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Manitou Island: Part 11

Sheep In Wolf's Clothing

BEFORE CHARMIAN OR Drake could say anything, the creature whirled back to face the remaining GeeBees. Its lips curled back over its teeth and it looked ready to foam at the mouth like a mad dog. The green GeeBee who'd been in front paled visibly and hunched in on himself, darting looks to the side, as if seeking an escape.

Noticing this, the Ocryx bellowed again and swung at him. The GeeBee managed to dodge it, but only barely. The second time he was not so lucky. A snake tail whipped through the air and slammed into the side of his face, sending him reeling. The moment he struck the ground he vanished as if he simply combusted. The remaining GeeBees, still squawking and shrieking, did likewise, jumping into the air and taking off or shrinking in on themselves and disappearing with little "poof!"s.

The Ocryx's head swung back and forth as it looked around for any more, a loud low growl echoing in its throat. When it didn't see any more it seemed to remember where it was and turned back to Charmian and Drake, who had stood watching the whole scene, mesmerized.

That was when the color left Charmian's and Drake's faces again. This Ocryx had gray fur, not black. Its wings were gold, not scarlet, and its horns curved back from its head like those of a goat, not the horns of an antelope, as Tal Natha's were. It wasn't quite as tall as Tal Natha was, but it was more heavily built, its muzzle shorter and broader. Its eyes, on fixing on them, were the same color as Tal Natha's, but the look was not the same. Whereas Tal Natha's eyes had appeared gentle and intelligent every time Charmian had seen him, this creature's eyes appeared half mad with fury.

Before she could stop it Charmian started screaming. Drake joined right in.

And almost instantly the mad look vanished from the Ocryx's eyes. They widened as if with surprise at the teenagers' reaction, then its brow furrowed as if with mortification. It let out a weird strangled whining sound and immediately backed away from them, ears flattening and wings flaring. When they didn't let up it simply started howling right along with them, as if all three of them had likewise been startled by the same thing.

It took Charmian a moment to realize that the Ocryx didn't appear to want to attack them as she'd thought it would. Her scream died down even as Drake's went on, and she found herself staring at it. It seemed to be just as frightened as they were. She felt first shock, then surprise, then pity. Her own brow furrowed and she held up her hand, taking a step forward.

"Charmian? Drake? Charmian! Drake!"

The Ocryx's howl cut off and its ears shot up on hearing the voice from far off. It started looking around wildly. Drake was the only one still screaming and no matter how hard Charmian pulled on his arm he wouldn't stop.

The rustling of grass and the scattering sound of falling pebbles came from below, away from the lakeshore. Charmian and the Ocryx turned to look. After several moments two figures emerged from the trees--Silver Eagle Feather and Red Bird--and, seeing the others, they ran forward, up a little hill, to meet them. Red Bird was pale as a ghost, while Silver Eagle Feather's face was lined with worry. When she reached them she felt Charmian's and Drake's arms and legs, touched their foreheads, squeezed their shoulders.

"Are you both all right?" she panted, looking them over. "We thought perhaps they might have dropped you along the way. The stupid brutes. They don't know when to leave well enough alone."

"No, I'm--I mean, we're fine. They started to drop us but then they brought us here and--"

Red Bird put her hands to her ears and bit her lip, trying to block out Drake, who was still screaming, even when Silver Eagle Feather shook him. She turned in the direction he was facing and saw that he still stared at the Ocryx, which was at the other side of the clearing, head hunched and ears back. She stood up straight and went over to it, holding out her hand.

Alarm rose in Charmian's chest. "Silver! Watch out!"

Silver Eagle Feather reached the Ocryx, hand held up toward its face. Charmian waited for it to lunge out and bite her fingers off. Instead, it pressed its head to her palm and whined loudly and she stroked the fur under its chin, murmuring in its ear.

"It's all right," she said to it, voice soothing. "You did well. Nothing is your fault here."

Drake's scream finally trailed off as he appeared to come out of whatever state he'd been in. Both he and Charmian gaped, unable to believe what they were seeing.

From overhead came a heavy flapping sound and the dust stirred. A moment later Tal Natha appeared, arcing gracefully out of the sky to land not too far behind Charmian and Drake, near the edge of the cave top. As his claws touched the ground he finally noticed the other Ocryx standing at the other side of the clearing with Silver Eagle Feather and immediately his ears folded and the fur on his neck rose, his wings, which he'd been tucking behind him, now flaring up and out again. The other Ocryx, seeing this, shrunk in on itself, tail going between its legs. Charmian recognized the actions from seeing her own dog go through them countless times, on meeting another dog. The second Ocryx clearly recognized Tal Natha as the dominant one and was proving it.

Tal Natha recognized the motions as well, and appeared to relax, a little. His wings lowered slightly and instead of looking alarmed he merely looked apprehensive. He came out of his defensive stance and blinked a few times, trying to regain his composure.

Brother. This is...unexpected.

Brother? Charmian's eyes goggled. She glanced back at the second Ocryx, still being comforted by Silver Eagle Feather.

"S...Silver Eagle Feather," she stammered. "You and Tal Natha have a brother? An Ocryx?"

"A brother?" She lifted her head from murmuring in the Ocryx's ear to look at Charmian and Drake, then at Tal Natha. "No...he is Tal Natha's half-brother, the same as Tal Natha is mine."

"So who is he? And who is he to you?"

"His name...is not pronounceable to your tongue. Francois and his people call him merely 'X.' He is my son."

Charmian wanted to say something, very badly, but no words would travel up her throat and out her mouth. She stared at Silver Eagle Feather until she knew for a fact she was being incredibly rude, yet still continued doing it.

Silver Eagle Feather's eyes stayed focused on hers until the Ocryx--X--whined again, then she petted his muzzle and looked up at him. "I don't expect you to fully understand. I can't understand completely myself."

We Ocryxes are different from your kind, Tal Natha broke in. Charmian looked at him. Whereas with your kind it is common to find one mate and stay with them for life...this is not usually so with Ocryxes. Neither do we always...keep only to those who are not related to us by blood. This is difficult for me to explain. For some reason it is taboo among your people, but not among mine. That is simply the way it is.

"Ocryx is Tal Natha's father as well as mine," Silver Eagle Feather said. "We have different mothers and so we are related only through one parent. However, Ocryx is also X's father. This was not exactly something I chose to happen, but you have no need to fear him. He won't hurt you, ever."

"The GeeBees had them," the Ocryx suddenly spoke. Charmian was surprised by his voice. It had a rough edge to it, but aside from that it might have been the voice of a man just past adolescence. An adult, but a young one, and a timid and inexperienced one at that. As big as he was, Charmian suddenly realized he must have been around Red Bird's age, not very old at all. He spoke very quietly, almost in a whisper, as if afraid of being heard by any of the others. "I thought they planned to do horrible things to them...I thought I should put an end to it."

"You did the right thing." Silver Eagle Feather rubbed the side of his head. "You saved their lives. You did well. Don't be ashamed."

A heavy sigh. Tal Natha turned on one foot and sniffed the air. "Wherever they are, they've all gone. I should have been keeping an eye out for them. They've been too quiet lately. I should have known they'd be up to some mischief, and I let down my guard."

"This wasn't your fault either." Silver Eagle Feather cast him a reproachful look. "X perhaps I can forgive for being hard on himself. Not so with you. You know better than to do that."

If I am to be guardian of the Island, I should be more alert. They surprised me this time. They won't do so again. He stretched one wing and Charmian caught sight of a bare area where a handful of feathers had been ripped out during the attack. She felt a pang in her chest.

He turned back to them, briefly looking at X again, and Charmian now noticed the tension in the air between them. She remembered what he'd said about the two ways an Ocryx could die. Here stood two Ocryxes. All it would take was a jab of the horn from one of them to end it completely for the other. No matter how closely related by blood they may be, they still recognized each other's boundaries and didn't step across them.

Nevertheless, these two did not appear to be enemies. Tal Natha pointed his nose at the far side of the Island. "X. We were bringing these two to Sugar Loaf to meet with Old Mother Manitou when those beasts interrupted us. I don't wish to leave anyone here on their own when they may come back. Would you assist me in bringing them there?"

X's ears gradually came out of their flattened position when he heard Tal Natha's offer; he blinked a few times as if confused, then nodded, standing up a little straighter. "Yes...all right. If you believe it's best."

"Red Bird and Silver Eagle Feather may come with me. These two are the smallest, you should have no trouble carrying them."

"No, of course not."

"When we get there we can all rest, and she can see to this--" he stretched his wounded wing again "--and to you, it looks as if they may have gotten a strike or two in at you as well."

X looked down at himself and noticed a few scratches on his side. If wolves could blush, Charmian would have thought he was doing so. "It's nothing serious...I caught them by surprise, before they could attack, is all."

"Still, you took them all on at once. That's more than they probably ever expected. By the time we get to Sug--"

A rustling, crashing noise came from further down inland, away from the lakeshore. The alarm rose in Charmian again, thinking the GeeBees might be coming back.

It was as soon as she saw the expressions on the two Ocryxes' faces change--their fur standing on end, their teeth baring and pupils dilating wildly--as well as the accompanying look on Silver Eagle Feather's face--that she realized it must not be a mere GeeBee, but something much worse. Something much more threatening than either Tal Natha or X could ever be.

It was when the two Ocryxes lowered their heads, horns pointing outward toward the noise, that she really realized how bad it must be.

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