Manitou Island: Part 61
Cheating The Cheater
THE FLASHING GLOW suddenly died. Charmian wrenched her hand away from Augwak's chest, falling backwards onto the floor. Something small and hard struck the rug beside her and clattered into the corner; Chepi snatched it up before she could regain her senses.
"Oh look! A pretty!"
Charmian put her hand to her head and rubbed it. Her eyes watered and her head throbbed. She could still feel a burning sensation coursing through her arm, and wondered how Ocryana had been able to stand it.
Ocryana...the spirit stone!
She jumped to her feet almost immediately and grabbed the tiny stone away from Chepi, who jumped back. "Give that back!" The others stood where they'd been before, staring at her mutely. She backed away and opened her fingers to stare down at it, a little swirling reddish crystal resting against her palm.
Chepi sniffed. "It wasn't very pretty, anyway."
"Amazing." Marcott came toward her and peered down at the stone, adjusting his glasses. He gingerly touched it with one finger. "How did you do that?"
"I really don't know," Charmian said. Her fingers closed around it again and she let out her breath, trying to slow her heartbeat. She glanced toward the doorway. "I have to get the other one..."
She strode for the door, Marcott, X'aaru, and Chepi following. Mani still waited in the parlor, standing silently near the entrance. He looked at Charmian as she approached and pulled on the GeeBee's arms, trying to get him off. Marcott took hold of one arm and helped her, sliding him off until he lay upon the floor. His head rolled to the side and he let out a rasping noise.
Chepi made a face. "Ew, yuck."
"Do you think you can do what you just did, again?" Marcott asked.
"I'm not sure...I guess I'll find out."
Biting her lip, she gingerly placed her hand against the creature's breast, half expecting nothing to happen--surely what had just occurred in Marcott's study had been a fluke. But the strange glow appeared again, as before, and she winced to feel the heat surging through her arm as Pomiere's spirit stone rematerialized in her palm. She pulled it away, rubbing her elbow; it felt as if she'd struck her funnybone. The GeeBee's eyes went white and his skin turned pale again; he let out a tiny breath.
Chepi shut her eyes tight and stomped her feet quickly. "Eeewwwwwwwww."
Charmian sat down on the floor and held the two small stones in her hands, looking from one to the other. Getting them out seemed easy enough, now...but she wasn't so sure about putting them in. She hadn't been able to before. Then again, she hadn't been able to get them out before, either...or had she? She had to admit she'd never really tried...
"I have to put them back in now," she said. She looked at the doorway to the study, then back at the stones. "I'm not sure how to do that."
"Do you think maybe you...?"
"I'm not sure. I couldn't do it before."
"Maybe it works like you said it did," X'aaru suggested. "An elemental...maybe?"
Charmian looked at Chepi again. The woman made a face, but Charmian stood up and glared at her.
"You want to keep your wings in one piece? Then start making yourself useful. You're nothing but excess baggage until you do that."
"BAGGAGE!!" Chepi screamed, hands fluttering to her breast. She scowled and reached out for the red stone but Charmian snatched it away again.
She looked around for a hard surface before spotting the stone mantel over the fireplace. She walked over to it and struck the stone against it as hard as she could, splintering off a tiny piece which skittered to the floor.
Marcott, X'aaru, Chepi, and Mani gaped at her. After a moment Chepi began to twitter.
"Well...perhaps you have some brains after all...that was really quite funny!"
"Charmian...?" X'aaru said uncertainly.
"It's all right," Charmian said. She bent to pick up the tiny shard and looked it over, holding it between thumb and forefinger. "He can live without it, same as Ocryx can. I just had a kind of crazy idea."
"I hope it's not too crazy," Marcott replied, as Charmian returned to the study. She took the blue stone and knelt down beside Pomiere's body, where he'd fallen over on the couch. Pomiere wasn't an elemental, that she knew of...so she hoped that, being a human as well, she could put the stone back in now that his body had been vacated.
At least...I HOPE that's the way it works!
She pressed the stone to his chest and covered it with her hand, waiting. A feeling of relief swept over her as the glow returned, only now instead of feeling a sharp heat rising up her arm, she felt as if the warmth were being drawn out through her fingertips. The humming sound faded along with the light and a bit of color came to Pomiere's cheeks. His eyes fluttered and dragged themselves open and he let out a soft groan, putting a hand to his head. He blinked, saw Charmian standing over him, then blinked and saw the others as well. His clouded eyes grew vaguely confused.
"Ch...Charmian...?" he murmured, dazed.
Charmian let out her breath and offered a smile. "Hey."
He sat up slowly and looked around him, Marcott and Chepi backing away slightly. "Where...how did I get here? I thought we were at the cave..."
"There was a little...accident. How do you feel?"
Pomiere put a hand to his head and frowned. "My head hurts a bit...and the room is all blurry...I feel as if I've been running through walls."
Charmian didn't even want to think of how Augwak must have been abusing poor Pomiere's body while inside it. She stood up. "You stay here for a few minutes...Marcott'll help you out. I have to take care of something else right now." She grabbed Chepi's arm and dragged her from the room, protesting. X'aaru followed while the two men watched her go.
"Ow! OW! Make up your mind!" Chepi snapped, trying to tug free. "One room or the other! Back and forth, back and forth! Do I look like a pull toy? I KNOW HOW TO WALK ON MY OWN! This is SO not the way to treat royalty!"
"Get over it," Charmian muttered. "The only reason you're 'royalty' is because the guy you were sleeping around with decided to take pity on you and get you out of his house."
Chepi pulled her arm free and clapped her hands to her face with a wail. Charmian looked Augwak's body over and then examined the two bits of crystal in her hand.
"Quit bawling and come here," she snapped. "See if you can put this back in there. I don't think I would have much luck."
"I don't want to help you. You--you said I sleep around!" Chepi sniffled and choked.
"Oh, for God's sake. Are you going to act all pristine now? GET OVER IT! I'll tell you what, you can go back to your cave when you're done here, and I won't bother you anymore!"
The woman stopped sniffling and peered over her fingers. "You...you don't want me around anymore...?"
Charmian sighed. Apparently there was no way to win with this woman.
"Look, you can stay with me, OR you can go back. Whichever. The point is, no more dragging you around. Will you just do this and get it over with? Please?"
Chepi sniffled again but finally lowered her hands. Her eyes were merely damp, not streaming as they'd sounded when she'd been crying. She must have had plenty of practice. Her lip stuck out but she came forward.
"Oh, all right. Just because you said please."
She took the bigger part of the crystal from Charmian's hand, looking at it briefly before sticking out her tongue and then pressing it to Augwak's chest. The glow appeared and she gasped and started to pull away but Charmian grabbed her arm again and held it down. Chepi whimpered "Ew ew ew" the entire time, until the crystal vanished. Then Charmian let her go and she scampered to the other side of the room.
Once more the greenish tinge returned to Augwak's face, the yellow tint to his eyes. Charmian clenched the sliver of crystal in her hand and hoped her idea was right. Augwak's eyes fluttered as Pomiere's had. She suddenly noticed X'aaru at her side, and was glad he was there just in case. Augwak opened his eyes and blinked at the ceiling a few times, took a breath, and..."OOOWWWWWW!!"
He shut his eyes again and clapped his hands to his head, sitting up before Charmian could stop him. He bared his teeth and winced.
"...Stupid fleshling...knocking my head like that...I'll bite off his ears and spit them down his throat!"
"No you won't," Charmian said. Augwak glanced at her and his face grew even uglier. "And if you have any other thoughts of who you're going to go after next, I suggest you banish them right now."
He hissed. "You think you can stop me? I might have played your puppet for a short while--but no more! Serving a fleshling? Disgusting! The only reason I did so was to get back what was rightfully mine--which YOU held from me! Can you guess who will be second on my list, after Ocryana, fleshling?"
"I suggest you don't do that."
X'aaru peered up at Charmian with an "I-hope-you-know-what-you're-doing" look.
Augwak clenched his fists. He looked ready to snarl again, but an ugly grin came to his face instead.
"You dare to threaten me? Go ahead then, I won't much mind Ocryana losing the first spot to you!"
Charmian shrugged. Augwak hissed and launched himself at her--only to stop in midair, eyes goggling and mouth moving soundlessly. X'aaru whimpered and crept back; Mani, near the door, stared. Augwak fell to the floor and curled in on himself, letting out an odd choking noise. After a moment he gasped loudly, sucking in his breath and letting it out again. He glared at Charmian, his look both furious and panicked.
"What...what did you just do to me...?!"
In response Charmian held up the little sliver of crystal she held. Augwak's eyes grew even wider when he saw it. He glanced at his chest and patted it, as if seeking something missing; then he looked back up at her and bared his teeth again.
"You wench! You have CHEATED me!!"
"And you're so noble, planning to kill me as soon as I'm not useful anymore? You expected me to be that stupid?" Charmian returned. "I don't think so. I might be new here, but I'm not as dumb as you think, to trust a GeeBee like you."
He leapt to his feet and clenched his fists, practically seething. "You promised to give me back what was MINE! And yet you KEEP it! You are the same as HER!"
"And you're no better!" Charmian shot back. "Which is why I'm keeping this as insurance, at least until I'm POSITIVE I won't need it anymore!"
He looked ready to scream loud enough to shatter the windows. Charmian held the sliver of crystal out as if to drop it and crush it beneath her foot.
"Really, I don't have any interest in this except for keeping you on a tight leash. If you keep your nose out of my business, then you won't have a problem. If you insist on bothering my friends and me, then I'll think of something nice and creative to do with this. How's that for a new deal, huh? Feel like keeping this one?"
The GeeBee snarled, his claws digging into his palms. "You little bitch. I would not be surprised if Ocryana had dropped you from her womb herself!"
Charmian raised an eyebrow. "Is that a compliment?"
"You will know when I compliment you, fleshling. It will be the day on which I consume my own excrement!"
"The day on which you eat shit, that is." She pocketed the little bit of crystal. "Don't look too upset, that might not be that far away."
She could see blood begin to trickle down his fingers now. His voice grated like two rocks rubbing together. "You..."
"Careful that you don't use up all your insults in one day. I realize how limited they are." She turned slightly for the study, but kept him within sight. "Cheer up, I won't go using your crystal indiscriminately. Only when you cause trouble, and only if I should ever need you for anything. If you thought I was going to let you off so easily for trying to kill me, then you really are stupider than I thought. This debt goes on until I leave the Island. No sooner, no later. Got it?"
Augwak opened his mouth to hiss at her, when a tiny cough from the side of the room interrupted them. Augwak's hiss turned into a startled snort when somebody took his arm.
"Why...hello," Chepi gushed, face going pink, slipping her arm beneath Augwak's and smiling up at him. "You know...I never really noticed just how tall you are, before...or how intense...maybe it's because you're back in your own body, but I find it quite intriguing..."
Augwak got a look as if he'd just stuck his fingers in a light socket. He rose onto his tiptoes, cringing away from Chepi's grasp, and Charmian could have sworn even his ears quivered.
"W-w-what in the hell--?"
"Oh! You don't have to be so surprised!" Chepi's face flushed even redder. "You see, you're a Wind, I'm a Wind, well, it was just bound to happen--right?"
"Are you INSANE?!" the GeeBee shrieked, pulling his arm free. His eyes looked ready to fall out of his head. He started hopping about the room every time the small woman came toward him, holding out her arms.
"I know what they say, about GeeBees and women, but haven't you always wanted to break the mold? It's not that much of a leap! I mean, we're totally compatible! None of that Water business to get in our way! You know, that's the only reason it didn't work out with Ocryx--that whole Water deal--but I'm all Wind, now!"
Augwak screamed like a girl and turned to the wall. He jumped up and slammed into it, falling to the floor. Charmian winced and loosened her grip on the shard of crystal; on his next attempt he sailed through the wood as if it weren't even there. Chepi followed him, wailing plaintively.
"Wait! Come BACK! So you're shy--I completely understand! I was shy once! I CAN HELP YOU OUT OF YOUR SHELL! Why do all the PERFECT ones run away?! Come back...!!"
Augwak's screams and Chepi's cries gradually died away into the night. Those remaining in the house stared at the space in the wall where the two windlings had vanished. X'aaru's eye twitched.
"That was kind of disturbing to watch..."
"I bet it's even more so for Augwak," Charmian murmured. She glanced at her own bit of crystal and put it back in her pouch. "It might work better for us, though, if she keeps him busy for now. That's two fewer problems to deal with."
"So where are we going to go now?"
"We have to get Antoine back where he belongs." Charmian checked herself over, for no discernible reason. "And then I was thinking of heading back to Cave of the Woods and letting Moon Wolf know I'm going to be staying at Sugar Loaf, or wherever Red Bird is going to be staying."
"The reason...?" X'aaru asked, trotting after her as she went to the study.
"Well...I'm supposed to be protecting her. I'm not really doing a good job, running around everywhere on the Island but where Red Bird is."
"This sounds good. I'll go with you."
In the study, Pomiere still sat upon the couch, but he was busily drinking from a bottle Marcott had given him. Marcott turned to look at them when they entered and flushed a little bit.
"I said just a nip...to stave off the cold...yet it appears he's got more of a chill than I thought."
Pomiere lowered the bottle and wiped his mouth, rubbing his arms. "It feels as if it's freezing in here! What happened to the weather? It was so balmy before!"
"That's kind of complicated," Charmian said, fingers fiddling. "I think you should probably know that it's not really autumn anymore, it's..."
"I think Mr. Pomiere would probably be best off resting here for the night," Marcott cut in quickly, giving Charmian a meaningful look. Pomiere glanced up at him with some confusion. "Since it's been such a long day and all...and you should probably be going as well, before it becomes even more inhospitable outside--I know how the rest of the townspeople are, for good reason. They're likely keeping an eye upon my house at this moment to make certain you leave!"
The teenager nodded. "That sounds like a good idea...you think you can explain what happened? I didn't really get to tell you everything..."
"I'm certain I can piece the important parts together. You need anything for your return trip...?"
"No, we're set. Thanks for letting us in, and sorry for the trouble."
Marcott nodded. Pomiere rubbed his head but said nothing, simply hiccupped and tipped the bottle back a second time. Charmian figured he'd need a good swig from that thing before he started feeling normal again. She and X'aaru left the room for the last time, waving at Mani to accompany them on their way out into the snow.
They walked along the mostly empty street, keeping to themselves even though she could see someone here and there peering at them from the shadows, making certain they made their way straight out of the town. "Something's bothering me, X'aaru," she murmured, staring down into the trampled snow.
The wolf looked up at her with large curious eyes. "What is it, Charmian?"
"What I did to Augwak's spirit." She pulled out the sliver and it glinted under the glow of the Christmas lights. It looked black now, like onyx, a red sheen passing over it like a drop of blood.
X'aaru frowned. "But I thought you did that on purpose."
"I did. But where I got the idea from...that's what's bothering me."
"Where did you get it from?"
"I remembered what happened to Tal Natha's spirit." She paused. "When Ocryana's horn hurt him. Ocryx gave me a part of his spirit to replace the part Tal Natha lost. I thought it was just poisoned, went bad. Now I'm...just confused about everything."
"Well..." She sighed and shoved her hands in her pockets, biting the inside of her mouth. "I'm not sure what it is that I should really be worrying about...what happened to the part of Tal Natha's spirit that he lost...or about the part that Ocryx gave him. I'm not sure which one it is that's causing the trouble."
"Trouble?" X'aaru trotted ahead of her a bit but kept his gaze on her face.
Charmian nodded. "One of those is causing trouble. I don't know which one. I'm going to have to find out. When I stole this from Augwak...it just kind of proved that I'm on the right track, at least, I think I am."
"Track--?" He cocked his head. "I'm not sure what you mean..."
"Ocryana. She hurt Tal Natha." Her eyes met his. "I don't know how she did it, but I know that she did. What she did to him, looked exactly like what I just did to Augwak back there."
The Ocryx slowed his step, staring at her. She didn't like the look he had in his eyes now, that she'd passed her worry on to him. He spoke to her again anyway.
"What...what do you mean?"
"Ocryx's spirit. Or Tal Natha's." Charmian's fingers clenched the sliver, though she was careful not to influence it, having seen that look of pain upon Tal Natha's face not too long ago, and again upon Augwak's. "I don't know which one of them...but Ocryana's got control over it, somehow."