Manitou Island: Part 40
Face The Music
THE BOOM CAME again, and again the eerie laughter. Charmian's teeth chattered. The insides of her eyelids suddenly turned pink and she pulled the furs down, sitting up. Moon Wolf, Justin, and the manitou had awakened at the noise as well, and the odd fire burned in the hollow in the wall again. They all stared upwards at the cave ceiling. Justin shielded his eyes when a few more chips and flakes fell.
"What are they doing?" he whispered between his teeth.
"What they always do," Moon Wolf replied. He picked up a sharpened stick leaning against the wall, though Charmian couldn't see what good it would do. "We'd best see what he wants this time."
"Isn't that kind of--stupid?" Charmian blurted out. The two men looked at her, as if having forgotten she was even there. Moon Wolf frowned.
"This is probably your best chance to get to learn something," he said. "So get on your feet, and come with us."
She felt as if her heart would squeeze out of her throat and run away like a yappy little puppy, but didn't argue. She climbed out of her bed, clutching her arms and jogging to catch up with them.
Had the cave changed, as Justin had said it could? Somehow the way back up didn't seem nearly as long as it had the last time, though the layout was similar. They ended up on the sloping ledge that led to the underground cavern, inching their way up along the wall. The wind blew in and buffeted them now, and Charmian felt as if she were about to fall, when the manitou--His name's Mani, she had to tell herself--reached out to steady her. She hadn't even known he was following. He whistled and she kept moving, Justin's necklace glowing brightly enough to let them see their way.
What're we going to do, negotiate with them? she thought with a scowl, the wind growing colder and the laughter louder. I don't think they're exactly interested in chatting!
Moon Wolf dropped down and crawled through the crevice first, Justin and then Charmian and Mani following. It was still dark outside, though not black; the dim blue told her dawn must be coming on. She didn't have time to see any more than that before a gust of wind slapped her across the face, sending her stumbling back against the rock. She heard the boom a third time, only from this location it came out as a loud crack, and she whirled away--the sound had come from just behind and above her--and managed to see through teary eyes what had caused it.
A shady, gangly shape leapt up and down atop Cave of the Woods, feet slamming into the rock and sending pieces flying. It looked like some kind of insane monkey. The wind tore all around it and it jumped into the air, spinning like an acrobat and landing before her.
"Hello again, fleshling!" Augwak greeted with a crazy smile.
Charmian let out a little shriek and stumbled back further, toward the others. She felt one of them--Justin?--the manitou?--reach for her arm, but then something else pushed her in the back, sending her forward. She fell on her hands and knees right before the GeeBee, gasping and sputtering.
She glanced back over her shoulder in a panic. "What--"
"You're done hiding behind others!" Moon Wolf shouted, eyes ice. "You face him alone!"
"Alone?!" Charmian screeched, stumbling to her feet again. Justin whirled to Moon Wolf and echoed this sentiment.
"Are you insane?"
"She has to learn sometime. That time's now!"
"SHE'S JUST A GIRL, DAMN YOU!"
Mani let out a weird strangled sound and surged forward. The stick slammed across his chest and knocked him down and Moon Wolf scowled at him.
"No help! Alone!"
I can't do this!! Charmian's mind howled, but no words came out of her mouth. The GeeBee looked up at the other three with large eyes, then down at her again. A hideous smile split his face.
"What's the matter, friends won't help you out? Divided we fall? I thought your kind stuck together better than that. Oh well." He cackled. "You humiliated me before. That stupid little girl friend of yours. But maybe my luck is changing!"
All she could do was stand up and grate her teeth. The GeeBees had had an easy enough time snatching Drake and herself away before, and it had looked as if even Tal Natha had trouble taking them on all at once. As soon as she remembered this she thought of the Ocryx with a pang. He was always there before. Where is he when I REALLY need him?
"Tal Natha," she murmured, then, louder, "Sikt Natha!"
No response. Augwak swung out at her and she jumped back, slipping in the wet leaves and falling over. He swung again and again she dodged him, and when he started laughing she understood why--he wasn't aiming to hit her. This was just a game.
"Come on, little fleshling!" he crowed, claws just missing her face. "You can do better than that!"
She jumped to the side and ran into a tree, scrabbling at the bark and gasping, ducking behind it when he lashed out. Half of the trunk disappeared in a huge gash and dead leaves rained to the ground.
"Justin!!" she shouted.
She saw him start to move forward, only to find the sharpened stick pointed at his throat. He glared at Moon Wolf, baring his teeth. The native's face remained impassive as he watched Charmian try to avoid the GeeBee's attack.
Whose side is he on?!
A whistling, whipping sound, and a hole blasted into the earth beside her, leaves flying every which way. Augwak's face appeared right before her.
"What's wrong, morsel?" he hissed. "Getting tired of running?"
She lashed out at him out of desperation. As soon as her hand met his body it was as if he clove in two, her fingers meeting only air. He howled with laughter.
"Well, that was better than nothing!"
He flicked his hand and she felt a ringing impact against the side of her head. Only when her shoulder slammed into the ground did she even realize she'd been sent flying through the air by the force of the blow.
Mani's and Justin's dismayed cries came dimly to her ears. She struggled to push herself up, feeling something warm trickling from her lip.
"Awwwwwww! She's hurt! I've always said there's nothing worse than bruised meat!"
She tried to tell herself the obnoxious cackling was nothing more than the occasional bully in school, taunting her for being the brain. She was lucky in that it didn't happen often--but it did happen. She managed to stagger to her feet, holding onto a tree for support, pressing her hand against her bleeding lip.
"Ever take on someone your own size without any help?" she muttered. "I doubt you'd be laughing so much then, retard."
Augwak stopped laughing and blinked, eyes going round. She could tell he wasn't used to being spoken back to, even if he didn't understand what she meant. After this brief reaction his eyes narrowed again and his mouth twisted up, showing his teeth.
"Yes? Well, that is not the situation now. I prefer to focus on what we have right here."
He lifted something in his hand, and she couldn't tell why she hadn't noticed it before, but it was the same stick with the bit of horn attached that he'd used on Tal Natha. Seeing it again filled her with fury, but the fear overrode it. The magic inside it wouldn't kill her--but the sting certainly would. She was still just human.
She froze, unable even to swallow. Augwak sneered and lifted the stick into the air. Dimly she heard Mani whistle, and Justin shout, "Fight! Run! Do something!" But she didn't do anything.
I'm sorry, Red Bird.
She didn't even get to shut her eyes. Augwak brought the stick swinging down.
Another wind--this one different from his own--not just cold and blustery, but sharp and jagged like glass--rushed around them, stilling Augwak's arm and causing him to glance around him. Charmian chattered and stared up at the GeeBee. He lifted his head, eyes wide again and mouth open, as if listening for something. As the sudden wind started to die down the evil grin returned to his face, and he looked down at her.
"Spared again, I suppose. But not for long. You'll just wish I'd finished you off sooner, little tidbit."
He lowered the stick and leapt into the air, vanishing from her sight. She looked around wildly, fearing he would just attack from another angle. The wind tore at her clothes and she fell to her knees, clamping her arms around herself. The gust rapidly died down, and the silence came so suddenly that her ears rang. But the stillness didn't last long either. From somewhere, she heard a faint rustle, and then another sound, nearly inaudible, but it still made her ears prick. It sounded like a growl that hadn't yet become a growl, was still in the process of being thought out completely before being vocalized; and when it finally did come, low and guttural, she gasped and jumped back and to the side once more, looking up.
Something...something dark...loomed atop Cave of the Woods now, a great hulking mass of blackness. As she watched, Augwak reappeared, landing just beside it and crouching gargoylelike, still laughing to himself. And the dark shape moved, and Charmian at last saw it was not completely dark, but bore two glowing red and green eyes. These focused on her, and a moment later a gravelly yet feminine voice came to her ears.
"Hello, little girl."
Charmian's fingers slowly clenched, raking in leaves and dirt. Her heart felt ready to disappear.
The dark shape lifted its wings and before she could even see it move, it had landed before her. It stepped forward and she tried scrabbling back.
"So," the voice, all too familiar, went on as the shape moved closer. "You are the mainlander who has caused me so...much...difficulty." These last three words were drawn out in emphasis, and the creature finally stopped, towering over her. Charmian couldn't tear her stare away from those eyes. It leaned down toward her and she could now make out the long wolfish muzzle, the horns and the black crowish wings spreading from its--her--back. A snake tail slithered along the ground behind her.
"Well?" the voice came again, mild and amused. "You have nothing to say for yourself?"
Augwak jumped down to land beside her with a thud, still crouching subserviently. "It's her," he piped, as if tattling on a sibling. "She's the one. In league with the red-haired girl and the whelp. Managed to steal a manitou from Ocryx, too. Embarrassed us all. Should be stripped and stewed." He licked his chops.
The creature gave a snort and moved away from him, closer to Charmian. Their eyes never parted. "You have little imagination...GeeBee." When she grinned, it was even more ghastly than Augwak's, and Charmian scrunched herself even closer to the ground, cowering. "I have my own plans for this one."
Augwak's eyes widened and he blinked. Then his lip stuck out and he looked offended.
"You promised her to us."
"You dimwit windlings have your choice of everyone else on the Island. Take your pick, but leave my property alone." Her eyes narrowed. "This goes for the others, as well."
"You promised!" The GeeBee jumped in front of her, landing like a giant frog. He waved his arms.
"Everyone on the Island. Everyone but the red-haired girl and her Ocryx. You promised them to me!"
The demon snarled at him now. "As if she matters? She is barely a scrap to you. Find something more filling!"
"It doesn't matter if she's just a scrap. You promised her and the rest of them to me! I should get them! Me! ME!" He started hopping up and down, screeching like a monkey. "ME! You promised them to ME!"
Glowing slit eyes and the white flash of teeth. "Vulgar little wretch."
A clawed hand reached out and seized around Augwak's neck. The GeeBee gasped and choked, eyes bugging even more than before. She lifted him from the ground and he flailed at the air before scrabbling at her fingers, trying to pry them loose. He let out a rasping, gurgling sound that might have been an attempt to speak.
Charmian's senses came flaring back and she leapt to her feet, mouth gaping.
Augwak sucked in a pained, ragged breath as she squeezed harder. His voice came out paper thin, like tissue tearing on rocks.
The demon's mouth twitched in a crooked smile and she brought her face close to his. "You mistake me for someone who keeps his word." She drew back with a snarl and Augwak suddenly--changed--a white haze seemed to form around him, rising from him, a glow forming with it and surging up her arm. His eyes lit up with agony and he tried to scream, but it came out as only a rasping, voiceless shriek.
Charmian gasped and took a step forward, fists clenching. "Let him go!"
The demon only laughed. Charmian pressed her hands to her ears; she recognized the laugh from the vision the Uroona had given her, now seemingly so long ago. The same sense of fear enveloped her, and her eyes burned hot with tears.
Augwak's own eyes started to fade, growing white as if the color had been sucked out of them. The same thing happened to the rest of him as he began to turn a sickly gray. His rattling scream faded along with it, grip weakening on the demon's hand until his arms fell loose at his sides.
Charmian stomped the ground, eyes shutting tight and tears streaming down her face. "LET HIM GO!"
The demon finally looked at her, raising one brow inquisitively. Then her smile returned and she obeyed, fingers loosening from the GeeBee's neck. Augwak went limp and collapsed to the ground; one small breath escaped him and his head lolled to the side. He wasn't green with yellow eyes anymore, but that sick pale gray with two empty white orbs staring out from his face. He looked...dead.
Charmian just stared at him, choking back her tears; she gasped and started back when the demon turned to her next.
"Did I hear you offer to take his place?" she asked, voice still soft but just as menacing. As she approached the green and red in her eyes seemed to shine with glee. Her fingers crooked in an attack pose, the perfect position for grabbing Charmian's neck.
"If so," she continued, coming closer, eyes narrowing further, "then I won't hesitate to oblige."