. She'd never met the reporter, but Veronica had told her enough about him for her to know the two were very close, although she'd never quite figured out if they had slept together. Something in her head had told her it would be rude to ask outright. Veronica's wide--eyed reaction to her comment suggested that what she'd just said wasn't the politest thing in the world, either. Guess I should have saved that joke for Marguerite, she thought. Aloud, she said, "Sorry. That didn't come out the way I meant." Never mind there's nothing else it could possibly mean. You're just digging in deeper! Quick, backpedal!
"You look good," Finn said, hoping this would be a sufficient change of subject.
"Thanks," replied Veronica, deciding to let the matter drop. Finn is from another century, she reminded herself. Social mores are bound to be different. "You look silly," she added, pleased that truth coincided with mild revenge.
Finn looked down at her hodge--podge of clothing. She'd rolled Challenger's pants up so many times it looked like she had flotation devices around her ankles; there was too much fabric to tuck into her boots. She'd also found two of the inventor's undershirts and a long--sleeved button--down to go over them. She'd rolled up the sleeves a fair distance, too. A large belt, pulled to its last hole and the end wrapped around itself several times, held the outfit together. She looked like nothing so much as a child dressing up in her father's clothes. Which, Veronica realized, she essentially is.
"It gets the job done," Finn said a little defensively.
"And that's what matters," agreed Veronica, getting back on task. "Let's gather up everything else we'll need and get out of here."
"Where exactly are we going?" asked Finn, claiming her crossbow and extra bolts from where they hung by the elevator.
"Above the snow line," replied Veronica, gathering up food supplies and packing them into a knapsack.
Finn's eyes widened. "Snow? Real snow?"
"Of course real snow."
"I've never seen real snow. Just once on TV."
"TV?" Now Veronica paused. She'd heard her young friend use that term before and tried to remember what it was. "Is that the video screens you told me about?"
Veronica nodded and resumed her task. She'd had a little experience with something similar herself when a family from the late twentieth century had been trapped briefly on the Plateau. They'd had a strange camera that captured and played back moving images complete with sound. Finn's video screens sounded like much the same.
"Get some blankets," the huntress instructed.
Finn hurried to gather them, asking, "How many?"
"Four. It's going to be very cold, but we can't reasonably carry any more with the rest of our gear."
Once everything was packed, Veronica did a final check of it all. "One more thing," she muttered to herself. She went to the rack by the elevator and took Marguerite's rifle from where it hung.
"Do you know how to use that thing?" Finn asked her doubtfully.
"Roxton showed me once."
"I'm hoping we won't need it. And when we find the others, one of them can use it if they have to." She set it on the table then grabbed a bag of ammunition to go with it. Finally satisfied, she donned the larger of the two packs, put the ammo pouch in a pocket, threw a cloak over the lot, and once again picked up the gun.
Startled into movement, Finn followed suit, putting on the smaller pack and cloak and taking her crossbow firmly in hand.
"What are we waiting for?" the girl said.
Vee looked at her, and Finn felt the intensity of the woman's gaze.
"Nothing. Let's go."