Manitou Island: Part 89
The Lesser Of Two Evils
"YOU WANT TO die."
The words left Charmian's mouth almost without her thinking them. Yet even as she said them she knew they were true. Ocryx halted in his slow shuffle and his wings flared and she knew she'd spoken the truth. She took a step forward and clenched her fingers.
"That's why you won't help protect the Island. If you die, the Island dies. But it's the other way around also. Devil's Lake is where you get your power; if the Island is gone, then so is that, and so are you. That's why you aren't fighting back anymore." Her voice quieted as the full import of what she'd realized finally struck her. "You're committing suicide and you're taking the Island with you."
A low, rasping, growling noise filled the room. Drake and Mani, still back near the entrance, shied a bit but kept their place. Charmian didn't let the sound deter her as she raised her voice.
"Go on and admit it then! You want to die and so you just GAVE UP. That's it, isn't it? She's had you beat all along, hasn't she?"
Now he turned around and growled at her directly, baring his teeth. Charmian felt like sticking out her tongue at him but knew that wouldn't serve much purpose other than to make her feel better; she settled for putting her hands on her hips.
"Well? We're all waiting for you to admit it. Go on, say it. You're giving up. Because Ocryana's more powerful than you now."
"Wrong, mainlander!" Ocryx snarled. "Leave my lake! IMMEDIATELY!"
"NOT wrong. Go on! Say it! You're weak after all! If you were strong you wouldn't be giving up. Maybe you were strong in the past, but now you're a weakling! Weaklings are the only ones who give up. Weaklings and COWARDS! So which would you rather be, a weakling or a coward? Either you can admit it or you can take your pick!"
Ocryx raised himself to his full height and bellowed. Charmian didn't even flinch, even though the sound rang in her ears. She could sense Mani's and Drake's own fear and awe that she didn't back down. The demon brought his face down to growl directly into her own, but she still didn't bat an eye. She started to sense something else that confused her, although she didn't show it. It took her a moment to realize it was...fear? He was afraid of her. Now she knew it.
"You can't admit it, can you?" she whispered to him.
"You are wrong, mainlander," he hissed in return. They spoke to each other quietly, as if the other two were no longer present. "I have always been more powerful than she. This will never change."
"You've already let it change. Because you can't admit she's gotten stronger than you, that's exactly what happened. If you're so much stronger, how come I don't see you taking care of her?"
"SHE is not my concern! If she gives you such problems, you deal with her!"
"It isn't that simple and you know it. Once she gains control of the Island, she gains control of you. You're not fighting, so that means you're caving in." His fur bristled and the color of his eyes changed, his pupils contracting to tiny points so they glowed violent green. "You should just roll over on your back and give up. Isn't that what an omega does? X'aaru has more courage than you do. At least he fights when he's afraid. You don't even do that anymore." She didn't stop when she heard the strange rasping noise rising in his throat--she'd never heard him let out a sound like that before, nor had she ever seen his eyes do something that weird. In addition to this an even stranger glow arose around him, and Charmian felt a breath of wind against her skin. A voice in the back of her head told her she should back down, but she ignored it.
"All I want to hear is you admit it. That you're GIVING UP because you're too weak to deal with her anymore! That you're giving up the Island because you're a COWARD!"
She had just enough time to get out a gasp. Ocryx threw back his head with his fists clenched and let out the loudest shriek she'd ever heard. She fell to the ground as the shock burst through the cavern, knocking her over; at first she thought the walls had caved in, only to find they were still intact, yet trembling and rumbling wildly. She tried to crawl to her feet when a violent surge of wind pressed her back to the floor; she held an arm up to protect her face as it howled through the caverns, GeeBeelike, tearing at her hair and slamming into the others, who pressed themselves against the wall and shielded their eyes. It was suddenly obvious where Red Bird had gotten her powers from.
"ARE YOU SATISFIED?" a thundering voice rang in her ears, making her wince. "I ADMIT! I DO NOT CARE IF THE ISLAND IS DESTROYED! I DO NOT CARE IF I GO WITH IT! WHAT HAS IT BROUGHT TO ME? IT HAS BROUGHT ME NOTHING BUT PAIN! DAY IN AND DAY OUT I LIVE THIS BECAUSE OF HER! IF SHE IS SO WILLING TO DESTROY HERSELF TO GET EVEN, THEN I WILL NOT STOP HER! BUT I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO CALL ME WEAK!!"
Charmian couldn't even bear to look at him anymore, the wind was tearing at her so viciously. Tears streamed from her eyes and her skin stung; it felt like every hair would uproot itself from her head at any minute. Before she could start yelling in pain, however, the wind abruptly died down and her hair fell in her face, a shrill ringing still in her ears as silence descended. All she could hear for a moment was her own heartbeat, then her own breathing. She opened her eyes, just a slit, peering over her arm. She couldn't stop shaking.
Ocryx still stood as she had left him. Only now the glow around him was gone, as was the wind he'd conjured up in his rage. His breast rose and fell from the effort, his hands still clenched so his claws dug into his palms, but it looked as if the worst of it had passed for now. She hoped this wasn't just the eye of the storm. As she thought this, he sank to all fours and she finally sensed his exhaustion.
He must have used all his powers just for that one fit. How much DID I just piss him off?
Ocryx's eyes narrowed, his breath still rasping. He turned on his knuckles, the glow to his eyes dull but still somehow menacing.
"We are through speaking, mainlander."
With this final word, he turned away, shuffling from the cave. He walked with a sort of limp, as if every movement pained him--after his outburst, she didn't doubt it did. As he disappeared from her sight she felt an overwhelming despair overtake her, as if every last hope of hers died with his departure. Her shaking grew harder and she drew her legs in under herself, sitting on the cave floor with tears still streaming from her eyes. She ran a hand back tremblingly through her hair, her face pale.
She didn't turn when Drake timidly addressed her. Instead she swiped a hand over her eyes and sucked in a breath, letting it out. Drake and Mani appeared beside her, peering at her with concern. Mani whistled; Drake leaned down, brow furrowed.
"Are you okay?"
It was a moment or two before Charmian could reply. She finished wiping her eyes and weakly pushed herself to her feet, still shaking. She tried to still the tension in her arms as she did so.
"Did he hit you or...?"
"We're not okay." Charmian rubbed her eyes and took a breath. "He just signed this Island's death warrant."
Red Land One?
Charmian didn't bother replying to either of them. She turned and nudged Drake aside, heading back the way they'd come. The other two stared after her for a moment before following silently. Their concern pained her; how was she supposed to tell them the truth now? That the one responsible for the Island itself no longer cared what happened to it anymore?
"Charm," Drake said again, a little louder as he came up beside her. "Come on, at least say something. I know he threw a big fit and all, but there has to be SOMETHING we can do!"
"He has the last say," Charmian said, walking briskly so they had to hurry to keep up. "Ocryana and Kawaduk will never listen. Shadow Water wouldn't listen. Ocryx won't listen. There isn't anybody left to convince."
Drake and Mani slowed to a stop as she kept going. At first she thought it was their lack of presence behind her that made her slow her step, until she realized it was the thought that had begun to creep into her head. Ocryana and Kawaduk, she knew it was no use approaching. She had already tried Shadow Water and Ocryx. That left no one she could talk to...right?
"Shadow Water won't listen and Ocryx won't listen." She stood staring into space for a moment, the others finally approaching again. After a brief pause she started walking anew, her pace even faster than before, almost a run. Drake and Mani shared a brief look, then rushed after her.
"Charm?" Drake called again. "Where are you going?"
Even though she didn't run, still her feet skirted across the floor at an amazing pace, taking her back to the underground lake. "There's one person left I haven't tried talking to yet."
"But who--? You said you tried everybody, nobody was le..." Drake's voice trailed off. "Charm? You're not thinking what I think you're thinking!"
"He's the only one left!" Charmian finally broke into a run, hoping the others could keep up. "If Ocryx's pride won't convince him to stand up for the Island, then maybe Mitchi Manitou's will!"
Somehow she remembered the way back to the underground lake this time. Now that they were retreating, Mani and Drake made a racket following her. Drake caught onto her arm just as they reached the lakeshore, forcing her to stop.
"Charm! Hold--hold on a minute." He had to stop to catch his breath. "Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean, he hasn't exactly been the friendliest guy around!"
"I'm not trying to make friends with him. I'm trying to figure out a way to undermine Ocryana." Charmian paused and her face tightened. "Are you going to help me, Drake, or try to keep me back?"
"What?" Drake's own look grew puzzled. "You know I'm here to help you, Charm."
"Then help me out with this. I can try to sense him out, but he and Ocryana's gang don't always make it so easy to home in on them. You're the one who's good at talking to things, so try to convince that manitou up there to figure out where he is."
Drake nodded. "Got it." They turned to the lake and plunged in, holding their breath as they found the way back to the surface. The way was faster now that they weren't seeking the bottom of the lake, though Mani had to steer them in the proper direction when they veered off course. Their heads broke the surface, sputtering again, and they swam for the shore where the other manitou still stood, fidgeting and shifting from hoof to hoof anxiously. She whistled as they dragged themselves out of the water, Drake glancing skyward.
"I don't like the look of that..."
"Huh?" Charmian rubbed the water from her eyes and followed his gaze. By now, the sky had grown even darker, the wind picking up at last; she could hear the faint cackling sound of nearby GeeBees, the tops of the trees whipping into a frenzy. She waved dismissively.
"They're not what I'm worried about right now. Come on. Mani and I'll start looking in this direction; you ask if she can find him anywhere else."
Drake nodded and turned to the female manitou, whistling. Charmian turned in the direction of the cave system where Ocryana lived--she couldn't think of any better place to start--and shut her eyes, casting out her mental net. It harmlessly penetrated the trees and rocks, as they were not what she was looking for. The further she cast it the thinner and weaker it grew, until she sensed something within its scope. She shivered.
"Does that feel like her, Mani?"
Mani nodded and gave a soft whistle. Charmian turned to Drake.
"I think Ocryana is this way. I'm picking up something that feels like her. She's not on the move."
"Mitchi's the other way," Drake said. He pointed in the direction of Crack-in-the-Island. "And that weird half-thing is with him."
"Kawaduk? Crack-in-the-Island?" Charmian didn't like the sound of that. "That's where all the other elementals were headed. Somehow I don't think those two would exactly fit in with that crowd." She pulled herself atop Mani's back. "Come on. Ocryana's behaving herself for a change; but I don't think the same holds for the others!"
With this, she steered Mani toward the opposite side of the Island from the caves, bounding off into the woods. Drake followed on the other manitou, though she shied a bit. Charmian couldn't blame her, knowing the tribal manitous' distrust of the lake manitous...and whatever Kawaduk counted as.
Grass and rocks skirted by beneath their hooves. Charmian scanned the woods to make sure they wouldn't run into anything strange. She turned her head to shout something back to Drake...what, she suddenly couldn't remember. She blinked and tried to think of why she would have wanted to talk to him so suddenly, only to notice the strange glazed-eyed look on his face; he looked ready to let go of the manitou's neck and keel over. She would have told him to be careful...had she cared. Her eyes drifted shut and everything lurched sideways.
And then jolted into clarity again, the moment something stung her shoulder. "OWW!" Charmian yelled, snapping awake and grabbing at her arm. Mani's teeth were bared and his eyes rolled; his own shoulder twitched. "What the hell was that? Did you just bite me--?" Charmian managed to get out, before the other manitou appeared beside them, Drake still slumping over her shoulders. The drowsiness started to overtake Charmian again.
Red Land One! Cover ears!
Charmian shook her head abruptly and the haze cleared, just a bit. Now she could make out a strange singsong rising in the air, and felt like slapping herself.
Of course. Manitou song! He knows I'm here!
"DRAKE!" she shouted as loudly as she could. Mani whistled and the female manitou nipped at Drake before he could fall. He hissed and jerked awake, blinking wildly; Charmian jammed her fingers in her ears.
"Plug them! Or he'll get you!"
Drake stared at her for a brief moment before appearing to understand. He covered his ears and they both looked forward. They hadn't even reached the Crack yet, but Charmian could sense the increased presence of the other elementals not too far away. And not only them, but--
Charmian gasped and swung back when something lashed out at her arm. It caught Mani in the shoulder instead, raking open the skin so he let out a high-pitched cry. Charmian cried out as well as a ripping, shredding feeling spread through her arm; with one hand she held onto the manitou's antler, the other grasping her shoulder while he spun away from the attack. She felt something warm and wet between her fingers--but how could that be? Nothing had attacked her yet.
Yellow eyes flashed just inches away, and she yanked on Mani's antler, drawing them even further back. She just managed to catch a hideous grin spread across those jagged teeth, and bared her own in frustration.
"Back off! You're not even the one I'm looking for!"
Kawaduk's grin just grew. He lifted one bloodied paw to swing again but a commotion behind them drew their attention. The female manitou lost her footing and crashed to the ground, taking Drake with her. He winced when she collapsed atop his leg, her own limbs kicking out at the air before she could regain her balance, staggering up and shying away. Charmian's eyes widened.
"Drake! Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I think s--CHARM! Look out!"
Eyes wide, he launched himself forward, still on hands and knees. His fingers wrapped around Mani's hind ankle and he pulled as hard as he could; Mani squawked and fell, Charmian managing to jump and roll off of his back just in time to avoid being crushed. She didn't have any time to ask what on Earth he'd done that for; Kawaduk's shadow loomed over them, followed by an even larger shadow. Charmian glanced up to see the halfling do the same, then take a step back. Yellow eyes were replaced by glittering blue ones; Charmian grasped at Mani's nape for support as they focused on her, Mitchi Manitou's pale face twisting into an ugly sneer fit to rival his offspring's.
You seek me, human? Those eerie blue eyes bored straight through her, making her earlier confidence shrivel up inside. Then here I am.