Manitou Island: Part 60
A Look In A Book
CHEPI REACHED OUT and took Charmian's arm. "They're coming out to greet us...aren't they?" she asked hopefully. "I mean, that's what your people like to do all the time...right?"
"I don't think so," Charmian said, eyes picking out the guns each of the men carried as they approached. Chepi let out a tiny whimper and backed behind her, then behind Augwak.
"Um...you'll protect me from them, won't you...?"
"Are you kidding me?" Augwak hissed. "Stop touching me or I'll rip your fingernails off and make you a hat out of them!"
Charmian tentatively held up one hand as the townspeople stepped into the ring of light that Chepi emitted. Most of them wore some fur and leather, though not as much as Francois always wore. They didn't look quite as rustic as he did; some of them seemed as if they might be from a later time period as well. The guns they carried looked modern enough, at least. She offered a forced smile when they scowled at her, a few of them keeping the sights trained on the group's heads.
"It's nighttime," Chepi hissed from behind Augwak. "Doesn't that mean 'good day'?"
"If you know the language so well then why don't you come up here and say hello," Charmian murmured back through clenched teeth. The small woman fell silent and she turned her attention back to the men.
"Um...hi," she tried again. "Nice to meet all of you...um...I was just wondering if I could find somebody down here..."
"You have found plenty," someone said with a French accent. One of the men in front stepped forward, gun raised. "We have had trouble with your sort before. Go back where you came from. We do not wish to hurt you."
"Is that why you have those big nasty things?" Chepi squeaked. Augwak's eyes rolled back and he looked ready to smack her upside the head. "Spewing smoke and powder and who knows what else, is that how you greet strangers coming in from the col--"
She cut off with an odd sound when Augwak's hand chopped down on the back of her neck. Chepi collapsed into the snow like a sack of potatoes; for once Charmian felt like thanking him.
"The last strangers who came in from the cold tried to destroy the town," the man said, and Charmian looked at him again. "Most of you do not cause us any trouble. But if you come seeking it--"
"Look," Charmian interrupted. "We're not looking for trouble. I'm sorry if we showed up at the wrong time, but I wanted to talk with somebody I know."
"Who do you know here?"
"Alexander Marcott. I'm looking for Mr. Marcott."
The man frowned. A few of the others cast glances at each other but said nothing.
"And how do you know him?"
"I know him through Francois LaCroix."
Now a few of the men looked at each other again and actually lowered their guns, murmuring. It looked as if the Frenchman were well known by them; she hoped he was well respected, also.
"And how do you know him?" the first man asked.
Charmian sighed. "I stayed at his place. He's been teaching me about the Island. He even made me these clothes. Are those credits good enough?"
"I ask you the questions." He took a few unsteady steps up the slope, and she hoped the gun didn't have a touchy trigger. He nodded his head at the others behind her. "If you come to speak to Monsieur Marcott--then who are all of these people?"
For some odd reason Charmian was reminded of her reception at Old Yellow Turtle's camp, how hostile the natives had been at first, until the chief had calmed them down. Surprising that they weren't so different from each other after all.
"These are just a few of my friends who need to see him too."
"He's a...he's my pet." X'aaru's ear flicked but he said nothing. "Francois...freed him from a trap a while back and I've been raising him."
He nodded at Mani with his burden, and his eyes narrowed. "And what of that?"
"It's a deer," Charmian said, biting the inside of her mouth. "I needed a way to carry...um..."
She trailed off, at a loss and deciding it wasn't worth the trouble anyway, as a couple more of the men had crept closer and were now poking at Mani's burden. An arm rolled free and they jumped back with a yell, aiming their guns at her.
"It's a body! A GeeBee's body!"
The leader's eyes narrowed further and Charmian sensed what little bit of trust she'd already gained flying out the window.
"Look," she said again, lowering her voice. "I can't explain all of this right now. Okay? It's not quite what it looks like. I'm not trying to cause you guys any trouble, but I have to get this body to Mr. Marcott's house and soon."
"You wish to bring a GeeBee into the town? Do you think we are mad? As soon as you reach the street you will set it free upon the houses, and then see what will happen!"
"Nobody's going to be set free. Take a look at him, he's conked out! Do you really think that if I wanted to take over the city I'd bring in an unconscious GeeBee to do it for me?"
The man turned to one of the others near Mani and yelled something in French. The other took a step closer to Augwak's body and poked at his head; then, receiving no response, pulled on his ear and turned his head to the side.
Augwak himself, still waiting near the back of the group, scowled darkly.
The other man looked back up at the leader and shrugged. He replied, still in French; the leader frowned and looked at Charmian.
"So he sleeps for now. How are we to know you will not wake him later?"
"I'll be truthful. I have to wake him later." She held up her hands before his look could darken any further. "I said I can't explain it right now. The reason I'm here is to help you guys take care of your problem. You said...something tried to come down into the town and destroy it. What was it? What did it look like?"
"It was one of those manitous from that accursed lake. They come down every so often. They are commanded by the loup-garou."
"The wolf demon. The shapeshifter. You say you are here to help us and you do not even know his name?" He scowled as well. "I do not find your story very convincing, Mademoiselle."
"Then I can't convince you. But will you just let us through? I promise. If anything bad happens, you can--you can hold Mr. Marcott responsible."
It sounded like the sensible thing to say. The men started looking at each other and murmuring again, seeming confused. The leader blinked a few times and his grip on the gun wavered a bit. After a moment his eyes narrowed but he stepped aside, pointing the gun down the street.
"You may go straight to his house. We will keep you within our sights all the way. If you or your GeeBee or any of the rest of you try anything, you will not be as lucky as the rest who have tried to attack us and escaped."
Charmian nodded. "Thank you. That's all I wanted." She started tromping down the hill toward the street, hearing the others tromping behind her. Her fingers fiddled nervously at the hem of her coat as she passed through the group of townspeople still holding their guns and lanterns, yet they let her group pass by unchallenged. When she reached the clear a voice stopped her in her tracks.
She froze and cringed. She turned to peer back over her shoulder. The leader still stood where he had been, and she didn't like the look on his face. He pointed at the ground.
"And what about her?"
Charmian blinked. Her eyes followed his gesture to see Chepi still lying crumpled on the ground. She cringed again and hurried back up the hill, grabbing onto the woman's arm and dragging her to her feet. Her head lolled onto Charmian's shoulder and the teenager grimaced, pulling her along.
"Um...sorry about that."
"There is a valid reason why she has wings and why she is glowing," the leader said mildly, "surely?"
"Uh, it's a new style of clothing," Charmian blurted, dragging Chepi down the slope. "Put on your coat, look all stylish, don't even need a light. I hear it's all the rage on the mainland."
His look told her he didn't buy a word of it, but he didn't argue. Charmian mentally urged the others on and they descended into the town.
Despite the lateness of the hour, or perhaps because of it and because of their arrival, a large number of people had emerged from their houses and stood at the edges of the street, peering out at them. Charmian wasn't certain when the last time was that she'd seen such nice clothes on so many people. They looked like they'd stepped out of her history book. She sensed a slight mix of different time periods among them, but it couldn't have been more than a century or so between each, and none of them seemed to be from her own time. They said nothing as she and her group passed by and she also sensed a slight fear emanating from them. She bit her lip and tried not to meet their eyes. If what the leader of their group had said was true, they'd had their own share of problems with the Ocryxes.
She started to slow her step as she realized she didn't know where Marcott even lived.
"Er..." She turned to look back at the others. "Do any of you have any idea where we're going?"
"I thought you knew," Augwak grumbled.
"I do know, just not where, doofus. Marcott's house. Where am I supposed to find it? There's a whole street of houses here."
"Pick one and find out!"
Maybe one of them knows, X'aaru suggested.
Charmian sighed. She hadn't wanted to bother the wary townspeople again tonight, but it looked like she had no choice. She turned around to face a few that stood on the walk several yards away, eyeing her with some curiosity.
"Excuse me," she called, hoping they spoke English. "I'm looking for someone's house. Alexander Marcott."
One of the women--her dress reminded Charmian of pictures she'd seen of Gibson girls--nodded down the street a bit, and someone else called out, "The Englishman lives down there. Violet House."
"Violet House?" Charmian murmured, but turned away from them again. "Thank you." She signaled the others and they made their way carefully down the slick walk while the townspeople began drifting away into their own houses. It was a good thing Chepi was still glowing despite her unconscious state, or else Charmian might have missed what she was looking for. She stopped abruptly and her mouth twitched. "Oh. Violet House."
On the right side of the street rose a Victorian-style house much like the rest, only this one glowed a warm lavender color in Chepi's light. Darker plum rimmed the windows and door, and the window in the cupola at the very top appeared to be stained glass. It looked like some sort of bizarre dollhouse her mom would have gotten for her when she was little...before discovering she preferred books over dolls.
"People actually do live in these things?" she asked out loud. "Blech. It looks like something out of the Bay View neighborhood."
"Do you suppose he's awake this late?" X'aaru asked, before Charmian waved at him to keep silent.
"If he isn't, then he will be soon."
She let Chepi slip to the porch and reached up to knock on the door with her knuckles before noticing the brass doorknocker--well, what did she expect? She cracked it against the door several times and rubbed her arms.
"This had better not be a waste of time," Augwak muttered.
Chepi moved a little bit and groaned weakly. "...a lot of...trouble...to go to for a...stupid GeeBee..."
"Shut up, wench, or the next time I won't stop at striking your neck!"
"You two should share a bunkbed," Charmian said. "Honestly. I've never seen anybody act more like a little brother and sister than you guys do."
Chepi was still too groggy to reply, but Augwak seemed ready to fill in. A thumping noise came from behind the door and a rattling sound distracted them. It opened a crack and one gleaming half of a pair of glasses peered out. Then it opened wider.
"Oh! Miss Charmian!" Marcott pulled the door open and hastily waved his hand. "You came here all the way from--and in all this--when it must be--goodness, please, come in, come in!"
She chewed on the inside of her mouth--he was dressed in some sort of nightgown and a cap that looked like they could have come out of "'Twas The Night Before Christmas"--but entered anyway. "I hope it's not too much trouble if they can come in, too?" she asked, gesturing toward the others. "I'm kind of leery of leaving them outside with the other townspeople like that..."
"Oh...um...well..." He eyed the group nervously, then turned back to retrieve a small lantern from its stand. "Well...all right...just please, all wipe your feet...er...paws...whichever...upon the rug before you come in. It must be zero degrees out! I'll fetch some tea."
Charmian rubbed her hands and watched X'aaru carefully rub his paws against the mat, a bit more than was necessary. She didn't much feel like more tea, but it was better than being rude.
"I'm sorry we all showed up so late," she called out as they made their way into the parlor. Marcott's house wasn't anywhere near as large as the Dupries residence, yet the parlor was about the same size as their own. The large rug in the middle of the floor was a bit worn and faded--in fact, everything looked to be a bit worn and faded--but it was a little more like what she was used to back home. Judging from the dust, she assumed he didn't care much for cleaning, although the books on the shelves were tidy.
By the time the rest of them had wiped the snow from their feet Marcott reemerged with a tray bearing tea and some sort of cookies. Chepi awoke again immediately, jumping and clapping her hands. He put it down on the small table in the middle of the room and set to rearranging things pointlessly, not minding the small woman as she swiped several sweets from the tray.
"Oh, no problem, there's no problem at all," he insisted, sorting out some knickknacks on a shelf, then dusting a bit at the back of the small fancy couch that Charmian, Chepi, and Augwak crowded onto. X'aaru picked up a cookie in his teeth, careful not to touch the rest, and sat down on the wooden floor to eat it. "Just need to clean the place a bit, it's most ghastly here, since I receive few visitors...and they usually call first...but this is no problem...just need to sort this out a bit...and then AAAAAGGGGGHHHHHH!!!"
He'd spotted Mani. The big deer stood in the doorway with Augwak's limp body draped over his back, the GeeBee's mouth hanging open. Charmian tried to explain before Marcott jumped back, tripping on the rug and disappearing behind the couch.
Chepi laughed, her mouth full of crumbs. "He'th funny!"
Charmian pushed herself up and around to peer down at him. "Mr. Marcott? Are you all right?"
"Oh...well...yes, yes, I seem to be..." He sat up, shaking his head dazedly and straightening his glasses. "Just a little bit of a scare there...wasn't really expecting to see that...well...I expect that's the reason you're here...is it...?"
"Kind of." She waited until he had gotten to his feet, dusting himself off and timidly approaching the waiting manitou. He fingered his glasses as if adjusting the lens of a telescope, and peered at the unconscious GeeBee.
"Hm...I see...well, I suppose this would be a reason for concern...whatever it is..." He turned back to Charmian and blinked. "Erm...what is it, exactly?"
"It's Augwak's body. Francois has kind of been holding on to it for me."
"Oh...oh yes, that's right...he did mention something of the sort...though I had no idea this was what he meant." He fussed a little. "Well...I assume there's some sort of explanation? A simple one?"
"Well...I'm not sure about simple. Pretty much, Augwak's spirit is inside this guy here--" she waved at Augwak, in Pomiere's body, beside her "--and this guy's spirit is inside Augwak, and I have to switch them back where they belong."
"Oh...well...yes, I guess that is pretty simple."
"Yeah, if I can figure out how to do it."
Marcott pursed his lips and glanced back at the GeeBee. "I'm not quite certain why you thought I might know something about it...if that's in fact why you're here...?"
"Oh. Sorry. I tried to go visit Francois but he's not at home right now. I thought he might know how to do it."
"Well...I wouldn't be certain...but yes, it seems he would know more than I...but what has this to do with me?"
"You keep track of his notebooks and such, don't you? His sketchbooks and everything?"
"Oh--well, yes. I do." He stepped aside and waved at a door at the other side of the room. "In the study, in fact--all in order, and everything."
"I thought maybe if he takes so many notes on everything, he might know something about this. Maybe." Hidden beneath one hand, her other hand crossed its fingers.
"Oh." The Englishman bit his lip and his gaze drifted upwards. "Well...it's a bit of a stretch...but who am I to know, I've been through only a third of the books he's given me so far." He picked up the tray just as Chepi swiped out at another cookie; she missed, hitting the table instead. Augwak snickered. "Please, come, this way. Normally...er...I don't allow food in the study...but I suppose this isn't a very normal evening, is it."
He turned and went toward the door, balancing the tray on one hand to open it. Charmian gestured at Mani to stay in the parlor, and she and the others followed.
The study was slightly smaller than the parlor, but more cramped due to the large shelves looming against the walls. They rose from floor to ceiling, heavy dark wood fronted with glass, each crowded to bursting with books. Marcott set the tray on a desk to the left and made his way to one of the shelves, unlocking and sliding the door open. He poked around a bit, then selected a big stack of leatherbound books. He nearly fell over backwards as he brought them down, stumbling under their weight as he carried them to the desk and set them down with a thud. He swept a hand across his brow.
"These here, these are the first few volumes he gave me, from when I first joined him here...he'd been keeping them previous to that though..."
"First few?" Charmian eyed the bookshelf uncertainly.
"Why, of course. He has been keeping notes for years now. That entire shelf, and part of that one over there, those hold his notebooks alone."
Charmian's chest felt like it was caving in. There had to be over a hundred of the large volumes on the one shelf alone, and who knew how many pages in each. She groaned.
"If those are all his notes--we'll NEVER get out of here!"
"Oh, it's not that hopeless," Marcott said cheerfully. He pulled one book off the top of the stack and flipped it open. "As I said I have been through a third of them...just try to clarify what it is that we need, and maybe I can find something out somewhere...his notetaking isn't the most orderly, which is why I've been working on sorting them out, writing up his notes in a more proper fashion, perhaps someday publish a book with them...but that's in the future." He sat down in the chair on the other side of the desk and turned up an oil lamp. "Now let's see. Spirits, you said? I seem to remember him mentioning something about that...in one of these...somewhere."
"Well, yeah...spirit stones. That's what they look like, glowing stones. I need to find out how to get one out of somebody, and how to put one back in."
"Hm. Spirit stones." He flipped through a few pages before stroking his chin. "I think that might have been in a later volume...perhaps a year or so along the line." He stood up and went back to the shelf, reading the spines. "Hmmm...perhaps in this one, or this." He pulled out two more, and brought them back with him. He paged silently through one. After a moment he nodded. "Ah yes. Here we go...I remember this section about the Uroona. I seem to remember it being not far after this. Hold on a moment."
Charmian stood and waited patiently, though truth be told, she'd never felt more like ripping her hair out from impatience than right then. She comforted herself considering how Augwak must feel. Chepi was wiping crumbs off her hands and reaching up for an expensive-looking volume on another shelf when Marcott's cry startled her and she jumped.
"AH, please, ma'am!" he said loudly, waving a finger. He gave a meek smile. "Um...no touching...please? That one there cost me over one hundred pounds...took me years to find it...in pristine condition, pages just sparkling, so if you please, don't touch!"
Chepi stuck out her lip and moved on.
Charmian leaned over the desk. "Have you found anything?"
"Yes, right here...he's written a little bit about these spirit stones...not very much though, I'm afraid..."
"Well, maybe what he has can be useful...what's it say?"
"Well, basically, he claims that every living creature possesses one of these...stones...they look like glowing crystals, yes, that's what you said...and that a creature can survive for a time without theirs, yet their body will not function without it, until it is returned." He bit his lip again. "Nothing about how this is accomplished, I'm afraid."
Charmian sighed. "Does it say anything else?"
"Hm, well...not much...only an amusing little story about one windling stealing the spirit of another windling...quite funny stuff, considering..."
"Not much help though." Charmian moved over to a tiny leather couch squeezed between the shelves and flopped down, rubbing her head. "Looks like Francois doesn't know much about it either...maybe I should have guessed, since he was holding on to Augwak's body all winter..." She trailed off and frowned, twisting her head to look back at him. "Wait a minute. That little story. What was it about?"
"Hm? Oh. Well, it's quite amusing. You see, one day, one windling acquired the spirit stone of another windling, and then decided he would place it in the body of three-legged toad that he'd found squashed beneath a rock--"
"A windling." Charmian slowly rose and walked over toward Augwak, staring at his chest. "And another windling."
Augwak's nose twitched. "What?"
X'aaru sat up. "What are you thinking of, Charmian?"
"Something Pakwa told me." She moved closer, still staring at Augwak; he looked down to see if he had anything on him. "He said that wind controls wind. And I saw Tal Natha do it, with that other GeeBee. One elemental can subdue another elemental of its own kind."
"Yes?" Marcott peered over at her. "What's your theory?"
"Ocryana is half windling. Maybe that explains why she was able to get Augwak's spirit from him. So maybe, it would take another windling to get it back out..." She peered at Chepi.
Chepi coughed and choked, spitting crumbs on the rug. Marcott threw up his hands and quailed. "What?" Chepi shrieked. "You MUST be joking! There is no way that I will assist that--that--FLESHBAG!"
Augwak jumped up and shook his fist at her. "As soon as I get my body back, I suggest you run the other way, because I'll be shoving your spirit inside a DEAD RAT if I can!!"
Chepi shrieked and clapped her hands to her face, bawling. She scurried over and wedged herself in the corner.
Charmian sighed. She nudged Augwak back down onto the couch and pressed her hand against his chest. "Well, that went nicely. Next time you might want to try using honey instead of vinegar, considering she might have been willing to help you, if you'd been nice."
Augwak bared his teeth. "I believe I would rather STAY in this body than allow her to meddle with me! Good riddance!"
X'aaru tugged on Charmian's sleeve. "Maybe I can try? I'm part windling..."
"Thanks, X...I'm really running out of ideas here--"
She broke off when Augwak seized her wrist painfully. She turned back to him to see his eyes grow wide and his mouth open with a gasp. Before she could tell him to let go a blinding glow surrounded her hand, centered on his chest; he started screaming as she felt a searing heat surge up her arm. She tried to pull away, but couldn't.
X'aaru jumped back with a yelp. Marcott and Chepi both gasped and stood straight. Panic welled up in Charmian's breast when she realized what was happening. She tugged on her arm, trying desperately to break free, as her fingers sucked Augwak's spirit right from its body. His eyes and skin began to go white. Images of what Ocryana had done flashed like nightmares through her mind.
What's happening? she cried out inside. I shouldn't be able to do this! How come this is happening? HOW DO I STOP IT?