Manitou Island: Part 75
Half & Half
CHARMIAN BIT HER lip. After a moment she picked up her stick, which she had dropped during Kawaduk's attack, and placed it back over her shoulder. She started toward the demon.
Manabozho and Drake both stepped forward.
Charmian held up one hand. "It's okay." They stopped and watched her approach Ocryx. She doubted he felt much like attacking, or even yelling at her, in his current state. She was surprised he'd even managed to ward off Mitchi, with how much damage the manitou had dealt him. The blood was coagulating black on his fingers, and she winced when she saw the wound. If a wolf demon could look pale, then he certainly did. His breathing, rasping and irregular, bothered her. She stopped before him and looked him over. He gave her a baleful look in return but said nothing.
"So he did do this to you?" Charmian said after a moment.
Ocryx's lip curled back. "I hardly need to hear your mockery, human."
"I'm not laughing at you. But you'd be lying if you said I didn't tell you so."
He pushed himself up a little bit, so he rose taller than she was. "I'll no longer waste my time," he muttered. "It's obvious your own is important, as well."
"Wait a minute." Charmian stepped forward abruptly and waited for him to stop, looking at her over his shoulder. "I didn't mean to insult you. Can you tell me how it all happened? When it started?"
"You saw it yourself," Ocryx said. "Beneath the lake. That little windling strumpet was with you."
"Chepi? You mean when he knocked you through the wall?" Charmian frowned. "That was when it started?"
"No. This was when he grew foolish enough to challenge me. He was acting oddly long before that."
"Like when he attacked X. Even though you told him not to."
The demon glowered. "Yes. Like then."
"That was months ago," Charmian said. "I could tell you found that strange, yet you never thought to do anything about it?"
"Mitchi is stupid!" Ocryx snapped, and she flinched, remembering how angry he could get. "He does not always get his orders correct. He has never been the best nor the brightest!"
"I understand if he screws up once in a while," Charmian said, "but you can hardly call trying to kill your son a mere screw-up."
Ocryx had no reply for this other than to flatten his ears and scowl.
"So that was when he first attacked you. What was he doing up till then? How was he acting?"
"You know this already. You wish to rub it in? Fine. He challenged my authority constantly. Tried to force the other manitous to comply. He is lucky they are not so foolish as he, for his own sake. Else I would have killed them all."
"Did he ever leave the lake?" Charmian prodded. "For any extended period of time--or at any strange time? Sometime that didn't seem right?"
"What?" Ocryx gave her what seemed to be a puzzled look, then his gaze lowered and he frowned in thought.
"He leaves every so often..." he mused. "Especially since he is no longer welcome there. Yet..."
"Yet there was one time, when he would be gone for nights at a time. He would return during the day. I had thought he was among your kind, causing trouble."
"Until you never heard of any trouble," Charmian said. Ocryx looked at her. "He wasn't out bothering the natives then, was he."
Another scowl. "How would I know the answer to this? Is it not obvious I don't?"
"I'll fill you in then. That monster that we were fighting with when you were lying on the ground? The one with Mitchi? I'm betting you can tell where he gets half of his looks. He gets the other half from Ocryana."
Ocryx's ears pricked up and his eyes widened. "Ocryana...?" His muzzle wrinkled and he drew himself up again with a flinch of pain. "How do you know this?" he snapped.
Charmian gave him a look. "Take a wild guess."
Ocryx growled. Charmian ignored it and continued.
"I'm willing to bet that she was getting to him even way back in autumn when he attacked X. She might even have put him up to that. That might be how it started out. Isn't that how she works? Just kind of worms her way into things? Starts out small, but then gets bigger and bigger? Maybe first she just approached Mitchi and proved she had no intentions of attacking him--so he wouldn't see her as a threat, like you've obviously taught him to do. Then offered him something enticing...I think we both know what that would have been." Ocryx's ears went back again and he turned his head away with a scowl. "Of course, that kind of offer doesn't come for free. Mitchi would have to earn it." Charmian counted off on her fingers. "First off, maybe she would tell him to test you a little bit. Maybe by leaving the lake without permission, like you said. Staying out at odd times without explanation. Seeing if you'd allow that or not. Since you did allow it...then he'd start testing you a little more. Attacking Islanders you didn't tell him to attack. Probably ones who don't mean much to you. A native here, a mainlander there. When you overlooked that, then he went after X'aaru. He nearly went after Tal Natha--but Red Bird stopped him. Mitchi might be stupid, but at least back then he still had a shred of common sense, to know that if he touched her you'd ensure he'd be dead."
"Get to the point, mainlander," Ocryx muttered.
"Then came all the other attacks. And when you didn't put a stop to those, he did exactly what a rebellious teenager would do. He turned on you." Charmian glared at him. "We all kept warning you all along that you'd better keep him in line, but you just never found it important enough, did you? I hope it's important now, that he's trying to rip your guts out and string them over his antlers." She held up her hand before he could bellow at her. "SOMEWHERE along the line Ocryana gave him what she'd promised. She ended up with Kawaduk. Of course, Mitchi's gain was as much her own gain, the same way she intended Tal Natha to be her own. That didn't quite work her way, but this time it did. Tal Natha turned away from her; Kawaduk didn't. He's her pawn now. And Mitchi's working with him." She waved her hand at the woods, in the direction the two had vanished. "You can see for yourself, it's pretty much complete by now. She stole Mitchi right out from underneath your nose, and you didn't do a thing to stop her. She's practically started a family with him!"
Ocryx snarled, but it wasn't as loud or convincing as usual. She sensed he was more humiliated than angry. "I asked to discuss, human, not to insult. If this is how you wish to continue, I will gladly leave you to it."
"Well, I don't think you'd be here considering talking to me if you didn't know I'm right," Charmian said, knowing she was pushing it but needing to say it anyway. He appeared to really want to leave after she said this, but didn't. She decided not to push it any further; at least, not now. "We were planning on getting you to Silver Eagle Feather to look at your wound. It looks kind of serious."
"I will live," Ocryx muttered. "You needn't concern yourself with my well being."
"X got a wound a lot like that, you know, and Old Mother Manitou said that the reaction he had to it wasn't normal. The same way yours isn't. You have to know that Mitchi's attack shouldn't have hurt you so much."
Again he said nothing, though his face darkened on hearing her speak of X'aaru. She peered at him.
"So I'm right? You knew it, too?"
"The manitou uses some medicine," Ocryx growled with irritation. "Some medicine not his own. Perhaps she gave it to him."
"Medicine--? You mean like poison?"
"Perhaps from her horns. Perhaps from elsewhere. I do not know."
"Like a poison dart frog!" Drake blurted out, and she looked at him. He waved his hands and tried to explain.
"They're these little colorful frogs that live in--"
"I know that part, Drake. What are you getting at?"
"Well, the natives around where they live take them and rub their poison onto darts, so the darts are just as deadly as the frogs. Maybe Ocryana tried the same thing?"
"With Mitchi?" Charmian's brows furrowed. "You mean she rubbed some poison from her own horns onto Mitchi's antlers? But it's still Ocryx poison. Wouldn't it have killed X? And Ocryx?"
"The poison is only deadly within the horn," Ocryx interrupted. "Without it is harmful but not often deadly."
"Which would explain why she used a part of her own horn when trying to kill Tal Natha," Charmian murmured. "Even then the effects weren't very fast, but it worked better than just the poison itself...but why on Mitchi's antlers? Why not on Kawaduk?"
"Mitchi's the one they'd least expect at first, right?" Drake suggested. "And Kawaduk, well, how do we know she hasn't laced his horns, too?"
Charmian felt the wound in her shoulder and her features tensed as if she wanted to make a face. "Just the thought of that stuff running through me...ugh."
"It's harmless to humans," Manabozho said. "Could possibly have some bad effects on Ocryx halflings. But none on us."
"Either way, it still makes me nervous." She straightened herself up. "Anyway, even if that stuff can't kill you, you still need that wound looked at. Ocryxes can't heal themselves...or so I've heard."
The demon growled a little bit and looked away.
Charmian turned to Drake. "Is Silver Eagle Feather still at Sugar Loaf?"
Drake shrugged and shook his head. "No. She said she had to go back and see about Black Elk Horn...so she must've gone back to her tribe, huh?"
"Drat...we can't take him there." Charmian frowned to herself. "They'll all freak out if we do. Maybe one of us can run ahead and ask her to..."
Ocryx pushed himself up with a great heave. Mani and Manabozho backed away. "I can tend to myself," he gruffed, and turned about on one foot, limping toward the trees. Charmian had to bite the inside of her mouth to avoid yelling at him and hurried to catch up.
"Hold on!" she shouted. "You were the one who said you wanted to talk to us. You sure were content to let ME do most of the talking! What was it you were going to bring up?"
"You already did most of it for me," he said, baring his teeth at her. "I hardly have patience to withstand any more prattle. The next time I get an idea like this in mind, I will keep it to myself."
"You're hardly going to get very far in that condition!"
"I am fine!"
"Why can't you just take him to Justin?" Drake queried. Charmian cringed and Ocryx glanced back over his shoulder, eyes flashing and nostrils flaring.
Charmian gave Drake the dirtiest look she could summon up. His own eyes widened and he held up his arms. "What?"
"What is this?" Ocryx demanded. Charmian bit back anything she may have had to say to Drake and turned back to him.
"It's...um...this little talent that Justin has."
"Talent? What talent is this?" He turned about fully now, and she was surprised that she actually had his attention. Apparently Justin had never told his own father about his ability.
"He...well, he can heal things," Charmian explained. "Like whenever I got hurt, or Shadow Water. Even X. He healed us. He barely even has to try, either."
Ocryx stared at her for a moment, as if not certain he could believe what she was saying. Then his eyes slowly began to narrow and he lowered, ears flattening and lips curling back. He growled toward the woods, his hackles rising. Charmian felt the little hairs on the back of her neck stand on end and she looked around them, hoping Mitchi Manitou and Kawaduk weren't nearby.
"The boy." Ocryx's voice came deadly low and dangerous, full of disgust. He moved to face the woods. "Why I didn't piece this together sooner...it must be she clouding my mind again." He started limping away, and again she followed him.
"What is it?" she yelled, as he picked up his pace, tramping through the snow. "You know something. When I mentioned Justin. The last time I told you about him you acted the same way! What's going on with him? What does he have to do with everything?"
"She tricks him as she tricked me!" the demon snarled. He didn't appear to care anymore that he was confiding in a mainlander. "Cozying up to the whelp--sending that female after him. Making use of him as her own. I should have reneged on the deal! Killed him the day he was born!"
"Why would Ocryana be interested in Justin? I know what you're thinking because I thought it too." She jogged up beside him to look him in the face. "That he healed Mitchi and Kawaduk. That she got to him and then asked him to heal them. That can't be the only reason she's so interested in him. There has to be something else that you're not telling me about Justin!"
Ocryx stopped abruptly and whirled about so his breath blasted hot in her face. "You want to know the truth, mainlander?" he snarled.
Charmian swallowed but stood her ground. "Yes," she said, in as firm a voice as she could muster.
The demon snorted and rose to his hind legs. She blinked when she saw a bitter grin flicker across his face. "You think your emotions are so very well hidden? That you would have everyone believe you see him simply as a friend? I'll tell you the truth, mainlander," he said, as she felt the flush rise in her cheeks. He crouched down and his claw made a slicing motion at her chest, causing her to gasp and flinch back. He merely traced an X over her sternum, and made a small flourish with his finger.
"Your spirit stone," he hissed. "It was damaged. Yet healed by the manitou." He pulled back and away with a wince, and then glowered at her balefully, eyes narrowed. "The whelp's. Justin's spirit stone. It as well is damaged."
"Justin's...spirit?" Charmian stared at him with disbelief. "His spirit is...damaged?"
Ocryx snorted and sat back to rest, using his tail as a support. His hand pressed against his side. "From before he was born. I could tell it. A part of it light. A part of it dark." He held up one hand above his own breast, and Charmian gasped when a glowing spot emerged in the middle of his fur. She spotted his own spirit stone, dark and murky as smoky glass. It had looked black before; now she saw its true color, a deep red the color of clotted blood. "Part he got from his mother. Part he got from me." The vision of the crystal faded and he let his hand down. "Darkness overtakes light. I had thought perhaps I could save him. Stop him from becoming like me." His muzzle wrinkled and he growled. "Get no ideas, human, I did it for myself and for the woman, not for him. Had the whelp died, we would have been much better off. I kept him alive merely to fulfill the bargain I made. I should simply have allowed it to happen, as it has already!"
"What's happening to Tal Natha's spirit," Charmian whispered. "Darkness overtaking the light. What Sikt told me!" She jumped in front of the demon and clenched her fists. "You said you thought you could stop it from happening. What did you do to try to stop it? What did you think would work?"
He gave a derisive bark. "A lot of good it did, in the end!"
"Tell me what you did!"
Mani, Drake, and Manabozho all flinched back with surprise at hearing her yell. Ocryx's ears flicked. He too was obviously caught off guard by her reaction, yet narrowed his eyes again and answered.
"You wish to know what I thought might help, human? Very well. I broke his spirit stone in two. One half light, one half dark. I left the light within his body, where it belonged. The dark I could not take away. I had taken it from him; he had not given it willingly. He would die if I destroyed it; he was too young to consent to this. And so I had to keep it near him, yet contained, away from him."
He again made the crisscrossing motion at her chest, and his eyes clouded as if remembering something.
"I took the dark gem," he said in a low voice. "Disguised it within another gem. And placed it within a setting. Made it look to be nothing more than a trinket, a bauble. And gave it to the whelp's mother to give to him."
"Justin's necklace." Charmian's voice was no louder than the demon's. Her fists tightened. "Why it always glowed when it was near him. And stopped glowing whenever it was taken away!"
"One half of a spirit stone will glow when near its companion," Ocryx said. "No matter how light or dark it may be."
"But..." Charmian blinked, confused. "He doesn't have it anymore."
"That's RIGHT!" Ocryx bellowed, and she flinched. "He gave it up to HER! And so now SHE controls him! The stupid fool gives away his spirit to that WITCH!"
"But Ocryana didn't take it!" Charmian retorted. "It was Shadow Water!"
Another harsh laugh. "You think there is much difference between the two, girl? Why do you think the strumpet would be so very interested in his spirit if she did not work for the witch herself?"
Charmian couldn't believe what she was hearing. Her head whirled with half-formed thoughts. Shadow Water? She can't work for Ocryana! There's no way she could be! She would never do that--! "But I've known her for months," she protested lamely. "Why would she be working for Ocryana? What does she have to gain from it--?"
"Whatever she has been promised by the witch! Now that she has taken his spirit--"
"She didn't take it. He GAVE it to her!"
"It would have been better had she TAKEN it! Then he would merely have died--and my manitou and that halfling would no longer be a nuisance to me! Instead she uses her trickery and he GIVES IT WILLINGLY!"
"She asked him for it," Charmian went on, her protests growing weaker. "But why would she do that--?"
"Reason or not, it hardly matters now!" the demon snarled. "She has half of his spirit. The dark half. She controls him now. He will easily do her bidding. And the dark will overtake the light. Eventually! It happens as we speak!"
Charmian struggled to retort but all her words fled her. What Ocryx was saying simply made too much sense. She remembered now the fight Justin had had with his mother, how out of character he'd been acting--what Lady Dupries had said afterwards--I see it happening already...he was right. He was.
Ocryx was right? She knew? That this would happen?
When she visited him at the lake--was she giving him progress reports? Reassuring him that Justin still had the necklace? And then when he didn't anymore...
Ocryx had turned away and started off into the woods again, still limping painfully. Charmian stood in the snow as the remaining three crowded around her, watching the demon lumber off. Drake took her arm.
"Charm? You okay?"
"I don't get it," she whispered. She shook her head slowly. "Everything he says makes sense, but...the one piece just doesn't fit. Shadow Water. What does she have to do with everything? How does she fit in? Why would she want Justin's spirit? What would she have to gain from working with Ocryana?"
Drake shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "I wish I could tell you, Charm. But...I don't know either."
"I've known her for months. She's confused, but she was so sweet. She would never do something like this." Charmian put her fingers to her eyelids and pressed as hard as she could, grimacing with frustration. "How does she fit into everything? What am I missing?"