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Manitou Island: Part 18


THERE WASN'T A face in the clearing that didn't look shocked.

"Die?" Red Bird whispered. She'd moved close to press against Tal Natha, taking his arm again.

"Wh...what?" Marcott stammered. His glasses looked ready to slide off his nose.

"Charm?" Drake said, sounding confused.

Charmian rubbed her hand, trying to explain. "It...it didn't say that it would happen...but it's afraid it will happen...because of things that other...people...are doing..."

A growl. Get to the point, human! Did it tell you we were going to die, or not?

"Tal Natha."

Silver Eagle Feather appeared at the edge of the clearing, coming their way. She cast him a look as she walked past and again he looked sulky. "I realize you're concerned but taking it out on the others will get you nowhere. You take more after Father than you think."

Tal Natha didn't seem to appreciate the comparison but said nothing.

Silver Eagle Feather stopped before Charmian and put a hand on her shoulder. At the touch Charmian felt her mind clearing from the Uroona's influence. The great beast reared up so it stood on all fours again. It turned and ponderously made its way back into the woods, letting out a long, low, barely audible sound; from around the clearing she could hear the sound of others following it, back to wherever they had come from. The noise of their passing was merely the rustling of leaves and grass and the slight crunch of twigs.

She almost started when the woman knelt before her and looked in her eyes. That strange green drew her in. "Tell me," Silver Eagle Feather said softly. "Tell me what it said to you."

Charmian bit her lip. "It...I'm not sure...but I think it had something to do with the GeeBees. I saw that green one. The leader."

"Augwak?" Tal Natha finally spoke up again. "What has he to do with our fate? He's merely a Wendigo. Frightening and annoying, but not deadly to Ocryxes."

"Keep going," Silver Eagle Feather prompted.

"Oh...well...I think I saw him...and he was holding something, like a splinter...and somebody was talking to him, telling him he had everything he needed to take over...nobody would be left to challenge him...like he was making a bargain or something. And he was happy about it. I could feel it. I could feel that he was happy about it."

"Who was talking to him? Do you know?"

"No...I don't recognize the voice. I didn't even see who it was. I thought I saw something, but..." She trailed off helplessly. Without the Uroona there with her, the memory was fading fast.

"That's all right. What led you to believe this had something to do with us--everyone--dying? Was it something you saw?"

"Well...the Uroona let me know it hasn't happened yet, and of course it hasn't, since he's still here..." Tal Natha frowned "...but I saw the Ocryxes--Ocryx, X, Tal Natha--and they were all killed. Destroyed. And then someone was laughing. And the Island went red..."

Silver Eagle Feather frowned this time. Tal Natha stepped forward, brushing Red Bird away from him. You hear what she says? "The Ocryxes." Those of us with more than half-Ocryx in our blood. Yet she mentions only three. My father. My brother. Myself. His eyes narrowed. We all know who it is she leaves out and why.

"Huh?" Charmian blinked up at him, then started to realize. "You...mean?..."

You know very well of whom I speak, Charmian. Why you insist on playing dumb is a mystery to me. She had to bite her tongue this time to keep from protesting. She was embarrassed to feel tears spring to her eyes and blinked some more, trying to hide them. It's evident she's trying a different angle now. She couldn't sway her mate, she couldn't sway myself. So she aims for those weak-minded simpletons.

"The GeeBees," Francois said. He looked thoughtful. "You really think she'd try striking a bargain with them? After all, she must know how unreliable they are."

This is true. Yet she has one thing they would be most interested in obtaining. At this moment it appears she holds their very freedom in her hands. The GeeBees are chaotic. They know no rules, nor do they wish to. It maddens them to be held in check by one more powerful than they--such as my father or myself.

"So remove the Ocryxes," Silver Eagle Feather filled in, "and remove the constraints."

"But that still leaves Ocryana," Drake said, before realization struck him. "Oh."

Yes. You see now? Ocryana is the one who offers them this. At this moment there are four beings they perceive as potentially more powerful than they are. Those who have managed to keep them at bay in the past. He looked back toward Sugar Loaf, as if thinking of X's brief spat with the creatures. If they could make it so there is only one left who is more powerful...the same one who promises to leave them in peace...then you don't have to guess the decision they will make.

"But how could she offer them this?" Charmian broke in. She felt she should hold her tongue but was a bit too angry to do so, with how the demon had snapped at her. Before he could turn to her she surreptitiously wiped her eyes dry. "If it were that easy to do how come Ocryx never offered it to them first?"

My father is not so chaotic, Tal Natha said. As conflicted as he is he desires order. He knows that to kill us--at least, to kill me--would kill himself. He has used the GeeBees before, but he has never relied on them. He frowned again. My mother has some plan in mind...I'm not certain what, based on what little you could tell us, but she would not approach the GeeBees with nothing...she must have this figured out already. An annoyed-sounding growl rose in his throat. "If only she were not always so damned cunning!"

"Whatever her methods, she has Augwak in her service now," Silver Eagle Feather said. "That much we know for certain. And those who are Ocryx--more than half so--are her targets. That still leaves those who are only half Ocryx." Now it was her turn to frown. "I can't understand why we wouldn't be high on her list as well."

Who is to say you are not?

"The Uroona are. Charmian didn't mention seeing myself or any others...this troubles me."

Why should it? Tal Natha's tone turned irritated again. You should be grateful she doesn't include you. At the very least there would be fewer victims to deal with. Why should not be a concern.

"Stop it!"

Everyone started and turned to look at Red Bird. She still stood where Tal Natha had left her, only now her fists were clenched at her sides, and her face--Charmian couldn't really describe her face. She looked ready to scream and cry at the same time.

Tal Natha blinked. Red Bird? What--

"I'm getting tired of this!" Red Bird cried, stomping one foot in a gesture that would have been funny had not tears suddenly started spilling down her face. "Why must you keep losing your temper like this? If you're not angry, then you're picking at what one of us says. We should be grateful we're not included? What kind of a thing is that to say when this whole Island is at stake? How can you care so little about what we're feeling?"

Everyone else remained perfectly silent, though their eyes and ears followed the entire exchange. Now all shifted toward Tal Natha. Charmian was surprised to see the demon now looked incredibly embarrassed. His ears folded back and he tried not to scowl; when he spoke he kept his voice level, though Charmian could tell he was practically biting his tongue off.

Red Bird...perhaps we could discuss this at a more appropriate time...

Red Bird stomped her foot again. "No! There's no excuse for you to get angry with us so often! I hate it when you do this! There's no reason! You claim to care for all of us and then treat us as if we should be grateful to you! Well, you're not the only one this Island is dependent upon! We don't owe you anything!"

The Ocryx's eyes narrowed and he bared his teeth a little, though Charmian could tell he was more hurt than angry. "Red Bird, this is being childish--a better time--"

"No, no, no!" The girl sucked in a breath. Her chest was heaving. "If you really care so little then there's no reason you called anyone here, you don't care for the Island at all. And you don't care about me. You don't think I have any power at all if you always think of me as a child. I believe you don't care for anything but yourself now. And then to get angry with us when we speak up--you remind me--you remind me too much of him!" So saying, she turned and fled back to Sugar Loaf, hands up to her face. She disappeared within the rock, leaving the rest of them still in the clearing, silent and dumbfounded.

When one of them finally spoke it was Marcott, and then only to murmur, "Oh, my."

Charmian peered at Tal Natha. His head had lowered somewhat and he looked as if he wished to vanish into thin air. She didn't doubt he had the ability, yet he didn't do so. Instead he turned back to the others and Charmian was reminded of when he had been in Ocryx's presence--the flattened ears, the tail slinking between his legs--and she immediately felt sorry that she'd been angry with him. She didn't know if it had been Red Bird's words or the spirit behind them, but something had made an impact.

Noticing their stares, he tried to appear composed again. The others started glancing around as if they hadn't even been interested in the argument. Ocryana is almost impossible to keep track of, he said, and they looked back at him again. So to follow her actions would be pointless. I believe we should try to keep an eye on what the GeeBees are up to instead. She is one. They are many. They are also much weaker than I am, thus perhaps I could convince one of them to speak up and tell me what's going on.

"Augwak, maybe?" Charmian said. She was still leery of talking to him, but he didn't seem to notice.

No, not Augwak. He is stronger than the rest. There is a reason he is their chief. Most GeeBees are incredibly stupid, or else so blinded by greed and chaos that they fail to think their actions through. Augwak is different. I would never have thought I would say as much about a GeeBee but he is...well, if not intelligent, then he is clever. I hesitate to say intelligent, though it may very well be true. He has struck bargains with my father before. He knows when to keep them and when to break them. His thoughts are first and foremost of himself and his tribe, so I don't doubt he wouldn't hesitate to betray Ocryana whenever it suits him best. His already dark look grew. What troubles me more is that Ocryana should know this. Why does she take the risk? She is not stupid.

"Maybe she knows something the GeeBees don't?" Drake suggested. They all looked at him and his eyes grew. "What? What did I say?"

"Something that makes sense for once, Drake," Charmian replied with a smile. He smiled back, though she could tell he had no idea what she meant. "So maybe she doesn't have any intention of holding up her end of the deal?" she said to Tal Natha. "Maybe she's playing Augwak like a--um--like a cheap fiddle."

Tal Natha's ear swiveled; he didn't understand the simile. This much could be true. But like I said Augwak is not stupid either. Why does he trust her? Or are they both 'playing' each other?

"That would likely be it," Francois cut in. "Either that, or else she's swaying him."

Tal Natha growled. Why did I never think of it. The wench. This is something even I had no idea she could do. Humans and Ocryxes and even manitous are very easily swayed by my kind. But GeeBees? I did not think it possible. If this is so why did she never make use of them sooner?

"Like you said, why isn't important right now," Francois said. "I think you should start enlisting a few people to keep their eyes on the brutes."

Yes, you're right...my eyes alone are not enough to keep track of them all. They're like flies.

"I'll go into...cough...what Marcott calls 'town' and see if I can speak with the Dupries family, perhaps they can help us out or point out someone who can." He touched the front of his cap and nodded at Charmian and Drake. "Au revoir, you two; I hope to see you again soon."

"Bye," Charmian said, and Drake waved. Francois turned back to the woods and whistled; Marcott got a green look but followed.

She felt a little gust of wind and saw Tal Natha spread his wings. I go to find Old Mother Manitou. It's time she came back here and tended to her house. Perhaps she may convince some of her kind to watch out for the GeeBees. He lifted off and disappeared above the trees, though Charmian suspected he left merely so he wouldn't have to face Red Bird again so soon.

Red Bird!

She'd forgotten all about her! She couldn't believe how insensitive that was. For all she knew the poor girl was sobbing her eyes out right now with no one but the unconscious X to listen. "Um, excuse me," she said to Drake and Silver Eagle Feather. "I'm going to go...see if Red Bird is okay or needs anything."

Drake made a move to follow but Silver Eagle Feather stopped him and shook her head. He stayed where he was and watched Charmian go, not saying a word.

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