Summary: Roxton solo fic. Roxton tracks down an outsider who has attacked some of the Zanga. First person POV for Roxton.
Disclaimer: I'm just borrowing the characters from the Lost World. Other people own them.
Acknowledgements: Susan and Aaron, for their thoughts and feedback - thank you both.
Timeline and Spoilers: This story is set towards the middle of the third season of the Lost World. Veronica and Malone are away from the treehouse. Vague reference is made to events in the episode "Eye for an Eye."
Author's note: This story is told from two different first person POVs. The POV swaps between the characters after each Horizontal Rule. Hope that makes sense. Several of the details referred to from Roxton's previous visits to South America are taken from Conan Doyle's original novel: The Lost World.
Rating: PG-13 for violence and mild language. NB Towards the end, the mood of the piece gets quite dark.
"Now, here's a useful tool - .470, telescopic sight, double ejector, point-blank up to three-fifty. That's the rifle I used against the Peruvian slave-drivers three years ago. I was the Flail of the Lord up in those parts, I may tell you… There are times, young fellah, when every one of us must make a stand for human right and justice, or you never feel clean again. That's why I made a little war on my own. Declared it myself, waged it myself, ended it myself."
Lord John Roxton talking to Ned Malone in London.
excerpt from: "The Lost World" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Never hunt dangerous prey alone.
Wish I could remember how many times I'd heard that. And just exactly was it that I was doing…? This time the situation had left me little choice. Trail was fresh. A rainstorm could wash it away all too quickly if I delayed. Not enough time to go back for one of the others, so here I am.
Hunting the most dangerous prey of all: man.
The Zanga had known he was an outsider. It had been clear from his clothes, language and guns. Only people who had come from outside had guns. They'd offered him hospitality. He'd abused it.
I wanted to find him. Not just to find out how he had got up here, though that question was one I would certainly want the answer to. I needed to find him, for what he had done to the Zanga. The Zanga had been our friends since we'd arrived. Without them and Veronica, we probably wouldn't have made it.
I'd gone to their village this morning to trade for supplies. I'd found a bloodbath. Four killed, seven more wounded. Men and women both, without discrimination. They'd been ready to go after him, spears against guns. If they had gone after him, it would have led to more deaths than just his.
I said I'd go.
Not the most brilliant and well thought out plan I'd ever come up with.
The Zanga had agreed. I'd earned something of a reputation since arriving on the plateau more than two years ago. They believed I'd find the outsider. There was no way I would betray their faith in me. I suppose Marguerite would have laughed it off, but noblesse oblige has always meant more to me than just the words.
I feel a twig snap underfoot. Not noisy, but it's enough to get my mind back on the task at hand. Letting my mind drift like that had been unforgivable. At least out here alone, it'll just be me who had to pay the price for such carelessness. I freeze. Listening. Waiting.
Nothing. This time I'd got away with it.
I crouch down. An open patch of dirt amongst the leaf litter. The faint outline of a footprint: a sandal. This was Zanga country. It wasn't the print of a Zanga sandal. I'd seen sandals like this before I came to the plateau - in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, on the slopes of the Andes above the jungle. I'd seen nothing like it so far on the plateau, but the shape was all too familiar.
I'd lost track of how many times I'd tracked men wearing the same sort of sandals. That had been before I'd come to the plateau. It was distant enough to have seemed like another life.
Dreaming again. I'll have to watch that. Think!
It had rained heavily last night, so a print this clear could only have been made this morning. An outsider wearing the type of sandals I'd seen on countless mestizos. I had a nasty suspicion forming at the back of my mind.
If I'm right, I'm probably in trouble.
If I'm right, this print here on the plateau is no accident.
I've never pretended to second sight, but I suddenly feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up straight. Before realising I'd done it, I'm diving for cover. I hear the shot as I drop to the ground. My arm stings, as if it's been slapped, hard. Damn.
Sometimes I hate being right.
Hijo de puta!
How had he known? I'd made no noise - I was certain of that. Yet he had still known. I'd missed. Now he knows that it is he who is the hunted.
That makes it more difficult.
I'd heard the stories, of course. This cabron who had caused such disturbance to the businessmen who ran the rubber plantations. The Indians told stories too. Stories of the white hunter from far away who had single handedly waged a war against the slavers who supplied workers for the plantations.
They called him 'The Flail of the Lord'.
Primitive superstition, nothing more. He's just a man. Shoot him and he'll bleed, like all men. Shoot him enough and he'll die, like all men.
And I'll be rich.
Is that not something worth killing for?
But now, I've lost the element of surprise. Time to find out how good this man really is. And if the stories about him are only half true, it is time to find out how good I really am as well.
I just wish I could figure out how he had known I was there.
I knew I couldn't stay there, however safe it felt. Like back in the war, no-man's land - find a foxhole and stay in it. The arm doesn't seem too bad, comparatively speaking. The bullet had cut straight through the muscle, little more than a deep gouge, thank God. The handkerchief would stop the bleeding until I got the opportunity to clean it out and bandage it better.
Whoever had taken the shot at me would have known he'd missed killing me outright. So he'd either have to close the range and finish it off, or back away and wait for another opportunity. Either way, I know I have to get moving.
I've never liked being the hunted. Recent experiences might have given me a certain empathy for the role, but it is still not one I relish given the choice.
The jungle was abnormally silent. Our doing. Everything gets out of the way when the predators fight. I carefully get up into a low crouch and inch away into the cover of the undergrowth.
Wonder if he's found out about the carnivorous plants yet. Or the dinosaurs.
I can't bank on either. If he gets eaten by one or the other, it would be sheer good luck on my part. Luck wasn't something I cared to rely on. Not unless it was all I had.
It's still going to come down to him or me.
Time to take stock. I'd brought only the rifle and the colt with me; Five rounds in the rifle, plus another dozen or so in the belt loops; Eight rounds for the colt; Two days of supplies, courtesy of the Zanga. No way of telling how long this thing's going to take, though. I'd come equipped for trading, not hunting. My left arm was hurting.
I've got no medical supplies with me. In the jungle there was a better than fair chance the injury will become infected. I have to finish this soon and get it seen to.
Besides, the smell of fresh blood on the wind will soon draw the raptors.
I won't be missed at the treehouse until this evening. Maybe the Zanga will send word, I don't know. Should have asked them. I don't want Marguerite to worry. With this man out in the jungle, I don't want her or Challenger trying to come after me. Whichever direction I decide to take, it'll have to be away from them.
Time to change the rules of the game. Time for me to set the pace. He's out there. Waiting. He's good. The way he set up that ambush was neatly done, leaving enough sign to get me interested enough to pause. Did he know I'd be the one to come after him from the village? If so, how? Why?
Too many questions. He's the one with the answers. He's the one I'll have to bring down. One problem - I have to catch him before I can ask him.
So, what to do. I'm hunting him, he's hunting me, but I know this plateau. I hold the home ground advantage. Time to take charge and lead the hunt to where I want it to go.
He's gone. Slid away into the jungle. The 'Flail of the Lord' was running!
No. I had to stop thinking of him as no more than a stupid anglo. There are too many corpses piled up in the mountains of other men who had made that same mistake.
Had he been here since he came back to South America? If so, he would know this plateau far better than I do. He's running, not fleeing. Leading me where he wants to go. It's what I'd do in his place. I follow. We both know that I have no choice if I want to finish what I started.
I know that sooner or later I'll be walking into an ambush. I need an edge myself.
There, on those leaves. Blood. Fresh spilled. I did get him. There's not enough around for him to be too badly wounded, but it'll slow him down, and in this climate any wound can so easily get infected.
I wish I'd had a chance to get to know this place better, to have some idea of where he's leading me. Too late now.
He's still hurt, though. He knows the risks of injury as well as I do. He'll want to finish this soon, before the jungle does my job for me.
Madre de Dios! What was that?
Jaguar's top predator in these jungles, and that was no cat. I've never heard anything like it before. All of a sudden the old stories the Indians told the Spanish Fathers about dragons living down in the jungle don't seem so crazy.
Wasn't that the reason that he returned here? The man in Para had said that Roxton was here as part of an expedition to find lost monsters on a hidden plateau deep in the jungle. Of course I had known it was no more than a blind to hide the real reason.
Could there really be dragons?
The jungle ahead's finally beginning to thin out. The last time I'd been here was months ago. I'm hoping it hasn't changed.
Yes, there it is: the entrance to the blind canyon. A three hundred yard killing ground without any cover for anything larger than a fox. Now, if only I can get up the cliff at the far end before he catches up…
The risk of the open ground cuts both ways. If he catches up to me while I'm climbing the cliff, I'm as good as dead.
My arm is throbbing now. Not a good sign. The handkerchief's soaked with blood. Might be worse than I thought. The shot must have nicked a vein or artery or something. No time to retie it if I'm going to make that cliff before he gets here.
I run. I lose my footing a few times on the scree of the canyon floor: once, badly enough to fall. The impact jars my arm. It's as much as I can do not to cry out. I would so much like to lie down and rest a while.
Idiot! Lie down and you die. What then? Will he go after the others, after Marguerite? It's the thought of him hunting Marguerite that gets my attention. I drag myself up. It can't be too many more miles to the base of the cliff.
No question: he's leading me somewhere in particular. The jungle's thinning. I stop while there's still cover, take time to assess the situation.
I look around at this place he's led me to: a long, straight canyon. Wait! I can see him, there, at the far end of the canyon, climbing the cliff. He must have lost ground to me somewhere.
He's hardly using his left arm. He is wounded! More badly wounded than I'd thought. If he gets to the top it'll be a siege. There might be a back way out that I can't see from here. I'll have to take him now, risk the open ground.
I run, unshipping the rifle as I do. He's no more than ten feet from the top of the cliff. I'll get as close as I can before I shoot, before he reaches the top. That's it. He's nearly there. I can't delay any further. I crouch down, supporting my left elbow on my left knee. I'm not a good enough marksman with this old Mauser to be sure of a kill at a hundred yards range not to take any advantage I can find.
I know I'm in trouble when I hear the shot. Shards of rock cut into my side. The bullet can only have missed by a few inches.
Another shot, barely two seconds later. He's rushing and it's throwing off his aim. I can't waste the time to look for him. No idea of what he's using or how many shots he has left. Sounds like a Mauser, but I can't be sure. My left arm shakes as if palsied as soon as I put any weight on it. I'm only two feet from the top. Can't, mustn't think of anything else. Just a few more seconds them I'll be out of sight of him.
I hear more shots. None hits me. Then I hear a sound I've come to know all too well: the shrill vindictive creel of hunting raptors. One more shot rings out, then a terrible, human, scream of pain and horror.
I scramble over the top of the cliff and turn, knowing what I'll see.
Two raptor corpses lie on the canyon floor. My pursuer's trying to fend off the other two with his empty rifle. He's already bleeding. The raptors are becoming frenzied from the smell of blood.
I try to lift my rifle, but my arm's shaking too badly to even think of aiming. I lie down, balancing the rifle against a rock and snug the butt into my shoulder. My left arm's just about strong enough to hold it, but the time it's taken has cost my pursuer dearly. I fire twice. I hadn't appreciated how awkward the bolt action could be while lying down. The raptors fall. Even wounded, a hundred-yard shot isn't too great a problem for me.
I take a minute to retie the handkerchief, tearing off and wadding part of my sleeve on the wound to try to halt the bleeding. Then I make my way down the cliff to meet my pursuer.
I had not believed dragons were real…
Until I saw them, that is. They bit me and I knew they were real. I heard shots. Not mine - the Mauser's empty. Then they're no longer biting me.
I lie there. Everything hurts so much. I'm on my back, staring upwards. The sky is very blue today. I hadn't noticed earlier.
I hear footsteps. Can't be an angel - angels fly. Dragon? No, I can just about make him out in the corner of my eye. I try to move my head. I can't. I can't work out why.
It's suddenly cold. Wasn't there a sun in a clear blue sky a moment ago? I'm sure I remember that there was. It occurs to me that I need to get up for some reason.
Ah, yes. There was someone coming towards me. I try to move.
Dios mio! It hurts so very much.
I get to the bottom of the cliff and start towards the figure lying on the ground. Blood is pooled all around him. As I get closer I can make out the carnage wrought by the raptors.
I hadn't seen anything quite so bad since the war. Shells, machineguns and shrapnel did not kill cleanly. Beyond a certain point a body stopped looking human, and looked more like just meat.
His head lolls over as I approach. I see his eyes. Oh God, he's still alive. I kneel down beside him, look at his injuries. No doctor in the world could help him now. By rights he should be dead.
I watch as his mouth moves. A rivulet of blood dribbles from one corner and runs down his chin. I lean closer to try to hear his words.
The Anglo is there. It was he who shot the dragons? Why? The expression on his face does not speak of victory. I do not understand. I had tried to kill him. Why is he not glad at what he sees? I would be. I try to ask him. He leans closer to listen.
The pain tears at me again. When I open my eyes again I can see sympathy and helplessness written on his features. I was his enemy. But for the dragons, I would have been his executioner. Why does he look at me still as if trying to think of some way to help?
There's only one thing he can do for me now. I try again to speak.
The words are garbled and indistinct, the Quechua-accented Spanish of Peru. I almost can't make out what he's saying.
No, I'm lying to myself. It's very clear. It's what I'd ask in his place. I stand up, pull out the gun and cock it, all the time watching him. A rictus of a smile crosses his ruined features.
Knowing what I have to do, knowing that it's what he wants me to do doesn't make it any easier. Willing my hand to stop shaking I point it at his head. He closes his eyes.
I pull the trigger.
God forgive me.
- fin -