Manitou Island: Part 21
CHARMIAN SAT ON a stool while Justin cleaned the dirt from the scrapes on her knees and then applied some medicine which, of course, stung. She bit her lip. His "house" wasn't quite what she expected it to be. It made her think more of a mansion or something. It reminded her of the pictures of the Victorian-style houses she'd seen in the Mackinac Island guidebook, only, not knowing the different styles of architecture, she couldn't know if that's what it was or not. Whatever it was, it was fancy enough.
She sensed the Dupries family was wealthy. He'd taken her to the kitchens and offered her something to eat, and while munching on a huge sandwich she'd noticed a long polished table in the adjoining dining room. However, at the moment she and Justin seemed to be the only ones there. She looked around at the walls and windows and ornate stairway and wondered.
"How many people live here?" she asked.
"Oh? Just my parents and myself. A few servants in the servants' quarters. No one more. Why do you ask?"
"Well, it's just a pretty big house and all...seems like it would get lonely here or something."
"True." He smiled. "This is why I go out hunting every so often. One should always get out or they'll eventually go mad."
She smiled back this time. "Where are your parents, anyway? I don't see anybody around..."
"My father is often out on some 'business' or other. There are a few more like us on the Island, and I believe he prefers their company. My mother is most likely haggling."
"Haggling, yes. She sometimes buys items from the natives here. She's quite good at it. She's learned their language, although it's not necessary, being the Island and all..."
Something lit up in Charmian's mind. "Oh. Have you seen Francois LaCroix today?"
"Francois?" He looked up at her. "You know him?"
"Yeah. The last time I saw him he and Mr. Marcott said they were coming here to see you."
"No, I haven't seen them today, but then again I've been out...perhaps they went off looking for my father. Was there any reason they needed to speak with us?"
Charmian started to answer when she realized it had to do with the Ocryxes, and clammed up. "Uh...no, I'm not really sure...they just said they were going to try stopping in sometime today, is all."
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time...I get the feeling Monsieur Marcott would prefer staying here most of the time to tagging along after Francois." He laughed to himself.
"Ow." He finished placing bandages on Charmian's knees and she extended her legs. "Thanks," she murmured, rubbing her arms and looking up at the fancy windows again. Some of them were stained glass, and she thought she could recognize the form of a manitou in one of them. He took her hand and helped her to her feet, and for the first time she noticed a small pendant he was wearing around his neck. She blinked and reached out to touch it before thinking. It was silver, enclosing a chip of ruby and a chip of emerald, red and green side by side.
His glance followed her motion and she drew her hand back, embarrassed. "Sorry. It's just an interesting necklace."
"This? I often forget I wear it, I'm so used to it." He smiled and shrugged. "Do you feel ready to go now?"
"Where did you get it?" For some strange reason she again found herself thinking of the green glass necklace in Miss Anne's store.
"It was a...'gift' from my father." He shrugged again. "He's sparing in his gift-giving so I suppose I should be more grateful...are you ready to go now?"
"Yeah, I guess. Thanks."
She put her backpack back on, and he his jacket, and they went back out onto the wide porch and across the lawn, toward the trees from where they'd come. Charmian felt a breeze and looked up at the house to see Pakwa perched atop one of the gables. Justin put his fingers to his mouth and whistled loudly, drawing her attention. After several moments a rustling noise came from the woods, and two tiny blue lights appeared in the dimness.
Justin waved his hand impatiently. The manitou came out of the woods then, eyeing Charmian suspiciously. It looked somewhat hostile; she found herself backing behind Justin again.
He looked down at her. "What's the problem?"
"I...uh...don't think he likes me that much."
"What do you mean?" He looked back up at the manitou and spoke to it in its own language. Its eyes narrowed and it spoke back, still staring at her. Justin paused, then spoke and waved his hand again in a gesture that seemed to say, "Never mind that." The manitou scowled but stepped forward and a moment later a large deer stood there.
"We have horses," Justin said to Charmian, "but I've found they aren't always the best way to get around the Island...manitous are much faster."
"I know," Charmian said. She paused and then held up her arms, feeling foolish. She felt a pressure under them and slowly rose into the air as if levitating. She had to force herself to keep from kicking out, the sensation was so strange.
"Sugar Loaf?" Justin said. Charmian nodded and then yipped. She thought she was going to lose her balance and crash back to the ground. Pakwa held onto her arms tightly and soared up into the sky again so suddenly that she let out a howl, seeing Justin and the manitou shrink below her. The two turned and disappeared into the woods with a crash.
"Not...so...fast!!" Charmian wailed, the whirling wind bringing tears to her eyes.
"We get to Sugar Loaf faster this way, fleshling. I won't let you drop."
"Haven't you ever heard of trust? This is a thing that takes a while to form, you know!"
The GeeBee didn't reply, so she didn't bother any further. If one thing could be said for the creatures, they most certainly lacked tact and courtesy.
They also traveled much faster than even the manitous could. Before long she spotted the great mass of Sugar Loaf rising far below, and Pakwa brought her down toward it, Charmian returning to an upright position as they slowed and lowered to the ground.
Drake and Red Bird stood outside. They watched her come in for a landing, eyes wide and round, mouths open. Charmian's feet touched the ground and when Pakwa let go of her she did her best not to stumble and fall; it would have ruined the whole scene. "Hi," she said to the two waiting for her, who stood frozen still, speechless. "I'm back."
They gaped for a moment before Drake managed to get out, "Ch...Charm. You...when did you learn how to...fly?"
"Huh?" She started when Red Bird did the same, gasping and retreating. Looking over her shoulder, she could see Pakwa appear behind her, his image forming and solidifying. She realized he must have been invisible to the others during their flight here, and only now did he show up.
"GeeBee!" Red Bird cried, running backwards toward the rock.
"No! It's okay!" Charmian said, holding out her hands. "It's okay, really. He's harmless. He likes candy bars. His name's Pakwa, he won't eat anybody, I promise."
"Wha?" Drake said. Red Bird stopped running and put a hand to her chest, letting out her breath.
"Pakwa? This one is Pakwa?"
"Yeah, sure. Don't be scared of him. He isn't a cannibal. Justin said he broke away from Augwak's sort..."
"Justin?" Red Bird echoed, a strange look coming into her eyes. As if on cue a rustling, crashing noise came from the woods, and the manitou, with Justin upon it, emerged from the trees, skidding to a stop just at the edge of the clearing. It stamped one hoof and snorted, eyes flashing; Justin climbed off of its back and gave it a look as if to say, "What's up with you?" Before he could say anything to it it had turned around and vanished again and he turned back to the others, seeming a bit embarrassed.
His eyes fell on Red Bird and widened.
"Red Bird," he said, surprised.
Red Bird lowered her head and seemed to shrink in on herself just a bit. "Hello, Lord Justin."
Charmian frowned. Lord?
Justin bit his lip as he came toward them. "Please," he said, holding out his hands. "You don't have to call me Lord...I'm not nobility or anything."
"I'm sorry, Lord."
He sighed and stopped, several feet away from them, dropping his hands. He looked at Charmian, then at Drake and back at Red Bird. "Well...I wasn't informed you would be here. Miss Charmian here told me somebody was in need of help and I thought I would come along to see if I can't offer any assistance."
Red Bird's look lightened just slightly. "It's X," she said. "He was wounded by Mitchi Manitou. Old Mother Manitou tended to him, but he's just gotten worse. I don't understand it. She says he must have used some bad medicine on X."
"Bad medicine?" He frowned. "Manitous aren't supposed to be dangerous to Ocryxes...please let me have a look at him, maybe I can help."
"He's inside," Red Bird said, suddenly forgetting her discomfort and turning toward Sugar Loaf. She didn't get very far, however, before she stopped abruptly and put her hands to her mouth. Charmian, Drake, and Justin all looked in the same direction, trying to see what had startled her.
It was Tal Natha. He had appeared from--somewhere--possibly inside Sugar Loaf. He stood just outside it now, facing them. But it wasn't so much his sudden appearance that startled them as the look on his face. His ears stayed upright, but his eyes glowed bright and his lip curled, showing his teeth; a low, barely audible growl rose in his throat, a sound of warning. The fur on his neck rose as well and his wings flared out--if Charmian hadn't known any better she'd have thought he was her dog again, warning a smaller, weaker dog to keep away. And his stare was focused on Justin.
She looked at Justin to see that he seemed to recognize the warning. He frowned but kept whatever retort he may have had to himself, lowering his head, backing away a little.
Tal Natha didn't appear to care for the gesture very much. His growl grew louder and he scraped a foot against the ground, flaring to look even larger than he had before.
Red Bird stepped toward him, holding up her hands. "Tal Natha, it's all right--he only wants to look at X. I thought maybe he could help. Please, let him come inside. Old Mother Manitou can't seem to do anything--maybe Lord Justin can. Please?"
Tal Natha's growl finally died down but his evil look didn't. He backed away from the entrance, red and green eyes focused on Justin. He comes inside. He may look at X. But if he tries anything, he'll have my brother's blood on his hands, and I'll have his on mine.
Justin paled visibly but walked forward, past Tal Natha and inside Sugar Loaf. The Ocryx watched him go, then allowed the rest of them inside. Charmian went in before Red Bird; as she passed them she noticed Tal Natha take Red Bird's arm, squeezing it. Red Bird bit her lip but said nothing, following Charmian inside, the demon likewise following her.
Inside, Old Mother Manitou was leaning over X, muttering to herself and shaking her head. As the others approached she looked up, then shook her head again.
"I truly don't understand it," she mumbled. "It shouldn't be as serious as this, not at all. Manitous aren't deadly to Ocryxes."
"Could it be because he's not a full Ocryx?" Charmian suggested.
The manitou shook her head. "No, that's not it...he's over half Ocryx, and that's what counts. If you have more than half Ocryx blood in you then you pretty much count as a full one. So Mitchi shouldn't have had this effect on him." Her frown grew. "Unless it's like I said, he used some bad medicine..."
"What d'you mean, 'bad medicine'?" Drake asked.
"Well...I'm not quite certain what I mean. Mitchi Manitou has strong medicine, but nothing like this. No manitous have the ability to kill an Ocryx."
"He's dying--?" Charmian started forward but the manitou held her back.
"No, no...not now, at least. Which is good. But he shouldn't be this sick, either. He should just be wounded. Red Bird said you thought it might be an infection, but that's not it either. An infection? I can dress wounds better than that."
"Sorry," Charmian said.
"No apology needed...but it still bothers me. Where would Mitchi get such a power? He's strong, but even I can beat him back down--he's no match for an Ocryx. I'm starting to think everything's not quite what it appears to be right now..."
Charmian frowned this time. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well..." Old Mother Manitou paused. "Red Bird also told me about the vision this Uroona gave you. With Augwak and Ocryana. If she can make a bargain with a twit like him, she can make a bargain with anybody..."
"Huh?" Charmian said, only to have Drake tug on her arm.
"Hey, Charm...he's doing something."
They all turned to look. Justin had moved up beside X and was looking down at him, holding his hand over the wound, several inches from X's body. Charmian finally noticed that Silver Eagle Feather stood further back behind X, half lost in shadows, and she too was watching. Red Bird and Tal Natha were still near the back of the group, the former looking awed, the latter suspicious, eyes narrowed and ears twitching.
She gasped and almost covered her eyes when Justin's hand appeared to...catch on fire. Colored flames seemed to shoot out from his fingers, yet the look on his face didn't change. Tal Natha snarled and started forward but Red Bird stopped him. The others just watched, dumbstruck, as the strange glow faded and disappeared, and Justin pulled his hand away. X's labored breathing slowed, and after a moment his eyes slowly opened and he blinked up at the ceiling, then turned his head to look at the others, and finally started to push himself up.
Silver Eagle Feather came forward and put a hand to his chest. "Careful."
"I'm all right, Mother..."
"You've been weak for a while now. Try to get used to it first."
The others gaped, mouths open.
Justin stepped back, shaking and rubbing his hand. He stared at X for a few moments more before sighing and turning back to the others. He looked at Charmian first and gave her a slight smile, then at Red Bird--but then he saw Tal Natha again and the expression faded.
Charmian expected the demon to thank him for helping his brother. Instead Tal Natha flared up again, hackles rising and lip curling back. He started growling and this time even Red Bird backed away from him.
Now everyone, even X and Old Mother Manitou, focused on the two.
Out, Tal Natha threatened. I've seen enough of your bad medicine.
Justin got the same look he'd had on first seeing Tal Natha, a look that was more hurt than offended or angry. "I only thought I could help. He was in pain."
"Really, Brother," X said. "I feel better now. He took it away, healed me up."
Tal Natha snarled. "You are just a pup and don't know of what you speak." His eyes focused on Justin's. I said leave. You are lucky you didn't kill him. I would have torn out your throat with my own teeth. If the GeeBees themselves had torn you to shreds I would not mind.
"Tal Natha!" Red Bird put her hands to her mouth.
GO! The Ocryx surged forward, one foot slamming against the ground causing the very rock above them to shake. Justin hastily backed toward the door. Don't come back. Go back to where you belong. If you come anywhere near us again, I'll gore you myself!
Justin stared at him for just a brief moment before turning to Charmian and nodding his head once. "I'm pleased I could help you, Miss." Charmian nodded back and he then nodded at Red Bird. "Miss Red Bird."
He had turned and disappeared from the room before Tal Natha could spread his wings and let out an enraged bellow. The others cowered away from him, afraid of getting hit. Red Bird, hands still to her mouth, hurried to the door and ran out as well.
Charmian didn't need to think twice to know Tal Natha would be pissed if he found out she was running after Justin. She bolted out the door after her, hoping to stop her before she made a mistake.