Manitou Island: Part 23
Bird Of Prey
TAL NATHA'S EYES flared red and a harsh growl rose in his throat. "Filthy vermin!" he snarled at Augwak. "You are weak and you know it. So you strike bargains with those who are stronger than you. You should be aware that you are not the only one who can break a bargain. Ocryana can do so as well."
"So?" Augwak sounded bored and made a pouty face as he looked at the stick. "Perhaps she can. This bothers me little. I have this now. Perhaps she may give us trouble in the future, but I'm thinking of the now. And right now things look good!"
He dove forward, wielding the stick, point forward, as he plunged toward Tal Natha. The demon slipped out of the way effortlessly and the GeeBee ended up driving the shaft into the ground. He whirled around with a hiss, pulling it free. The two faced each other across the clearing.
Drake kept squeezing Charmian's arm. His eyes were almost as big as the GeeBees'.
Tal Natha started circling, and the GeeBee did the same. They both kept their heads low as if stalking each other. You've lost what little mind you already had, Augwak, Tal Natha said. You know very well you can't hurt me. Neither can you do anything about Ocryana. If you keep this up, you will have two of us to deal with, for I know she will not honor your agreement, no matter how she may benefit from it.
"You're wrong, you're wrong," Augwak replied in a singsong voice. As he said it he tilted his head from left to right and back again, like a child gloating over an important secret. "I thought you were going to try to keep a better eye on us. Isn't that what you said? You're doing a poor job. A very poor job. As if you had any hope in the first place. You shame me with how ignorant you are, noble Dreamspinner. It's hard to believe we're of the same kind."
Tal Natha's look became disgusted. We are both of the wind. This is the only similarity we share, carrion-eater.
"Oh, truly. We both share this Island home, do we not? We both fear the same powers. Only soon I'll have a lot less to fear. Thanks to your dear mother!"
He lunged forward again, still missing; Tal Natha's tail swept across the ground, toward him, but Augwak nimbly jumped over it as if skipping rope, and landed not that far from Charmian and Drake.
He turned to them and gave a hideous smile. "Hello, fleshlings. Nice to see you again."
Charmian opened her mouth to sling out some insult when Augwak's look turned surprised and then she felt herself being pulled through the air. A moment later she was atop Sugar Loaf, Drake beside her, eyes bugging out of his head as he gaped at the ground far below. Pakwa crouched above them, watching the scene silently.
Augwak's lip curled. "Fine then. We'll just have to put off pleasantries until later." He turned back to Tal Natha and his mood lightened again. "Anyway...before I was distracted...I believe I was telling you how ignorant you are?"
Your insults are like little buzzing flies, Augwak, no more powerful than your threats. If you have something to say then say it and be gone before I rip off your head.
At this comment the GeeBee actually paled a little, but then scowled and held up the stick. "Ocryxes, Ocryxes. Always so full of themselves. Your mother even. I've never come across one so self-absorbed. 'Do this, do that, and you shall have your freedom, yet I shall reign over you.' I'll tolerate her only so long as she's useful. Then I'll find a way to be rid of her as well. This Island will be ours then. All the fleshlings one can eat." He looked up at Charmian and Drake and licked his chops. "Except perhaps for the mainlander, the Frenchman. He could be useful. Back and forth from the Island he goes without a worry. If we could make use of that, then we could have all the meat we care to eat from the mainland as well, all without having to give up our lovely cave with the lakefront view."
This time Tal Natha snarled and lunged forward. He knocked the stick from the GeeBee's hand and Augwak panicked. Charmian wondered what it was about the object that gave him such confidence. Before he could get too upset, a little gust of wind picked the stick up and tossed it back into his hand. Augwak's grin returned and he hopped to the side, aiming it at Tal Natha.
"It's a shame your kind doesn't stick together like mine does, Ocryx. But then again, not such a shame, else I wouldn't have the means to do away with you so easily."
"You're tiring me with your hollow threats, buzzard!" Tal Natha snarled. "You have a purpose here? No? Then don't complain when you find your own kind feasting on your innards!"
"You hardly have the power, dog! I have it now! All of it!" He hefted the stick above his head and shook it, hooting; the other GeeBees joined in, sounding like a chorus of howler monkeys. Charmian put her hands to her ears to try to block out the raucous sound.
Tal Natha leapt forward, apparently finished with talking. His jaws just missed the GeeBee's throat before Augwak jumped away. He continued leaping around like some crazy acrobat, dodging the Ocryx's attacks, parrying his blows with the stick; all the while the other GeeBees joined in, gusting and tearing at the demon's wings with semi-transparent hands, buffeting him this way and that as he tried to attack.
"Fight fair!" Drake cried, shaking his fists.
The creatures didn't listen. X broke away from Silver Eagle Feather's side and jumped into the fray. His presence threw Augwak off a little, but only momentarily; then the GeeBee just laughed and ducked his blow.
"Two heads for the price of one!" he said with glee. "I suppose I should be happy today!"
Charmian's heart twisted in her chest. What had the GeeBees so confident? X had frightened them off easily the first time--and now they weren't fighting merely X, but Tal Natha as well. It made no sense that they weren't afraid now when they'd been such cowards before. Unless Augwak's threats weren't so empty after all--if Ocryana had really given him something with which he could defeat Tal Natha--
Something in her mind clicked. Not just Tal Natha--X as well--Two heads for the price of one--
And Ocryx as well?
The vision she'd had, the vision the Uroona had given her, came roaring back to her, clear as ever--
Some creature swinging its head--
Horn smashing against stone, cracking, splintering--
A sliver of bone falling to the ground--
Not bone. Horn. Horn!
"Horn," she whispered to herself. Drake looked at her. "Ocryx horn!"
She leapt to her feet, nearly toppling off the ledge to the ground far below. Pakwa caught her shirt and pulled her back. "Tal Natha!" she screamed, cupping her hands to her mouth. "The stick! It's horn! OCRYX HORN!"
X appeared to hear her first. He immediately pushed off from the ground, out of the fight, coasting backwards toward the rock. She couldn't tell if Tal Natha had not heard her, or if he had and decided to ignore her warning. He did duck when Augwak jabbed the stick forward, the shaft with its deadly tip missing him by inches. One great paw crashed into Augwak's side and the GeeBee fell to the earth, gasping for breath and holding his ribs. He hissed and bared his fangs and vanished into wind when Tal Natha's foot came down at him--the Ocryx's claws met only dirt and the ground shook. He snarled and whirled around, eyes darting, drawing his hand back to strike the creature again wherever he should reappear--
And Augwak appeared directly behind Tal Natha, crouched low to the ground and as small as possible--before the Ocryx could turn to face him he had plunged the stick forward and the shaft and head pierced through Tal Natha's back, coming out the other side, protruding below his breastbone.
His eyes grew wide and a blue sheen passed over him like electricity.
No! a voice in Charmian's head cried, though she let out no noise. She couldn't feel Pakwa keeping hold of her so she didn't fall. She couldn't feel her legs or any part of herself at all. Everyone and everything vanished. All she could see was Tal Natha.
The Ocryx stood frozen where Augwak had impaled him--he started to reach for the shaft of the stick when the GeeBee wrenched it free and jumped away from him, landing at the far side of the clearing. The other GeeBees had gone silent but hung in the air all around them. Tal Natha hitched a breath and put one hand over the bleeding wound below his chest--it wasn't very large, or even very bloody--Charmian found herself thinking that it couldn't be serious, it didn't look anywhere near as awful as what the manitou had done to X, all they had to do was take him back inside and Old Mother Manitou would patch him up as fine as anything, she bet he didn't even hurt that much--he'd been through worse, she was sure, he could handle this--
But Tal Natha's wings, before flared out above him, now sank down limp behind his back--his tail quit slithering and lay still upon the ground--and after a moment he let out his breath and went to his knees, slowly sinking down to the earth. The strange blue sheen passed over him again and one wing twitched but then he fell still, the glow vanishing from his eyes.
Charmian sucked in her breath and felt the sting in her eyes as her vision suddenly went blurry.
But she gasped again and her eyes immediately cleared when a shattering scream tore through the air.
Everyone's heads--Augwak's and the GeeBees' included--whirled around to face the source of the scream. Red Bird stood at the edge of the clearing, fists clenched so her fingers dug into her palms, eyes shut tight and face twisted in a rictus of pain and fury. Before anyone hardly even had the chance to be surprised a blinding light had enveloped her, blue sparks shooting out every which way--and she started to change--growing bigger--something growing and rising up out of her back--wings--long curving horns sprouting from her head--a snake tail writhing out behind her, snow-white fur covering her, long fearsome claws protruding from her fingertips, and her scream deepening into a roar of rage as everyone gaped at her in astonishment.
The roar broke off and Red Bird brought her head down again, and her eyes--glowing violent red and green--focused on Augwak.