Manitou Island: Part 41
CHARMIAN HITCHED IN a breath or two, eyes welling up so the demon was only a blur with two glowing spots staring out of it. She took a step back, but knew she wouldn't be able to run from her.
She made the mistake of blinking and saw a feral smile spread across the demon's face. Her claws glinted steel blue in what little light there was, and Charmian had a sudden vivid vision of them tearing through her throat. She thought of the body in the woods, and the wounded manitou; she thought of what Red Bird, in her Ocryx form, had done to the GeeBees who'd attacked them. She'd torn out one's throat easily, and she was supposed to be weak. If that was what she could do...what could this one do?
The glinting blue rose and Charmian shut her eyes.
She started when a loud thrumming filled her ears, and only after a moment realized it was the sound of growling, coming from right beside her. Her eyes flew open and she squeaked and gave a tiny jump. A large shape loomed up at her side, brown muzzle wrinkling up in a snarl. He took a step forward and the female demon drew her hand back, ears flattening and face scowling.
"You touch her," Justin's voice rumbled, made deeper and lupine by his new form, "and you'll deal with me."
The demon stared at him a moment, as if contemplating whether he meant it or not. Then she sneered.
"Well. The other whelp's learned how to use his abilities as well. I wondered how long it would take. She's a bit young, for you."
"Age has never mattered to you," Justin answered, tipping his horns toward her. They started circling slowly, keeping their distance. "You would as soon wear the blood of a child as the blood of one equal to you."
"The better for you to understand them." He stopped circling, and she stopped as well. Charmian stood between them now, looking from one to the other but too afraid to make any sudden movements. Off to the side, Moon Wolf and Mani still stood, the native looking annoyed. "You already have plenty of victims. Go now before I decide to not be so considerate."
He sounds like Tal Natha! Charmian thought, with surprise.
The demon snorted. "You think big thoughts will scare me away?"
WHISTLE. Charmian ducked aside when something barrelled past her, and it was only from the surprised look on Moon Wolf's face that she could tell it was Mani who had attacked. She turned in time to see the manitou charge straight at the demon--first she thought of Mitchi attacking X'aaru, but then she thought of finding the poor creature mangled in the woods--and she cried out and held up her hand as if to stop him.
The demon turned her head to look at him, as surprised as Moon Wolf. What--? When the manitou bellowed and reared up at her Charmian saw just how small he was compared to her, and yelled again. The moose antlers missed the demon's arm by inches when she pulled back. Her eyes flared.
"Stupid beast!" Her fist cracked down squarely on top of his skull, driving him to the ground with a massive thud. The motion had been as unforced as if she had been swatting a fly.
"Mani!" Charmian shouted. He responded by wheezing and trying unsuccessfully to push himself up, so at least he was still alive. Justin snarled and lunged at the demon, who easily leapt out of the way; Charmian had to dodge her tail as it swung through the air. She fell onto her elbows and almost screamed when she saw a pale hand lying before her, before realizing it was Augwak's. He still held the long stick with the horn attached at the end in his limp fingers. Without thinking she grabbed it up and pointed it at the demon's throat just as she attacked. The creature came to an abrupt halt, craning her neck with the bit of horn poking at her throat.
"Don't touch him!" Charmian shouted.
Now the demon looked surprised to see her. But her eyes quickly narrowed again.
"You think you can hurt me with that?" she hissed. She swatted the weapon away. "Stupid girl. That comes from my own body. It could not harm me!"
Charmian felt her heart start to sink--she had known this must be true, but hadn't considered it--when Justin came up beside her again, lowering his horns like a bull ready to charge.
"But these could," he snarled. "Which is why I suggest you don't try to find out."
The demon growled and backed away as Justin advanced. She lowered her head and her teeth seemed to glow as much as her eyes.
You'll regret this day, her voice came in their heads. I can be very patient. Already I am stronger than I was before. She sneered and held up her hand, and Charmian saw something glowing in it. I'll bide my time for now--but not much longer. She swept into the air and Justin hastily backed away to avoid getting hit. Several long feathers drifted down to the ground and he hunched himself as if ready to jump.
Something cracked down over his neck. Justin yelped and fell to all fours. Charmian started and looked down at her hands to find they were empty. What--? She caught sight of another shape moving close and stepped aside. Moon Wolf appeared, holding the stick. She had no idea how he'd gotten hold of it.
He stopped and scowled down at Justin. "I told you. No help."
The Ocryx snarled up at him. "Are you insane? Ocryana can kill even Ocryx himself. A mainlander would be no match for her!"
"This is no excuse."
Charmian turned away when he started glowing and changing form. She didn't want to be a part of this argument. She instead moved closer to the pale body lying upon the ground. She had some surreal feelings of Halloween, when one year trick-or-treating she'd gone to a haunted house and had seen somebody lying on the porch. Of course, it had been just a stuffed dummy, put out to frighten kids. But back then she'd been so little that the thing had seemed real lying there like that, and like facing Drake earlier, she'd been too afraid to get close to it, lest she find out she was right.
This time there was no escaping it, and she didn't want to be such a chicken. She swallowed and stepped up to him, crouching and looking down into his face.
Augwak lay upon his back with his pale vacant eyes staring up through the treetops. He wasn't dead. At least, not yet. His mouth hung slightly open and he let out small choking noises, and he kept twitching as if in a seizure. The movements were weak, and she felt a pang, wondering if he was in any pain.
"What...what did she do to him?"
A rustle of leaves; she heard Justin and Moon Wolf approach and stop beside her. Moon Wolf peered down at the GeeBee.
"Stole his spirit. That glowing thing in her hand. The body won't live long, without it."
"But...why would she do that?"
Moon Wolf shrugged. "Who knows...a GeeBee's spirit isn't exactly worth much." He turned and walked away, Justin giving him a glare over his shoulder.
Charmian continued staring at the pathetic gasping creature before another noise drew her attention. She pushed herself up and stumbled to the other side of the clearing. "Mani!"
The manitou was still trying to rise, without much success. He got to his knees before swaying and slumping against a tree, using it for support as he attempted to pull himself to his feet. Charmian took hold of his arm and tried to help him, only to find he was much heavier than she'd thought. He sagged against her and she nearly fell over.
More rustling of leaves. Justin ducked under Mani's other arm and pulled him up. The two of them staggered under his weight but slowly made their way back to the cave, where Moon Wolf sat tapping a pipe and watching them. They ignored him and settled Mani down against the cave side; Charmian was relieved when Justin placed his hand atop Mani's wobbling head and it started to glow.
"A concussion, I believe...I think I can take care of it."
Charmian turned to look at Moon Wolf, though she didn't exactly feel like talking to him at the moment. "Augwak's spirit. You said Ocryana stole it from him. And he'll die without it?"
"Remember Tal Natha. His spirit was not stolen, but part of it was taken from him. The exact same thing would have eventually happened. He would have died."
"But I took care of that by giving him a part of Ocryx's spirit. Isn't there any way to patch this up too?"
The native gave her an odd look. "You're talking about fixing up a Wendigo. Perhaps you'd best think twice."
Charmian scowled. "Look. It's YOUR stupid Island. Who knows what might happen if the 'order' gets all out of whack now. Just tell me, if I got a patch from another GeeBee would it help him?"
A snort. Moon Wolf resumed tapping the pipe. "Unlikely. I don't think the other GeeBees would much care to help him, now that they can fight for whoever else would end up leading them. Augwak held power only because he's smarter. Without him, hopefully they'll all just kill each other off."
"She asked you a question." Justin pulled his hand away from the manitou, and the look he gave Moon Wolf wasn't pleasant. "So answer it."
"I already said no. Tal Natha only had part of his spirit stolen. Rather, corrupted. A spirit can accept a...'patch,' and heal itself. Usually. But if the whole spirit is missing there's no patch you'll find that will help him. It's the difference between fixing a hole in a canoe, and going without a canoe altogether."
"So what do I do?"
"Quit thinking about it, and get started on your training."
Charmian stomped her foot. She knew it was a stupid gesture, but at least it got their attention. "For God's sake, just tell me how to fix it!!"
Moon Wolf scowled and dumped out the pipe. "The only way you fix a stolen spirit," he said. "Get it back."
Charmian stared at him for a moment. Somehow, she knew that would be the answer. She still didn't like hearing it out loud.
"I have to get it back?"
Charmian continued staring. Then she sighed and looked back over her shoulder, toward the woods beside the cave.
"I have to go think," she murmured, turning and walking up the slight rise to the right. She heard one of them--Justin?--take a few steps forward and then stop. As she neared the top of the rise a voice down in the clearing drifted to her ears.
"Maybe she finally learns now. Alone."
Isn't that what I spent the whole night trying to avoid? Now it looks like I have to go through it all over again...
She didn't know exactly where she went, but she tried not to go far. The rise wasn't very big, but it was steep and rocky. It turned to the left when she got to the top and she wandered a bit more before tripping on a rock and feeling her feet almost go out from underneath her; she grabbed onto a sapling and pulled herself to the side. Thank God! She squinted at the dim ground, trying to see where she'd slipped, only to notice that in that particular area--there was no ground.
It took a moment for her to piece it together in her head. Crack-in-the-Island. Drake had mentioned it before, and she knew it was near Cave of the Woods--but not THIS near. It was set only several yards back, higher up the slope. She sensed some open area to her right but didn't set foot in that direction; it was still dark out and too easy to get lost. It was only because of a pale glow from down in the woods that she knew she was still near the cave; the glow started to fade as she realized Justin must be going back in with Moon Wolf. She hated that they didn't follow her.
Quit being a baby. They're not SUPPOSED to follow me.
She sighed and sat down near the crevice. It wasn't nearly as big or impressive as she'd thought it would be; just a gap about a foot to a foot and a half across, edged with rock, going down maybe four feet, maybe forty; she couldn't tell in this dimness. She leaned against a tree and tried to think.
I'm going to hate myself for saying this but Moon Wolf is right...when have I EVER, once on this Island done something for myself, without somebody else jumping in to save the day? Maybe it is time for some tough love. I've just been too pampered where I come from. I'll always be letting Red Bird down if I don't learn something soon.
She picked a blade of grass and held it between her thumbs, whistling with it, a trick she'd learned in elementary school. She thought about when she used to run around on the playground during recess playing horseys. It seemed stupid, now, but she found herself missing it. That was the problem. Until now, even when in danger, she'd thought of this whole trip as one big recess. Nobody was supposed to really get hurt or be in any danger, and once she figured out what she was supposed to do, she could reach her goal, the day would be saved, and they'd go home, the end.
Only...what was she supposed to do?
She stopped whistling and growled to herself. I never get anything done. NEVER.
Something popped and she gasped and jumped. A teeny flame fizzled out before she could swipe at it. Another one appeared, and she kicked it out; a second later something plopped into the leaves with a noisy rustle and lay there like a piece of limp rubber. It glowed slightly and she could tell it was a fireling--probably the same one she'd picked up in the cave. She gaped at it for a moment before drawing her leg back in.
"Ew," she said. "How did you get out of there without anybody batting you down again?"
It didn't answer, but she could swear it was staring at her with one beady eye.
She shivered. "Blech. Never mind."
Now that she'd said that, it very conveniently rose to its feet and wobbled around unsteadily, hissing and urping and falling over repeatedly. She didn't know if this was normal or not, but she decided to believe it was. She poked at it with a stick, and when it continued walking around she reached out to take hold of its wing. She hissed and jerked her hand back, shaking it; the thing was too hot to hold onto with her hands.
"So what am I supposed to do with you, huh?" she muttered, pressing her singed fingers against the damp leaves. "I can't even carry you without you setting me on fire, I'm supposed to go alone anyway..."
She trailed off with a frown. The creature flapped its wings once and eeped. Since it was glowing, it would make a nice lantern. If she just had a way to carry it.
She poked it with the stick again, then pressed the wood to its side; the wood was damp, and didn't catch fire, though she couldn't be certain she didn't see it smolder a bit. Pursing her lips, she rolled the stick around on the ground a bit more to get it soggy, then started poking it underneath the creature's feet. It started to do a weird little dance.
"C'mon, just get on already." She got to her knees and kept poking at it while it hissed and breeped. "Either that or you spend the night with him. You want to get swatted down like a fly again?"
She didn't know if the fireling understood her, or just decided to give up. Whichever it was, its feet latched onto the stick and when she lifted it up the creature swung over upside-down, tucking its wings in like a bat. Its head went around a full 180 degrees and it chirped.
"Ugh," Charmian shuddered. "Save that for when we get back to the mainland so I can find a priest or something."
She lifted the stick up and tucked it under her arm so the creature hung in front of her, dimly lighting a path. She could have seen her way around by now, but it was still easy to trip--as her near tumble into Crack-in-the-Island had proven. She glanced around her. She wasn't certain which way Ocryana had gone, but she felt it was over the woods.
"I bet you don't make a very good compass," she said to the fireling, realizing she was probably talking to an animal with the IQ of granite, but not much caring. She turned right and trudged off into the woods.
Sikt? she tried, wondering if the Ocryx was still there. At first there was no reply, and she assumed she must still be too close to the cave and Justin. She sighed and walked on a while, swinging the hissing fireling this way and that, before trying again, and again a few minutes later. Sikt?
She had to walk about ten minutes before the demon finally replied to her calls. I am here. Keep yourself quiet, all will hear you.
I need to find Ocryana, Sikt. Do you know where she lives?
In a cave.
Well, the only other cave on the map is Skull Cave. So do I go there?
No. This is not where she lives. Her home is on no map that I know of.
Charmian sighed again and rolled her eyes. Must it always be so easy?
Even within Skull Cave she would be difficult to find. She has strong medicine. She can easily confuse someone's mind to think they see what they do not see.
That's nice, but I have to find her first, before she can confuse me. Do you have any ideas or not?
Keep following which way she went. I'll attempt to catch her scent and tell you when you stray off course. A pause. And watch your arm. That thing can burn.
"I know that already," Charmian said aloud, annoyed. The Ocryx fell silent and she continued walking, around more twists and turns than could ever fit on a map, until Sikt claimed that she had picked up an Ocryx scent, and Charmian made certain to follow it.