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Manitou Island: Part 29
An Offer He Can't Refuse
CHARMIAN SWALLOWED. "I came alone!" she managed to retort, unable to keep the irritation and fear out of her voice.
A shadow came toward her from the side cave and as it grew longer she could make it out, the by now familiar upright stance, the flaring wings and curving horns. Finally the shape it belonged to appeared and Charmian held her breath, trying not to make a sound, as if she would disappear into the wall. Ocryx stopped and leaned over her, glaring red and green eyes taking her in, and directed several blasting snorts at her again, trying to pick up her scent. She had to blink her eyes repeatedly. After he'd done that he rose towering over her again, muzzle wrinkled with disgust.
"Mainlander," he muttered, turning back and stalking away into his cave.
Charmian let out her breath. So...that was it? That was his greeting? It seemed rather...anticlimactic. She'd expected something more than that.
She followed him, albeit at a distance. In the next room was a sort of lectern or stand with a large book upon it. Before this was a rough seat, and Ocryx took his place upon it, ignoring her. A small strange rubbery-looking creature with large eyes crouched upon the floor near him; on seeing Charmian, it popped up and scrambled her way, teeth showing, drooling and making a strange rasping sound. She gasped and hopped back, away from it, trying to keep it at a distance as it followed her around like a crazy terrier.
"You have a purpose here, mainlander?" Ocryx snapped, nose still wrinkled as if she smelled bad.
Charmian tried to stop but the creature kept coming. She grabbed onto it before it could jump on her, and she held it at arm's length, wriggling and drooling and hissing. She was too afraid to let it go. "I--I came here to ask for--"
"Spit it out, stupid idiot! You think I have all day to speak with you? Mitchi could very easily have torn you to shreds if I'd allowed him."
Allowed--? That got to Charmian. She'd wondered why the manitous hadn't attacked, when it was their duty. She also remembered how Ocryx had promised some sort of punishment for the manitou for attacking X. Had he told them to tone it down a little? Or had he sent them up to...rescue her?
The demon bared his teeth, growling. If you spend too long pondering over my actions I will make certain Mitchi gets the chance to play with his food.
Another swallow. She had to keep in mind that he could read her thoughts if she wasn't careful. "I came here to ask for a favor," she said, managing to keep her voice level.
"Favor?" A snort. "It had best be petty, because already I can hardly tolerate having you around. Mainlanders. You should keep to your own space."
Charmian tried not to let her temper overcome her. "It's not little...it's important. Wouldn't you like to do something important?"
That had evidently been the wrong thing to say. A split second later he had jumped from the seat and was bellowing in her face, fangs just inches away. The little slobbering creature yelped and bolted from her hands, disappearing into another cave. Charmian herself stood her ground but had to shut her eyes and grit her teeth, fists clenching. Her heart beat faster than she'd thought possible.
"YOU THINK I GRANT FAVORS BECAUSE I ENJOY IT?" Ocryx bellowed. "YOU THINK I SHOULD BE HONORED TO HAVE A MAINLANDER ASK FOR A FAVOR? GO BACK TO YOUR LITTLE ROCK IF THIS IS HOW YOU THINK OR HAVE MITCHI SEND YOU BACK IN PIECES!!"
"I'm sorry!" Charmian screamed back at him. "So I'm sorry I insulted you! EVERY STUPID THING INSULTS YOU!"
To her surprise, he immediately stopped bellowing and stood up straight, eyes widening. She could tell he hadn't expected her to shout back. But then the glow in his eyes started getting brighter and she could tell he was overcoming his surprise and getting ready to blow again, and she started talking before he had the chance to do so.
"I have a really important favor to ask of you," she said, the words rushing out of her, "and nobody else can grant it but you so that means it's doubly important you do it. You're the only one who can help. I came here because that's the way it is and I know it. I didn't want to come here but it's important and I would really really be in your debt if you'd do it for me!!"
She broke off, panting; Ocryx stared down at her. It looked as if he'd been defused, at least temporarily; finally his eyes narrowed to mere slits though his voice was level when he spoke back.
"What sort of favor is it you want, human? I doubt you came all this way for something trivial. The greater the favor, the greater the payment you must give me."
She swallowed and nodded. "I...I know. It's a really big favor. But I know you can grant it. You're the only one who has the power."
She could tell he'd taken that the wrong way; instead of thinking she'd meant he was the only one capable, literally, of granting the favor, due to who he was, he seemed to think she'd meant it as a compliment on his powers. He snorted again, though not as loudly as before, and his wings rose a little. He looked away from her in an almost haughty manner, nostrils flaring.
"Well, at least you're not entirely ignorant, for a mainlander. Hurry up and name your favor and I'll see if you're correct about who may grant it."
How best to break it to him? There was no waffling with an Ocryx, that was for certain. She decided on the direct approach, taking a step forward. "I need a part of your spirit. Tal Natha's been wounded and the only way he can recover is if you give him that."
The demon shrank low to the ground and whirled around in the same movement, eyes on fire. Charmian had time to get out a gasp before he'd pinned her against the wall, claws digging into her chest, snarling dripping jaws directly before her eyes. If her heart had been pounding quickly before, now she was just about positive it had stopped altogether.
"You think I'm stupid, mainlander?" he hissed, voice venomous and deadly low. "You think I'd give up this to save that whelp? I wouldn't so much as spare a wing feather for him." She let out her breath when he let her go, sliding to the floor. "You ask the wrong person. Take your favor elsewhere. I'm seriously tempted to hand you back over to Mitchi."
"I didn't show you your payment yet," Charmian protested.
A furious roar. "There is no payment great enough for me to sacrifice anything for that dog!"
"He's your son!" Charmian blurted out. "He loves Red Bird!"
Again the wrong thing to say! He stopped roaring but the look he got on his face was so hideous with its potential for violence that she jumped to her feet, fumbling for the velvet bag. She got it out of her pocket and struggled with the drawstring, tearing it open and yanking out the silver necklace--she thrust it out toward him just as his jaws came at her face.
Ocryx halted abruptly, as if stopped by an invisible shield. Breath snorted from his nostrils and his eyes grew.
Charmian kept her own eyes squinched tightly shut, biting her lip, waiting for the attack...when none came, she opened one eye and cautiously peered at the demon. The necklace. For all his bluster, he was interested in shiny jewels, and even though this one looked to be merely glass, all she had to do was get him to let her explain what it really was...
But he wasn't even staring at the necklace. His gaze was on the floor. Charmian frowned and followed it, and when she saw what it was he stared at, she thought she must be imagining things.
It was...the picture of Red Bird?
She blinked. The picture didn't disappear. She couldn't understand what was going on; how had it gotten here? It was out of its frame, but she recognized it as the same one she'd seen in the antiques store. She racked her brain, trying to think of where it had come from. The only thing she could think of was when Miss Anne had gone back to the books section to get the velvet bag to put the necklace in. Had she, in fact, gone back there for the picture, and placed not only the necklace, but it, in the bag as well? It was the only possible explanation. But why?
Ocryx reached down to pick up the picture. It seemed very small in his giant clawed hand. He held it up to his face, staring at the little faces staring back at him. He had the same expression he'd had on hearing Red Bird's name during their last meeting, that strange wide-eyed childlike expression which seemed so out of place on his face. He only stared at it silently.
Charmian took her chances and spoke up. "She's sad without him. Maybe you hate him but I know you don't hate her. If you let him die then you lose a part of her, too."
His ears slowly lowered. She couldn't tell if the look on his face now was a scowl or a sulk or ready to cry. Charmian shook out the necklace and held it up at him again.
"This is what I came to give you. For payment. It doesn't look like much--it's not emeralds or anything--but it's a lot more than what you've already got." He finally tore his stare away from the picture to look at her offering. "It's not a normal necklace. I got this out of Tal Natha's dream. I traveled to the mainland to get it, all through his dream. I brought it back with me to give it to you."
He reached out and took it in his other hand, bringing it close and looking it over. "Dream object...in the real world?" A bit of a scowl now did come to his face. "You lie, human. This isn't possible."
"It is possible. Tal Natha did it. You can accept it or you can refuse it. The thing is, you only get it if you help him out." She shrugged. "His payment for your favor. It's your choice, though I don't see what you have to lose from it."
"You speak too much, impertinent little human. I could make you a false promise, take this necklace from you and keep it as easily as I wished."
"Sure, you could," Charmian returned, "but you won't. You always keep your word--right?"
The scowl grew. Her heart lifted a little; she knew she was right, this time; all that was left was to convince him it was worth it. He seemed to be caving in.
"Look," she tried a different tack, "all of this is because of Ocryana." When he looked at her she nodded. "That's right...she had Augwak take part of her horn and tied it to a stick. Then he used it to stab Tal Natha. Augwak did it but Ocryana planned it and gave him what he needed. She did this to kill off Tal Natha. You know she plans on using it against you next, right?"
Now the look in his eyes was panicked. "Stick? What became of it? Did you take it from him?"
Charmian started to reply, then stopped. She remembered Augwak scrabbling for the weapon as Red Bird got ready to attack him, how he'd picked it up and vanished before she was able. "...Uh..." she murmured, "...no...not really."
He gaped at her a moment more before bellowing at the ceiling. "WHAT SORT OF A BRAIN DO YOU POSSESS, HUMAN? DO YOU NEVER MAKE USE OF IT AT ALL?"
"It happened really fast! I couldn't do anything!" Charmian shot back. "Look, do you want the stupid necklace or not? If you give over a part of your spirit, Tal Natha lives, you get the necklace, the Island has a guardian, the enemy of your enemy is your friend so he'll help you out if you need it against Ocryana. If you don't give it over, the guardian dies, the Island dies, you die, Ocryana dies too but she dies laughing. AT YOU."
She should have been used to it by now--but she still wasn't. She cringed away when he tossed back his head and roared again, the whole cave shaking around them. The sound thrummed her eardrums and she had to put up her hands to protect them. Then Ocryx brought his head back down, eyes two red and green flames, and plunged one clawed hand through his chest.
Charmian's own eyes grew round as marbles.
A brilliant light shot out of Ocryx's chest; it looked as if he were tearing his own heart out. He snarled as he pushed his hand deeper, then withdrew it; the glow dripped from his fingers like blood made out of light before fading away. He thrust his hand out at Charmian, face livid.
"Take it! Take it and leave, rodent!"
Charmian worked up the courage to peer into his outstretched hand. She expected blood...but instead saw what looked to be a crystal of some sort. It was smoky colored, like obsidian; she blinked at it a few times, not certain what it was, when he shook it at her.
She snatched the strange crystal from his hand and he presented one last little snarl, turning away with the necklace clenched in one hand. As he went back to the stand she saw the picture lying on the floor again, forgotten; she picked it up before he could have the chance to change his mind, tucking it in her pocket. She got to her feet and started shying toward the door, stopping only when she realized she didn't know how she was going to get out of the place.
"Um..." Her voice came out very small. "...How do I--"
"MITCHI!!" Ocryx screamed. Charmian flinched and backed out of the cave, very nearly running into the manitou who seemed to appear out of nowhere. He growled down at her with an evil look but right now, just about anything seemed preferable to spending any more time with the demon.
"Mind giving me a lift?" she asked, feeling stupid.
Mitchi's glinting blue eyes narrowed. I'll certainly give you a lift, human.