Manitou Island: Part 90
WELL...IT HAD seemed like a good idea, at the time.
Charmian, Drake, and Mani stood--and crouched--staring up at the looming figures of Mitchi Manitou and Kawaduk. The looks on both their faces made it clear they weren't very open to friendly conversation.
At least Mitchi appeared to be the one in control right now; Charmian felt she had a slightly better shot at talking to him than Kawaduk. She noticed the younger creature's slight disappointment on being superseded by his father, but he still gave her the same nasty grin. She shuddered; she really didn't need to see so many teeth in one day.
Mitchi's eyes narrowed. You had something to say? Mainlander?
Charmian swallowed. She picked herself up and stood as tall as she could...but he still towered over her by at least a couple of feet. She tried not to let that deter her.
"I wanted to talk to you about Ocryana."
Mitchi's eyebrow arced. Then he let out a bellowing sound that echoed off the tops of the trees. Kawaduk joined him, and it took her a moment to realize they were laughing. She bit her lip but couldn't think of what could be so funny. Mitchi answered the question for her by lowering his head again and giving a grin much similar to Kawaduk's.
You come to talk? Hold a conversation. We will sit and listen to the mainlander like enthralled children around a campfire?
"That isn't what I meant," Charmian said, trying to keep her voice level. "Haven't you even considered what she's up to with you? I notice you're not hanging around at Devil's Lake anymore--"
Weakling, Mitchi cut in, startling her so that she almost jumped. His voice was harsh, yet she could tell, so far, that he wasn't speaking out of anger. If anything, he seemed amused. A weakling dwells in the lake; did you know this? You have spoken down to him yourself. A demon, beaten down by a girl!
He and Kawaduk both started rasping again. Charmian scowled.
"And like you're any better off? The way I see it--oh yeah! Mitchi Manitou--lapdog of Ocryana!"
Mitchi's laughter died immediately and he returned the scowl; Charmian felt a twinge of triumph, knowing she'd at least found a sore spot.
"What's the matter?" she said mildly. "Truth hit a little too close to home?"
Mitchi only continued growling. Ignorant, he said, but didn't clarify what he meant. Kawaduk lifted his head and said something to him in a tongue Charmian didn't recognize; Mitchi cocked his ear to listen, but didn't respond. He narrowed his eyes at Charmian.
Maybe, to talk down to a cowardly demon and live to tell the tale. But your tribe will be missing three more tonight.
"I doubt it," Charmian returned. She picked up a stick and held it aloft; Drake and Mani gave her strange looks. Mitchi looked surprised, then bellowed with laughter again.
Poor memory, human! Go ahead and try. Wood controls wood. He grinned nastily and held up one clawed hand, the fingers emitting a green glow.
"I know I know what it means," Charmian said, "but I don't think you do. Come on and tell me since I'm so ignorant. Has Ocryana ever let you know why she chose you over everyone else?"
The manitou's eyes narrowed. Kawaduk's hackles rose and he growled something at him, only to be snapped at in return; Charmian didn't let the odd gesture escape her.
Human thinks too much.
"Manitou doesn't think enough." She bounced the stick. "Ocryana doesn't have power over wood. But then again, a woodling can't gain total power over her. She gets the best of both worlds in one tidy package. Not only can you control an element that she can't, but you can't subdue her, either."
Mitchi growled. But Kawaduk's look was even uglier.
"And then take a look, you even give her a son. The one thing she didn't have before; all whoever else ever gave her was a daughter. The runt here can control wood, but he's also under Ocryana's thumb. Because she can control him."
Mitchi's growl grew louder, then lessened. His scowl slowly twisted back into a grin.
I see. The same thing you try on the weakling. You wish me to bellow in your face? He is all wind, no bite. I will show you the bite.
"I don't think you will."
"Uh, Charm..." Drake murmured.
Kawaduk spoke up again, and again Mitchi snapped at him to back down. The halfling folded his ears back with a sullen look but didn't interrupt another time. By now Charmian could tell he was urging Mitchi to attack, but for whatever reason...she hoped it was the manitou's sense of pride...he wasn't doing so yet. She couldn't have much time left before he changed his mind, though; with how powerful Ocryana's hold must be, she was surprised she'd managed to talk this long with him without being torn to shreds. She spoke up again before his good humor could dissipate.
"You didn't answer my question, Mitchi. Did she ever tell you why she chose you? Or not?"
His muzzle wrinkled. Few choices. I am not the weakling!
"That might be true. But I also think Ocryx is smarter."
"Uh, CHARM," Drake said, a little louder.
Mitchi blinked in open disbelief. When his grin came back it didn't seem quite as certain.
Weakling stays hidden in his lake? Then perhaps he IS smart!
"That's not it," Charmian said. "I think he's smarter because he can tell when he's being used. You don't seem to have figured that part out just yet."
Surprise returned to the manitou's face, only to be quickly replaced by the ugliest snarl she'd seen from him yet. Kawaduk's ears pricked; he looked pleased. Charmian snorted, though she didn't feel nearly so confident as she sounded.
"Oh, come on. I know you're not THAT stupid. Take a look at it. Do you really think she came to you because you'd show her a good time? Or because you're the best mate around?"
Mitchi's hackles rose, making him look prickly. The alpha is weak, he snarled. I am the alpha now!
"Ocryana's the alpha now. She just needed you because an offspring's the one thing she can't MAKE on her own!" Now both of the creatures began to growl at her, so she pressed on. "You've got to be incredibly dense not to have figured it out. Take a look. Ocryana only used Ocryx when she wanted something from him--Tal Natha! That was a washout, so first she gets Shadow Water, and now this." She waved at Kawaduk, who looked like he wanted to bite her hand off. "You really don't think she would have gone to Ocryx again, if she could get total control over him? Why else did she send you after him? Isn't it awfully convenient that first she separates you from the one who GAVE you your power, then second she convinces you to father her child, and then THIRD she puts a hit out on Ocryx--by way of your horns? Not only has she cut you off from the one source of your power, but she's turned you into her own little personal puppet and love slave, rolled into one. So who is the alpha now, again?"
Mitchi's growl grew harsher. But it was Kawaduk who suddenly leapt forward, past his father's shoulder and directly at her. Mitchi had time to look surprised, but didn't object; he barked out something that might have been a command, or encouragement, Charmian couldn't tell. She was too busy gasping and jumping back to figure out what it meant. She ran into Drake and the two of them fell to the ground; Kawaduk's hooked claws missed them by mere inches when Mani's antler deflected the blow. The smaller manitou placed himself over them, standing his ground. Kawaduk lifted his paw again, ready to tear open his side, but another bark from Mitchi stopped him.
Leave the runt! He is easily killed. He narrowed his eyes at Mani, and Charmian could swear she heard the smaller manitou swallow. Prove yourself, and get the girl instead!
Kawaduk appeared to be stung by the Prove yourself comment, yet rounded on Charmian again. He wasn't expecting her to do anything with the stick--which was why she managed to ram it through the soft spot of his shoulder, just as X'aaru had done with his horn. Kawaduk screamed in pain and Mitchi just rolled his eyes.
Stupid! Wounded by a girl!
Kawaduk responded by gritting his teeth and wrenching the stick free, tossing it aside. He clenched his fists and snarled at Charmian, who crouched as if ready to run, though she had no idea what she was going to do next.
"Come on, Kawaduk," she taunted. "Prove yourself already!"
The creature roared and launched himself forward again. Charmian dodged, but not quite in time; his claws raked across her arm, making her hiss. Mani, still beside her, stumbled but dodged as well. She landed on her knee several feet away, and again jumped to the side just as he swung. A great hunk of earth flew into the air at his attack, leaves scattering every which way.
Charmian suddenly remembered Manabozho's power over the trees. Wood; earth; they were related.
When he came charging at her yet again she pressed her foot to the ground as hard as she could, and flung her hand out to the side. Kawaduk came to an abrupt stop as the ground pitched beneath him, and he was still desperately trying to regain his balance when the low branches of a nearby tree swung forward and smacked him in the face. He flew backwards and landed with a thud. Mitchi blinked; Kawaduk lifted his head and shook it, confused.
Charmian just kept her foot pressed to the ground. "Weren't really expecting that, were you?"
Kawaduk's muzzle wrinkled. Petty fleshling tricks! he growled, pushing himself to his feet. Used up all of your tiny power on one blow alone!
"Really?" Charmian said; and she let him think that up until he slammed into another branch that whipped across his face, just inches from reaching her. Down he went again; Charmian dusted herself off.
"Funny, but the manitous in these trees don't seem to think so."
Kawaduk staggered to his feet again, eyes livid. She didn't think she'd ever seen him so furious before; it made her want to smirk. She settled for crouching, still holding her hand out pointed at the tree.
"Want to try that again? I don't think I've broken your nose just yet."
The halfling bellowed. He came running as fast as he could; Charmian sighed to herself. She hoped Mitchi Manitou was just a tiny bit smarter than his offspring, if she wanted to reason with him at all.
Kawaduk raised his hand, teeth flashing. Charmian readied her own defense just as he swung--but he didn't hit her. Instead she gaped as the tree splintered from its base, crashing through the woods to come to a rest on the leafy ground. At the same time, he swung out his right foot, catching her behind the legs and knocking them out from underneath her. Charmian panicked as soon as she realized he wasn't quite as stupid as she'd thought--he'd removed both of her sources of power in a snap, and as soon as he grabbed her by the neck she knew she was defenseless.
Kawaduk lifted her, his claws gouging into her throat; she gasped and clung onto his hand, the only reason she didn't choke to death in his grip. He grinned, yellow teeth glinting.
What now, fleshling? What little manitou will you call up now?
Charmian briefly considered calling Mani--he was the only one left she could think of--but out of the corner of her eye she could see him bent low to the ground, gasping weakly. Kawaduk must have somehow struck him in the attack, also. Her eyes watered but she didn't let the tears fall.
"HEY!" To her surprise, Drake appeared, carrying the bloody stick. He held it aloft as if it were a light saber.
"Come on, Ugly! Wanna feel the Force?"
Kawaduk glanced at him and made an odd face. He looked at Charmian and his ear flicked.
Your kind is all so stupid?
"Takes one...to...know one," Charmian sputtered. It was the only comeback she could think of, under the circumstances.
Kawaduk rolled his eyes. The gesture made him seem strangely human, until he snarled anew and hoisted her up into the air. His fingers squeezed more tightly around her neck and she saw lights start to appear before her eyes. Before her vision could go black, Kawaduk let out a yelp--Drake stood swinging the stick down to thwack him repeatedly in the shin--and without thinking he let go of her. Charmian landed with a limp thud, weakly pushing herself to her feet, Mani doing the same.
Kawaduk continued yelping at Drake's assault, finally kicking out, driving him back. STUPID MAINLANDER! he screamed, and a stomp of his foot against the ground sent Drake flying, crashing into a tree. Charmian stomped her foot as well and Kawaduk fell backwards, just missing Mitchi. He rolled head over heels before coming to a rest, shaking his head dizzily.
Get up, whelp! Mitchi snapped.
"Drake! You okay?" Charmian yelled over her shoulder. She heard Drake groan and turned to see him stand up slowly, rubbing the back of his head.
"Yeah...I'm okay...but you could've warned me about that..."
Mani whistled. Charmian whirled around in time to see him jump in front of her to take Kawaduk's attack head on. The halfling's prong horns locked with one of Mani's antlers, giving Charmian time to regain her bearings. She held up her hands toward the treetops.
"Woodling spirits, lend your strength! Leaf storm! Needle shower!"
Kawaduk broke free and glanced up with a startled yelp. A cascade of leaves poured down around him, obscuring his vision; as he swung out at them, a hail of pine needles descended, sticking in his arms and back and face like the quills of a porcupine. His cry of surprise turned into a cry of pain as he started scrabbling at the offending needles, trying to brush them away.
"Hey, COOL!" Drake shouted. "Where did you get that one, Charm? Do you ever watch any anime?"
"Don't have time to talk right now, Drake!" Charmian returned, dancing to the side as Kawaduk finally spotted her through the needles poking around his eyes and swung, snarling. He missed, but she knew it was just a matter of time before he recovered himself. She took a second to glance back at Mitchi Manitou, wondering why he hadn't decided to attack yet. What was he doing over there?
To her surprise, the manitou seemed to be doing nothing more than watching. His nostrils flared and she sensed his displeasure--with what? Her? Kawaduk? She didn't get to find out. She heard Drake's yell a second too late, and realized her mistake of looking away for too long; Kawaduk's hand slammed into the side of her head, knocking her into the air and sending her crashing into the ground. Mani let out a broken wheeze and collapsed where he stood; Drake's face went white and he took a step forward as if uncertain what to do.
Charmian gritted her teeth and weakly pushed herself up onto her knees. She rubbed at her split lip and gave the laughing halfling the foulest look she could muster. When she finally regained her footing, she found her legs were shaking, but managed to keep her balance.
Kawaduk grinned. Charmian wiped the blood away from her lip and faced him.
"Wanna try that again?"
The creature's smile faded. He narrowed his eyes and growled, baring his claws. Charmian tensed and they started to slowly circle each other, not daring to look away this time.
"Mitchi," Charmian called as they paced. "Ocryana never did tell you why she chose you, did she? She made it seem like you were the alpha. Take you away from Ocryx, the same way he took you away from your own tribe a long time ago."
Mitchi's ears pricked and he snorted.
"I'm betting he taught you back then that he was the alpha, and you were only going to follow him. I'm also betting Ocryana hasn't broken the news to you yet that she's doing the exact same thing. But at the very least Ocryx gave you some power. He lets you keep your tribe and he even gave you all the other lake manitou tribes as your own. He at least let you have some kind of control."
The manitou's eyes flickered. Kawaduk's face grew even uglier, if that were possible; he bared his teeth and flexed his claws. Charmian kept her feet close to the ground, and tried to circle nearer to the trees, just in case.
"Meanwhile, you're with Ocryana now, and what have you gotten from her? She gave you this thing, but I don't really know if it equals your tribe." Kawaduk let out a rasping growl and his hatred literally washed over her. She suppressed a shudder; the longer she talked, the angrier she knew he would get. If she didn't manage to convince either of them very soon, she doubted she would be leaving here in one piece.
"Let me guess how she put it to you," she went on, the circles growing wider. "She comes along and offers you everything you've ever wanted. Freedom, power over Ocryx, her--but so far she's given you only one thing, hasn't she? And made it seem like a gift, when in reality it wasn't. You just ended up with this to take care of, and he looks a little bit like a disappointment."
Kawaduk's growl grew harsher. He looked ready to attack, but a low whistle from Mani stopped him. He didn't look at the manitou, but his ears flicked to show he noticed his presence. Mani kept his head lowered, ready to charge; Charmian took strength from his and Drake's courage and pressed on.
"Well? Am I right? You didn't exactly get everything you wanted, did you?"
Mitchi sneered. Everything I want I have right here, but your death. Finish her now!
Charmian bit her lip and dodged back before Kawaduk could even leap at her; which was just as well, as she knew he would have hit her. The ground flew open in a nasty gash; she landed on her knee but ignored the pain. She gasped and ducked and the tree behind her disappeared, splintering into millions of pieces. And while she was trying to dodge these, his claws tore open her upper arm, sending her sprawling in the dirt.
Charmian gritted her teeth and bit back the pain. She lifted her head; Kawaduk stood over her with much the same sneer that Mitchi had had, while the manitou still refrained from getting involved. She realized now what her mistake had been: taking on the son, while trying to reason with the father. The more she got Kawaduk angry with her, the prouder she must be making his sire.
Damn it! I didn't even come here for a fight! How the hell do I get through to him...?
Another gash opened in the ground beside her. She knew Kawaduk was merely toying with her now; he could easily have smashed her head in. She pushed herself up and stumbled aside, out of the way of another blow; Mani appeared, panting and shaking, and deflected it for her, only for the creature to slam a great hand into his face, sending him crashing.
Charmian screamed as agony tore through her cheek, making her crumple where she stood. Drake grabbed onto her arm and pulled her to her feet, trying to shake her out of the half-daze she'd slipped into.
"Charm! Are you okay? Did he hit you?"
"My--head." Her voice came out weak and wavery; the pain was subsiding, but her cranium still throbbed. What had caused that? She managed to turn to look back at Mitchi Manitou, who grinned at her across the clearing. She rubbed a hand against her smarting cheek.
"I have to get through to him. Before his kid turns me into mincemeat."
"Don't you think you've tried hard enough already? Maybe if we run really fast we can get OUT of here!"
Charmian shook her head. She nudged his hand off of her arm and turned to face Mitchi completely. "We can't run fast enough...not anymore. Besides, they'll always come back for us." She winced; it felt like a bruise was forming. "There has to be something in him I can appeal to..."
Her gaze fell on the ground beneath her. She frowned and stared at the soil and dead leaves, then lifted her head to look at the trees. Kawaduk stood nearby, growling and gnashing his teeth but apparently savoring his temporary victory, as he didn't attack again...yet.
Charmian's mind worked feverishly.
You fight an elemental with its own element. Fight fire with fire. Fight wood with wood. Like forces repel.
Can they attract, too?
Charmian's eyes fixed on Mitchi Manitou's. Drake caught the look and shifted from foot to foot.
"Drake," Charmian said. "In a minute I'm going to do something that'll look remarkably stupid. Promise me you'll just go along with it. I haven't lost my mind yet, I just think I might have an idea."
Anxiety washed over Drake's face. "An idea like what--?"
He barely got to finish the question before Charmian took a step toward Mitchi Manitou, raising herself as tall as she could.
"Hey MITCHI! Easy for you to get your whelp to do all the work. I suppose Ocryana told you to do this but it's a lot easier to foist it off on someone else! Right?"
Mitchi's eyes narrowed and he growled. Drake's face went white.
"Charm? Is this the stupid thing you were talking about? Because what if you do TWO really stupid things and I can't tell which one is which?!"
"I think I got it right on the mark," Charmian taunted, pacing closer to the manitou. Kawaduk's ears pricked and she sensed his confusion at her turning her back on him. "Ocryana tells you to take out the trash, and you can't even do that on your own."
"You're not exactly refuting it, are you? So I'm right? Does that mean Kawaduk really is stronger than you are? Because he's got Ocryx blood in him, right? Ocryxes are stronger than manitous! That's why Ocryx AND Ocryana got control of you so easily! Right--?"
She let out a choked, gagging sound. Mitchi's hand had shot out and clamped around her neck so fast she hadn't had a chance to react, hadn't even known he was close enough to grab her. He lifted her into the air much as Kawaduk had done; she saw the other creature blink with surprise, then grin at her luck. Mitchi's eyes glared blue and he grinned at her.
Convincing enough, human? Who is now strong and who is weak?
In response, Charmian reached out and grabbed onto his forearm, sinking her fingers into his fur. Mitchi's eyes widened and he let out a snort of puzzlement. Charmian's fingers began to glow, a pale blue color mixed with green. She figured that if wood didn't work, then water would have to.
LISTEN to me, she said, in his mind, and he snorted again, his confusion growing. He grabbed onto her hand with his other hand and tried to pull her free, but either he didn't try very hard, or he wasn't able; she couldn't be sure which, just knew that she had to reach him before he fully understood what she was doing. You think I'm interested in small fry like you? It's Ocryana I'm after. She's used me, she's used Augwak and Ocryx, and she's used you too.
Mitchi snarled. The demon and the windling are fools! I need not even speak of you!
You see a pattern emerging here, then? Charmian returned. Ocryana seeks out fools and has THEM do her bidding!
That didn't go over well with him. With a louder snarl he pried at her fingers, but she just clung to him more tightly, drawing upon his medicine. It was a dark medicine, she knew, but she wasn't in contact with any trees or water and so could not call upon them. Besides, she told herself, what better way to get through to him than to use his own medicine on him?
Mitchi growled and struggled to pry her off, as if she were an annoying little tick. She clung to him hard, the glow surrounding them both. She saw Drake take a step forward, stopping beside Mani, Kawaduk not that far away, all of them gawking at the strange scene.
I know on some level you know, she went on. When I mentioned Ocryx, you got pissed off. I know you'd feel the same thing about Ocryana if you were in your right mind! You feel that fog up there? That's HER doing that to you!
Let GO, mainlander! Mitchi snarled and dug his claws into her arm. She bit back a wince, but refused to budge. She dug her fingers so deeply into his arm that he grimaced in pain; she opened herself and felt his medicine, dark and ugly, surge through her, making her ill, yet it was the only thing she could do. At the same time she screamed at him in her mind.
JUST LISTEN TO ME, DAMMIT!
Her fingernails broke through his skin, and at the same moment something else broke through. Charmian found herself no longer talking so much as flinging thought pictures at him, much as the Uroona communicated. Her anger and frustration combined and Mitchi's eyes suddenly widened. The medicine that had coursed through her seethed back into him, and with it, his power that she'd temporarily stolen; and she knew he realized that as well. She felt him growing stronger than he'd been able to be while under Ocryana's control--the demon having sapped his energy, to keep him her slave--but even as his strength returned, his grip on her neck loosened. The blue flare to his eyes even grew brighter, a deeper color than it had been before, not quite as washed out. The glow that had surrounded them moved entirely to him alone, and Charmian felt her limbs grow weak. Her grip on his arm grew loose and one of her hands fell away, the fingertips bloody.
Mitchi's fingers released her and she fell.
Charmian struck the ground with a dull thud, body crumpling. "Charm!" Drake yelled, and started forward, but a growl from Kawaduk stopped him. Charmian blinked dazedly, seeing nothing overhead but blurry green.
You give up so soon? After all of that?
She blinked again. The voice she knew, but she hadn't expected it. With a wince and a groan she tried lifting her head, a throbbing sickness coursing through her.
Go on, get up. You have merely to get used to it.
Manabozho's voice made her head ache, but still she obeyed. She rolled herself over and felt like retching but kept herself from doing so. She managed to push herself up onto her knees before she had to stop and take a breath.
What's wrong with me?
His medicine. You knew it yourself when you first connected with him. His is dark medicine; yours is of the light. The two do not mix well. As such you'll feel rather out of sorts until you purge it from your system completely.
Didn't I already do that?
No. You lent him some of your own medicine. It appears to have had the opposite effect on him. Darkness is more insidious; as he's weakened you, you've given him strength.
THAT doesn't sound good...
It's not as bad as it sounds. Ocryana could control him because he was weak. If he is strong, he can break that control. Get on your feet, face him.
Charmian finally did so, holding a hand to her head. She heard a guttural growling sound and peered up, knees shaking. Mitchi still stood before her...only he seemed...bigger, somehow. Taller, and more ominous. She was reminded of the first time she'd seen him, in her dream, when crossing Lake Huron on the ferry. His eyes had the same lurid blue cast and his teeth were bared, a pale blue glow surrounding him. It floated up from his body into the air, like a mist. She would have backed away, had she felt able.
His eyes flicked down to meet hers and she sucked in a breath. They narrowed and his voice filled her head, booming so that she cringed and covered her ears though it was pointless.
Mainlander. What does she now?
Charmian had to give herself a brief moment to recover before answering. Her voice came out paper thin. "She plans to destroy the Island. She doesn't control Ocryx, but he won't try to stop her. If she kills him, and if she destroys the Island, that means you're gone, too."
Mitchi Manitou's eyes narrowed to mere slits and his teeth glinted. This I will not allow.
Charmian stood, shaking, while he turned in the direction of the caves. She put her hand back up to her forehead to wipe away the sweat that had gathered there, and sank down to her knees. She felt both hot and cold at once, as if a fever raged through her; how long until this bad medicine faded away? She could have sworn she'd gotten the flu.
She lifted her head to watch Mitchi as he lumbered off--to confront Ocryana, she supposed. The idiocy of this idea suddenly struck her, and she struggled to her feet again, lurching after him, a note of warning in her throat.
She didn't reach him. Something large and dirty white leapt through the air, making her freeze in her tracks and slamming into Mitchi's back, driving him to the ground with a startled roar. Charmian gaped in horror then as Kawaduk surged down and with a sickening crunch sank his teeth into his father's throat.