Manitou Island: Part 59
CHARMIAN SQUINCHED HER eyes shut, grating her teeth. She could feel the GeeBee's claws digging into her chest as he pinned her down, his feet against her stomach making it hard to breathe. His breath rasped in her face; she opened one eye just long enough to look up at him. He hissed and lunged down at her head, teeth bared.
Charmian gasped with panic and shut her eyes again, hearing the others let out a small cry of dismay. And then--she felt something latch onto her ear and tug.
She winced at first, until she realized, it didn't hurt. The GeeBee had her ear in his mouth, but his teeth didn't sink through the cartilage. He pulled on it and growled, shaking his head from side to side and drooling on her cheek. When he let go of that he grabbed onto her hair--"Ow!"--and then slobbered at her neck. Charmian started laughing and squirming. She'd always been ticklish there. Tears came to her eyes, and then the GeeBee put his mouth over her nose. She yelled.
"Aaggghh!! Get him off of me!!"
Whump. The GeeBee's head shot up and Charmian now noticed Lady Dupries, wielding a long broom. She smacked him in the side with it, then again. The others stared dumbly at the odd scene.
"Off!" the woman shouted, and hit him in the head. He hissed and jumped off of Charmian, landing on the table beside the couch and knocking a lamp to the floor. His head turned almost completely upside down.
Augwak's face went white and he let out a whimper.
Chepi gawked for a moment before pointing and laughing. "I told you so! I told you so! His brain's turned to mush! Ha ha ha ha ha!"
Charmian sat up, rubbing GeeBee slobber from her face. "Blech..." she muttered, wiping her hand on her coat and pushing herself to her feet. She glanced up at the GeeBee, hopping about on the little table and letting out weird spitting, warbling noises. "Is that what's wrong with him? He's...lost his head?"
"I told you he'd get that way from lying out there with no spirit inside him for so long. Serves him right, too! Nasty brute!" Chepi stuck out her tongue, then appeared to reconsider. "Though...he would be kind of cute, if he just wasn't drooling like that..."
Augwak tore at his hair. "I TOLD YOU OVER AND OVER! YOU PUT IT OFF AGAIN AND AGAIN! AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO ME!! IF I'M STUCK IN THIS FLESHLING BODY FOREVER, I--I--AAAAAAAGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!" He stomped in circles, flailing his arms. The GeeBee hopped up and down and jumped at the wall, slamming into it and falling to the floor in a heap. Everybody winced.
"STOP DOING THAT!!" Augwak screamed at himself. The GeeBee's head spun around and he shot into the air, straight into the ceiling. His head broke through the plaster and he went limp, hanging like some gruesome chandelier.
Charmian turned to Lady Dupries, who stared up at him with open mouth. "Um, I'm really sorry about that, if I can ever pay you back for it I will!!"
She looked too dumbfounded to speak. Charmian waved at X'aaru and Mani. "Quick, hurry up, get him down from there. If he tries jumping again, one of you bodyslam him! Before he wrecks this place!"
The Ocryx and the manitou hurried to obey, grabbing at his legs and yanking him free. He landed on the floor with a thud, eyes blank and head lolling. A hunk of plaster landed on the floor beside him, a head-sized hole in the ceiling overhead.
Lady Dupries put a hand to her breast. "Oh...my."
"I'm really sorry," Charmian repeated herself. She cringed and waved at the others again. "Come on, let's just go before this gets any worse."
X'aaru took the GeeBee's legs again and dragged him from the room. Augwak whimpered and covered his eyes. The others followed and Chepi smirked as they went, chirping, "It's always good to whomp a GeeBee! My day has been made, ha ha ha ha ha!"
Charmian felt like whomping her with the broom, yet refrained. She couldn't say a word to Lady Dupries as they left. She had a feeling she wouldn't be coming back here again anytime soon.
They tromped back out onto the porch--X'aaru didn't mind the GeeBee's head as he dragged him down the stairs, and it thumped against every one--Charmian didn't think she'd heard Augwak let out such an agonized sound as he did now. They waded into the snow and stopped, forming a small huddled circle in the white.
Chepi rubbed her arms and chattered. "So where are we supposed to go now? Haven't I done enough here? Can't I just go back home now?"
"No. Not with Mitchi acting like he is. If Ocryana wants to finish off Ocryx, then she'll go after the GeeBees next. And that includes your Windwalkers, too." Charmian looked up at the sky and sighed, her breath forming a cloud. "I don't really know where to go next. I need to find somebody who knows something about switching spirit stones."
"Is there even anyone who knows of this?" X'aaru let go of the GeeBee and sat down in the snow, cocking his head. "I've never even heard of it happening, until now..."
"You don't think anyone from the tribe would know?"
The demon thought for a moment, and then shrugged. "I'm not sure. We usually keep away from such things, because in the wrong hands...well, you've seen what can happen." He looked at the unconscious GeeBee. "How did it even happen, Charmian? Their spirits being switched. How did Augwak's get inside this human?"
"Ocryana," Charmian said, before thinking of what she was saying. She paused and blinked, then realized that she was correct. "Ocryana," she said again, in a murmur. "She...sucked his spirit out of him somehow...and I found it in her cave. Antoine--the body Augwak's in--came along with me. It was just an accident, but Augwak's spirit went inside him, and pushed his own out. That was what I brought along with me." She frowned. "So where did Ocryana get a power like that, if nobody's ever heard of it...?"
"Well, I'm not sure nobody's ever heard of it, just I haven't, and I don't think anyone's thought of it...but sometimes we try not to know too much...sometimes knowing too much gets one in trouble." His ears lowered, as if he'd said too much.
"I guess so," Charmian murmured. She paced in a circle and sighed again. "Well then, that means we have to find somebody who does look too closely at things...I was going to say maybe Silver Eagle Feather, but I don't know, plus we'd have to go back to Sugar Loaf again..." She paused, then looked off into the woods. She couldn't see what she was looking for, from here, but thought of it just the same.
"Francois...Francois's place! He studies things on the Island, doesn't he? Maybe he would know something!" She waved at X'aaru and he picked up the GeeBee's legs again. "It's not that far, either. Okay, we go there and see what he knows. If he doesn't know, he'll know somebody who will!"
The others looked skeptical, in particular Chepi and Augwak, but bit off their protests and followed when she made her way off through the snow, back toward the woods. Augwak muttered from the end of the line.
"...stupid mainlander...hadn't moved me in the first place...never would have had a problem!..."
"He's especially cute, when he's unconscious," Chepi mused. Augwak slapped her arm and she yelled. The GeeBee's head hit a rock but Augwak was the only one to protest, as they made their way through the dark.
Charmian was somewhat grateful for Chepi's weak glow, because by the time they reached Francois's cabin there were no lights in the windows. He must have gone to bed by now, considering the lateness; she was surprised that Lady Dupries had even been awake. She rubbed her eyes as she remembered she hadn't gotten any sleep in a while, but brushed the feeling off. The others stood and waited in the snow while she knocked on the door, and when that received no response, tried the handle. It must have been locked, somehow. She knocked again, then gestured at X'aaru, the tallest of them, to peer in the windows. The Ocryx did so, shielding his eyes and looking around.
"Can you see anything inside?" Charmian asked. "An oil lamp, a fire, anything?"
"No...not from here..."
Mani whistled and Charmian looked at him. Mani can see in the dark...will try.
He followed X'aaru and peered within as well. Charmian waited while Chepi blew on her hands and hopped from foot to foot. The manitou frowned and turned back, shaking his head.
"You mean he's gone?" Charmian sighed and locked her fingers behind her neck. "Just figures that the one guy on the whole Island that I want to talk to is conveniently gone right when I want to talk to him..."
"The idiot mainlander goes out to check traps at night," Augwak grumbled. "He's probably doing that now."
"So...do we go back to Sugar Loaf?" X'aaru asked hopefully.
"I don't know...I really didn't feel like bothering them all over again...wasn't I supposed to be doing this on my own?" She ground her teeth and rubbed her knuckles against her head. "Arrgggghhh!! Nothing ever works here the way I want it to!" She paused, and lowered her hands, looking at the demon. "Wait a minute...where does Marcott live? He's not here with Francois, so where is he?"
"The other mainlander lives not far from the shore, on the mainland side. With the other pale humans."
X'aaru nodded. "Like yourself."
Charmian's mouth twitched. "Um...all right. Do you think he'll be in, or out checking traps?"
The demon made a chortling noise, as if he found her question quite funny. "Oh...no. He's not the kind to be checking traps. He likes to stay inside. Um...you wanted to go see him? You think he might know...?"
"When I was staying with Francois I noticed that he didn't have a lot of notebooks and such lying around. Antoine told me he does a lot of sketching. When Marcott first showed up he was carrying this case with papers in it." Charmian made a motion with her hands, about the size of Marcott's leather case. "I'm assuming maybe those papers were really Francois's...and Marcott was keeping them all in order?"
"Well...he does do this sometimes, carries the Frenchman's papers, makes certain they don't get lost or scattered..." X'aaru gave her an odd look. "You want to look at his papers?"
"He takes notes on just about everything around here. Maybe if I can't talk with him in person, those'll be good enough."
"Oh. I see. All right, the way to where he stays is in this direction...it's somewhat far, do you want me to fly you there?"
Charmian looked back at the others, all shivering by now. "I don't think that would work very well...plus your wing is hurt. Let's just try to make good time. I can handle it."
"All right...follow me this way, then."
He picked up the GeeBee's legs anew and wandered off in the opposite direction. Chepi and Augwak both heaved a great sigh; Charmian was grateful that at least X'aaru and Mani were on her side.
Even with the good boots Francois had made her, her toes were beginning to get cold by the time they descended past the treeline down a steep rutted trail. Charmian rubbed her hands and stuck them in her sleeves before taking a good look around her. She blinked as soon as she noticed lights in the distance...lantern lights. What would those be doing out here? And in such numbers? They were lined up in two rows, curving off beyond her sight. She saw that they followed the natural curve of the shoreline, but that was a little ways away; she could see the great whiteness of the ice far off to her left. It was broken in several places at the bottom, where the sheet had shattered and ground against the shore...but some of the dark patches were even darker and more regular than that. She couldn't explain it.
Her foot slipped and she grabbed onto X'aaru's arm as she slid past him. He snapped at her shoulder with his teeth, dragging her back so she slid down into a sitting position.
"What is all of that, down there?" she asked, pointing.
"That?" He had to let go of her so he could speak. "I told you. It's where the pale people live. Oh! Look!" He grinned and hopped a few times. "They're getting ready for their Light Day!"
"Yes, they put out these pretty lights--all over! On the houses, on the lamps, on the trees. It's very beautiful when they do that! Sometimes I sneak down to the edge of their land at night just to look. I wish that we had lights like those!"
Charmian frowned and squinted. Now she could see more lights, not in orderly rows like the others; random dots of color were littered here and there, with no real pattern to them. It took her a moment to figure out what they must mean, and she smiled.
"Christmas lights! That's what they are!" She pulled herself to her feet and shielded her eyes. "It must be near Christmas time. Cool! I didn't know it was that late." She looked around a bit more. "So...you mean, that's a town down there? With white people living in it? Where did they come from?"
"Oh, I believe they're all mainlanders, like yourself. Some of them like Marcott's people, and some of them like Francois's. They came and they stayed. They built their houses down there, near the shore, where the land is easier for them to care for."
"How come I never even knew about this until now?"
"They don't bother us often. We try to leave them alone, since they do us no harm. Marcott lives down there."
Charmian dusted snow from herself. "Well, I suppose that means that's where we're going, then!" She started back down the slope, having to walk sideways to avoid sliding to the bottom, the others still following.
"Um...Charmian..." X'aaru murmured as they went. "I think maybe we should slow down a bit. There's sometimes a bit of trouble..."
"What do you mean? Trouble with what? I thought you said the mainlanders don't give you any trouble."
"Well, they don't come to us and give us trouble...but sometimes when we go to them...especially, looking like this...well..."
Charmian slowed and looked back at him, and realized what he meant. "Oh...that's right. They don't much like Ocryxes, do they."
X'aaru shook his head nervously. "Not much...once, when I came down too close to see the lights, some of them chased me off, because some of the women were afraid." His ears lowered. "I hate that I frightened them. The lights just reminded me of rainbows. I keep further away, now."
"You can shapeshift, right?"
The demon blinked. "Oh...well, yes. I can."
"Maybe you can change yourself into a...I don't know...a dog, or a wolf, or something."
"Yeah, they look kind of like...well, why not just change yourself into a wolf, then. That should be easy enough."
"All right. But...who will carry...?" He looked back at the unconscious GeeBee, and Charmian frowned again.
Mani pointed at himself and whistled.
"I don't know," Charmian mused. "You look pretty scary yourself, Mani. They might not like you being down there, either."
Change into my riding-form. Carry the GeeBee upon my back! Easy?
"Hm. I guess." Charmian's face lit up. "If anybody asks me what exactly you're doing here, I guess I could tell them you work for Santa."
Mani stared at her. Charmian squirmed a bit. "Never mind."
"What about us?" Chepi whined, stepping from foot to foot. "Surely you're not going to just leave us out here in the snow, are you?"
"You two can pass for human. Just tuck those wings down a bit first."
"T--tuck my wings? You think I'm some double-jointed freak or something?" Chepi started to protest more loudly when Augwak smacked her wings down, earning a yell.
"Shut up, stupid twit! The sooner you quit moaning the sooner I can get my body back!"
"But--" X'aaru started.
"I told you two," Charmian warned, raising a finger at Chepi and Augwak. "No more arguing, or you can BOTH stay out here in the snow. See those clouds? It looks like we're about to get whomped again. Wouldn't it be great for me to come walking back out here and find two ice pops waiting for me instead?"
Their faces were blank. "Ice pops?"
Charmian ground her teeth. I really have to stop with the pop-culture references already. "Never mind...just shut up and come on."
X'aaru stood and watched them as they descended. Charmian didn't look back when a pale glow spread over her back, but a moment later a gray wolf loped past, down toward the town. She didn't notice Mani change, but when she next looked at him, he had the form of a large deer with moose antlers, the GeeBee draped over his back. She let out her breath and tucked her hands in her sleeves again. At least that little matter had been resolved.
Well...she thought it had been. For as soon as they reached the bottom of the slope leading into the town, the rutted trail changing into a smooth snow-coated street, she heard loud voices growing closer. Loud hostile voices. French was one of the few classes she hadn't done very well in, and what little she'd learned, she'd mostly forgotten by now; but she didn't need to understand the language to know when somebody wasn't saying nice things about her.
She froze, seeing X'aaru and feeling the others do the same. Little lights emerged from near the shadowy forms of the houses along the street, bobbing along as they came her way. Charmian couldn't see very well, either, but as the men carrying the lights came closer, she could tell that the long dark shapes they held in their hands weren't just sticks this time.
"Crap," she whispered.