Manitou Island: Part 84
CHARMIAN STOPPED IN her tracks. Justin and Shadow Water continued her way, not having noticed her yet. They looked the same as always, yet it was as if Charmian could see a dark cloud around them now. She wondered if her mind concocted the illusion just now, or if it had really been there all along.
She bit her lip, steeled herself, and strode toward them. They heard her footfalls in the grass and leaves--she made no attempt to keep silent--and both stopped, looking up. They both seemed surprised by her agitated state, yet Justin only spoke up once she'd stopped before them.
"Charmian--?" he blurted out, as if caught doing something he shouldn't be doing. "Why are you out here on your own?"
"I'm fine," Charmian said. "I don't know about you."
He furrowed his brow, but at least he didn't yell at her. Yet. Charmian turned away from him, toward Shadow Water, who had started to back behind him as if to hide.
"Shadow, why don't you tell us why you wanted that necklace?"
Shadow Water froze and blinked. "N-necklace?" she stammered.
Charmian had to bite the inside of her mouth. Any other time, the reaction would have struck her as sincere. This time it seemed so false. "You know what I'm talking about. You've got to have it on you somewhere."
The woman's hand crept up to her breast and Charmian knew she was right; she must be wearing it beneath her dress. Justin glanced at her, then back at Charmian.
"Charmian, what is it that you're looking for? I thought that you were staying near the fort."
"I'm looking for what you should be looking for." Charmian pointed at Shadow Water. "Did you ever ask her why she wanted your necklace so much? Why she would need it at all?"
"Need it?" His brow furrowed even further, and the confusion in his voice seemed genuine. "I gave it to her! What's gotten into you lately?"
"You gave it to her because she wanted it!" Charmian took a step forward and spread out her hands. "Don't you see? Remember when you tried to give it to me? I couldn't take it? And now all of a sudden she wants it so much. Didn't you even wonder why?"
Now his eyes narrowed just slightly, and she bit back whatever else she might have wanted to say. "Is that what this is about?" he said. "That you refused it and she didn't? I can't help it that you didn't want it. If you want it now that it belongs to someone else, this is a problem you'll have to work your way around."
Charmian felt like tearing out her hair. "I'm not ASKING for it now! It doesn't belong to me and it doesn't belong to her!"
"It belongs to her now, because I gave it to her." Justin threw up his hands and let out a sigh. "Truthfully, Charmian, you had struck me as more mature than this. Why are you so jealous all of the time?"
Charmian stomped her foot and screamed. "I'M NOT JEALOUS!" She gave him a withering glare. "Maybe I was BEFORE. I'll admit that. But that doesn't have anything to do with what I'm talking about NOW. Just go on and ASK her! Why she wanted that thing so much! ASK HER!"
Justin's face set. He glared back at her in silence, not looking at Shadow Water. Shadow Water's gaze moved back and forth between them. Charmian rounded on her so she jumped.
"Well if HE won't do it, then I will. Why did you want it so much? Huh? Because it's pretty, or because it's useful to you?"
"What?" Shadow Water backed away a step, but Charmian just took a step forward.
"Why don't you tell him? I'm willing to bet that you know what it is by now. Just like I do. If you really care about him that much, why don't you tell him what it is that he gave to you?"
This time Shadow Water didn't even speak. She backed behind Justin again, grasping his arm. He continued glaring at Charmian.
"I suggest you make your point," he grated, "because you're not very welcome here anymore."
"Fine." Charmian stopped and faced him, ignoring the stinging in her eyes and the pain in her throat. "That necklace of yours. The one your mom gave you? You always wondered why she'd keep going down to Devil's Lake at night?"
His look darkened. "I do not care what she does anymore. At the lake, or anywhere else."
"The reason she kept going back there was because she had to keep someone informed of how their bargain was going along. She had to keep giving him status reports on how you were doing."
"If he wishes to keep checking up on me, then so be it! It's hardly any concern of mine! He is no more my father any more than my human father is." His eyes narrowed again. "You've failed to get to the point just yet! If you want to end this conversation with anything remotely resembling friendship remaining between us, I suggest you do so this moment."
"I don't care about that anymore," Charmian snapped, and as soon as she did, she regretted it. Justin's eyes widened, stunned, yet she pressed on despite the pang she felt. "There's more important things to worry about now. Like why Shadow Water is so interested in having your spirit."
"Sp--spirit?" Justin blinked, and now she could tell he'd had no idea. He glanced briefly at Shadow Water, who shrank back a bit, then at Charmian.
"What are you talking about?" His voice was quiet.
"Your necklace." Charmian nodded at it, hidden beneath Shadow Water's dress. Now that she looked carefully, she could see a faint glow where the gems must lie. "We both wondered why it only glowed when it was near you. That's because of what it contains. One half, the dark half of your spirit. The light half is still inside you. Ocryx separated the two when you were born. He tried to keep you from becoming like him. He did it for Justine."
Justin stared at her, then looked slowly down at his own chest. His fingers touched it slightly, as if he could see his own spirit there; he looked at the faint glow around Shadow Water's neck, and for a moment Charmian felt she'd gotten through to him. Then his eyes grew dark again and she quailed inside. He turned back to face her.
"Then if he's failed," he said, "it's no longer any concern of mine." He took Shadow Water's arm and started to turn away. Charmian couldn't believe what she'd just heard, but shook herself out of it and stepped forward again, yelling.
"He kept the dark with the light because to take it away would have killed you. But if somebody GIVES it away, they still live! Ask her why she wanted you to give it to her!"
He stopped again, Shadow Water with him. She glanced back at Charmian, and now Charmian saw fear in her eyes. It was a moment more before Justin himself turned back, still with the same dark look. Charmian clenched her fists. At least I still have his attention. She took another step forward.
"That's what I've learned here," she pressed on. "If you take away a human's spirit, they die. If they give it away, they don't die. But whoever holds that part of their spirit can control it and can control them." She fished in her pocket and pulled out the sliver of Augwak's spirit stone, holding it up. "I got this from Augwak. He's in the palm of my hand now!" She put it away and waved her other arm in the air. "Ocryana corrupted Tal Natha's spirit. And now she has control of part of that, too!" She nodded at Shadow Water. "Go on, ask her why she wants it so badly. As soon as she tells you that, then I'll leave you alone forever!"
Silence. It filled the woods, ringing in her ears. Justin didn't reply. Charmian kept her fists clenched, to steady herself beneath his withering stare; yet something in it seemed to lessen a little. The three of them stood as still as the trees, until she felt they would eventually stay that way forever, petrifying like the rock. She couldn't tell how long it had been, really, when Justin slowly turned to face Shadow Water. Shadow Water lifted her eyes to look back up at him, and they stared at each other for a moment.
Charmian's fists slowly unclenched.
Justin turned to completely face Shadow Water now, and took her by the arms. Her look grew mildly confused, but they didn't break their stare. He leaned forward and looked at her intently.
"Shadow Water," he said, voice soft. "Why did you want the necklace?"
Shadow Water's stare continued, but her confused look grew. Her brow furrowed as she searched his eyes.
"Why...why do you want to know now?" she whispered.
"Just tell me," Justin prompted. "I'll believe whatever you say."
Charmian bit back a retort. She found it wasn't necessary anyway, when Shadow Water shook her head as if dazed.
"You...you didn't need a reason before..."
Justin blinked. Charmian could tell he was puzzled by Shadow Water's reluctance to speak, but he prodded her further. "Shadow...just tell me. Whatever you like. Why you wanted the necklace. Why won't you tell me anything?"
"You didn't need a reason before." Shadow Water squirmed free of his grasp and took a step back, her hand again going to clasp the jewel through her clothing. Charmian tried to figure out the strange look upon her face. "Why do you need one now? Don't...don't you trust me?"
"Of course I trust you!" Justin blinked at her again in disbelief. He held out his hands and took a step toward her, but again she backed away. "Shadow--just tell me something! Anything! Whatever you say, I'll believe you. Just to make her go away!"
"Why should I have to say anything now? I didn't have to when you gave it to me!" Shadow Water's fingers dug into the doeskin of her dress. Charmian finally recognized the look on her face--it was a look of betrayal. "You don't...you don't trust me anymore. You probably never did!"
Justin stopped advancing toward her and dropped his hands with an exasperated sigh. "Shadow Water--I trust you. I always will! But why don't you trust me?" A hint of the same strange look started to enter his own eyes, and Charmian suddenly wondered if this confrontation had been such a good idea after all. "Why won't you tell me anything?" he asked again, his voice softening.
"I never had to! You never needed me to until now!" Shadow Water's voice rose as his grew quieter. She was clutching at her chest now, as if expecting the jewel to come bursting out. Charmian felt a lump of anxiety rise in her throat; the betrayed look had changed, so now her features had contorted into a mask of fury and hate. She couldn't believe how quickly the woman had changed. Shadow Water continued creeping back toward the treeline as if Justin and Charmian were wild beasts intent on stalking her, and her hateful gaze darted from one to the other. "Why do you need a reason, all of a sudden? Why don't you trust me anymore?"
Justin just continued staring at her, and Charmian could tell he was beginning to believe. His eyes were dark, but his voice was strangely calm.
"She's right, isn't she?"
Shadow Water spat. "LIES!" She reached into her dress and tore the necklace free, flinging it to the ground. It landed with a thud in the grass, its gems grown dull. "There! If it's SO important to you! Take it back! I don't want it anymore!"
"You wanted it once." Justin's eyes didn't waver. "Tell me why."
"You TRUSTED me before! I never gave you a reason to stop trusting me!" Charmian gasped when Shadow Water glared at her venomously. "It's HER, isn't it? Everything was all right until she showed up! Telling her stupid stories and following you like some lovesick pup? You trusted me completely until she turned you against me!"
"I haven't stopped trusting you!" Justin snapped. "I'm giving you every chance to keep my trust! And still you're insisting on acting like this! What in the world has gotten into you? All you have to do is say one little thing and it can all be over!"
"LIARS! ALL OF YOU!!" Shadow Water threw her head back as she screamed the words, her fingernails digging into her palms, her rage sparking in the air all around her. Justin and Charmian both gasped and backed away as her scream rose into a maddened howl.
That wasn't where it ended, though. Charmian's eyes grew when she realized what was happening to Shadow Water--from having seen it happen before. Red Bird--attacking the GeeBees out of fury. Shadow Water's fingers grew into hooked claws; her ears elongated as her face did, her teeth lengthening into dripping fangs. Her legs bent at the knee but she only grew taller, larger, a tail and wings and horns forming where none had been before--Charmian fell to the ground and scrabbled at the earth in a panic as the scream ended in a wolfen bellow, and when Shadow Water brought her head back down to meet her eyes, instead it was the red and green eyes of the tawny Ocryx that Charmian stared back into, the dagger-sharp teeth of the tawny Ocryx that glistened in a snarl of pure hatred--aimed straight at Charmian.
Charmian could only freeze where she was, gaping, all instincts to run rendered useless. She was absolutely certain that, out of all the times in her life that she'd ever been frightened, this was at the top of the list.