Manitou Island: Part 10
CHARMIAN AND DRAKE had to wait their turns being lifted up to the top of the cliff by Tal Natha. By the time they'd both been brought back up there Silver Eagle Feather was already waiting; Charmian glanced around, not quite sure how the woman had done it. Red Bird came up last, Tal Natha carrying her under the arms; he set her down just as gently as he had the others before landing himself.
"So, where is it we have to go now?" Charmian asked.
"I wish to take Red Bird to Old Mother Manitou. To the large rock. Your people call it 'Sugar Loaf,' I believe." He frowned as if puzzled by the name. "It is not that very far from here. I could carry two of you at once."
"C-carry?" Drake's face went white. "Um...this is the highest point on the Island, isn't it?"
"Yes, it is. This means it would be a long and difficult walk for you to 'Sugar Loaf.' You must remember that our Island does not have the amenities that yours does. You will find trails here, but they are just as difficult as anything else." He stretched one wing. "You may always simply close your eyes."
"That doesn't help much!!" Drake retorted.
Charmian nudged him. "Okay...so...to Sugar Loaf, I guess. What's waiting there?"
"Old Mother Manitou. I will leave Red Bird with her for now. She is old but she has strong medicine and might be able to protect Red Bird while you two become better acquainted with the Island."
"Oh, all right."
"Can't we walk just a little bit first?" Drake begged. "I mean, okay, it's a long walk and you...you probably will have to f-fly us part of the way...but can't we walk part of the way too? Just so you don't have to f-fly us so far and...maybe...we can get a little used to the idea first?"
Charmian gritted her teeth. Drake could be such a baby sometimes.
Tal Natha cocked his head, looking puzzled again, but then shrugged, a strangely human gesture. "I suppose this is acceptable...to walk part of the way down from Fort Holmes. It simply means I will have to fly you higher once we get to the bottom, but if this is what you choose I have no argument." He hopped on one foot and lifted into the air.
Drake had gone chalk white. "F-fly h-higher?" he stammered. Charmian grabbed his arm and pulled.
"C'mon, fraidy-cat. You asked, you shall receive." She started towing him along behind her, toward the trail Silver Eagle Feather and Red Bird were heading for.
"Yeah, b-but--I didn't know he'd have to f-fly HIGHER!" Drake cried, trying futilely to resist Charmian's pulling. He let out another wail as they reached the path and headed downhill from the fort.
Tal Natha had been right...there was a path leading down from Fort Holmes, but it wasn't much of a path. The only real way it could be distinguished from the rest of the land was by its absence of trees; aside from that, the numerous roots and rocks made it not that friendly of a path. Once again came the stumbling fun Charmian had gone through before; she found herself holding onto saplings a lot more often now.
For some reason Silver Eagle Feather and Red Bird had hardly any difficulty navigating the rough terrain.
High overhead, above the treetops, she heard occasionally the sound of great wings flapping and the leaves rustling; when she looked up she could see Tal Natha's form flitting in and out of sight over her head. He stayed above the trees yet followed the same course; she assumed he could see, hear, and smell them to know where they were going.
She tripped, and a hand thumped against her chest to break her fall. "Watch yourself closely," Silver Eagle Feather advised, moving on.
Charmian blushed but followed. Why did her feet have to feel like such large pieces of lead?
At least Drake wasn't faring any better.
"Who is this Old Mother Manitou and what is she like?" she asked, attempting to stave off the boredom. As unusual as the circumstances were, she simply didn't find traipsing down a hillside on some wild island to be very interesting.
"She is a manitou, of course...she lives in the Sugar Loaf Rock and from there keeps an eye on the forest. Many times people have brought foundlings of all sorts to her to care for. She is a very kind spirit. Red Bird has stayed with her for a time in the past."
"Really? You don't have any parents?" The question had come out of Charmian's mouth before she could stop it; immediately afterwards she clapped her hands to her mouth, turning even redder than ever. Her apology came out muffled. "I'm...I'm sorry!!"
Red Bird stared down at the trail as she walked. Her eyelids were partly lowered; Charmian couldn't be sure if she were upset or preoccupied. "That's all right..." she said after a moment, her voice barely above a murmur.
Silver Eagle Feather cast a glance back at them, then looked ahead again.
Charmian did the same. God, how embarrassing. How could she have done that? She was starting to act just like Drake!
As if reading her thoughts, a nudge on her arm. "Jeez, Charm, could you be any more obvious?" Drake whispered.
Charmian brushed his hand away, turning red again. This was the last thing she needed on a day like today.
From above, she suddenly heard a bark and a snarl. Her head shot up to see Tal Natha wheel around in midair, wings flaring and teeth bared--but that was it. Something slammed into her back and knocked her forward, falling downhill--throwing her arms out in front of her, both elbows struck the rocks and jolts of pain shot up her arms. Someone grabbed her hand--"Hold on!" Silver Eagle Feather's voice shouted, and then Red Bird's--"Let them go! Let them go, you brutes!"--but then she felt her hand pulling away and the wind started howling past her ears, leaves and branches smacking against her as she--and Drake--were sucked up into the sky.
One brief glimpse of the natives' faces below--Silver Eagle Feather's set angry expression, Red Bird's look of panic--from not too far away came a furious roar that she recognized as Tal Natha's, and a few feathers floated past her. The rest, insane hooting and giggling--and then she was moving so fast she wasn't certain where she was anymore.
"Ch-Charrrrrmiaaaaaaannnnnn!!" Drake managed to get out, his voice wavering and sick sounding. She could tell the heights terrified him and a moment later he made a weird sound that convinced her he must have passed out; as for herself, she struggled to lift her head, glancing around in an attempt to gain her bearings, only to find she didn't have any.
Clear blue sky opened up around her.
Instinctively she looked down. There was the Island, but it was so far below she may as well have just been dropped from a plane!
She gasped and started struggling against whatever carried her. Something--claws--dug into her shoulders. She recognized, from feeling Tal Natha do it, that she was being carried by something, the way a bird of prey carries its next meal. Hearing again the feral howls and hoots all above and around her, she began to fear this analogy might not be that far off.
She struggled even harder, only to have something slap against the side of her face. "Stop it, human! You want for me to dash you to the rocks below?"
Whatever it was that had just spoken to her, it made good sense. She stopped struggling and hung limp, waiting for whatever might come.
Below her, the Island passed along, orange and red and green.
After some time, even it came to an abrupt end. Charmian found herself staring down at water instead. Panicked, she tried to turn her head and see where she was--if the Island was gone, that meant she was over the lake! Before she could get a good look behind her whatever it was that was carrying her wheeled around in the air, Charmian flailing out behind it, and headed back for land. She felt it let go of her arms and she began to plummet to earth. A shrill scream managed to escape her before something else caught onto her--a cackling laugh filled her ears before it too let go, and she was passed on to another, and then another, like a ball in a game of catch. All during this time, she still hadn't been able to catch even one glimpse of what it was that was tossing her around so--whenever she thought she'd picked one out, its form seemed to blur and disappear before her eyes. Either they were moving too quickly for her to focus, or they were invisible.
They continued tossing her around, limbs flopping like those of a ragdoll, until a hoarse voice from higher up cracked, "ENOUGH! You've played with them long enough now. Drop them so we can make use of them the way we were really meant to!"
Howls and hoots. Charmian was tossed around several more times before the ground came rushing up at her again. She caught a brief glimpse of knobby, twisted rock before, once more, something caught her by the arm and broke her fall just in time--but not enough for her to avoid striking the rock painfully when she landed. Her elbow hit again and she curled up in pain, cradling it in her hand.
If I have to go home with any broken bones from a mere Island trip I'm NEVER going to be able to explain this to Mom!!
She sat up with a wince, rubbing her elbow, and tried once again to get a good look at her tormentors. Drake landed in a heap just beside her, unconscious. She was thankful he didn't have to feel the impact of his fall, but still too confused to do much of anything but look around.
And...she still couldn't see whatever the strange hooting laughing creatures had been. The wind whipped around her, tugging at her clothes and stirring up leaves and dustdevils. Several times it pinched at her or slapped her across the face until she got so angry she staggered to her feet, glaring at nothing.
"All right, you've had your fun! Why not quit being such gutless chickens and show yourselves!!"
Almost immediately the wind died down, leaves and dust drifting to the ground around her. The last remaining little eddies of air coalesced--Charmian found her stare focused not in empty space, but on a hideous green, pointy-eared, owl-eyed face.
"Boo!" the creature said.
Charmian shrieked and backed away, only to trip over Drake and fall on top of him. Drake let out an "Oof--!" and came to, shaking his head and looking around dazedly. Charmian kicked him several times in her attempt to regain her balance, but found she couldn't, being too terrified of the strange creatures that had appeared all around them, seemingly out of nowhere.
The green creature threw back his head and cackled. The other creatures--all of them resembling him, but with skin of different colors--did the same. They were all incredibly tall and thin, about seven to eight feet, their pointed ears, round bald heads, huge yellow eyes, and sharp teeth making them look like vampires. Their horrid laughing made Charmian feel as if she were surrounded by vultures and hyenas. Several of them jumped around insanely, poking at the two teenagers, and all Charmian and Drake could do was huddle in on themselves, casting wild looks at their captors.
"Wh--what are you guys?" Charmian stammered, trying her best to shield herself. There was no telling what these creatures had in mind.
"What, you don't know us?" the green-skinned creature asked with mock surprise. He put a bony-fingered hand to his chest. "What are we to make of this, my friends? The little fleshlings have obviously never heard of the GeeBees."
"The what?" Charmian started to ask, only to feel Drake squeezing her arm. His face had gone even whiter than it had been before, if that were possible.
"Ch-Charm!! The GeeBees!! Remember when I told you about Devil's Kitchen? The cannibal giants? The book called them Geebis!" He flailed his arms. "This is them!!"
"C-cannibal giants?" If any more color could have drained from Charmian's face, she would have turned invisible.
The green GeeBee cackled again. "A smart little fleshling! Perhaps not such a waste after all! You two are quite scrawny, but Mainlanders tend to put up less of a fight than the natives here. Still, what fun would it be without a little bit of a struggle? I must admit, you two are quite hopeless."
Charmian finally gained her feet and balled her fists. "Look, I don't care if you're the most powerful elementals on this Island. You're NOT having Drake and me for dinner!"
"Dinner?" The green GeeBee looked puzzled. "Who said anything about dinner? We were planning on having you for lunch!" And once more he threw back his head and let out that hideous bloodcurdling laugh. The other GeeBees--about two dozen or so of them--followed suit. Charmian and Drake glanced around them. There was no way out without running into a GeeBee. They were trapped.
Still, she had to stand her ground. No way she was going to just let these pointy-eared monsters chomp on her without a fight!
The green GeeBee, seeing her belligerent stance, stopped laughing and smiled condescendingly. "Look at the little fleshling. She thinks she can take us all on. Well, I won't fault you for trying. Still, it's a hopeless cause. I do pray we don't hurt you too much."
He started to come toward her, smile widening to bare long gleaming teeth. Charmian swallowed and backed into Drake who cowered behind her, whimpering like a puppy. She gritted her own teeth and watched him come closer, hands up to defend herself, even as her mind told her he was right, it was useless...
An ear-shattering bellow came from above. The green GeeBee froze and glanced upward with surprise. The other GeeBees--and Charmian and Drake included--did the same. The next thing happened so fast that none of them were able to see it clearly. Something--something large--swept down out of the sky, striking out and slamming straight into the green GeeBee's chest, knocking him to the ground. The other GeeBees began quailing and hopping around, gibbering like crazy monkeys. Several vanished into little puffs of wind; others hesitated too long and were likewise struck to the ground, gasping in pain. A giant gust of wind nearly knocked Charmian and Drake down as well; they staggered back, shielding their eyes from flying sand, only to have the wind abruptly die down and take solid form.
An Ocryx landed in the middle of the clearing, wings flaring wide and tail whipping the air. It lowered its head and BELLOWED like a mad beast, fur standing on edge, eyes flashing. It turned to glare at Charmian and Drake, teeth bared. And...it wasn't Tal Natha.