Manitou Island: Part 22
CHARMIAN RAN OUTSIDE Sugar Loaf Rock, looking wildly from side to side. Justin was no longer in view. She could only assume he had managed to drag the manitou out of hiding and had retreated. Red Bird was still there, but she was heading for the woods. Following Justin? Charmian went after her, yelling, "Red Bird!"
She caught up with the girl just as she fell to her knees at the edge of the woods and with a sudden heave threw up in the grass. Charmian came to an abrupt stop, face going white. She hadn't expected that. When Red Bird finished and wiped her mouth, panting weakly, she moved forward and knelt beside her.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
Red Bird nodded, hand still to her mouth. "Y...yes...I'm all right...just not feeling very well."
"What was that all about?"
"Tal Natha...Tal Natha doesn't like Lord Justin very much." In the back of Charmian's mind a voice said, Well, there's an understatement. "He doesn't like him to be around...he'd prefer for him to keep to his own kind. Your kind of people."
"Why did you follow him?" Charmian asked, keeping her voice low. Tal Natha still hadn't come out from Sugar Loaf, but she was afraid of his reaction if and when he would. "If Tal Natha doesn't like him as much as I think he does, I don't think he'd like the idea of you running after him, either."
Red Bird sat back on her heels with a sniff. She looked at Charmian and seemed embarrassed. "I believe I know what you're thinking...you think that there is something between us, between Lord Justin and myself, and Tal Natha is jealous. Is this what you're thinking?"
Charmian flushed red. "Well...I didn't want to be rude...but that is kind of what it looked like...but I mean, hey, it's your business and all..."
To which the voice replied, Only I wouldn't want a jealous demon for a boyfriend!!
"It's not that way at all," Red Bird said. "Lord Justin...Lord Justin has feelings for me, it's true, but I have none for him. I would like to consider him a friend, if it weren't so awkward. He still wishes to win me even though he knows he cannot. Tal Natha knows I would never betray him. But he doesn't like that Lord Justin still tries to win me. He can be possessive, it's true...but I think he's also afraid of losing me. Perhaps it's why he's angry that I'm in danger and I can't seem to bring out this 'power' of mine." She suddenly grimaced and bent forward, hands clamped to her stomach. Charmian touched her shoulder, growing alarmed. After a moment whatever it was passed, and Red Bird let out her breath and smiled weakly.
"I'm all right, really I am...I think I've become too nervous. I knew this would happen, such a large responsibility being placed on me, when I don't even know what to do next."
"That's okay," Charmian said, "I don't really know why I'm here, either. I'm not doing a very good job of protecting you or anything!"
A soft laugh; Charmian smiled. The girl seemed to laugh so rarely that it was good to hear it, at least for once. "Well then...perhaps I would have better luck in your world, instead."
"Come on, we'd better get back to the others." Charmian took Red Bird's arm and helped her up. "Before they start wondering what happened to us."
"True...it was rude of me to just run out like that. I didn't wish to make a mess in Old Mother Manitou's place..."
"Don't worry about that either, she could just get Drake to clean it up."
Red Bird laughed again and they headed back for the rock.
Drake stood just inside the entrance, staring out at them with big eyes. "Charm?" he said inquiringly, and she nodded to let him know everything seemed to be all right. He moved aside and they went in. Silver Eagle Feather was still tending to X, who was still protesting that he was fine; Old Mother Manitou was disposing of the moss she'd used on him, muttering to herself again and shaking her head. At first Charmian didn't see Tal Natha anywhere, but then heard a low growl after she and Red Bird entered the room. She turned back to see him leaning against the wall right beside the entrance, wings folded and eyes dark. Red Bird bit her lip again. Tal Natha sniffed a few times, then, as if satisfying himself that "the enemy" was no longer anywhere near, moved away from the door.
"Is he really all right now?" Charmian asked, heading for X and Silver Eagle Feather.
"Yes," X started to say, when his mother interrupted him.
"His wound is healed, yes. But his strength hasn't completely returned yet. I'm not certain how but perhaps Old Mother Manitou is right, Mitchi used some sort of magic on him."
"Of course I'm right," Old Mother Manitou snapped. They looked at her as she puttered around. "Why should I be wrong? Mitchi's medicine is no match for my own, so somebody helped him out. Where did I put that...? In any case I'm going to keep a close eye on the beast for a while now. Too much power in the wrong hands...he's a dolt and he knows I know it. If it weren't for Ocryx he wouldn't have any power at all. Why, what are you doing with that?" She came toward Charmian with a look of surprise and plucked the bat from her pocket. Charmian had forgotten it was there. "Taking her for a ride? I'm surprised you didn't drop her. I believe this belongs here." She put the bat back on the stick. "Now as much as I know she must appreciate the fresh air, I must ask you to seek my permission the next time you decide to make off with one of my belongings. It's most rude, you know."
"Sorry," Charmian said.
"Well, I'll forgive it this time, if you just remem..." She trailed off and leaned toward Charmian, frowning and sniffing.
Charmian flushed. Did she smell bad? Granted, yesterday had been a long hot day and she'd gotten pretty dirty...she probably needed a bath. Probably? No question about it. She'd hoped she didn't smell that bad, though. Where would she go to clean up around here? Devil's Lake?
That didn't sound very welcoming...
"What?" she asked meekly, feeling as if she should shrink in on herself.
Old Mother Manitou didn't reply. Instead she turned to Red Bird and started sniffing at her as well, her frown growing. "Not so strong there...but stronger here." She sniffed at Charmian again and then scowled. "Girl, have you been down to the lake again?"
Charmian started. "Lake--?" Devil's Lake, or Huron? She hadn't been near either one, to her knowledge. "...No, not near the lake. Why?"
Tal Natha had noticed her reaction and came forward.
"You've got their smell all over you, girl!" Old Mother Manitou said, waving a hand at her as if she reeked. "If I weren't more hospitable I'd tell you to take it outside until you wash it off completely. Ugh. I can hardly stand that smell."
"What smell?" Charmian asked, voice hurt.
"Those lake manitous. Ai! You humans are so ignorant! However do you get around by yourselves without getting lost? You can't even smell it? It's all over you, and a bit of it on you, too." She waved at Red Bird.
Red Bird's eyes grew. "On me? I haven't been near the lake!"
"You mean, you can tell the difference?" Drake asked. When Charmian looked at him to ask what he was talking about, he clarified, "Between lake manitous and regular manitous. Like you. They smell different?"
"Of course, boy. You see this nose? It's like a dog's. It does more than just fill up the center of my face, you know. You've got that smell all over you. If you haven't been near the lake then you've at least been near one of those brutes. Whatever were you doing?"
"But I haven't been near any lake manitous!" Charmian protested. "The only manitous I've been around are you and..."
She suddenly realized. She herself could see no difference between lake manitous and the other kind, the kind Francois had called upon. To her, they looked exactly the same. If Francois had called some manitous forward, how would she be able to say which was a lake one and which wasn't?
Further, how could she say with certainty what category any manitou she came across fell under?
When Justin had called his manitou out of the woods, she'd simply assumed it was one of those Francois had called--it had come in response to the same sound, so why wouldn't she assume this?
But the way it had acted on seeing her...as if it recognized her from somewhere, and didn't like her at all...
It hadn't been merely shy. It had been hostile.
"...and Justin's," she finished, faintly.
Tal Natha's ears flipped back and he bristled, snarling. Old Mother Manitou waved at him this time.
"You Ocryxes! You are always so dramatic! Knock that behavior off! What do you think you are, a mad cur?" She turned to Red Bird. "And you, girl--what good are you for? You mean to tell me you can't even tell the difference between those of us from the lake and those of us from elsewhere? I'd think you'd know, by now!"
Red Bird flushed and lowered her head. "I'm sorry."
"Eh, don't apologize to me, you'd best just learn the difference or else you'll end up in trouble." She reached up to pull some bushy-looking substance down from the wall and went over to the fire, tossing it in and waving a fan over it. "You'd think he'd have taught you a bit better in all the time you were there...this had better get rid of that smell, I can hardly stand it..."
Charmian frowned and looked at Red Bird, hoping to catch her eye. The girl kept her head lowered and walked back toward the entrance. Tal Natha stopped growling and his ears stood up again as he watched her pass. He reached out and touched her arm, stopping her, and the two looked at each other as if communicating by thought, though Charmian heard nothing. She didn't try to hear, either; she felt it would be eavesdropping. Red Bird looked at the floor again and Tal Natha bent and touched his head to hers, an echo of what Charmian had first seen back at his cave. She was a bit surprised to see it now, with how angry the two had been with each other; maybe Tal Natha's anger was more out of worry and frustration, as she'd thought.
She turned away from them; it felt too rude to stare.
Well, things appeared to be back to "normal," at least as far as normal went in this place--X was still insisting on getting up and walking around and Silver Eagle Feather was still holding him back, Old Mother Manitou was still fanning the fire, and Drake shrugged at Charmian when her gaze fell on him.
"Well," he said. "Do you have any idea why that guy would've been riding a lake manitou? Unless OMM is wrong? I--"
"I'm never wrong, boy. And don't call me 'OMM.' That sounds like something your people would use."
"--sorry, sorry, but I dunno, it sounds kind of fishy, right? Or maybe I'm trying too hard to think like you, Charm? I mean, you keep doubting everything, maybe you're rubbing off on me--"
"I keep what?"
"You keep doubting everything. You don't know what I'm talking about? How come you needed Tal Natha to scratch you across the stomach before you'd even believe he--"
A gust of wind swept through the entrance, causing Tal Natha and Red Bird to squint their eyes almost shut, Red Bird's hands going to clasp her arms. It gusted at the fire Old Mother Manitou had been fanning, sending flames and sparks shooting up toward the ceiling before blowing it out entirely. Through all of the cracks and crevices came the echoes of eerie laughter.
Tal Natha's snarl returned. "Them again!"
Drake seized Charmian's arm, squeezing it. "Charm," his voice quavered. "I don't like those guys!"
"If you go out to give them a piece of your mind," Old Mother Manitou said, "then make certain to thrash them soundly for putting out my fire! These things don't just build themselves, you know!"
"I'm fine, Mother, really!" X barked, and finally managed to jump down from his pallet. Silver Eagle Feather let go of him but gave him a scowl fit to rival anything Tal Natha could summon up. X's ears quivered but he said, "I know, I know, I'll be careful...they're only windlings, I've fought them before. I can take care of them." He heard Tal Natha's growl and his look turned sheepish. "...With help, of course."
Tal Natha hadn't been growling at his brother, however. He still stared in the direction of the entrance. Red Bird tried to cover her ears against the shrill laughter that seemed to echo from everywhere inside and outside the room.
From somewhere above, a harsh familiar voice came down seemingly through the rock. "Hellooooooooo? Anyone at home?"
"Get off my rock, you twit!" Old Mother Manitou snapped, jabbing a stick at the wall as if that would drive them off.
Tal Natha leapt for the door. Charmian thought he would strike his head as he had in the woods but he made certain to duck this time, wings folding close to his body so he slipped right through. Here we go again, Charmian moaned to herself, following Red Bird, Drake and Silver Eagle Feather following her. How is it that we never learn!
This whole trip was starting to seem like some big skipping record.
She popped out of the rock to find Tal Natha standing squarely outside, tail thrashing and muzzle wrinkled in a snarl. He stared up at the sky. Charmian glanced around but could see nothing except the leaves on the trees gusting about. A whirlwind broke free and spun the little flecks of orange and red around in a mad circle, heading for the demon; Tal Natha lashed out and smashed it to pieces in one swoop. She looked back at the rock and finally noticed Pakwa perched on a ledge above. The GeeBee was tossing glances this way and that as well, as if he followed the motions of some invisible being, yellow owl eyes as large as ever but teeth bared and a loud hiss in his throat. The laughter continued. Something seemed to poke at him and he lashed out abruptly, then shrunk in on himself again, still hissing.
Charmian remembered her first "greeting" from the GeeBees, and wrapped her arms around her middle, teeth chattering and nerves fraying.
Tal Natha roared. "You are always cowards! Show yourselves if you want a fight and we'll gladly give it to you again, since you didn't learn last time!"
Charmian wasn't prepared for Augwak's sudden appearance, so when the green GeeBee popped into sight right before them she jumped back about four feet. He materialized in midair, crouching as if perched like Pakwa was, but feet touching nothing. A mad, toothy grin lit his face. And he held a long stick in one hand, something sharp and pointed tied to the end.
The blood drained from Charmian's face as she recognized the strange splinter she'd seen in her vision. She felt like telling Tal Natha what it was, only she didn't know what it was, and her voice had stopped working.
Tal Natha looked just as surprised and bewildered as she did.
"Hello, fleshlings!" Augwak greeted, and cackled. From around him a chorus of answering cackles sounded, and Charmian could now make out the ethereal, fleeting forms of other GeeBees partly materializing and dematerializing from thin air. She wanted to run but couldn't.
Augwak merely smiled again, long teeth gleaming like needles. "Guess what I have here?" he said jestingly, and shook the stick in his hand. When no one answered he answered for them. His laughter pierced through their ears. "It's a little gift from your mother Ocryana!"